Morality, heroism, faith

jamesalison1

Listening recently to James Alison’s speeches “Blindsided by God: Reconciliation from the Underside,” presented Jan. 31, 2006, with transcript and webcast, and “Embodying ‘God’s Earth-shaking Mercy'” webcast, from Jan. 20, 2004, and finding stuff I want to share:

From “Embodying God’s Earth-shaking Mercy”:

Eternal life — not as something in the hereafter, because there is no hereafter. The hereafter starts now. The hereafter is not a hereafter, it’s a something beginning now, by someone for whom there is no hereafter, because the hereafter and the now are the same for God. That is the gift of faith — eternal life, beginning now … Abundant life, beginning now.”

“The central part of our life of faith is in the first place nothing to do with morals, or what we do. It’s a receiving something. It’s someone having done something for us. That seems to me to be absolutely vital. One of the terrible things that happens in our culture at the moment is the ellision of faith and morals. With the result that we’re supposed to know that Jesus died to save our sins, and therefore to behave in a certain way; rather than, for us to become aware of [the murdered, forgiving victim] coming back to us and therefore finding ourselves behaving in different ways. These are two very different phenomena. Being able to sit — relax, if you like — in the regard of someone who is coming towards us, is a very different thing from knowing something as a theory and saying ‘Since he has done that, therefore I must do that.’ And yet very often in our life religion has become a subsection of morals.”

From “Blindsided by God: Reconciliation from the Underside”:

“The problem is that this attitude of the divided heart, which seeks to make a virtue out of a necessity, is just another disguise donned by the resentment which Nietzsche so justly criticized, and it will tend to propagate a version of reconciliation as something to be resented, as the loser’s option. What interests me is discovering how the Holy Spirit which makes it possible to occupy the place of shame also makes it possible to discover the delight of being undeceived, the amazing good fortune of finding oneself caught up in the flow of the real, the unmerited luck of finding oneself on the inside of a huge project whose final parameters are way out of sight.

“Here I think we are getting close to what is central: if reconciliation is a matter of morals, to achieve which I just have got to be damn heroic, and which is going to be bloody painful, it doesn’t much matter if my heart is set on the outcome: the important thing is to be heroic. But then I’m always going to be left with the sensation of second best, of the silver medal, of the lump of clay decked out with gold leaf. What I want to suggest is something different. The Holy Spirit is not, in the first place, a force driving us towards an ethic of “going against the grain”. It is the Creator Spirit. And Jesus’ occupation of the place of shame, of loss, of death and of annihilation wasn’t, in the first place, to offer us an example of how to behave heroically. Rather it was the Creator-of-all-things’ way of opening up for us the possibility of entering into the full meaning, weight, and flow of Creation.

“That is to say, and this is what is curious: that spaciousness owes its grandeur not to its being an extra cushion of resources so that we can carry out and achieve something heroic here. Rather it is luring and carrying us towards something much richer and more fun, which isn’t here yet, and in whose light the fights and definitions and approvals of here are only pieces of small-mindedness from which it is greatly to our advantage that we become unbound so as more richly to be able to enjoy what is coming upon us.

“With this, the search for reconciliation becomes something enflamed by other fires. Something rather like a deep unconcern about myself is born, and a desire to be reconciled with the other because I know that both he and I will be much more, and will be able to enjoy ourselves much more if we are reconciled. That is to say, triumph for me passes through his being made whole and not his diminishment. Along with this there goes the sensation of how undeserved it is that we are even beginning to want to participate in this triumph, of how extraordinarily lucky I am to have found myself caught up in this adventure, and because of that, of how lightweight, and almost frivolous it is.”

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