The Dalai Lama, the Orthodox Church, Hiking, and the TPP & the Surveillance State

Ok, this is a hodge-podge of topics but so is my brain at the moment….so here goes:

A. The Dalai Lama recently made a statement that shook up some of the world media and some religious circles. He said that women have a greater capacity for compassion and that….the next Dalai Lama could very well be a woman. Indeed! Well all the great world religions have a problem in this regard. Why is it that women always seem to need to “push” a door open in all these religious traditions? Irregardless of what the spirituality or religious doctrine is, the male consciousness seems always to have difficulty letting go of “leadership” roles to women—no matter what the religion is. So in that context what the Dalai Lama said is quite remarkable, and kudos to him for being the most “advanced” religious leader of our time.

This of course brings me back to my own narrow little Catholic world! The debate about women priests (what debate? you might rightly ask) is depressing and inane. Because the recent popes have come down so hard against the ordination of women it has become impossible even to discuss the issue in official circles, and any theologian who writes about it positively will be censured or condemned. For the Church to come out in favor of women’s ordination it would mean admitting it made a serious doctrinal mistake, and THAT ain’t gonna happen! So that’s the inane part. Now for the depressing part. Basically the argument against such ordination is based on two points: a.) the priest symbolizes Jesus and Jesus was a male; 2.) the Church has never ordained women. The second point is not even worth discussing because the “never done it before” argument holds only for a tradition that has totally fossilized. The more serious argument is about this symbolism thing.

That is a bit more gnarly because Catholic doctrine holds that the priest symbolizes and represents Christ within the life and ritual of the Church. Thus the priest has to be male because Jesus was male. Now the problem with this is that in focusing on the historical Jesus of Nazareth we forget that the incarnation means that God took up all humanity, not just maleness. The Gospel of John says that the Word became sarx, “flesh,” meaning the Logos took on the fullness of the human condition(one might want to say the Logos “entered samsara”). The Gospel does not make a point of the Logos becoming male. Maleness in this case is incidental; it’s merely that in historical/biological existence you can’t be both, you can’t occupy two spaces at the same time as it were. But to absolutize this “choice” of maleness, as if there were some mysterious “male principle” in the Divine is just plain wrong. Maleness and femaleness are not just appearances or “shadow realities” but neither are they some absolutes. Thus any terms/symbols for God, like Father or Mother, are very relative and in fact can be quite misleading. We can only tentatively privilege “Father language” because Jesus used it, but we have to see through it and beyond it. Patristic writings tend to emphasize the fact that God assumed all of humanity in Jesus; Paul does not emphasize the historical Jesus of Nazareth but rather the Risen Christ, who is, yes, in continuity with Jesus of Nazareth but we no longer know him “according to the flesh”; and finally in the Resurrection life there is no more male and female, Jew or gentile, etc. So it seems there is plenty of leeway for the Church to have female priests—because as priests they symbolize the WHOLE activity of God, not just the maleness of Jesus. But you know it “ain’t gonna happen” because what is really at issue underneath the theological language and arguments is the notion of power. That’s why there are no women cardinals even though you don’t even have to be a priest to be a cardinal.

B. The next topic is the Orthodox Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople has summoned all the leaders, the Metropolitans and Archbishops of all the various Orthodox Churches for a meeting. It is to prepare for an All-Orthodox Synod in 2015. The problem of course is that not all the Orthodox Churches recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople—some of them are so split off and so isolated within their little “purity of faith” that they are no more than a sect. And this is precisely one of the problems that this Patriarch wants to address: the tendency of Orthodox Churches to turn inward in a very unhealthy way, to become obsessed about the “purity of doctrine,” to become bearers of a sclerotic tradition instead of a living tradition, and to become preoccupied with what is nothing more than a sick and narrow nationalism rather than a universal and all-embracing faith. Here is a most remarkable statement by Metropolitan Zizioulas, who is also an excellent Greek theologian in his own right and a true leader of the Greek Church. The following is from an article in Asia News:
“In this regard, the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas , co-chairman of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox and eminent theologian has told us that ” the greatest danger to Orthodoxy , but also for the whole Christian world, is not atheism, secular power in general or its various enemies. Nobody in history has been able to dispel the truth. The greatest danger comes from its self-marginalization . And this happens every time a movement, a spiritual force refuses to confront and come to dialogue with all social and intellectual movements of its era. Why must always remember that history is not monolithic”.

“The story – Zizioulas continues – is the space in which you exercise the freedom of the human being . And freedom in the ‘arc of human life is characterized by the expression of diverse opinions and consequently the dialectic of “you “and” no. “Only at the end ( in the eschatological sense ) human freedom will be expressed as a” yes ” , that turned to God and to the truth.The Church has established itself over time on this consideration. From the beginning, the first Christian communities dedicated themselves to constructive dialogue with Judaism and the Greek world. It reached its highest point in the so-called patristic period, in which the Church dared to tackle a constructive dialogue with the culture of the time, sealing it with his own truth . Only in the modern world has the so-called division between sacred and profane taken place in the world of culture, which has pushed the Church out of the cultural and civil sphere, with damaging consequences not only for the Church, but for civilization itself”.
“Therefore – continues Zizioulas – any escape from the historical reality and the continuing search for identity exclusively in the past, without taking into account the historical, social and cultural context in which the tradition of identity developed, is equivalent to first Orthodoxy and then to marginalizing romanticizing”.
“It ‘s very important then – said the Metropolitan of Pergamon – that we men of the Church, we give up our narcissist self-satisfaction that only leads to sterile confrontations. Instead we must learn how to offer creation the essence of the true witness, that of Our Lord”.
C. Hiking. Do you know when hiking became popular, when it became an activity that people took up for its own sake, and not just to get from Point A to Point B? Most people think that modern hiking developed from ancient pilgrimages when people used to walk miles and miles to go to some holy place. There may be some truth to this, but the real beginnings of the “hiking phenomenon” came with the Romantic Movement in Europe in the late 18th Century. With the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason rationality and human control were the dominant motifs and this extended even to the human environment in which people lived, like their gardens. The well-manicured, thoroughly planned, minutely structured garden became the ideal of the upper classes. The Romantic Movement was a revolt against all that, and the Romanticists urged people to get out of their structured gardens out into the wild nature. The ideal was not man-made nature but the wilderness. The sources of life were to be found not in what we construct and analyze but in the mysterious forces of wild nature, etc. So many people took up trips into the mountains and forests, and this was the beginning of the hiking tradition. By the middle of the 19th Century John Muir was only carrying on in that same tradition when he took off for the open road and into the Sierras.

Aldous Huxley: “My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.”

A book I recommend for anyone wanting to explore this topic is Walking Distance by Robert and Martha Manning.

The TPP and the Surveillance State.

Really what can you say about all this? The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a total sham which our government is trying to sneak in. I do not know all the details, but people whom I trust in the environmental movement and the labor movement have been crying bloody murder on this one. The Surveillance State is another story. We have all been inundated with the stories of NSA spying on everyone. President Obama recently made a speech in which he promised to curtail some of the NSA activity. It was a poor presentation of a very poor effort, but its real deadly meaning is brought out by Chris Hedges in a razor-sharp piece entitled “What Obama really meant was:”

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