January 30th, 2007

the-gi het-gi gi-het(heat) get-hi hit-eg

THE GOSPEL OF INSECURITY

The shattering of age-old foundations has left us insecure and anxious. The world is filled with a frightening amount of change. Business, styles, education, morals, science, music-all change while we look on in amazement. And it is not the kind of change known a generation ago, which hap-pened once in a lifetime, but the kind that happens with every step we take. Nothing holds steady. Everything has taken on the character of the moving picture, where the scene changes with every flash of light. As the Angle Gabriel said, in Green Pastures, “Everything nailed down is comin` loose.”
Not only is the world changing, but some of the change has a massiveness about it which arises extreme anxiety. For instance, it has taken the last fifteen hundred years to double the population of the world, but it will double again in the next fifty years. Moreover, while this is going on our remarkable genius in technology and automation is managing at the moment to diminish jobs in the United States at the rate of forty thousand weekly. Think of what a squeeze that makes on employment; or, to put it personally, where will our children look for jobs? Add to this dilemma the fact that in the last ten years over 800 million people have risen from primitive rural conditions and colonial subjection to industrial development and political independence. Now in the seething and jostling world we stand with the atom bomb in our nervous, unsteady hands-destructive power enough to kill 400 million people in one hour. Doubtless that number has been increased in the last year. An insecure world indeed!
It is upsetting, disturbing, threatening! It makes for rest-lessness and anxiety and irresponsibility. Every part of society is on the move, and no one stays anywhere long enough to make a stable community. Things fall apart, including the family. Traditions disappear, ideals evaporate, religion itself appears obsolete. Everywhere, whether we like the looks of it or the feel of it, things change at perilous pace. Insecurity belongs to this age, and we cannot escape it.
One of the most illuminating incidents in the life of Jesus was the interview which the rich young ruler had with him. Reaading between the lines, one can discern the bewilderment of the young man. He was obviously self-assured and though of himself as good, for had he not “kept the law from his youth up”? Therefore, his head must have spun when he heard, in reply to his courteous address, Jesus` quick rejoinder, “Why do you call me good?” Had he not realized that there were all kinds of goodness, that some kinds are not worth much, and indeed some kinds are simply good for nothing? There is goodness which is only skin deep; a goodness dis-played for the sake of reputation; a goodness that confuses re-spectability with righteousness that keeps the law but breaks the spirit of the law; a goodness that grows vain and in its vanity becomes cruel and condescending; a good-ness that plays it safe behind every moralism and avoids incon-venience as if it were a plague; a goodness that is good with-in the patterns of the past but has no eye for the present evil; shrieking injustice or crucifixions near at hand. Goodness is as corruptible as anything else. Once it is corrupted, it tends to appear in its most impeccable assumptions.
But deeper than than that, the rich young ruler must have been rudely shocked at Jesus` answer to his own claim of righ-teousness. He had kept the law from his youth up, had obeyed his parents, had conformed to the norms of his com-munity and fulfilled the expectations of his society-in short, his reputation was beyond question. And, in the bargain, God in his good pleasure had given him great wealth. The picture is complete-indeed, just about perfect. Yet, Jesus abruptly replies in short, perceptive sentence which is like a lance levelled at the man; “One thing you still lack!” What could such a man lack? He had youth, a good character, a fine reputation, and wealth as well. One thing! What could it be?
If one can pierce beyond the bald and shattering admonition of the Lord to sell everything and give it to the poor, one can see what the young man lacks-it is insecurity! There comes a time when a man, to be a man, must move beyond safety, beyond the easy comformities, beyond self-assurance, into the turmoil and terror of life lived heroically. If a man wants eternal life, it is to be found only at risk, only where one pushes into deep water. Insecurity is the name of the Christian`s, of his faith, and ultimately of his peace in God.
Yet, to be sure, people will try to avoid insecurity. They will even insist it is not there. They will play games with it; they will blame it on the government or the Russian; they will seek to avoid it by running in all directions, into all kinds of escapes-gambling, paranoid politics, establishing little Shangrilas, watching TV, getting ensconced in some kind of cozy cell group where they can be tranquilized. Even the church can be misused this way. For in a world of pervasive insecurity, either we can react in fear and retreat to some false safety, or we can meet the challenge with faith and advance to the next stage of human destiny.
The first question is whether we have the courage to share in a larger reality than that of our accustomed habit. Take, for instance, just the sheer size of the world. We do not have to play God to make it one world. Technologically, we have fabricated a web of connections so that it is now one world-with radio communication, with air transportation, with in-dustrial production, and commercial markets. It is one world, whether we like it or not; so much one that what happens in Veitnam or the Congo or Moscow may decide the life and death of our sons and daughters. But tech-nologically one world, we still do not have the emotional or imaginative strength to sustain its unity morally. The fabric of speed and radio, which holds everybody close together, also makes it easy for suspicion or hostility or stupidity to explode the entire business in a few seconds.
The question must be inevitably be asked whether we can stretch ourselves, our humanity, to match the magnitude of our technological achievement. Put into a few simple and very direct questions, it becomes: “How wide is the circle of our imagination and compassion? How far does the hospi-tality of our mind and heart extend in this technologically united world? Do we push our limits only as far as the bounds of the white race and not include the Negro or the Oriental? Are we religiously unable to see or feel beyond the narrow pigeonhole of the Protestants? Or can we engage in human and humane dialogue with Catholics, or Muslims, or Buddhists? How large a portion of the world which we have united by our science and our industry do we support with out heart, with our good will?”
Make no mistake. God is making a new world. Larger, faster, with greater power, filled with risk and danger as every world has been-and each of us is being weighed in the balance. We are being judged. Are we fit for this new world of insecurity, are we afraid of it? Are we debits or credits?
The second question is whether we can make the inward transformation without which we shall not easily match the magnitude of the world`s need. Nineteenth-century men will not solve the twentieth-century problem. Too many of us are proud of driving the latest model car, are insistent on the most dazzling plumbing and gadgets in our homes, only to manifest a hopelessly obsolete form of Victorian Morals or an utterly defunct kind of pious sentimentality. The strain of the modern world on our religion and ethics is immeasurable; but if our religion and ethics continue to be little more than our pride in what our forefathers did in solving their prob-lems, rather than the bold and decisive action necessary to confront the larger issues of our own day, then we deserve little respect. Everything in our world demands a larger di-mension of conscience, a fresh exaluation of powers and principalities, a deepening of the soul, a wider breadth of hospitality, a new sense of steadiness and poise. In short, the world demands, and must have, a new kind of man. He must transcend the patterns we know and have honoured. He must have a larger vision, a more flexible will, a vaster com-passion, a keener perception, a saner judgement, a surer sense of values. He must be less suspicious, less fanatic, less frenzied, less credulous, less manipulatable. He needs more inner re-sources, more imagination, more character, more scepticism in some directions and more faith in others.
After the Second World War, a nasty novel called The Tin Drum was written by Günther Gräss and achieved best-seller fame. It was about a boy who decided at three years of age that he was never going to grow up. There are countless people in our world who have decided, at one time or another, that they are not going to grow up-at least any further. The had their little drum, their favourite tantrums, and they made out very well by staying as they were. As someone has said, in this kind of a world we need to fear only the small-scale individual. His very littleness, his shrivelled fears and base denial of insecurity, will bring the larger world down around our heads. He wants everything his own size.
Ultimately, of course, this means that such a world of stress-es and strains, of speed and incessant change, of vast diversi-ties and uncomfortable differences, can only be sustained by syntheses of thought. This is the way civilization has advanced. To each complexity of heritage a new age adds its contribution of new power and insight. It was Augustine who wove together the strong strands of biblical religion, Roman law, and Greek philosophy which provided us with a culture for a thousand year. Our agony, stretching over the last three centuries, is the travail of adding the new factors of science and industry to the old traditions. In the universities, for instance, by accident and by deliberation, opportunities are arising to work on the necessary synthese by which a new world can be structured in a beauty and order we have never known before.
As often as I listen to a symphony orchestra I am stirred by the mystery of the event. Think of it: here are a hundred men, each of whom has spent a lifetime in a passionate and consuming effort to learn his particular instrument. From early childhood, through youth and manhood, through all the anguish of our moral dust, in lonliness, heartache, and ecstacy, despite great sorrows and minor distractions and world catastrophes, each man pours his very life into skilful fingertips, or sensitive lips, or sure hearing, until every nuance, every sublety, every insubstantial quaver can be communi-cated by his violin or horn, or flute, or harp, or saxophone. Then they assemble, not to hear each other`s solos, but to play together what they cannot play apart-a symphony. The souls of a hundred men, the mortal life with all its color and drama, its faith and fears-all flow into the symphony. And it hangs for a moment in the air, laving our spirits with its transfigure-ing beauty. It redeems us, lifts us beyond ourselves; it glorifies our common humanity.
Is there no way in a world so magnificently empowered as our own, so magically interrelated, so burgeoning in its startling surprises, its human concern, its lively arts, to redeem us from our littleness and to lift us into the symphony of God`s new creation?