Tag Archives: folly

The Corona Virus, Prudence, Folly & a Disciplined Imagination

The thinking seems to be this: It was horrible in Wuhan, it is horrible in Lombardy, and horrible in some other country nobody gives a damn about. Therefore, when it happens to my town—and it’s when, not if—it will be equally horrible everywhere. And worse than horrible, because we are not as prepared or as willing to be as draconian as the Chinese. It isn’t horrible this moment, right now, here, but because it will be horrible means it is already horrible.

That seem a fair summary? One survey found “1 In 5 Americans Expect They’ll Be Diagnosed With Coronavirus“.

None of it is right.

In Wuhan itself, the City of Doom, some 2,446 souls departed their fleshly existence earlier than expected. Google tells us the city has between 11 and 19 million, depending on whether you count the entire metro area as “the city”.

Source: Coronavirus Update V — Madness Has Arrived – William M. Briggs

The thing I’ve noticed after more than 30 years as a university chaplain is the tyranny of abstract ideas not only in academia but in society more broadly.

This make sense because, well, we educate our leaders in universities. Naturally then, whatever their profession or vocation, unless taught otherwise our leaders in church and society are as prone as their university educated peers to suffer under the tyranny of the abstract. Where I’m going with this is here.

We don’t have discipline over our imaginations. This makes us exceptionally vulnerable to the kind of fear and anxiety we’re seeing now.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prudent. It does mean, however, that we may confuse prudence with folly or recklessness. Without a disciplined imagination we are likely to think the best way to save the village is to bomb it.

The Challenge of a Life Without Shame

Friday, March 16 (O.S., March 3), 2018: Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Martyrs Eutropius, Cleonicus and Basiliscus of Amasea († c. 308); New Venerable Martyr Martha and Martyr Michael († 1938); Venerable Virgin Piama († 337); Sts. Zeno and Zoilus; Icon of the Mother of God of Volokolamsk (1572).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 29:13-23
Vespers: Genesis 12:1-7
Vespers: Proverbs 14:15-26

My words and deeds often don’t align because, as the reading from Isaiah suggests, I am often ashamed of myself.

It may be that I have shameful thoughts or done shameful deeds. Just as likely, however, I may be ashamed of the Gospel. Or maybe, I don’t want to behave in such a way that makes clear that I am a Christian. I can be ashamed of goodness as easily as wickedness.

Shame is insidious. It twists and distorts my heart, my relationships with God and neighbor. The great challenge in overcoming shame is that it rarely travels along a clean, straight line. Rather shame mixes everything together, it’s a jumble of sharp edges that cut and dull edges that bludgeon.

The prophet Isaiah summarizes the experience when he says to shame, “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

Yes, a life free from shame is desirable. Accustomed as I am to shame’s many burdens and limitations, however, the offer of liberation is unsettling, frightening even. I may not like shame, but at least it’s familiar.

This is why, as in Genesis, the spiritual life is often described as a journey to a strange land. I may not like shame but it at least as the “virtue” of familiarity. In a fallen world, shame is my native land, my “father’s house.”

When I hear the offer of salvation not simply as the promise of heaven at the end of my life but as freedom from shame in this life, like Abram I’mnot sure I want to make the journey.

Freedom from shame not only means traveling to a strange (emotionally and spiritually) land. Italso means becoming a new person–Abram becomes Abraham–who has new and rather intimidating responsibilities.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.

What if, shame insinuates, I’m not up for the challenge? I’ve failed before, why do I think I won’t fail again? Maybe I’d be better off staying where I am.

To this Solomon responds the “simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going. A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool throws off restraint and is careless.”

Hearing the offer of salvation, I need to look carefully not only at where I’m going but where I am. And where I am isn’t good. Yes, I need to be cautious and not run headlong into the future. I need to do this though not because God can’t be trusted but because in those first few moments of the journey I’m still unsure of myself.

Accustomed as I am to shame, I will at first find my new freedom in Christ intoxicating. Being still unsure of what God wants for me, and from me, I can become quick-tempered, acting too quickly and so “foolishly.” If I’m not cautious, shame can again trap me causing me to be arrogant or to express myself with an unwise zeal.

I need to give myself time to adjust to this new life, this new journey. I need to acquire “discretion” and prudence. In a word, I need to grow in wisdom.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Contracts, Folly and Wisdom

Thursday, March 15 (O.S., March 2), 2018: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Icon of the Mother of God ‘She who Reigns’ (1917); Hieromartyr Theodotus, Bishop of Cyrenia († c. 326); St. Arsenius the Bishop of Tver († 1409); Martyr Euthalia of Sicily († 257); Martyr Troadius of Neocæsarea (3rd C); Venerable Agathon of Egypt (5th C); 440 Martyrs slain by the Lombards in Sicily († 579); Venerable Sabbas, Barsonuphius, Sabbatius, and Euphrosinus of Tver.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 28:14-22
Vespers: Genesis 10:32-11:9
Vespers: Proverbs 13:19-14:6

Contracts are essential not only to civil society but also our life in Christ. In Jesus Christ, God makes a covenant–a contract–with us. At baptism, God incorporates us into His Body the Church. He seals this new relationship in chrismation; in Holy Communion, we receive a foretaste of the life to come.

The other sacraments build on this baptismal covenant.

Each sacrament renews and strengthens the promise that binds God to us and us to God and each other. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the sacred contract between God and His People is the archetype for all other civil contracts. God’s covenant with His People is the standard against which all other contracts and promises we make between ourselves are judged.

All of this helps us understand the horror that opens today’s reading from Isaiah.

The rulers of Jerusalem made a contract, “a covenant with death.” Rather than looking to God for their salvation. They make a contract with (Hades or Hell), so that “when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us.”

As the next few verses make clear, this covenant with death is made of “lies” and “falsehood.” In effect, the rulers made a self-defeating promise that undermines even the possibility of fidelity.

God in His mercy annuls the agreement with death.

In the short-term, this means that the people will be overwhelmed with scourges; they “will be beaten down” by them. This is a severe mercy. The severity doesn’t reflect any “divine” malice but how far morally and spiritually the people have strayed from God. The way back to God and to their own vocations is far, the journey arduous.

The journey back to communion with God is long because the people have become not just strangers to Him but the enemies of the justice and righteousness with which God builds His Kingdom.Once again, humanity has come to the plains of Babel.

Like men we read about in Genesis, the rulers of Jerusalem have conspired with death to frustrate the will of God. The fact that this is impossible and self-defeating doesn’t factor into the decision either at Babel or Jerusalem. Against all the evidence of God’s goodness and patience, they are hell-bent on asserting their own will over the will of God.

Isaiah’s warning to Jerusalem and the divisions in the human family that result from Babel are all still applicable today. We are all of us just as prone to make false promises in a vain attempt to subvert the will of God.

Solomon reminds us–reminds me–that “Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. He who walks in uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.” It is folly to despise God and to seek to overturn His will for me. Instead, it is in my best interest to discern the will of God and pursue it to the best of my abilities. “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory