Today, in class, I shared a digital resource that the university librarians created to help students distinguish between "real news" and "fake news" on the web. Together, we went over ways of checking for bias, propaganda and outright falsehood; we looked at the importance of a writer's credentials, the use of credible evidence to back up claims, the inclusion of multiple viewpoints, and the "ownership" of the hosting website. I explained that being able to distinguish between fact and fiction is the sign of an educated person, and that if we don't check facts, we are at the mercy of anyone who tries to influence us, confuse us, or even control us.
The timing of this topic was not accidental. After last Tuesday's Presidential Debate, it was clear that the debate was not just between two men vying to win the election but between Truth and Falsehood. Television commentators dissected the statements of both candidates, debunking false claims, unmasking direct lies, and exposing distortions, exaggerations and other deceptions. These commentators modelled the responsible approach to "fact finding," matching every false claim with the evidence that contradicted it. They did their job -- now we need to do ours, that is, to be seekers and speakers of Truth.
PS Try my spiritual self-assessment tool! After you take the Quiz, you will automatically receive a computer-generated diagram and explanatory comments regarding your strengths and "growing edges." I hope you find the Quiz useful!
Let me now sing of my friend,
my friend's song concerning his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
he spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but what it yielded was wild grapes.
Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?
The pathos in our first reading is tangible. Isaiah's song of his Friend's vineyard is neither a ballad nor a lullaby, neither a battle song nor an amorous song, but a lament emanating from the core of self. The prophet tells us the story chronologically, letting us know how much care and effort the Friend poured into the vineyard, not only clearing the the fertile hillside of stones but planting the choicest vines with a watch tower close by to protect the harvest from thieves and marauding animals. Writing in the third person, Isaiah leads us to expect a bountiful harvest, but we are shocked to discover that the crop is bitter. Masterfully, Isaiah then switches to the first person, crying out in anguish as if he himself were the Friend. Of course, what he is doing is what prophets always do: speaking on behalf of the Holy One to anyone who will listen. His perspective is no longer that of a concerned observer but that of someone who has entered so deeply into the Divine Consciousness that he can speak for God, with passion, authenticity and complete empathy. He feels as God feels, sees as God sees, while God, in turn, speaks through him, holding nothing back -- neither outrage nor grief.
The pathos of God is not a topic that gets much traction these days. Sadly, there are contemporary theologians who consider the God of the Hebrew scriptures to be patriarchal, violent and even barbaric. Focusing on the theme of evolutionary consciousness, they also dismiss the possibility of a personal relationship with God/ Jesus as a form of projection stemming from the desire "to control and manage God in our lives." Personally, I don't see why evolutionary theology should be incompatible with the idea of a personal God nor with the possibility of having an intimate relationship with God. Certainly, the greatest evolutionary theologian -- Teilhard de Chardin-- didn't think so, either. In her introduction to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ursula King writes:
"For Teilhard, God was the most intimate presence whose insertion into the world through the incarnation meant that the divine runs through all of matter and life. God was also his closest friend and lover, his mother and father, a real person with whom he could speak and to whom he could communicate his innermost thoughts and doubts -- someone he could love, embrace and worship with all the powers of his heart" (23).
So what of Isaiah's vineyard? For me it is a poignant reminder that while God is omnipotent/ omniscient/ omnipresent, etc., God's "Heart" is more fragile than the human heart, just as capable of grief and perhaps even more in need of solace. Of course, traditional theology also claims that God is the "Prime Mover Unmoved" and that if God were to experience emotion, that would nullify the Divine Perfection. The Hebrew scriptures say otherwise; moreover, as I wrote in Jesus the Holy Fool (Sheed & Ward, 1999): "In Jesus, the pathos of God is visible, tangible --and completely incomprehensible. Jesus is the God-Archetype in all its holiness and in all its vulnerability" (66).
He is the Son, murdered in the vineyard, the heir robbed of his inheritance, the rejected cornerstone; Jesus is the pathos of God enfleshed among us, the Suffering Servant in whom suffering humanity can be transformed into a new humanity, sharing in the Divine nature. For as Athanasius pointed out, "God became human in order that human beings might become God."