Thursday, December 15, 2005

Preparing the ground

Another book was recommended by a friend: Chris Hedges’ Losing Moses on the Freeway. It’s a book version of his series in The New York Times about the Ten Commandments.

A gripping read. What Hedges does is explore on a very intimate level what happens to people when they break the commandments. Specifically, when one particular person breaks the adultery commandment, etc. He shows the effects of habitual commandment breaking on people’s lives, and the lives of those around them.

I don’t necessarily agree with all that he’s saying. For example, he believes the “don’t take the name of the Lord in vain” commandment is about lying, and that the “bear false witness” one is about envy. I always thought the latter one was about lying. But I’ve never been a student of traditional theology, so maybe I never learned it correctly.

However, Hedges’ stories are compelling. The envy one is about two chess shops in New York City who compete across the street from each other. The adultery one is quite sad, actually. And the murder one—well, let’s just say as a former war correspondent, Hedges has plenty of material to draw from.

Here's some interesting thoughts in the book's epilogue, which Hedges titles “Love”:

Love means living for others. … It is not easy. But by giving up parts of ourselves for others, by accepting that we must be willing to lose life to create and preserve life, we honor the core of the commandments. The commandments hold out to us the possibility of love.

The commandments serve as a check on the deluge [of selfishness and materialism]. They point us away from the city of man and toward the city of God. … They call us toward mutual respect and mutual self-sacrifice.

The commandments are guideposts. They bring us back, even when we stray, as we all do, to the right path. They are our protection against the siren calls of glory, wealth and power that will ultimately dash us against the rocks. We often want to take the easy route. We do not want to sacrifice. … But it is never too late to turn back. Atonement permits a new way of being. It calls us to life.

Interesting concept: that obedience to the commandments better enables us to love. I like to think of obedience as the first step, the clearing of the ground, you might say, before planting the seeds. You can plant seeds in unharrowed ground and they can still survive—God knows that’s happened enough in my life. But how much easier for the seeds to prosper in ground that’s been prepared for them.

The commandments allow us to prepare the ground for spiritual growth. Thanks Chris Hedges for exploring this more deeply.


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