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THE SPIRIT AND THE WORLD
June 1, 2004
 
Today's eMo consists of a meditation on texts that will be read in church this Sunday, as well as a second meditation that focusses on the Church's work with the poor through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

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The Spirit and the World

And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. --John 16:11

The spirit and the world -- are they opposites? Is the world a dirty place, in need of so complete an overhaul by the spirit that it will no longer be recognizable once it is redeemed? The old Prayer Book contained a prayer to be used for birthdays that quoted the letter of James: "...keeping them unspotted from the world...," we used to say, and I would imagine us all spattered with filth.

Absolutely not, we learned. The world is good. It was created in a flash of blessing, the reverberations of which continue to bless us with each breath. This estrangement between spirit and world is what's wrong with religion: church people are just scared of normal human life.

And so, for a while, it seemed good for the church to claim that every thing was actually holy and that, therefore, nothing needs to be specifically identified as such. That there was no division between sacred and secular. That the idea of a God who was Other was the refuge of immature minds. The really smart people envisioned God as a Force, like in Star Trek, and the religious faith of an adult was actually just another name for being psychologically healthy. There was a popular book back then called "How To Be Your Own Best Friend." We never sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" any more: we didn't need to. We could be our own best friends now, and maybe we didn't need Jesus, except as an example of a really healthy individual. Maybe all we needed was a hug. Prayer wasn't a connection with anything beyond us; it was simply getting in touch with one's really-really-really-really-really-most-inmost self.

This seemed liberating at first. No fiery Last Judgment. No stern calculations at the end of it all, revealing just how hopeless a sinner I was. No one thing any better than any other thing, because who are we to make moral judgments? Self-reliance and self-sufficiency. The calm of sweet reason.

But as time went by, I missed God as Other. It seemed to me that the idea that everything is holy had vectored into the sad suspicion that nothing is, that everything was really just me and my own imagination and memories. That not only must I figure out how to be my own best friend, I must also become my own God. That the freedom from the restrictive tribunal we feared also denied us the welcome for which we longed. The heaven I used to scorn as the refuge of the superstitious when I was young and knew everything seemed, once a few of the people I loved most had died, to be a concept worth a reinvestigation.

And now? I have let go of the conviction that a religious truth can only be true if it makes sense. None of the really important things in life make much sense: why did you marry the person you married? What is it, exactly, about your child that you adore? Which qualities, exactly, recommend him to you? Why do you love to paint? You can't answer any of these reasonable questions; none of us can. Our potent loves are matters of will and inclination, mysteries of longing and attraction beyond our understanding. It is this world of mystery and love that God inhabits, and it is this world that soaks the physical world with holiness, insofar as holiness is to be found here.

Because not everything here is holy at all. Some things are wrong. There is nothing holy about the simple fact of desire -- some of our desires ought not to be met, but need to be redirected by a power we do not ourselves possess, so that they don't kill us. When we do not desire the good, we can learn to do so. But only if we agree to be instructed.

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In Haiti, the Truth Will Set Everyone Free

This meditation, written some weeks before it appears online today, reflects the recent political strife in Haiti but not the terrible aftermath of the storms that hit the island nation just this week. In addition to the long-range economic development assistance this essay describes, emergency disaster relief help from Episcopal Relief and Development is already available to relief workers. For more information on the work in Haiti and other ERD programs, visit http://www.er-d.org.

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When the spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. -- John 16:13

Once again, in recent months, we have listened to reports of strife in Haiti, our hemisphere's poorest nation. Eighty percent of Haiti's almost 8 million people live in poverty. The per capita income is $250 per year.

The courage of the Episcopal Church in Haiti has been the stuff of headlines in the recent troubles. Spiritual encouragement to calm has exerted a powerful influence on an explosive political situation, and things did not get nearly as violent as they could have. But the Church also looks ahead to the things that Haiti will need to combat the country's poverty, and has created something very concrete: the Business and Technology Institute in Les Cayes, Haiti's second largest city. The Institute will offer the equivalent of an Associate's degree, preparing young Haitian men and women to fill mid-to-senior level positions in local businesses that require computer skills, business management and English proficiency.

The Haiti of the future will be a very different Haiti, and that future is not far distant. Technologically skilled workers with the powerful work ethic for which Haitians are well known will quickly attract new businesses to Les Cayes. The standard of living will rise, and the graduates of the Business and Technology Institute will be able to offer their families a life of which they could only dream when they were younger. Episcopal Relief and Development is a proud partner in the Diocese of Haiti's visionary initiative.

Jesus didn't stay on the earth as risen, ruling Christ, forevermore solving all his people's problems for them. He left them with a Counselor -- the Holy Spirit, portable, mobile, flexibly present in every place and time and situation -- to guide them in developing wisdom and discernment themselves. Like all ERD programs, Haiti's Institute for Business and Technology arises from local initiatives raising up local leadership, so that what emerges has staying power in an unfolding local future. To help begin a permanent solution to a stubborn problem is ERD's privilege; its responsibility is to ensure that the solution will have the power to stand and grow on its own.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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