09 February 2017

Repent!


I have posted a new essay on my website called Repent!

This essay is particularly relevant to the Eco-Spiritual Revolution  retreat day  my father and I are planning for April 22. Other essays that are relevant to that day include Metanoia and In Wildness is Our Salvation.

I am convinced that most of the work we are doing to alter the destructive trajectory of human civilization is tinkering at the margins. We are extremely resistant to making change in the only place it really matters: our own lives. A fundamental change of direction is needed, which Jesus probably called shub, which was translated into Greek as metanoia and into English as repentance. Shub means "to vomit" as well as "to turn or return." I take it to mean being so repulsed by the status quo in oneself, in one's own life, that one needs to be viscerally emptied in order to move in a new direction.

Here is an excerpt from Repent!:

"In some fundamental way, human society is profoundly out of touch with reality. "Be not reconciled to this world," said Jesus. Repent! Turn away from your society and everything it stands for, and turn toward God and everything God stands for. Or as John Dominic Crossan put it so clearly in his Birth of Christianity, turn away from "all that systematically destroys and dehumanizes and dominates." Turn toward all that creates and includes and makes whole.

"The essential question of my life from that point until the present became, what is the kingdom of God? Where is it to be found? What does it mean to repent, to turn away from all that is unreal, and turn toward God, toward wholeness, toward reality? I knew then what my purpose was: to find the kingdom of God, not in some future time or distant place, but here and now. I felt that it was "right at hand." I think I knew intuitively that that meant it was already present, but unnoticed, unappreciated, perhaps not fully realized, veiled by the destructive illusions spun by the human mind. I was determined to see through the illusions and break through to the kingdom, which lay, I was convinced, right at our fingertips."

Read the whole essay...

2 comments:

Gino Palmeri said...

You are very right on the mark, John! I also struggle endlessly to communicate about what I see humanity doing to its planet. Not a Christian myself, I used to cringe at the "Jesus talk" that I'd hear from some environmentalists. I'm way past that now.

We're in the midst of a profound spiritual crisis, which underlies all the bad ecological decisions that human governments and businesses continue to make on our behalf. Lets shout louder!

John said...

Hi Gino,

Good to see you here. I hope that my work is neither Christian nor non-Christian. The ecological crisis knows no boundaries.

When I was a sophomore in college I had an experience that illustrates what shub (metanoia-repentance) means to me. I had food poisoning from a tainted batch of beef at the university food service. After days of vomiting and a week of not being able to consume anything but modest amounts of liquid, I felt viscerally that I never, ever wanted to eat meat again. This was 1980. Vegetarianism was not all that common. Veganism even less so. My friends all told me that I was crazy. They all told me I had to eat meat in order to be healthy, virile, intelligent, etc. I ignored them all and stopped eating meat, because I had emptied that poison out of my system and could not turn back to it. That visceral emptying also awakened my latent love of all creatures. It was like blinders being removed from my eyes. For 20 years I had simply accepted what my family and culture had assumed was normal: eating animal flesh. I discovered where my heart lies: serving life in all of its manifestations. Thus I have been vegetarian for 37 years. There might be other ways of showing that devotion to all of life, but not eating meat is a pretty good place to start. It is good for our health and it is good for the health of the planet. But I didn't know any of that intellectually at the time. I just knew, once I had been emptied, that I needed to be very conscious about what I took in. I could not just swallow whatever my culture handed to me.

Shub is not just an idea or an intention. It is a visceral emptying, and the inevitable change of direction that follows. The Greek translation metanoia makes it sound like something that happens only in the mind. I experience it as something visceral: a complete change of direction including mind, body and relationship to the biosphere.

We all have poisoned minds. Our cultural assumptions make us think we are the star attraction here on Earth. We think the rest of the living world exists only to serve us; it is a "resource" that exists for our consumption. When we vomit out that poison, we discover that unless we exist to serve life, we cease to exist. That is what repentance-shub means to me: vomiting out the destructive poison of human superiority over all else, and consequently discovering the communion of all of life.