Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Raw and the Cooked

A thousand years ago, I was an anthropologist in training. As someone who continues to remained challenged and piqued by vocational discernment, I can say with a quiet honesty that I spent as much time agonizing over my sense of call to become a behavioral scientist as I was when I began to ruminate on embracing a call to ordination in the Episcopal Church.

Being a neophyte anthropologist, as I look back on it with priestly eyes, was an exquisite difficulty. 18 years old and wondering why we do/act/say/seek what we do as humans in society with each other was tough enough. Deciding to do that with my life, to engage in a dispassionate study of my neighboring humans while at the same time wondering how to live myself was almost too much. I wanted desperately to take part, embrace, embroil and engage with the societies and cultures I was observing. At that time, and within the program I was studying, that sort of poetic engagement was tantatmount to the essence of sin itself. We observe was the mantra. To participate was only slightly this side of anathema...At least, unless you were intent on righting the wrongs of sexism, racism, classism, etc. Any -ism, really, was up for grabs, but only if the professor agreed. Ugh.

Still, I got a lot out of the experience, and continue to dip into the tools I was given during those years of formation. Studying primates, "primitive" societies and the cultural mechanics of modern anthropology laid great foundations for life in the Church, in the parish and in adult contemporary life. Heck, I even find myself mining those ethnographies I read for sermons...Things like the Jesuit Chronicles, Margaret Mead (entombed just down the street in Buckingham, PA) and the great theoretical works of Boaz, Malinowski, Levi-Strauss (not the jeans maker) and Clifford Geertz.

One of the images I have been walking with these past weeks is from Claude Levi-Strauss' great seminal work on cultural relativism: The Raw and the Cooked. That volume held up an idea--that much of human cultural identity (I know, you anthro-folk, that I am playing a bit fast and furious with theory here, so feel free to comment) is summed up in the tension lived out between poles of duality in perception. We create and make distinctions between raw and cooked, between good and evil, between light and dark, between love and hate, between war and peace.

Holy Week, in many ways, is a direct assault on the expression of duality. In both liturgy and in meditation and prayer, we are confronted with the ultimate experience of duality in seeing Jesus first alive, then dead, then alive again. All through the experience, we are hit with memory after memory of what happened then in an attempt to experience it now. The raw and the cooked, an artificial distinction. It is still meat. Our experience of it shifts, that is all.

So, from one moment to the next, we struggle to categorize and make judgments. This is a "good" moment. Jesus is at table with his friends. He is washing feet. He is entering the gates of Jerusalem. He is teaching. He is praying. Or, this is a "bad" moment. He is arrested. He is betrayed. He is beaten. He is crucified.

Here is the thing: all of these are just moments. They are imbued with meaning because we find points of resonance, contact, empathy and sympathy in them with the human journey of the Christ as life ends and begins again.

God, continually, in almost any culture, confronts and challenges our judgments, our endless efforts to resort to duality. In the end, God is not possessed of dual natures. God is only God. A singularity that draws all in toward fulfillment, fullness. In today's lesson, the write of the Epistle to the Hebrews informs us that if we are in Christ, then we accept the reality that Christ died, once and for all. That means that there is only the one moment, the one act. It is not repeated over and over again. We mark the moment in remembering during Holy Week, but the eternity is not found in the dead, of the living flesh of the Christ. It is found in the reality of Christ revealed beyond the duality. We are confronted with the Christ coming and going, living and dead, temporal and eternal...And as we do that our dualities break down.

What is left is silence in God.

And all the anthropologists say,

AMEN.

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