Friday, 20 January 2017
texting romans thirteen
Rm13v1-2 'Obey the state', says Paul, a man famous for making trouble for religious & political authorities, and getting himself thrown in prison. Confusing. The language, at least in translation, seems so absolute, it's hard to know what to do with it. One wants to insert 12v18's 'so far as it depends on you' as a prefix here, does this help us frame our responsibilities more humbly and yet more courageously? Perhaps as important as a lens is 12v21. Do not respond to the evil of the state with evil, do not let the evil of the state defeat you, instead, overcome evil with good. Our response to the state shouldn't be merely reactive, complaining or demanding our own rights. Our response must be love. And love is so deep a thing that it can be many things: 1Cor13v4-8, my response to the state must be patient & kind, my response to the state must not be selfish or ill-mannered or irritable, my response to the state must not hoard up wrongs against me, my response to the state must not be happy with evil, my response to the state must delight in the truth. I must not give up on the state. I must approach the state with faith, hope & patience, which never fail.
Rm13v3-4 "Rulers are not a terror to good conduct" That maxim is not my default setting. Individualism's version of history has taught me that such statements are dangerous. And so, self-righteously adrift, fed by soundbites from Adbusters and Klein and Wink and Ellul and Mr Robot and my own mix of angry intellectual sorrow, I wallow in cathartic anarchism which would have me tear down everything, every thing, especially Paul's apparent pro-establishment oily sycophantism naively licensing the withering of vitally critical democracy. Doesn't he know all relationships tend towards control, all association towards cronyism, all order towards bureaucracy, and that all power inevitably corrupts. So, I congregate with those who share a vague sense of conspiracy, a seething father-fury, an escapist desire to build a lonely utopia of total subjectivism. This is not the revolution that Jesus or Paul intend, it is not love, it is not wise, it will not last.
"Rulers are not a terror to good conduct" We pray for Parliament, we speak well of leaders, we assume the best, we let them know we are on their side, we give them a generous license to inhabit their role, we become the sort of citizenry who so dignify the poor, who so rigorously refuse violence, who so transparently conduct business honestly, that we would get the politicians we deserve, and we get the national border policies which we practice ourselves in the microcosm of our household.
Rm13v5-6 A verse for tax return day! Let's pray for God's work as and through filing our tax returns, putting aside cynicism and praying God's blessing on state-funded medicine, libraries, schools, systems, benefits, etc. May those in power in this country, at the front-line and in the high echelons, work holy work. Thank you God, for all that is good true & beautiful in the work of our state. May all that is less-than be redeemed continually by your spirit. May it be.
Rm13v7-8 "Pay to all what is owed ..taxes ..revenue ..respect ..honour."
"Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it." Pr1v19
"Give honour to your wife .. that your prayers may not be hindered" 1Pt3v7
I remember reading Pr1v19 in the days of Napster circa 2001. Ill-gotten mp3s sucked the life out of music for me, I robbed myself of the magic of physical album, the surprise of the mixtape, the responsible adventure of selecting this album and not that one in exchange for pounds and pence. Instead, hoarding gigs of data from the delicious borderlands of illegality, relishing a petulent sense of entitlement, sticking it to the proverbial man.
It is not quite 'karma' that is in play here, but nevertheless there is a comeuppance, a certain personal zero-sum-game, I create a deficit, a debt for myself, (and in this case an unpayable debt to the abstraction of the music industry in a complex ethical era growing exponenetially more opaque. Who do I now repay?)
Debtors are the walking dead, the brittle and the twitchy, imposters in the land of the living. This is not just CAP's Wonga-poisoned millions holding their breath at the peephole as the bailiff pounds the door. All dishonouring another creates a debt, all late-payment creates distrust, all freeloading creates shame, and you withhold forgiveness to your own detriment ~ broken glass clenched in palm.
However, the bond of reciprocation with the community of a gift economy is different, there is no tit-for-tat in love, one cannot pay infinity back in installments. The individualist achieves the illusion of debt-free existence by social dissociation and buy-out. The Christian lives debt-free through love by the grace of Christ's sacrifice which has paid it all forward.
Rm13v9-10 LOVE is too big a word to meditate on, the word is like a brick wall to my mind, exceeding my vision, it is like trying to meditate on infinity. But just as Blake, To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an Hour/, so too might be behold, know, engage the depth of Love which is curled up inside each of the commandments, so Ps119v20 towards a meditation (& response) on & to Ex20v1-17 promises to be a lived encounter with the unthinkable absolute of Love via the concrete particular of the commandments, through the concrete particular of the neighbour.
Rm13v11-12 You know what time it is. Christianity is daybreak. Christianity is the cockerel crowing. Christianity is the ping ping of your upstairs neighbour's iphone humming the vibrated heatbeat of morning to the floor boards. Christianity is a time. Christianity is an awakening. And, for Paul, such an awakening is both the suggestion of a code of behaviour: '..light is at hand, so then..' and the facility for it: 'put on the armour of light' tools or weapons (hopla ὅπλα) of light (phōtos φωτός) Lightsabres, if you will. We are found in the light, we are children of the light, we are lovers of the light, we are the light of the world, and light is our instrument of choice, task-lighting is our metaphor and simile.
Rm13v13-14 A condensed version of Eph4&5? All the same themes, which suggests they're presented together non-arbitrarily: light, sensitivity, attentiveness, decent behaviour VS darkness, insensitivity, sensuousness, immorality. Good talk by Clarke Scheibe on how we quash the Spirit by becoming comfortably numb goo.gl/RhTgb8 // Darkness & excessive sensuousness function in the same way - filling our cognitive, emotional, visual etc space with something total, so nuance, detail, particularity, cannot be felt, seen, attended to. It's why we comfort-eat rich foods, to 'fill' feeling space with something that overpowers the senses, and helps me not-feel anything outside it (Eph4v19). But the Light shows up detail, sensitivity shows up detail. Just as thinking about the Magi responding with gold frankincense myrrh are specific gifts to specific revelation, the prayer to be filled with the Spirit is a prayer to see hear smell touch taste in spiritual high resolution.