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So they’ve handed out the Nobel Prizes and once again I did NOT receive one. It seems that Al Gore was found more deserving of the Peace Prize than say ME, and Doris Lessing seems to have had a greater impact with her writing than I’ve had with my blog entries. But no hard feelings: a job well done to all of those Nobel winners.
For some reason listening to who won what in the Nobel prizes this year has got my mind all wrapped up in ideas of holiness. We’ve also been talking about personal and social holiness in my public theology class, so I’m sure that has something to do with it. As we’ve discussed it in class, it has brought up some memories for me regarding holiness that I find replicated in the work of these people who’ve just earned prizes for their work. Perhaps I should explain.
As someone from a holiness tradition the word ‘holiness’ has a very fixed meaning for me. For example, when I was eleven years old, I was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was such an important rite of passage that it eclipsed any other; even getting my period dimmed in comparison to being full to overflowing with God’s Holy Ghost.
It wasn’t because speaking in tongues or dancing in the Spirit were particularly exceptional events, although they were pretty kicking in that area. But when you were filled with the Holy Spirit it meant that you were truly sanctified, and that was huge. Sanctification was my church’s way of talking about holiness. My pastor always explained it as being set apart; our community’s understanding of sanctification implied purity through abstention: holding out from one thing in order to obtain another, better, thing. Specifically it’s the idea that through devotion and discipline you could be truly devoted to God’s good pleasure. Being filled with the Holy Ghost was a sign that you were very much on the right track to being an object devoted to God.
Since my Spirit dancing days, I’ve found myself more concerned with the social side of things. I am concerned with how my understanding of holiness gets played out on a larger scale and realize it’s very important to my personal sanctification that it does get played out in my communities. So I start snooping around and ask questions like: Where in my communities do I see us holding out from anything? Where is the community commitment to let go of one thing to embrace another, better, thing? Where is the commitment for alternative community that does not allow poverty because it abstains from excess? Where is the commitment to abstain from a few comforts to receive the blessing of a healed and whole creation? I’m sure they’re out there; I see glimpses of it every once in a while.
And maybe that’s why I feel the holiness vibe when I think about Nobel Prize winners. In a sense it is a prize awarded to someone who has shown great and dynamic devotion to a particular area in order to better humanity, whether it be our understanding of surface chemistry or our affirmation of women’s rights. Awarded these prizes is a sign of God’s Spirit at work in the world, working in our greater communities to set us apart for God’s good pleasure as realized through our tireless efforts to better ourselves and our communities.
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Today Bush vetoed a bill that would have increased the budget for child healthcare by $35 billion. He has his reasons I’m sure. He suggested that he believes in helping the poor, but this bill would include people who make a little too much to get Medicare but not enough to buy private health insurance. It seems he doesn’t want people to feel too secure about the wellbeing of their kids.
As a person of faith, I immediately begin to mumble about taking care of the “least of these” and pray for God’s quick and righteous judgment on his head – with the appropriate amount of grace and mercy. We all remember Bush’s claim to the presidency has rested on his firm belief in some ambiguous Judeo-Christian deity. But over the years he’s laid off on the Christian rhetoric as people have used their own Christian voices to call into question his abuse of power, his straight out lying, his ease with murder and war, his desire to cut out social programs, his push to deregulate anything that’s regulated and regulate anything that can be construed as free speech or critical thinking; essentially, Christians have begun to question the Christian-ness of his evil ‘strategeries’.
But, as a person of faith, I don’t think Christians have gone far enough in their critique of Bush’s paradigm. We’re still arguing over what’s the right Christianity and what’s the wrong one. (Nowadays the right one is the one that is liberal, wants to end poverty, ask questions, and be generally skeptical of big Christian movements that posit a one type of Christianity ideal and the wrong one is the one that voted Bush into powers and define their religion in terms of anti-homosexual and pro-life. At least in the circles I run in these days.)
It may be time to realize that some things don’t need elaborate justifications. I think it’s time that Christians get comfortable saying things like, “Christian or not, these are EVIL STRATEGERIES and they cannot be tolerated!!” As a person of faith I am kind of done with Christianity setting itself up as the end all of morality; I’m tired of having to justify things with, “because the Christian tradition shows …” or “because of the biblical witness I feel …” or some other grab for spiritual validation. I feel like there are times when it is more powerful to say, “I am a human being and I dare you to tell me it’s okay to neglect the welfare of our children. I. DARE. YOU.”
Just because the Christian construct is the most palpable these days, and that is soooo questionable, doesn’t give it the right to stand over every issue and declare it’s ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ as the legitimizing factor. It’s obvious to me that these conversations are important, and that as a person of faith it’s important for me to understand from whence I draw my ethics for myself and as a person in community with other Christians. But when I send a letter to Bush, when I join hands with a godless hippie or an Allah serving Muslim I won’t have to make my faith make sense of them. Instead I can let them speak for themselves, resonate with the humanity of us all, and speak truth to power until justice rolls down like thundering rain.
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Scanning the news today I came across an interesting report: an Austrian based animal rights group is working to secure the status of personhood for a chimpanzee. (to check it out follow this link http://news.yahoo.com/ and find it under most popular stories.) It’s comical at first; I imagine a chimpanzee in a 3-piece suit patronizingly declining a banana to prove he’s over his embarrassing primate behavior. Continuing the story I found the chimp’s home will not be able to support him any longer and is seeking a home for him that can continue their work. The courts won’t allow it because the court refuses to recognize the chimp as a person. The fate of this chimp hinges on whether the Austrian Supreme Court decides if this chimp is a person or a thing.
Those crazy Austrians! Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? I come from a Christian tradition that emphasizes humanity’s dominion over all of creation; God gave us this earth to use as we see fit. The right of personhood belongs solely to humanity.
But is it that simple or are these animal rights activists on to something? Right above this article I noticed a report that boasted the killing of 60 insurgents by American troops. I was shocked to find a parallel with the chimp: by describing the Iraqi men and women who died as insurgents or civilians or what ever non-person term we’re using today, we step deeper into dehumanizing these people and desensitizing ourselves to their deaths.
Maybe the chimp connection goes even further. Perhaps by distancing ourselves from creation we distance ourselves from one another just enough so that I no longer realize the loss of your life is an insufferable loss to mine. The very fact that we have to argue to protect the life of an animal reveals a world in which just by changing the name of an animal, or a human, we can become comfortable and even proud of disposing of them.
Perhaps we can view the idea of dominion in a different light: not in the way of reckless domination, but as a responsible caring for things, and animals, and people who don’t hold our positions of power. That, instead of standing in front of a situation giddy with the limitless choices to take advantage, every decision is made from the perspective of the ones who are the least of these.
In the end then I hope Mr. Chimp gets his status as a person. And I hope, sooner rather than later, so also do the men and women of Iraq as we find our way out of this dehumanizing quagmire.
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