Monday, March 07, 2011

The "World" As a "Systematic Sham"

Thomas Merton writes, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: "The real trouble with "the world," in the bad sense which the Gospel condemns, is that it is a complete and systematic sham, and he who follows it ends not by living but by pretending he is alive, and justifying his pretense by an appeal to the general conspiracy of all others to do the same. It is this pretense that must be vomited out in the desert."

I've got a break this week from MCCC and RMS teaching - it's spring break for both. Tomorrow I'll go to a quiet place, get alone before God, and take an all-day personal retreat. My purpose: to just be in God's presence, meditate on Scripture, listen for the voice of God, be met by God, love God and be-loved by God, and get whatever spiritual purging I now need. I look forward to it, and have great expectations! This is not some "religious" thing for me, but a being-in-relationship with my Maker and Sustainer.

If there is any pretention in me, I want God to remove it. I don't say this lightly. It could be there. And it might take the God-equivalent of a tooth extraction to remove it. I could resist it. If it has become part of my life, I will resist it. I've had this happen many times before. The experience of freedom and relief will far outweigh the fake freedom that gets out of me.

I take weekly times of extended prayer, and one of the things God often confronts me with is inauthenticity. I am not claiming to be authentic and unpretentious. I am saying that I don't like it when I encounter it in other people, and need to not like it when it's become part of me. So I pray, "God, take 'the world' out of me.'"

When God answers this prayer I then become free to love the world as Jesus did. And this means: to love what God has made which, originally, God saw as good. It means to love people, and to love God's creation. To see them and it for what it all was intended to be, for what it really is. To see through the "sham," the faux-salvation claims. To see their failure to save and redeem. To get the world-pretense vomited out of me if needed. This is not world-avoidance, but the arrival of a good reason to love the world God has made and the people who bear his image. Therefore, we begin soup kitchens.

For me this is not "spiritual rhetoric." There's a reality out there in this world that is market-driven and consumer-driven and sex-addicted and status-hierarchical and, therefore, punishing and death-dealing. I meet this almost every day, and am at times tempted to drink of it. This "world system" is, contrary to Marx's claim, the real "opiate" that many ingest. It is precisely that which must be upchucked out of one's spirit, to include my own if I've swallowed any world-system pills recently.

 I think anyone who lives long enough and observes people and world events and studies some history and does some serious self-examination will see, as did Solomon in Ecclesiastes, "There's nothing new under the sun." Shall I hope for a better world, made better by human longings and efforts, one that makes me a "better" person? I say "no," and for evidence in support of this I present to you: our world today. We can hold hands and sing John Lennon's "Imagine" until we lose our voices and nothing about our world will have changed.

Tomorrow will be another day of placing my life under the rule and reign of God. Perhaps a few things will come off of me, and more of Christ will be formed in me. My hope is not in this world, but in God's Kingdom which is not of this world.