Thursday, February 22, 2007

Practice gives the words their sense

The family have been sequentially laid low this week - #1 at the weekend; #2 from Monday night; beloved followed, and now I am suffering. We have been ministered to by various angels from the congregation - the Spirit has been especially busy - but today I'm spending most of my time on my computer (when not sat somewhere less congenial) - but I'm finding my stomach even more churned up by the Dar es Salaam stuff, which I'm sure I've read more about today than is good for any sane person. So this is a bonus rant, to follow the earlier post of today.

First, one of my favourite quotations from Wittgenstein: "A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer. (Karl Barth) It gesticulates with words, as one might say, because it wants to say something and does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense."

In other words, it is what we do with the words that matters, that give to words their meanings. Words in and of themselves are inert, mere flotsam and jetsam above the sea of human nature.

So when there is an agreement in a communion that certain words should be followed, and other words should be denied, we should attend to what is going on through the use of those words as much as (if not more than) the use of those words themselves.

Take this form of words: the Lambeth 1998 declaration "calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals". In one primates case, this involves supporting a law criminalising precisely such ministry - how this can be reconciled with the words of Lambeth escapes me.

This is hypocrisy; more, it is hypocrisy in the service of power and prestige. It is fitting for a gay man to die for the sake of the people, and so on.

"This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me."

Seems to me that throughout Scripture there is this constant tension between the life - the actual living out of divine abundance - that God is calling his people to, and the way in which the religious authorities short-change that vocation in order to preserve a comfortable status quo. They want the proceeds of the vineyard for themselves.

With YOU is my contention O priest!

Here we have a mentality that uses all the right words and phrases but whose heart is so far from God's commands that the discrepancy is shocking. This evil of fundamentalism, get the passwords right and you gain access past the pearly gates. No sense of Revelation: "I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds."

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."

And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before your God?

Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being my priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

This awful, awful spiritual sickness. Time for it to die; then perhaps there is a chance for resurrection.

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