AN: Have you considered whether or not this treatment by you of Karma is just another in a long line of attempts by Christians to co-opt powerful, indigenous positive moral structures to replace them with Christian ones?
MH: I’m co-opting the language but not the moral structure of Karma. I admit this up front. As I said, I’m following an ancient tradition of Christian communicators who’ve dared to borrow pagan language to communicate orthodoxy. Christians have no problem admitting that Truth can reside in other belief systems. The Bible doesn’t tell us details of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, though the worldview offered in the Bible is thoroughly consistent with this scientific reality. Truth is truth. We’ll take it and leverage it wherever we find it. There’s a certain self-evident element about elements of the Karma principle. Christians offer a different solution to the problem – we don’t accept reincarnation as a solution for instance. We believe reincarnation simply stalls off the fundamental issue while Jesus’ death and the offer of grace settles the matter in time and space. We like to say that “Jesus is the answer; what’s the question?” In this sense Christians feel free to play in any sandbox. And when we do we’ll find ways of seeing Jesus there. There’s a Christian sociologist named Don Richardson who says that every individual and every culture has “eternity written within.” Christians can therefore readily engage any religious or moral system in conversation, because almost all of us agree upon the root of the problem – humans have screwed things up. But then Christians will offer a different solution, a unique and surprising one of grace and forgiveness in one perfect and divine human being who lived in real time and in a real place.
February 17, 2010
Weight: 197 lbs
Weight lost: -9 lbs
Today is Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday.” Eat, drink, be merry!
My wife Jill and I once spent a Mardi Gras in New Orleans. “Wild” does not describe it. It’s a strange celebration, “Fat Tuesday,” this day before the beginning of Lent. Lent is the 40 day stretch of time on the Christian calendar leading up to the Passion of Christ, Good Friday and then Easter. Lent provides a season of fasting and self examination, a time to relinquish earthly passion in order to more soberly focus on those things in our lives the block us from God. “Fat Tuesday” is the storm before the calm, the last night of indulgence before the obligatory repentance.
I did not grow up in a Christian tradition that celebrated either Mardi Gras or Lent. Our stream of faith lived Lent 365 days a year. We were of the holiness strain and our approach to God was always austere and disciplined, more about what we can have than what we can’t. But later in life I became part of a fellowship with a long tradition of celebrating Lent – without much a “Fat Tuesday” however. Lately, I’ve come to appreciate the focus of Lent as a time of special attention to “things that so easily entangle me.”
I’m experiencing “Fat Tuesday” and anticipating Lent in a particular intensity this year because of my “Eucharist Diet.” My “Eucharist Diet” adventure is a six month experiment taking daily communion and tracking and posting the results in my personal life, relationships, health, and body fat percentage. I’m not taking on any other particular austerity, though I do need to drop another 15 pounds at least. I’m simply trying to add in the element of Eucharist…
So on this “Fat Tuesday” I do intend to “eat my fill!” For Lent I’m giving up nothing in particular except that I will continue to take communion each day. And that in itself will necessitate a self examination and a return to rely on God’s grace, moment by moment and day by day. As is, I’m eating my fill, on Jesus. He’ll be my feast and that will satisfy far more than gorging myself at a banquet table.
“Jesus, you are enough! Today and always. Food is a good and great gift. But you are true food and nothing else satisfies. Today, once again, I eat my fill of your goodness…”
AN: You’re saying that “Grace trumps Karma.” Isn’t it a bit foolish, to argue one unproven religious principle with yet another one? Karma exists or doesn’t every bit as much as Jesus.
MH: I won’t argue that from the realm of ideas. I can only say what I’ve experienced, personally. Karma leaves me in debt, but Grace in Jesus really works, practically I mean.
AN: How is that working out for you, personally?
MH: Here’s a story, not an argument: Somewhere a woman named Roxanne sits alone at night trying to silence the voices in her head. One of those voices is mine. I no longer know where she lives. I don’t know if she beats her children, cuts herself, drinks vodka for breakfast, or writes hateful emails to advice columnists. I wouldn’t be surprised at anything of the sort. I wouldn’t be surprised at worse.
I have not seen Roxanne since a clear, crisp Friday afternoon in March, 1974 when she got stepped off our school bus for the last time, the day she left our school. I drove her away.
I never intended to hurt Roxanne. We were bumbling through our 8th grade year at Soulsbyville School in the Gold Rush country east of Sonora, California. Roxanne had a disability. Her right hand hung at her side and she walked with a limp. She had large beautiful sad eyes, and she seldom spoke. We rode the same bus every morning and afternoon 40 minutes each way, weaving in and out of the little valleys where hearty and reclusive Californians had tucked away their homes. I got bored on those long drives. Generally, when I get bored I make trouble.
I grew up in a family of teasers. My father, who had the kindest of hearts loved to raise reactions with little ornery jests. I learned early that affection comes with a jab and a snicker. Herringshaws give this kind of attention. We tease.
I remember feeling uncomfortable with Roxanne’s sullen silence. She would sit in her seat alone, coddling her useless hand looking guarded and suspicious, staring out the window at the green and rocky hills of the Tuolumne. No one spoke much to Roxanne. She said even less. I remember thinking she needed attention. I decided to give he some. I started to joke with her.
I gave her a nickname which I can’t recall now. I sat near her whenever I could and peppering her with playful banter. She’d tell me, beg me to leave her alone, but her rebuffs only made me more resolved. I know now – and probably knew then – that some of my barbs crossed the line into meanness, some even to abuse. But no one corrected me and I never corrected myself.
Then one day Roxanne stopped riding the bus. Her parents removed her from the school and she disappeared from my life.
At the time I didn’t see a connection between my banter and her departure. I felt no responsibility. I never intended to hurt anyone. It was all in good sport. But in the years that followed, as my conscience and imagination matured I sometimes playing back the mental tape of those bus rides and I saw clearly the brutality I had helped heap on Roxanne. I had not caused all her pain. I had not intended to chase her off. But that was the result.
And what is life for her today? I don’t know. But I do know that I am part of a vast and complicated equation of pain she almost certainly still lives beneath and perhaps passes on to others. If tried fairly in a court, I would suffer conviction by a jury of my peers because my teasing had brutal unintended consequences. I might plead “I never meant to…” But that would not matter. I’d be made to pay reparations with interest and I’d go bankrupt.
I should be damned to hell or if I were Monist to 10,000 reincarnations to pay for this. But the reality is, I’ve been released of culpability. I know it! I couldn’t live with myself but experientially, I don’t have to! That’s what Jesus has done…
Today is Presidents Day 2010. Our first president, George Washington was a man of deep faith and prayer. Here’s an excerpt from Washington’s prayer journal.
O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.
Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the everlasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, & direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends & kindred unite us all in praising & glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father.
From William J. Johnson, George Washington, The Christian (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1919).