Thursday, October 29, 2009

Monsters in Recovery

Radovan Karadzic was a genocidal mass murderer. But, as Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić chillingly points out, he was also a physician, psychiatrist, and accomplished poet. Which leads me to ask: If being cultured and creative and, to all appearances, an all-around cool guy, is not enough to keep one from murdering 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, what is? Certainly becoming devoutly religious is not the cure - it can make matters worse. So what does it take?

"You must be born again," says the Jesus of John 3. This phrase that no doubt hit the original readers with the confounding force of a Zen koan has in our day been reduced to religious marketing, emptied of meaning, and filled with ideological implications and cultural associations that would have felt alien to the original audience. But in an ancient community of slaves and poor peasants, sharing food and possessions, encouraging one another in resisting the spiritual forces they believed animated Roman oppression - as they unfolded the scroll that had just arrived from their beloved teacher and read these words aloud for the first time in their sacred gathering, it must have meant something awfully powerful.

What did it mean? I suspect that deep down we all know. We get more in touch with the answer the more we are truly willing to ask the question, and vice versa. We "get it," not so much as individual seekers, but - as the early followers of Jesus knew so well - as a community of resistance seeking strength from the Spirit that we find in one another to swim against the tide.

The question of spiritual transformation is not distant or theoretical; it is intensely personal, practical, and urgent. For are we really less "monstrous" than Radovan Karadzic if, faced with ecological perils that jeopardize not only an ethnic group but the living systems of the entire planet, we remain paralyzed into inaction or impotent half-measures by the seduction of special interests, the anesthetic of air conditioning, and the blind darkness of our own apathy?

The practical paths love requires in our current circumstances can seem so onerously uncharted, is it any wonder we shy away from looking at the problems of our society and planet honestly? And yet Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden light. And, note well, the extortionist tax collector we meet in Luke 19, who gave away possessions and resolved to repay his victims four-fold, was not glum but exuberant. In taking what seemed to be the most burdensome step, he found liberating lightness. I'm looking for, longing for that lightness, for practical ways to put my life in alignment with justice and peace. Is that your longing? Write me. Leave a comment below. Maybe we can help one another chart a practical course, and step into a lighter and less monstrous way of life together!

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