November 6th, 2006


Neither Black nor White

There was a man laying face down on Abby's back porch on Saturday afternoon - I thought he was dead.  I had walked out her door to find him laying below me, arms tucked under his body, head hidden in a baggy, blood-stained coat.  He was missing a shoe.  He was just lying on the porch.  I shouted at him, trying to rouse him.  I prodded his bare foot with my own foot but he didn't move.  I was convinced that he was dead.  We had only been inside for an hour.  How does a man come and die on our porch without us noticing?  Abby came next to me and together we stared at his back, eventually discerning (praise God) the slight rising and falling of a breathing man.  We continued to shout "Hello!" to him, and he continued to lay in silence.

Our options were ambiguous at best.  There was a good chance that his strange inability to awaken was a result of some form of intoxication - making him a potential danger, especially if it were drugs.  There was also a chance that he was in a coma.  More yelling, more noise-making, but no rousing.  Should we leave food for him?  Can we leave him?  Should we call an ambulance, especially if he's in a drugged-out state?  We called an ambulance.

They were able to wake him up: they tugged on his ears.  Our poor friend was immensely intoxicated and had no idea how he got to the porch or where his shoe was.  They took him to detox to spend the night; it appears that he was homeless.

The entire episode has left me with flagging questions:  Did we do what was right?  Were we taking care of the sick and clothing the naked?  The ambulance fee was $1000, and since our unexpected guest caused the ruckus he would  be charged (though in reality, the bill is probably a formality, being that the homeless can't usually pay for these things).

We felt strangely like failures as we watched the ambulance drive off.  Where was the Gospel in this situation?  Did we give in to fears?  Were our fears okay?  Our phone calls brought him to detox, but not on our money, and not on our time.

The medical workers and police officers were amused and casual: they do this type of thing many times a day. 



A Poem to Gregory

I am reading John McGuckin's St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography, tracing the life of Gregory's thought, from childhood to old age.  The author, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and happens to be an Orthodox priest of the Romanian Archdiocese, composed an interesting poem at the beginning of his work, elaborating on his personal affection for this very human saint.   (For those that are unfamiliar with St. Gregory, his work in the 4th century is a standard of orthodox Trinitarian and Christological theology). I found the poem interesting and thought I'd share:

St Gregory Nazianzen

Of all the ancients,
You I think I could live with
(some of the time)
comfortable in you
like an old coat
sagged and fraying at the back,
(its pockets drooping with important nothings
like string, and manuscripts of poems)
perfect for watching you off your guard,
rambling round your country garden,
planting roses, not turnips,
contrary to the manual
for a sensible monk;
master of the maybe;
anxious they might take you up all wrong;
shaking your fist at an Emperor,
(once he had turned the corner
out of sight);
every foray into speech
a costed regret.
Your heart was like a spider's silk
swinging wildly at the slightest breeze,
too tender for this tumbling world
of mountebanks, and quacks and gobs,
but tuned to hear the distant voices
of the singing stars
and marvel at the mercy of it all. 

An Error

Alastair is a wonderful writer with many good things to say, and has written a fine piece on the error of the enthroning of the "rational mind" as the place of Christian worship.  Allow me to qoute him in some length:

From Worship and the Cartesian Mind:

Operating with a rationalistic definition of the human being, the worship service must downplay the body and focus on addressing itself to the mind. Candles, incense, clerical vestments, kneeling, processions, silence (except as a time for thinking), fine church buildings, and even in some cases music itself, are seen as distractions from rational worship, which should be removed. Elements of worship such as the Eucharist become increasingly treated as affairs of the mind. The Eucharist is reduced to a sign to be verbally explained, mentally interpreted and reflected upon.

Significant changes in my anthropology and in my view of worship over the last few years are by no means unrelated. Study of the Scriptures, self-reflection and engagement with others have progressively disabused me of any belief that I once held that we are primarily rational creatures. God addresses us at levels far deeper than our rational consciousness. I also believe that the idea that Scripture chiefly addresses us at a rational level should be questioned. The idea that Scripture always speaks first to our minds just seems wrong to me. This does not mean that the Scripture bypasses our minds altogether. However, it means that when the Scripture commands, exhorts, rebukes, comforts or encourages us, our minds are not the primary part of our make-up that God wants to engage with what is being said. God’s Word often addresses itself to our chests, before it ever speaks to our minds (or even to our hearts)...

In understanding the fact that man is not primarily a rational being, it is helpful to remember that most human communication is non-verbal. This is why liturgical training of the human body in posture, gesture and vesture is so important. As human beings we were designed to communicate with the entirety of our bodies and to receive communication with every part of our make-up. Much of the communication that we give is pre-conscious, as is the manner in which we receive much that is communicated to us. Often the most significant truths that we communicate or receive are the ones that we communicate or receive without even knowing that we are doing so, or without even thinking about it. Good liturgy can train us to communicate in Christian ways subconsciously, not just consciously. It can also communicate powerfully to the youngest person present in a way that a rationalistic service cannot.