High Places

I have gotten me away unto an high place.  No, that’s no biblical, but it sure sounds psalm-like.  Part of the anxiety I felt about the literary loss over the past few days is that it happened just before a long anticipated, and paid for, vacation.  As Thursday dawned, I knew I had only two days to try to rearrange the undamaged books and try to salvage what I could of those that were soaked.  And I had to do it quickly and then leave, only to see the results when I returned.  Not yet having met any neighbors, and not really being in a position to prevail upon their presumed good will, it was a test of personal endurance.  Our garage has an upper floor that remained dry.  I made well over an hundred trips up those stairs, book boxes in hand.  One cares for ones friends.

For now, however, I am at my favorite high place, in the mountains.  On a lake.  I’m having to reconcile myself with my old foe H2O, for here it is placid welcoming.  It stays outside the cabin and we remain friends.  And truth be told, there is a kind of idolatrous element involved in my visits to the lake.  You see, I covet peace.  Since childhood violence and bullies have led me to a quasi-monastic life—Paul Simon reflected that perfectly in his early song “I am a Rock.”  Even Superman had to have his fortress of solitude.  Some fear being alone with their thoughts.  Although I struggle with them, they are, like my books, who I am.

Dawn’s early light; and it only got worse as the day went on.

Prophets and deuteronomists railed against high places.  Such were locations where the God of Israel grew jealous of the attention lavished on other deities.  Perhaps religious promiscuity comes naturally to people, but we need our high places to regain perspective.  To breathe pine-scented air and feel the chill of a July morning at altitude.  Yes, even to reconcile with the splash of water that is here to make life possible rather than to destroy that which you have worked to acquire.  Ironically some of the destroyed books had been with me since college—theological classics such as Niebuhr, Gutiérrez, and Tillich, lying on the unmown grass beneath a healing sun.  Perhaps they were trying to warn me of the idolatry of such retreat.  But here I am, reflecting on loss and hope, and praying that somehow we might just all get along.

Love Slap

Over the past few days news stories have emerged raising concerns about implicating very high authorities in the Roman Catholic hierarchy of at least being aware of problems in the church. These problems are by now familiar to all who follow religious news: allegations of abuse, physical and/or sexual, known, perpetrated, and hidden by clergy. The recent spate of cases has come from Germany, home territory to some high-ranking officials.

The church has never done well at steering free of controversy. After all, in Niebuhrian terms, this is “Christ against Culture.” Nevertheless, our human sensitivities have continued to grow, and it is recognized that children, swept into religious institutions because of the belief structures of their parents, often end up victims. Unless something radical happens, those children, imprinted from youth with the stamp of their family religion, spend their lives bearing its marks. What religious leaders command must be obeyed. They, after all, hold the keys to the kingdom.

Slapping choirboys (and worse) has underscored the weakness of human clergy. Any religion that is mediated by human agents will be susceptible to abuse. It should not be accepted, excused, or tolerated. Temptation to give in, however, marks an indulgent modernity. Although largely mythical, the torments of ancient saints drew the moral lesson that mere humans could withstand the urge to give in to temporal vices. Perhaps clergy ought to stare long into the patient face of St. Anthony and ponder the implications. (Notice who does the abusing.)

The last temptation of Tony?