July 2014


“The name of [the] infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God” (Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations: 57).

“Prayer in personal worship may be expressed in various ways….One may contemplate God, moving beyond words and thoughts to communion of one’s spirit with the Spirit of God” (PC[USA] Book of Order W-5.4002).

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Earlier this week I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a package of romaine hearts. None of them seemed fresh. It was the 15th, and each one I picked up was stamped “use by 7/14.” I kept looking, though, and way underneath the stack were some marked “use by 7/21.” I wasn’t satisfied, wanting something still fresher. I was still searching when I heard a deep voice behind me. Another guy shopping was trying to save me some trouble. “They’re all the 14th,” he lamented. “You’d do better getting this” (pointing to a loose bunch of leaf lettuce). “Thanks,” I replied, “but I did find some good till the 21st.” “I should have dug deeper,” he said.

Sometimes we all have to dig deeper.

We have to when we’re angry with or hurt by someone, and we have to go way down inside ourselves in order to keep silent, refusing to let our heated or wounded emotions rule us and make a bad situation worse.

We need to dig deeper when we must find the courage to speak up for a person or a group of persons being ridiculed, marginalized, robbed of voice.

We mine the depths of our hearts when we are asked to take on a task we know will be incredibly difficult, like becoming a caregiver, but it’s the right thing to do.

We have to dig deeper when our prayers seem pointless, and/or we have no idea what to say, to a place beyond words, where the Spirit’s sighs are the only sound.

And in the depths*, we find something fresh and new (2 Corinthians 7:14).

© 2014 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

*In Orthodox tradition this spiritual practice or way of doing theology is called apophasis, seeking and encountering the mystery of God beyond words and images. See, for example, http://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/what-is-apophatic-theology/

When the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision came out earlier this week, I said to my wife that it sounded a great deal like the 16th century principle of cuius regio, eius religio (“whose the realm, his the religion”), an agreement reached in 1555 in which the religion of a ruler within a territory of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) determined that of the ruled. Only Catholicism and Lutheranism were legal. Calvinism and any Anabaptist spin on Christian faith were outlawed. Those who practiced anything but the two legal religions were considered heretics and subject to execution. Should someone wish to follow one’s conscience rather than the dictates of the state, he or she could leave the territory with his or her possessions.

Now along comes Hobby Lobby and other “closely-held” companies, in which the owner’s religion trumps a woman’s right to insurance that covers certain contraceptives. Even if the woman does not share the owner’s viewpoint, her conscience and what she may do with her life are effectively held hostage to the CEO’s faith. If she wants her company’s insurance carrier to pay for an IUD, which may be prohibitively expensive at minimum wage, then she can either somehow pay for it herself or leave and find new employment where the religion of the one doesn’t trump the right of conscience of the many. This situation is exactly the same as cuius regio. Just change “territory of the HRE” to “corporation.” What’s next? Having all employees of closely-held for-profits sign statements of faith?

I am really, really tired of seeing “religious freedom” used as an excuse for selfish, oppressive, unjust practices which would make Jesus weep. Here is One who in fact sought to free people–especially the vulnerable, common folk–from the demands of a religion and its leaders that sought to control every detail of their lives. He said, in the lectionary reading for this Sunday: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The demands of those now using “religious freedom” to push all kinds of hateful, oppressive agendas, indeed to lay the groundwork for a theocracy, are diametrically opposed to the gentle, lowly care of Jesus. If this is what a “Christian” is, then those who of us who indeed seek to follow the humble, loving Lord need to find a new name for our faith. 

Religion has become a cruel idol, before which some demand we bow or else. Paul Tillich, in a late 1940s sermon entitled “The Yoke of Religion,” warned of the danger of what has in fact come to pass in 2014, but also of the possibility if we truly follow Christ: “We are all permanently in danger of abusing Jesus by stating that He is the founder of a new religion, and the bringer of another, more refined, and more enslaving law. And so we see in all Christian Churches the toiling and laboring of people who are called Christians, serious Christians, under innumerable laws which they cannot fulfill, from which they flee, to which they return, or which they replace by other laws. This is the yoke from which Jesus wants to liberate us. He is more than a priest or a prophet or a religious genius. These all subject us to religion. He frees us from religion. They all make new religious laws; He overcomes the religious law.”

God help us and make us truly free!

© 2014 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.