“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
Today I’m off work for the MLK Holiday, and I’m thankful for that. I can use the rest. I’m also dismayed by the day.
Rev. King was killed in Memphis while he was there supporting the sanitation workers who were striking. I walked out my front door today to see the rows of emptied trash bins, evidence that while I was sleeping in, the sanitation workers in my town were up long before dawn, working. People are at work right now, making nowhere near a living wage at WalMart, Burger King, gas stations, coffee shops, hotels, janitorial services and nearly every retail or service industry job, while a handful of us rest. Or worse, shop.
The president is being sworn in today with his hands on Dr. King’s Bible. Dr. Cornel West expresses everything that is wrong with that, and does it far better than I can.
So we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by letting a privileged few off work while those who labor and still make poverty wages are ignored. We celebrate King’s agitation for peace by having the leader of the world’s largest killing force, a man who murders by order and by robot, falsely associate himself with King’s vision and King’s faith by placing his hands on the Rev. King’s Bible.
We do nothing to stop war. We do nothing to end poverty. We ignore the basic humanity of people near and far. Yet we can feel good about ourselves, because there’s a day on the calendar to honor a man who did all the work that we refuse to.
God bless Martin Luther King, Jr. May his legacy never die and his words never fall silent. God damn the empty holiday that bears his name.
From Homebrewed Christianity.
What we do is pretend that we have hope, and joy, and love. What we yearn for is what stands under those names. Hope and joy and love, but which we dare not hope for. Advent is a time when we have a chance, if we want to take the chance, of getting in touch with what we deeply yearn for and do not have. We live in a culture of optimism, that thinks that things are going to turn out well, and yet we know in spite of all of that that things do not, in fact, turn out well. We all die. We all experience disappointment, destruction in our personal and familial lives. And yet we think that’s the way things are. We console ourselves with that is what is part of our life, part of reality.
I think one of the things that Jesus does when he comes into Gallilee preaching and goes ultimately to Jerusalem is to tell people not to take reality lying down. Not to take what is real, what is actual, what is possible, what is factual as what is given, but to awake in them this wild, crazy desire. Yearning, which is always already there, for that which is impossible. For bodies to be healed. For the brokenness to be brought into wholeness. For the disasters of our world to turn into actual peace.
And Advent is a time when we can say “That’s not enough. That’s not good enough. That’s not REAL enough. What we want is something that far exceeds what is within our grasp, what is within our experience.” It is only if we really enter into Advent that we can be surprised, astonished, blown away by the coming of that which so far exceeds what is possible, what is programmable that we can actually break loose in tongues, in rejoicing, in rejoicing that has no words.
There are those who are poor, who are broken, who are destroyed everyday who can sing and sigh and yearn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” Can we? Dare we? That is the challenge and the promise of Advent.
There is an element of irreducible indeterminacy and instability built right into creation, so that creation is going to be continually exposed to re-creation. What God has formed is able both to come unformed, to break down or come unstrung – that is the bad news, the downside of the risk – but by the same token and for the same reason, things are also able to be reformed, reconfigured, and reinvented, which is the upside, the more creative and re-creative side in things. There is a deep structural mutability and transformability inscribed in things by these narratives that works both ways, which is what we mean by a risk. It can undo the best-laid plans of God and humankind, even as it keeps the future open. Things are deconstructible just because they are constructed from a mutable stuff to begin with. That is why life is a risky if bracing business, and why the Talmudic author points to the “radical uncertainty” in things, while God is keeping the divine fingers crossed, hoping that it all works.
John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God, p. 64
Recently, in a discussion on reddit, a group of us were asked “Do you believe in the Resurrection?” Frustrated by how an answer given did not fit into the desired framework(s), it was insisted that “Your beliefs have a theological foundation. We want to see that foundation.” Unhappy with a theological/theopoetic answer, some insisted that we find ways to fit into their boxes. They wanted the foundation, the ultimate truth on which all of our theologies were built.
The only response I could give was “The foundation is no foundation.”
“An empty shell!” The charge rang out. “If there is no foundation, the belief system is an empty shell.”
I know I sounded like I was spouting some sort of koan, and I know that many reading that discussion felt as though I was, along with others, dodging the questions. There was no dodging, and if an empty shell I inhabit, then so be it. But what some see as emptiness, I experience as space made for relationship.
The foundation is no foundation.
For a belief system to be solid, they say, it must have a solid foundation, a reality on which all else is predicated. We have to be practical, they say, and practicality dictates that to build anything that will last, one must build on solid ground. The wise build their houses on solid rock!
But no rock is solid. Looking within, even the most solid of rock is made up of smaller pieces, and those of bits smaller still, between which are vast swaths of nothingness. Emptiness, one might say, like the shell named earlier. Looking downward, the rock sits upon something else, which sits upon something else, which sits upon the flowing, molten core of the planet, which spins and turns in space. More emptiness.
A foundation cannot be an ultimate starting point upon which everything else is built, because what’s called a foundation is always atop something else. There is no ultimate base. Anything named as “the foundation” must have a foundation of its own. It’s simply turtles all the way down. The foundation is no foundation at all. It may be a link or an interface, but any solid rock is ultimately sand and empty space.
Instead of a foundation, my “belief system” has a series of relationships. I do not base my faith on the resurrection, nor on the Exodus, nor on church tradition, nor on any of the solas. Instead I relate to each of them, and they to each other. In this way I relate to the Trinity. As with any relationship, it is ever changing. The faith of no foundation is not a once and for all declaring, but a living, with all its uncertainty. It is a trust in relationship, be it the relationship between beliefs, doctrines, history, experience, tradition, etc. or the relationship between people. No one is greater than the other. They hold each other together, constantly looking to one another for strength.
To flip a hymn on its head:
On Christ’s wind-blown dunes I stand,
All that looks like rock is surely sand.
The foundation is no foundation. It’s something much stronger than that.