Friday, August 10, 2007

Jeremiah's Indignation

Those of you who know me know that I've been struggling for some time now with or against (?) the world in which we live. To get the engines of this post revving, I'll offer a primer. A couple weeks ago I heard a pastor give a sermon on having "perspective." She was saying that God is with you even if your pain is so great that, like Hannah, you can't even say the words, you can only shape them with your mouth without uttering a sound. I thought to myself, I can identify with that.

Lately I've been reading the prophets, and have found much there that gives voice to where I am. I haven't been sharing much of it with my cyber audience, but last night I found something so striking in Jeremiah that I just had to share it. For more context, here is something I was desparately trying to explain to another cyber-friend recently in a conversation about - interestingly - how church relates to what I reference there as our "insane" culture:

"I'm going to be open, honest and transparent about something on a personal level in my own life with regards to all this. I was recently hanging out with a good friend of mine who is about 35 yrs. old (I'm 28). He's really good at connecting with people, just having a long conversation with just about anyone on just about any topic. And he's always meeting women too (which I am not always doing). So we got into a conversation about why its so easy for him to meet new people, whereas it really isn't for me. To make a long story short, through his sharing of his own personal experiences where he used to think he was just plain smarter than everyone else - but then mysteriously couldn't get a date or meet new friends - he struggled with arrogance and God humbled him. Now, I'm not one to think hardly anyone is dumb, so I couln't relate on that level. But I realized that I think of many people as ignorant. So I discount most all people, Christians included, who give themselves over to the 'insanity' of the culture that we live in. Which is most everyone. Which means I don't have much to say to most folks. Which means that I'm not the best conversationalist and I'm not so good at meeting new folks. And also, apparently...I'm slowly realizing...that I'm arrogant in some way and God wants to do something about it. A week after that conversation (so this past Sunday night), my friend (his name is Genesis, interestingly) said, "You can have convictions! You just don't have to be arrogant about them!"

I wrote that a couple of days before reading:

Jeremiah 15: 12-21 -

12-14"O Israel, O Judah, what are your chances
against the iron juggernaut from the north?
In punishment for your sins, I'm giving away
everything you've got, giving it away for nothing.
I'll make you slaves to your enemies
in a strange and far-off land.
My anger is blazing and fierce,
burning in hot judgment against you."

15-18You know where I am, God! Remember what I'm doing here!
Take my side against my detractors.
Don't stand back while they ruin me.
Just look at the abuse I'm taking!
When your words showed up, I ate them—
swallowed them whole. What a feast!
What delight I took in being yours,
O God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
I never joined the party crowd
in their laughter and their fun.
Led by you, I went off by myself.
You'd filled me with indignation. Their sin had me seething.
But why, why this chronic pain,
this ever worsening wound and no healing in sight?
You're nothing, God, but a mirage,
a lovely oasis in the distance—and then nothing?!

19-21This is how God answered me:

"Take back those words, and I'll take you back.
Then you'll stand tall before me.
Use words truly and well. Don't stoop to cheap whining.
Then, but only then, you'll speak for me.
Let your words change them.
Don't change your words to suit them.
I'll turn you into a steel wall,
a thick steel wall, impregnable.
They'll attack you but won't put a dent in you
because I'm at your side, defending and delivering."
God's Decree.
"I'll deliver you from the grip of the wicked.
I'll get you out of the clutch of the ruthless."

The Message version of that one part reminds me of that blasted Protestant Liberalism: "Let your words change them. Don't change your words to suit them." The very same verse has a very differnet ring to it in the New American Standard Version, which I really like the sound of, but which I have yet to really embrace, I don't think:

"And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesman."

I guess I'm prematurely stuck on the next words of the very same verse of our Holy Scriptures:

"They for their part may turn to you,
But as for you, you must not turn to them."

I see from your jeremiad that you're still committed to that arrogant form of Judeo-Christian exclusivism. But I'll leave that alone.

Arrogance I think is the Protestants' cardinal sin. I believe that's true also of American culture in general, which after all is a sort of secularized Protestantism. Emphasis is on horizontality, equality, democracy. The Catholic and Orthodox traditions incorporate a lot more verticality: in organizational hierarchy, church architecture, liturgy, morality (e.g. monasticism), etc. So I think that aspiring to a higher position is more a virtue than a vice in non-Protestant Christianity, and also in the secular cultures that grew up around them -- France, Italy, Russia, Greece, even England to an extent. In America one can aspire to higher ground only in pursuit of money and humility.
On the arrogance, are you referring to my "indignation," bmy "discounting" of "most all people"? What if its me istead of the form of Judeo-Christianity to which I am committed? And (for clarity) by that are referring to the Catholicism to which I am attracted, or to the nondenomenational Christianity in which I'm immersed?

I mean, I resonate with what you are saying about the sin of the Protestants. But I'm kind of confused about...I guess (?)...your wording of the whole thing. Based on how you described the Catholic and Orthodoc traditions, I would think that they would pan out also as arrogant, or even essentially moreso. As per my recent post "The Face of Worship," I come across as arrogant to my evangelical friends because I think that high culture is actually better, and I don't think its a matter of opinion.

Or is it that one might view it as virtuous to ASPIRE to higher ground when they are actually in more of a position of humility??

This sounds arrogant: Let your words change them. Don't change your words to suit them. I'll turn you into a steel wall, a thick steel wall, impregnable. They'll attack you but won't put a dent in you because I'm at your side, defending and delivering. As you say, you can have convictions. But standing behind the thick impregnable wall without engaging the other on the other's terms, treating the other as an enemy? To the guy outside the wall this sounds like arrogance. I know, I know: "it's not my arrogance; it's God's truth."

I was referring to Catholic and Orthodox as being vertically inclined -- nondenominational Christianity is pretty much a Protestant thing, wouldn't you say? Protestantism historically has regarded Catholic-Orthodox elitism as arrogance: priests as mediators of the sacraments, big fancy churches, holier-than-thou monks and so on.

Arrogance can be part of one's exclusivist stance, but it can also be projected onto you by others' reactions. Then you either end up steeling yourself further against the others' philistinism, creating an even greater barrier that keeps the others out, or you wind up deciding that your higher aspirations are really egotistical and that you need to humble yourself. Arrogance/humility seems more like an interpersonal dynamic than a characteristic of a self. If there weren't other people watching, what would you pursue?
Oh. That part of Jeremiah. But the reference there in Jeremiah was simply about future events that Jeremiah was preaching about (and not conflicting intellectual theories about the universe), which Priests and Kings and such didn't like. The the Priests and Kings and such were actually treating him badly, beating him and imprisoning him and things like that.

I'm not even exactly sure how that might apply to me. I'm not really predicting such an event. I do think that our society is unraveling. But so do you, I think. The parallel, in my gut, is much more about my speaking more to Thomisticguy than to you. But then I don't really think of Thomisticguy as an enemy. He's not out to hurt me, and you certainly haven't been either (in any way, much less physically).

As for any Iraq to Bush, not me.

As for any Evangelism parallel...the other is certainly not the enemy.

So...??? Do I just need to shut up and listen? Am I being defensive? Do you recognize my sometimes not engaging you on your terms too much? As for Thomisticguy's "terms" - I do detest them (sort of). I'll openly admit that, its my convictions.

"Arrogance can be part of one's exclusivist stance, but it can also be projected onto you by others' reactions. Then you either end up steeling yourself further against the others' philistinism, creating an even greater barrier that keeps the others out, or you wind up deciding that your higher aspirations are really egotistical and that you need to humble yourself."

But it seems like "extract(ing) the precious from the worthless" is another way here? And "let your words change them...ect" can have the more initiative-forming rather than arrogance-forming interpretation. Jeremiah went from "cheap whining" to a motivational vision.

Seems like he did neither of the things that you presented as options. At least not in a sense. For him to "humble himself" would have been to quit preaching the events he was foretelling (which he didn't do). I guess for me, in the sense that you mean it (?), it would be to let go of my convictions.

But I hear you about humility/arrogance being an interpersonal dynamic rather than a personal characteristic. I would think it would be both. The Bible does seem to speak of it as a pesonal character trait. I'm just not sure exactly how it applies to my situation.
"But it seems like "extract(ing) the precious from the worthless" is another way here?"

Yeah, I agree with this, as well as the rest of your comment. Precious/worthless, high/low, etc. -- these sorts of distinctions I believe really are meaningful. There may be widespread disagreements about which way is up, but to respond by saying that everything is really flat seems like a poor way out. I think I'd rather live in a world where there's a danger of being perceived as arrogant by people who disagree with me than to say "whatever, dude." I don't mean to deny the possibility of arrogance as a personality flaw or sin, but you know what I mean. It's the standards that one wants to uphold, not one's own superiority.

“For Protestantism the unforgivable sin is arrogance. Kitsch and vulgarity are both violations of good taste. From a Protestant perspective disdain for both the kitschy and the vulgar are manifestations of arrogance. In (Protestant) America anyone who professes a preference for high culture is deemed a pretentious phony. Acquired tastes, a cultivated palate, refined sensibilities — all are manifestations of arrogance. Catholicism and Orthodoxy both uphold a Greek version of Christianity in which the high-low distinction is structurally integral to everything”
-I see now where our conversation at my blog came from! I’ll have to revisit that."

Actually...I guess we've already covered it, now that I think about it. I had said that my Protestant friends view my "refined taste" as arrogant. You had seemed to agree.

This is kinda fascinating, actually. Here we have your suggesting, I think accurately, that high-low is integral to the structure of everything in Catholicism.. Here we have me at Dejan's post suggesting, I think accurately, that us Protestants are Cartesian dualists.

And yet here we have your suggesting that the ultimate sin in Protestantism is "arrogance," in the sense of there being a high-low distinction. The issue for us protestants with high-low is mostly on political on a conscious level, but we are Cartesian to the core, mostly unrealized!

What to make of this!?
BTW by "unrealized" I meant "unconsciously"...and in ways that don't have so much to do with politics, necessarily.
Well, Descartes was French and Catholic, arriving on the scene nearly a century after Luther and Calvin. I think his mind/body dualism is directly continuous with Plato and Aristotle. On your recent cigars post I quoted Aristotle on why men should rule women, i.e., because men are more mind while women are more body. This whole rationalist strain of modernism I think comes via Aquinas, whereas the empirical strain comes from Calvin.
The empirical strain comes from CALVIN!! Stop the press! That's like a big vacume in my mind's map of history! What are you talking about? Please expound!

And I would say that Descartes' dualism is in fact "continuous with" Plato and Aristotle, but transfigures it quite radically. Making it also discontinuous, in a way. Kind of both, I think. But I tend to focus more on the discontinuous, because I think it is at Descartes where you begin to get a SPLIT between body/mind and theory/practice.

But this CALVIN thing!? Does THAT contribute to the SPLIT BEFORE Descartes? My mind could think of reasons why or how, but I really don't know Calvin well enough to say.
By "split" I partially mean culturally. Like I think after Descartes we would interpret Plato's talking about "Cup" as occuring historically while he himself was actually sitting in a cloud staring at "a Cup," while for Plato himself I think it occured while staring at a cup...just like for Aristotle and his "intelligible" of "cupness." Whereas now we separate Plato/Aristotle becuase we think that Plato was staring at a Cup while Aristotle was staring at a cup. Which, firt of all, makes no sense (there is no "a Cup"); and secnodly - I think, again, that they were both staring at "a cup."
Luther's battle cry was "sola Scriptura" -- no need for priestly mediators between God and man, because God would enlighten every believer to understand the Word of God directly through the Bible. Calvin made Luther's call more systematic. Scripture is the evidence God makes available to us; our job is to understand what that evidence tells us about God, man, salvation, etc. We need good solid Bible study, looking to the text as data rather than as inspirational stimuli for flights of mysticism. This data-driven approach to the Bible carried over into the data-driven understanding of natural revelation; i.e., science. The big scientific centers of the Enlightenment were Protestant strongholds: Germany, Holland, England (sort of Protestant), America.
Oh THAT'S what you meant. Oh, OK. Its not necessarily direct (but sort of, in regards to biblical hermeneutics). Gotcha. Interesting that Calvin systemetized it.
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