Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday

What have I ever given up for Lent? Nothing. I don't give up things for Lent. Not that it wouldn't do me some good to give up this or that for Lent. But, I don't go in for that kind of thing.

In fact, I really don't do anything that I don't want to do. I realized that about myself a few years ago. The real key to life is figuring out those good things you like to do, and focus on them. There are always good things you are attracted to. Of course, there may be some destructive/bad things you are attracted to as well. The trick is loving what builds up life, and learning to despise what tears down life. Once you do that, it is just a matter of doing what you really love.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rules and Principles

Seems I can't get off of this subject. I don't like rules, but am very committed to principles. But, what's the difference? A principle does not tell you exactly what to do in any particular situation, but gives you the type of understanding necessary to figure out what to do in a variety of situations.

A doctor who really understands the principles of medicine can take on about any patient and get some idea of how to go about diagnosing and treating that person. A doctor who doesn't really understand the principles of medicine must match up certain symptoms to certain disease descriptions, and if he or she can't match them up real easily, then the doctor is in trouble. Lawyers who don't understand the principles of legal thinking have the same problem. And, it's probably that way with difficult mechanical problems as well as other areas of life.

It seems to me that the religious people Jesus was criticizing were obsessed with rules: tithing mint,dill and cummin, but had lost touch with the deepest principles of faith: justice, mercy, and love. Of course, Jesus didn't say to throw out all the rules, but to understand that rules are meant to serve guiding principles, whereas the rule-obsessed twist principles around to serve and justify their rules.

Once Jesus criticized those who said they were "tithing," giving money at the temple, and thus had nothing left to support their own parents. Jesus described this as getting things backwards. Serving the commandment of humans (temple tax) and ignoring the commandment of God (honor father and mother). Or, another time, some religious rule-oriented people complained about Jesus laboring on the Sabbath and his disciples gathering food on the Sabbath. Turns out, the Sabbath Commandment is obeyed when you understand and honor the deep principle in it: God created the Sabbath rest to serve the well-being of human beings, not human beings to serve the Sabbath.

In the 60's there was a book written by Joseph Fletcher called: "Situation Ethics." Now, a lot of conservatives got all mad about that book, saying that it simply allowed a person to create their own moral rules in every new situation. Of course, if this is what situation ethics is, a way of allowing us to justify our action by coming up with a rule that allows us to do whatever we want to do, then I guess I can understand the complaint. But, a life lived with moral integrity is always a life that adapts its deep principles of living to new situations. So, I don't see escape from a certain type of situation ethics. The real key is the commitment of a person to deep principles of living that find a way to truth and justice and decency in all sorts of situations.

Rules and principles. If you read through Jesus' teachings in the New Testament, it doesn't look like he prescribed many rules, but he taught principles that could only be understood if lived. And, since he lived the principles he taught, it really gives us a feel for what he meant and what living in the way he lived could mean for us.

God's way in Christ does not first bind us to rules or a book, but binds us to a Person, a relationship, a holy mystery at the core of life. The Book points to that, and awakens a sense of that. In the end, faith is not first of all about following certain rules or even about following certain principles. It is first of all about following this way of Jesus, this way opened on earth by the love of God. We learn certain principles on this way and some rules as well. But, I think we have to start like the disciples started: by throwing down (or, at least suspending) our rules and principles and seeing if there aren't some other ways of living - holy and creative ways that come from God and not from us.

Paul is such a great example of the freedom that comes from that. Of course, he got "thrown down" on Damascus Road when confronted by the Risen Jesus, who said: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?!" I imagine that that question asked by Jesus hit deeper and harder than the temporary blindness Paul experienced. As Paul later said in a letter to the Philippians, "I learned to count all of my religious rules, principles, and attainments as shit compared to knowing Christ.:" (my paraphrase). Paul was given a new core of life, a new energy and vitality in his thinking and feeling and living. And, he comes up with an amazing 'Situation Ethics' around the deep principle of love as demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus.