The Ubiquity of Evil and the Hope of Christmas


IMG_0031Whenever describing the evil actions of a person, most Americans will typically turn to the WWII Nazis as an example of evil personified. For the Russian writer Dostoevsky, he turned to the actions of Turkish soldiers to describe the detestable nature of human deeds. We can point to almost any nation at any given time and find people performing some of the most inhumane and violent acts. One can point to a San Francisco sheriff’s deputy who stands accused of attempting to choke a hospital patient to death and then charged the patient with assault. He did this for no apparent reason, which just stands as evil. Or we can turn to New York where two police officers – one a husband and father, the other a newlywed – were murdered for “revenge” right before Christmas.

It is near impossible to look into this world and not see it consumed by evil. Certainly, it seems that we have fallen into a void, one in which all can agree that we have gone astray. Many people hold to some form of naiveté believing that they could never be the perpetrators of evil, forgetting that Nazi guards were also fathers at home, that psychotic cop killers were once someone’s child. Evil is so prevalent in our world that we are, at any given point, just moments away from performing any given evil. The men who put people in gas chambers were not monsters, but men like you and I. The soldiers who perform war crimes are not subhuman, but quite human with hopes, dreams, and even good qualities outside of their acts of evil.

In a way, the humanity of those who perform monstrous acts makes them all the worse. Were they monsters then we could expect their evil as a part of their nature. It is why there is no conflict in fables when the hero goes off to fight a monster; monsters are, by their nature, evil beings. But what if the hero goes off to kill the dark knight, only to discover that while the knight did burn a village, he’s also a father to two children and a husband to a loving wife? He is a man, who by his nature is good, neglected his nature and turned to evil. Evil seems all the worse when we realize that partaking in it is the abandonment of our nature as humans.

Contrary to popular belief, humans are not evil by nature. Were we evil by nature then God would be a liar, calling his creation “very good.” Christ would have had to been evil by nature, that or have not taken on a human nature. Rather, Christ took on a human nature, showing that it was not the human nature which was evil and fallen, but the human will that fell. Thus, our engagement and enjoyment in evil does not stem from some natural inclination towards evil, but against our very nature; we must choose to engage in evil, we must choose to enjoy it. The Nazi guard did not do what came natural to him, but rather had to rationalize his actions and justify his actions, because deep down he knew them to be wrong. Such is the cry of all tyrants throughout history; “I was only following orders,” “It was my duty,” “I did it to protect my nation,” and so on. But acts of kindness, acts of love, never need such justifications. No man says, “I gave to the poor because I was told to,” or “I helped the orphans to help my nation.” No man who performs an act of love, an act of goodness, must ever justify his actions, for his actions speak for themselves. Only acts of evil need justification, and while the perpetrator might rationalize his actions, he will never justify them.

Through our rationalization of evil – of recent, rationalizing torture, isolation, subjugation, killing of the innocent in the name of authority, killing of the innocent in the name of revenge – we must admit that our world is a very dark place. Indeed, evil seems commonplace in the world and impossible to overcome. Somewhere in the world a child is starving because a warlord decided to horde the food for himself and his minions. Somewhere a woman cries out to apathetic ears while being violated by tormenters. Elsewhere a child sells himself to rich men for their acts of debauchery so that his family might eat. A man is killed for some arbitrary reason and to satisfy the evil urgings of another. A wife discovers her husband has cheated on her and seeks to cheat as well in order to exact revenge. Children sit in the same home as their parents, but are technological orphans, finding more connection with their cell phones than with the flesh and blood that brought them into this world. A man yells at the person with a foreign accent, hating someone for the mere fact of being different. Another hates people for a different shade of skin. The list of evils continue, all occurring within seconds of each other, overlapping each other, covering the globe, displaying the ubiquitous nature of evil.  Continue reading

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Torturing the Image of God: Reflections on Christmas, Our Current Problems, and G.K. Chesterton


IMG_0039Amidst all the glitz and glimmer of Christmas we sometimes ignore that this is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar. Christmas marks the celebration of the birth of God into this world, the moment when in order to redeem a fallen creation, God the Son took on our flesh in order to redeem it. While made in the image of God, we ran away from this image and denied our purpose, thus losing all purpose in living. The Incarnation serves to remedy our flaw and to bring us back to Christ. Christ came into the world to redeem it from the ills visited upon it by us, he came to save us from ourselves.

It is not without the greatest irony that as we are here during Advent, the time before Christmas, that our televisions are full of stories that run contrary to “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” We’re told stories of how our leaders authorized torture of suspected terrorists, some of whom turned out to be innocent. We see multiple protests against the police brutality in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, and other places. We saw Congress pass a spending bill that all but showed that they no longer regulate Wall Street, but instead are regulated by Wall Street, creating a scenario that will eventually lead our economy into another collapse. This Advent, we’ve seen stories, with increasing frequency, that show we’re becoming more depraved, more individualistic, and more of what we don’t want to be. Is this not what Christ came to stop?

We live in a fallen world, one in which difficult decisions must be made and sometimes difficult actions must be taken. But does this mean we must sacrifice our souls in order to save our lives? Must we torture someone for information, especially when this information doesn’t really do anything? Must we, like former vice president Dick Cheney, be so callously evil in our apathy towards the torturing of innocent people? While torture goes against human nature and one need not be a Christian to oppose torture, why does it seem that so many Christians embraced the CIA torture with glee? Why is it that, like Cheney, we can say that “real torture was 9/11,” as though only Americans can suffer torture? How can Christians, who ought to be humanists because God both created humans and became a human, celebrate the destruction of their fellow image bearers?

Or what do we do with the constant berating of the late Michael Brown. We’re told that it couldn’t be a case of him making a bad decision in robbing a store, or allegedly a bad decision in going after Darren Wilson. No. He must be a “thug,” he must be evil incarnate, and no matter what, we must be better off that he is dead. We must mock his death, celebrate his eradication, and not care that the image was destroyed. The same story runs for Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, or the many others innocent victims (especially black males) of police brutality. Or what of those who end up on my end of the spectrum, who look upon the police with suspicion in these instances? Where is our compassion for the multitude of good police, the ones who do their jobs and sometimes lose their lives in service to their community? Where is the concern for the image of God in such discussions?

Christianity is a rough religion, it is not easy, and it’s quite impossible to actually follow it with any hope of consistency. To quote from G.K. Chesterton:

“My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the church failed it was largely through the churchmen…But I have only taken this as the first and most evident case of the general truth: that the great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived, but by not being lived enough…The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” (from What’s Wrong With the World)

In the entire chapter Chesterton raises the point of how ideals are important, not because we hope to achieve them, but because we can hope to strive for them. We can hope to make the world better. A conservative looks to the past and says, “We must get back to that golden age.” A liberal looks to a utopia and says, “We must make this occur.” But a realistic idealist looks to the ideal and says, “We must strive towards this, away from the past which did not achieve the ideal, but away from a future in which we think we have obtained the ideal.” Christianity presents an ideal that, at least this side of eternity, will never be obtained.  Continue reading

A Story of Christmas or, Sin and the Nativity


IMG_1029A friend sent this to me explaining a dream he had. I shall keep him anonymous and simply post what he wrote

Enter into the temple of creation, see its glorious ruins. We humans are a paradoxical people, enjoying the beauty around us while destroying it. This war against nature extends beyond the realm of ecology, beyond what toxins may contaminate; it extends beyond our bullets and our bombs launched at one another in misguided hatred; it extends beyond the self-mutilation of our psyche, beyond the civil war that rages inside everyone. Our war goes out beyond the realm of our universe, beyond our ontological barriers. Our struggle is one against Reality Himself.

We who wallow in darkness fear the light, for it brings pain to our shadowed eyes. We react to the light by running into the dark. We ask, “Whence is this light in our darkness?” but shut out the light when it encroaches upon our realm. We were drunk on our own glory, but are hung-over in our regret. Now any illumination is ruled too bright. We complain of the night, but dare not venture out into the day.

Once when contemplating evil, I saw the Son of Man wrapped and bound in thorny vines. The thorns dug in, drawing blood from the innocent one. “Why not command the vines loose?” I cried out. But he did not answer me. He instead walked toward me, each step tangling him more, thrusting the thorns deeper. “Please,” I begged. “Stop this sight, speak them out of existence!” And yet the Lamb said nothing to me as the blood began to flow. In anger towards his weakness, I threw sackcloth on him, I spat upon him, and I cursed his name. Still, he said nothing, only lamenting the pain.

The light invaded my dark room, as it seemed to shine from every drop of blood. I wrapped more sackcloth around him to snuff out the light, but as the thorns dug deeper, he grew brighter. My struggle against Reality stood as my greatest failure, the greatest in a long list of failures.

Angered, I relented to my lesson, but continued to mock him. “And I suppose,” I said. “That these are my sins that you took for me?” As the thorns disappeared beneath his dark skin, he still remained silent. Smugly, I stated, “I know the theologies of your substitution. Yes, I see, my sin you’ve taken upon yourself and now I am saved.” At that, my mouth went dry and tongue swelled, I struggled to swallow and feared for death.

“All this,” he finally said. “Is your sin. But I do not suffer for you, but for your victims. The thorns that dug into my flesh, these are the sharp stings delivered to others by your tongue. The sackcloth is your loveless apologies that hold no meaning to reconciliation. You offer peace, but still war in your heart. The light, however, is my glory. No matter the depth and resolve of your darkness, I will always shine through.”

He then touched my lips and I felt my thirst quenched. “You act like an enemy, but I treat you as a friend. You came against my beloved, but I call you a lover. You act in hate, but I am Love. You are finite in your fallacy, but I AM.

After this, he took me to an orphanage, one in a country long forgotten by civilization. I watched as a little girl played in isolation, as she cried out in hunger, and how the workers looked on. No one showed concern for her neglect. I was then taken to an old factory, where distraught women with blank expressions herded into a cramped van. They were off to sell their bodies under duress and without hope.

I saw more images of neglect and suffering, more than I thought possible. I watched the world writhe under the weight of evil while succumbing to its darkest passions. In all its victims, I saw individuals unified in familiarity. All different, yet all held the appearance of Divinity, the Eternal Light bursting forth from their pain in subtle beauty. Their oppressors also struck me with ugly similarity, with faces I knew. In their own way, each one looked like me.

I looked at my Divine Guide, confused and shocked. “The least of these hold my light.” he said. He did not look at me, but continued to stare at the suffering. “And you, the oppressor, bring darkness.” I objected quickly, stating that I am not to blame, that I did nothing to the least of these. “Yes, but you did nothing for them. Do you not realize,” he continued. “I made none of you to be separate. Every action committed in time ripples across time and space, into eternity. Your sin brings darkness to the world, you contribute to the sin of others.”

All light vanished, along with the Word, and I stood in complete darkness. In the distance a dull light brightened, and it shone upon a manger. Inside, a young baby cried and moved about. The star grew brighter, showing the ones I saw suffering bowing before the babe. Behind them were their oppressors, also kneeling in reverence.

I watched as the Spirit hovered over the formless void, shining light and bringing order to chaos. He spoke to me, showing that Hope had come into the world. The dark clouds began to lift, allowing the radiance of the moon to expose the majestic tranquility of the new creation. The angels sang and proclaimed the beauty of the event.

O sinners and enemies of God

To those who war against man

See where thy evil did trod

Observe the failure of thy plan

O abused, diseased, hungry, and tired

To those overcome by the world’s harms

Leave at once where you mired

And find rest within his arms

Into the darkness came the Word

Not to condemn but to save the lost

Peace he brought, not a sword

All saved, paid at such a cost

Today Immanuel, God is with us

As we await the full redemption

Incarnation, Divinity you now posses

Embrace this with full reception

I awoke from my slumber, feeling the cold night air through my open window. An immediate sadness came over me, knowing I was unworthy to see such a sight. A gentleness, however, subdued my sadness and I stood from my bed. I walked outside, staring at the bright Christmas Eve moon. I lit my pipe and sat in my chair, and calmly waited in anticipation.

The Shopping Dead or, Christmas and the Cult of Consumerism


IMG_0896The vast hordes pile against the defensive barriers the survivors have put in place. Yet, even the survivors know it’s only a matter of time before those barriers come down and the horde rushes in. The mass of lifeless, yet moving human bodies is intent on one thing and one thing alone; consumption. When the barriers come down they will burst forth, devouring everything in the path, giving no care to their surroundings and leaving nothing but devastation and destruction to all they touch.

To those worried, I am not giving a spoiler for The Walking Dead, rather I’m describing the upcoming Black Friday. To my non-American readers, “Black Friday” is the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, which marks the beginning of the Christmas season. During this day, millions of people line up at 4am to get into stores that open at 5am all to save some money on Christmas shopping. Imagine a mass stampede of animals, only a bit worse in that animals at least care about the rest of the herd. For those still unfamiliar, here is a video of what a Black Friday opening at a store can look like (and often does look like):

At the risk of sounding like Dale from The Walking Dead, we really are no better than zombies and, in many ways, are worse than zombies. Zombies (in their fictitious way) roam around and consume the living because that’s just their biological composition. They have no free will, they have no reasoning, they have no ability to rationalize what they are doing. They simply feed off whatever they can. The living, however, can rationalize. We know what we’re doing is wrong – or at least hold the capacity to know it is wrong – but we choose to do it anyway. In other words, the murderous hunger of a zombie is simply part of the zombie’s nature, but the gluttonous masses ought to know better.

Over consumption is a violation of Christian principles to begin with, but to do so during the Christmas season is simply blasphemous. Let the world do what the world wants, but Christians ought not participate. There’s nothing wrong in shopping for loved ones or even taking advantage of deals. There’s really nothing even wrong in shopping on Black Friday. But when the focus becomes the bargain, the sale, the material product, and not the Christ who came into the world, the Christian has destroyed all meaning to the Holy Day and his own faith. We demand that we put “Christ” back in “Christmas,” but where will He fit amongst all our toys and stampeding?

Perhaps we should focus on putting the mass back in Christmas before we attempt to insert anything else into the word. Any major mass within the historical Church (comprising of Orthodox and Roman Catholics who have a shared heritage and practice) typically comes with a feast. Pascha, or Easter, is possibly the greatest mass within the Church as it celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and it too comes with a feast. Yet, most feasts are often preceded by a fast; in fact, the greater and more significant the feast, the greater and more significant the fast. For Christians who are to celebrate the coming of God into this world how much sense does it make to consume more than we typically would? What about rushing over your fellow humans to buy the next big thing (that you’ll stop using within a year) screams “God with us?” How can we appreciate the feast if we’ve yet to fast?

How can we claim to be for family values when we support consumer habits that devalue the family? While it might be nice to go and save 50% at 10pm on Thanksgiving Day, how nice is it for those who work there to provide this convenience for you? How can we claim to be pro-family, but then take advantage of business practices that keep families apart? I know of workers at Target, Walmart, and elsewhere who had to work from 9am to midnight on Thanksgiving and then turn around and be back at work from 2am to 6pm on Black Friday. Likewise, it is not as though they’re being well compensated for these endeavors; at one big-box store a gentleman lacked in his hygiene because he had to choose between paying the water or paying the electric bill.

In engaging and supporting these business practices, by shopping on Thanksgiving or stampeding on Friday morning, we become mindless consumers who roam around, destroy all life around us, and are dead (spiritually at least).

Now I know, we’ll see the various memes roaming around about soldiers who don’t get a day off, so how dare these workers complain about having to work on Thanksgiving. This, however, is sickening propaganda. Are we really going to argue that shopping is as valuable and as necessary as protecting one’s nation? Is the cashier’s job just as essential as the infantryman’s job? Yes, there are those that must work throughout all holidays because their jobs are essential for our society to keep running. Retail, however, is not one of those essential services.

What, then, should Christians and churches do today and throughout the holiday season? How can Christians rise above the Cult of Consumerism and begin to display Christ again? Here are just a few practical examples that I think we should start following:

  1. Stop participating in the mayhem. Absolutely refuse to shop on Thanksgiving. If companies didn’t make money from people being out on Thanksgiving then they would stop opening on those days. Realize that a cheaper product comes at the cost of your character, and character is something no amount of money can buy.
  2. Shop locally whenever possible. Local businesses are easier to influence than big box stores. They also tend to be more ethical and fair to their employees as well.
  3. Churches ought to help retail employees connect with their families during this time. Have dinners for these employees or offer them free daycare if possible. Do what you can to help them.
  4. Do some Christmas shopping for these employees. Many retail workers end up working 6-7 days a week during the Christmas season. They don’t get a Sabbath. Christians ought to help do the Christmas shopping for these employees so they can devote more time to being with their family when they’re not working.
  5. Be nice. Christmas time is incredibly rough for retail workers and other “non-skilled labor” workers. Many haven’t been home for Christmas or Thanksgiving in years because they’re not allowed to take time off. Add to it that they’re overworked during this season and deal with people who are stressed, meaning the employees get yelled at quite a bit. Just by being nice you will help quite a bit. Maybe offer to bring them back a coffee (if they’re allowed to even have a drink out) or something. The smallest gestures will have eternal ramifications.

Never forget that this is a season where we celebrate God coming to live among us sinful humans. Christ dwelt among us and we too are to allow Christ live within us. We are not to partake in the mindless horde consuming everything in their path, but rather we are to partake in the Giver of Life who became a servant to all mankind. If God can humble Himself to our form, if the immortal Word can take on mortal flesh, certainly we too can live incarnational lives during this season.

A Prayer on Why Christ Came Into the World (with apologies to St. Augustine)


nativity iconO Father, forgive me, a sinner, for the words I am about to speak to you. For I am a fallen and finite creature, who am I to address the Holy and Infinite one? I am ashamed that the impure should address He who alone is pure. Please forgive me for the inadequacy of my words, the limitedness of what I have to say, and for my ignorance.

I confess that you alone are love, O Lord.[1] There are those who say that you created primarily or solely for your glory, but I know that you created out of love. For what can you do that does not display your glory or love? You had no need of creation, no need of us as humans. Your glory was eternally recognized by yourself; you did not need creatures to recognize your glory for you. You, being the only perfect being that is without limit and lacks in nothing, but is infinite, had no need to gain glory for you are glory. You had no need of us for fellowship, for you have eternally existed as one God in three Persons. Love has existed within yourself for all eternity, for you are love and this love has been displayed in your Triune nature.

Oh what beautiful sacrifice to create us! For you had no need and thus the mere act of creation was an act of sacrifice. Who can add to you, O God? Is there anything you can create that can make reality better? No, because you are Reality. Thus, you plus nothing is ultimate reality, absolute perfection, but in creation something lesser than you has been added, something to which you must divert your attention. Were you to turn your attention away from any aspect of creation, were you to forget about this tree, or that planet, or that galaxy, or the electron in an atom, then it would cease to exist. It is through your attention that creation continues on, for all things have their beginning and sustainment in you.[2] As your Word stated, you are concerned over even the birds and do not turn your attention away from them.[3] You even know the hairs on our heads.[4] You have counted and named all the stars.[5] All of this is done and known through your love.

You created man in your image and likeness[6], calling him to be holy as you are holy.[7] To man alone you bestowed your reason and love, both of which we were to use to glorify you and unite with you. We were created to enjoy your love and grow in you. You, God, are our purpose for living, you are the reason we exist, you are our goal, our happiness, our everything. Continue reading

Consumer Eve’s Sermon


Photo: Sean D. Elliot, AP

The crowds had gathered to hear his oration

They turned on their TVs across the nation

The Prophet of Profit was about to speak

Words of despair not meant for the weak

The season of consumption was about to arrive

And the reason for it he was about to contrive

The season lost meaning from a greedy lesion

The reason was against Love we committed treason

_________________

“The November chill cuts through the air

A consumer’s holiday forgoes the share

Work minions and be happy for your toil

Lest in your angst the work shall spoil

Away to your big boxes where the economy thrives

You are free so long as you give us your lives

Ignore disparity in the name of charity

Economic clarity is such a rarity

_________________

Forgo your family and celebrate material

Ignore the spiritual for you are corporeal

Buy the love of your beloved ones

Things for your daughters and things for your sons

Come to the cathedrals of corporate gain and fraud

Pay your tithes and bow before your new god

A god who is not flawed

We laud him and he is worshiped abroad

_________________

Carry on you multitude of wage-slaves

Our lord requires you slog to your graves

The masses demand things to consume

If you cease working it shall be our doom

Work your hours and happily take your low pay

Protest us not, your overlords, for what can you say?

Ignore disparity in the name of charity

Economic clarity is such a rarity

_________________

Worship your material father you consumed consumers

Show us paper or plastic and ignore all the rumors

That this season used to celebrate Love come to our domain

And on our behalf this Love suffered pain

This is the ancient belief of a false God, a knave

To our new god we worship, all of us, even the slave

A god who is not flawed

We laud him and he is worshiped abroad

_________________

O you humble workers why do you look so sad

You do the work of Economy, should you not be glad

We give you meager wages while we make millions

Because we consume what you sell, you lowly peons

How gracious we are to just give you a job

How ungrateful you are that you just sob

Ignore disparity in the name of charity

Economic clarity is such a rarity

_________________

Buy, buy, buy whatever you can afford

Use your credit and the more you can hoard

Don’t let the crowds get a better deal

Shop early and stay late and take home a steal

Ignore your family and buy their affection

For the god of stuff will guide you from the poor’s affliction

A god who is not flawed

We laud him and he is worshiped abroad

_________________

Stop complaining about what you are paid

Be happy that you’re servants in our god’s trade

What better gift than to be sacrificed to him

So work harder, work happier, and for us please be prim

You need us to give you jobs and income

We need you to sacrifice to our god and then some

Ignore the disparity in the name of charity

Economic clarity is such a rarity

_________________

Bow before our omnipotent and all-holy mammon

Give him your heart and ignore the filthy gamin

For the poor are cursed by our god and are lazy

Show them not love or care for this is crazy

It encourages them to stay poor and not to thrive

St. Darwin was right that only the fittest survive

A god who is not flawed

We laud him and he is worshiped abroad

_________________

Give up hope that the season is about Love incarnate

It is about trinkets, toys, tools, and a beautiful garnet

It is not about a warm fire burning for the poor

Nor about redemption for the drunkard or the whore

Nor about hope for the hopeless coming from above

It is about getting stuff and buying love

Ignore disparity in the name of charity

Economic clarity is such a rarity

_________________

Serve our superior deity and ignore the oppressed

Exploit their work so you may consume at our god’s behest

This is not the season for charity or helping the meek

It is not about a greater reality that we supposedly seek

Reality is what you can touch, feel, see, smell, and buy

It is material and wealth, not some fairy in the sky

A god who is not flawed

We laud him and he is worshiped abroad”

_________________

His sermon over the masses returned to work

As they walked away he could not contain his smirk

He laughed at the supposed ignorance of a few fools

But in his wickedness he did not see the true jewels

That Love conquers and gives meaning to material

And Love’s mission that we celebrate was meant for all

The season lost meaning from a greedy lesion

The reason was against Love we committed treason