Friday, April 18, 2014

Cease from struggle

When I am confronted by Christians, well, by anyone but particularly by Christians, who are anything from indignant to militant and antagonistic as they report to me this or that latest outrage against morality, or freedom, or the faith, or the church, I cannot help but become very calm and, though I see I do not speak, I think of the words of Jesus Christ, 'Offer the wicked man no resistance…'

This is not the verse I remember when I read in history or in the news all sorts of accounts about wars between nations, or people defending themselves against violent crimes. Though many kinds of struggle look the same, often they are very different and require very different responses. The words of Jesus are always there to aid us, and though they seem to be saying one thing now and later the opposite, this is why.

The truth is, we seem to be a contrary and contentious people, the human race as a group, but I don't think we are born that way. It is something we learn to be. Argument and confrontation surround us, and almost nowhere in human society can we find peace. One would hope that peace might be found within the Church enclosure but, alas, it is not. Instead, that seems to be where the worst bickering and backbiting occurs.

Lord, help us! So an American Christian missionary of Iranian origin goes back to his ancestral country and gets in trouble somehow. He is put under arrest and confinement, and hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition to induce the American government to press for his release. The State department doesn't even show up when the petitions are presented. That's what I heard from a fellow Christian 'struggler' anyway.

I get quiet inside. I suffer inwardly, knowing a man is wrongly held somewhere, but then, he's one of many millions who are now, and through time, wrongly accused, held, punished, even executed. I can't rouse myself to the indignation my informant feels as he adds, 'We have to protect the brothers!' His words remind me of Charlemagne's knights declaring, 'We wouldn't have crucified Christ like those Jews did, if we'd been there!'

I think of the words of Saint Basil, 'We are all deceived.' I think of my own life, my own situation. I joke with my friend, 'Who will sign the petition to get me released from my imprisonment?' nodding at the workshop where I spend most of my day, making machinery parts. He doesn't get it, but continues his diatribe with another co-worker who listens and adds a bit of affirming chit-chat. The struggle goes on. Us against them.

When really, this is not a struggle we can win. I mean, we almost never win these kinds of conflicts. True, sometimes we do win, or at least appear to; taking the long view which is denied us by the present moment but which history affords us in retrospect, very few of our wins, even when the winners are righteous, can be maintained. All victories but one include concealed slippage. All must pay the piper in the end.

That one victory, though, didn't look anything like victory when it was won: A naked corpse that was once a man, so disfigured we couldn't even tell who He was to look at Him. No one knew what struggle was being fought in His hanging on the Tree, nor what was won when He spoke, 'It is finished' and breathed His last. Even now that we think we know, we really do not. Otherwise we would not be fighting, struggling as we do.

Causes, there are always causes that we must support, wars we must fight, whether with swords or words only. Now, in this enlightened age, it's a wonder we don't wear our tongues out with incessant complaint or lose our voices by raising the hue and cry every morning and evening. What of the real struggle, the one that goes unnoticed within us and ingloriously? He revealed it to us and showed us the way to win: the Cross.

Hanging on the Cross, we cease from struggle. The war of words falls silently on deaf ears. To see all, and yet to say nothing. 'As a Lamb is dumb before its shearers,' that is our model. Peace there is in this, to cease from struggle. Wars wear themselves out around us, finding in us no enemy, no one to attack, no one to subdue. Morning and evening, ours is the victory song, 'Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabaoth…'

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