Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Selling Junk Bonds and Reading Lectures to Elephants: Robert Capon on Religion, Grace and Nose Slicers | Mockingbird

Selling Junk Bonds and Reading Lectures to Elephants: Robert Capon on Religion, Grace and Nose Slicers | Mockingbird

From Mockingbird blog:
A couple characteristically vivid quotes from Robert Farrar Capon’s classic Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus:

The world is already drowning in its own efforts as life; it does not need lifeguards who swim to it carrying the barbells of their own moral and spiritual efforts. Preachers are to come honestly empty-handed to the world, because anyone who comes bearing more than the folly of… the word of the cross (1 Cor 1:21,18) has missed completely the foolishness of God that is wiser than men. The wise steward, therefore, is the one who knows that God has stood all known values on their heads – that, as Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26ff, he has not chosen the wise, or the mighty, or the socially adept, but rather that he has chosen what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and what the world considers weak in order to shame the strong. The clergy are worth their salt only if they understand that God deals out salvation solely through the klutzes and nobodies of the world – through, in short, the last, the least, the lost, the little, and the dead. If they think God is waiting for them to provide classier help, they should do everybody a favor and get out of the preaching business. Let them do less foolish work. Let them sell junk bonds. (pg 242)

What role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten.

The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Chirst died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

The reason for not going out and sinning all you like is the same as the reason for not going out and putting your nose in a slicing machine: it’s dumb, stupid and no fun. Some individual sins may have pleasure still attached to them because of the residual goodness of the realities they are abusing: adultery can indeed be pleasant, and tying one on can amuse. But betrayal, jealously, love grown cold, and the gray dawn of the morning after are nobody’s idea of a good time.

On the other hand, there’s no use belaboring that point, because it never stopped anybody.
And neither did religion. The notion that people won’t sin as long as you keep them well supplied with guilt and holy terror is a bit overblown. Giving the human race religious reasons for not sinning is about as useful as reading lectures to an elephant in rut. We have always, in the pinches, done what we damn pleased, and God has let us do it. His answer to sin is not to scream “Stop that!” but to shut up once and for all on the subject in Jesus’ death. (pg 252-253)

That's good stuff; I do love Mockingbird, even when I don't understand what they're saying, really, or agree with a lot of it.

I'm an empiricist, without a doubt - and I suppose it hinders me at times. I don't really understand the point of trying to make everything make perfect sense, down to the last dotted iota; I don't think various contradictory ideas in the Bible can be harmonized - and don't really worry about this, either. I don't know why anybody does.

I've just come from reading the Wikipedia definition of "The Theology of the Cross," and find I don't really accept that in full, either - and again, don't know why I should have to.

I do know one thing, though - and as I've just come from writing elsewhere, it's the horse I'm definitely riding these days. And this is the thing I know: there is nothing so productive of energy and growth as admitting one's weaknesses and acknowledging one's problems. These things are the very elementary bases for recovery in A.A., which is by a long shot the most exciting, productive, energetic, and fascinating spiritual journey I've seen and been involved in in all the world and in all my life. There is and has been nothing like it.

For quite a while, I thought it didn't translate to non-addicts - but I'm over that now. And so I'm sort of "preaching the Gospel of preaching the Gospel" these days. I'm out there making claims that if we did this - if clergy and members of Episcopal churches would stick to the very basic ideas behind "the theology of the cross" - we would matter to people. If we would just admit our own weaknesses - and acknowledge that that's what we were there for in the first place! - we would be an irreplaceable lifeline in the world. We would be as vital - and as necessary to its members - as A.A. is to alcoholics.

It would be like this:

By way of contrast, the Christian church often creates an environment where people cannot really be open and honest about their struggles. It can appear that Christians have no besetting struggles, just “victory,” and the occasional assaults of the devil, but very few inwardly generated liabilities or recidivistic tendencies. The person in AA who denies these things is nothing more than a liar. To quote 1 John 1: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Imagine walking into a church where all who entered were asked to sign a waiver at the door that said: “I’m a sinner and by stepping into the room today I acknowledge that fact.” Ministry and church life would be tremendously more effective. Unfortunately, you can come into church these days and sign up for any number of identities: Easter/Christmas type, fanatic/Pharisee, sinner, middle-of-the-road, or whatever. In AA there is only the option of sinner.

To be weak is to be strong; to fail is to triumph. And at that point, how could we lose? We would be offering something fascinating and really utterly unique in the world - a path to energy, movement, and personal transformation of the most exciting kind. They would be beating the doors down to get in.

It's no good to want or try to be right or perfect; what's the fun in that? Where can you go? What do you have to look forward to? Nothing at all, in fact; you're stuck right where you are, forever.  (Unless you become as little children, you really cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.)

So I ask you: which path sounds like the more exciting and wonderful one?

the horse I'm riding these days, and I don't care about all the rest of it.  I'm not interested in whether or not there's "free will" or in "irresistible grace" or in "justification by faith alone" - I don't have much faith most of the time, myself - or in whether or not people can do anything good at all; that's "over-egging the pudding," as they say in the Olde Country.  It's going way, way beyond what's necessary; it's thinking way, way too much.

No, I'm interested in offering people some way to get unstuck - to find joy in and engagement with life and living, and the potential for growth and change.  The rest is, literally, academic.

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