Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sensible? no. Reasonable? YES!

A mudpuppy or aquatic salamander: strange but not as strange as what you'll read here!

The more I think about Christianity, the stranger it seems. Most of it makes no sense. If you want to gain your life, you must lose it. If you want true happiness, you must sacrifice what makes you happy. True justice means never retaliating. A kingdom is like a seed, and a person is a vine, or bread, or water, or light. Love your enemies. Only give to those who can't repay you. Take the place of least honor. If you want to be first, put yourself last. If you cry, you're lucky. If people are cruel to you, rejoice. A tiny scrap of bread embodies the Infinite, the Eternal, the person who makes you live in every moment. And then you eat it. If you want to be rich, give everything away. Don't think about how to clothe or feed yourself! The people who commit the worst crimes may be more justified in God's sight than the good citizens, who follow all the rules. The best leader is a child. The wisest among us doesn't know as much as an infant does. Joy may blossom under the most severe degradation and cruelty, while the rich and well-fed tremble in agony.

Despite the fact that none of it makes sense, I think it is easy to lose sight of just how far-fetched Christianity is -- how counter-cultural it is.

Why would anybody follow this strangest Way to live? I can only think of two reasons (if someone reads this, please add others I may not be considering): either we come to the point where the more "sensible" route betrays us and then we grope blindly for Christianity, almost without hope; or we see something amazing, something we can't explain, something that so astonishes us that we are willing to suspend our craving for the sensible path in order to explore what this strange thing can be all about.

At the moment when we are willing to sacrifice the sensible, the safe, and the best solutions we can come up with on our own, we become open (even if only infinitesimally at first) to the possibility that we do not make ourselves or the world we inhabit. But what could be more reasonable than to assert that I did not give birth to myself, and I do not keep myself alive? Why do I need an extraordinary push in order to recognize an obvious fact? Well, let's just say that remaining sensible within a sensible world requires that we ignore some of the evidence of our senses, to the point where we can barely use our eyes or ears anymore!

Now, according to my "sensible" mind, I make decisions, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I pursue what I like while avoiding what I don't. But if I begin from the most reasonable conclusion, that I don't make myself, then I need to consider that I am the work of Another; I breathe with the air of Another; I sing or work because Someone else gives me a mouth and hands. Who is this Other? What does He want with me? What am I made for?

I don't have to guess the answer! At a certain point in history, in a precise location, this Someone became a person, a brother who walks beside me. He made the claim that he is the one who generates me, gives me every breath I inhale. This human being claimed to be one and the same Person who has a particular desire for me that is so strong that he spoke me into existence and sustains me in every moment. He's the one who teaches me all the senseless things I listed in the first paragraph (and many others, besides).

Christianity rests on the edge of a knife's blade. Do I accept that this human being, born in Judea roughly two thousand years ago, is who he says he is or not? Why should I accept? What happens when I follow the strange indications he gave?

It is the same for each and every Christian. No one can escape exploring these questions. There will never be any substitute for this journey. So, allons my friends!

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."