Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Resist the powers of evil

Last night I attended the ecclesiastical council of the new associate pastor of my church. In UCC polity, the Church and Ministry committee of a local association recommends candidates for an examination before they can be approved for ordination. This examination is called an ecclesiatical council. Members of local churches in the association, pastors, and guests can attend to listen to the candidate present their ordination paper and then ask them just about anything they want and/or make comments about the paper. It is the most daunting task leading up to ordination. Last night's proceedings were no different. The candidate, now ordinand (yes, she passed), told me this morning that 42 hours of labor was easier!

The question that was the most pressing was about evil: what is evil, what does it look like, how do we confront it, had she had any personal experience with evil? In the UCC statement of faith we speak the words "You call us into your proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil...". Part of the prophetic call is identifying evil, pointing it out like a signpost, naming the 800 lb. gorrilla in the middle of the room, that we might turn from that evil but also turn our justice hearts and minds towards ending the root of that evil.

During my own ecclesiastical council I was asked to spin for 4 or 5 minutes about the power of evil. My answer eventually distilled down to evil being fear combined with power that takes advantage of the fearful yet powerless. A colleague of mine said to me last evening that he believes that there are no evil people; people do evil, ugly, unconscionable things but all persons are children of God, created by God. It is fear that separates us from God and from one another. It is fear that creates intolerance, prejudice, hatred, violence, the need for domination and control, and the belief that we are innately a violent species.

O'Murchu in his book Evolutionary Faith gives this chilling observation:

"Ironically, it is at the height of our so-called civilized status that we became a distinctly barbaric species. Why? Largely because we set ourselves up as the ones who could conquer and control creation, and in that process we began to rupture the womb from which all life is begotten. ...At root, our angst is not about our humanness; it is about the deprivation that ensues when we cut ourselves off from the womb of universal life."
pp. 148-49

He contends that humans had the capacity for spirituality long before religion, even language, that we comprehended and cooperated with the surrounding environment in a way that gave meaning and purpose. It was when we sought to subdue the earth and all its inhabitants, when the need to control our fear became our purpose and meaning, that evil entered the world: the creation narratives in Genesis 1-3. However, it is important we remember that we were created for blessing, not fear; for relationship with all life, not estrangement; for continuing the evolutionary story, not for its submission and annihilation.

The whole of creation is the embodiment of Spirit, of life, of creative change. It is God's first and most precious gift of revelation. Embracing this goodness, this power, this love revealed and sharing it with others gives us the strength to resist the seduction of our fears and to work toward wholeness.


Mystical Seeker said...

I recently saw the movie "God Grew Tired of Us", about the "Lost Boys of Sudan", who fled massacres taking place in their villages and trekked over a 1000 miles in Africa to end up in a refugee camp. Some of them came to the US to live. The way they lived through such evil, and yet were able to still find a sense of community and a compassionate spirit within them, is truly remarkable.

There is a part of me that clings to the utopian and radical notion that somehow we can build a just world free of these great social evils. It may take us 10,000 years to build the Kingdom of God, but I feel like we have no choice but to keep trying.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for mentioning the movie. I had not heard of it. Having two girls of school age, I mostly get to see movies with talking animals, cars, etc.

Clinging to that notion is what constitutes faith, and our passionate faithfulness constitutes our servitude toward that end called the kingdom of God.

Andy said...

I wish that faith alone could assure a just world, but it seems that faith wil always be at odds with power.

Cynthia said...

Faith alone, no. Faith linked with action is what I believe in. Power is power but it depends on how it is used. I would hope that those who have power to effect change (which really includes all of us, even it is only we who change) could do so out of a sense of love as well as fear and control, which would change the nature of that power. But then you might end up like Jesus or MLK Jr. or Gandhi, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for those who would follow but then real love isn't supposed to care about that.