Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A March for Eternal Life, A Holy Crusade for the Conversion of California

A call for Christian chivalry and conversion
In today’s Way of Beauty podcast, Episode 68, my friend Charlie Deist talks about his inspiration for organizing a 50-mile march in the San Francisco Bay Area. It follows a route that encircles the Bay - around three bridges (the Bay Bridge, Richmond Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge) starting early in the mornin,g and walking the full distance in a single day. 

Charlie, who is a Bay Area native and a relatively recent convert, has made it his mission to focus on two secular cults, exercise and nutrition, and to Christianize them so that they are in harmony with a Christian spiritual life. You can read about his ideas on his blog anaturalmethod.com.

I think he really is onto something here. If there are two aspects of Californian life that symbolize the misdirected desire for the good (along with sexual immorality) it is these.

He has therefore  proposed a march in which we meditate upon the spiritual meaning of marching itself. I see the 50 miles as a symbol of Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the world. I am dubbing this a March for Eternal Life (or The Bay-Area Pilgrimage for Pentecost). Charlie wanted to draw attention to the fact that staying indoors all day is in many ways detrimental to our health, and to encourage people to consider walking in the outdoors. (You can hear him talk about the reasons in the podcast.) But in my discussions with him, it became more than this, a symbol of broader freedom - to worship and gather for human activities that are essential to our well being. Then, I thought also that this might be a pilgrimage that becomes a focus of prayer for the conversion of the unbelievers of the Bay Area and California who cannot see this.

The March takes place on Friday, May 29th, beginning at Treasure Island on the Bay Bridge. You can join him for all or part (I am doing just a part!) of that march by connecting with Charlie through his website anaturalmethod.com/march. My plan is to park at Pt. Isabel Dog Park (9:30) and walk to the Marin side of the Bay Bridge (finishing at 1:30 pm or so at Jean and John Starkweather Park). At this point, there will be a handful of people who will probably stop there and take an Uber back (so bring your masks). I want this to be as much a meditation as a social event, and my hope is to find a crowd to sing boisterously with me the Polyeleos - Psalm 136 the (‘Many Mercies’ psalm). I will bring hymn sheets for anyone who wishes to join in.

Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge near San Francisco
Charlie’s approach to exercise and diet is to make the person of Christ the harmonizing factor. Once we start with a Christian anthropology in our consideration of man, and understand that it is our relationship with Him that governs all human activity, then the dichotomies and conflicts which arise from worshipping lesser gods disappear.

Eating is both a physical and spiritual activity, and considerations of nutritional science and the spiritual disciplines of feasting and fasting are harmonized in the daily, weekly, seasonal and annual cycles of time in the liturgical year and our patterns of prayer and worship. And walking (or marching) done for purposes of both exercise and for the meditation upon things eternal becomes what used to be called…a pilgrimage! So this is The Pilgrimage for Pentecost!

We can conform our patterns of all exercise to this sacred ideal, and this will give us both physical and spiritual benefits. As we argue in the podcast, natural exercise will promote in people the old ideals of chivalry, virtue, and self-control.

This is the Natural Method that Charlie is advocating through his site anaturalmethod.com. Similarly, work and recreation are both activities that bolster the dignity of human life when understood in this way.

The misdirected searches for the Good that characterize and fracture society have never been more apparent in the enforced pattern of activity that the response to the coronavirus here in California. It arises, it seems to me, from public policy that does recognize that while there are positive effects that arise from the enforced separation of people from each other, there are also detrimental effects - work and economic activity, social, spiritual and religious, physical, recreational, and so on. Those who formulate public policy in the state do not seem to recognize sufficiently that human dignity requires us to participate in all these activities, and if they are denied to us, this will have a detrimental impact on the whole person.

I do not expect those who govern us to be able to implement the perfect policy that gives us the right balance in a coronavirus lockdown. This is a difficult situation, and it would be hard to know what to do precisely. However, once we accept that the human person is not a compartmentalized being, but rather a profound unity of body and soul in which every activity impacts every aspect of the human person, then we at least have a chance of knowing what that balance is. Neglect of these principles, on the other hand, will almost certainly result in a policy that makes things worse. I feel that we are starting to realize this now.

There is another point here, in that I believe that each of us knows best how to balance these factors in our own lives. We are all unique, and centrally mandated policies that try to dictate the detail of our daily living will create more difficulties on balance for all those people whose needs do not correspond precisely to the average man which they are designed to help - i.e. every single one of us.

What is being neglected here is the importance of personal freedom in society’s response to any crisis. The proper role of the State is to regulate to protect human freedom in accordance with the principles of justice, regardless of whether or not we are in a crisis. Now more than ever, we must trust that maximizing human freedom will allow the Common Good to manifest itself, and that this will produce the best response of our nation to the pandemic.

This principle does allow for the possibility of different forms of regulation under changing conditions and threats. Nevertheless, according to this logic, the only justification for state intervention of the sort that we have seen is that it is protecting the personal freedom of its citizens in accordance with justice. One might consider that the pandemic itself represents a threat to human freedom that justifies extraordinary measures by arguing that most of us are not as free as we otherwise would be if we are confined to a hospital bed and a ventilator. My friend Michel Accad, who is a medical doctor in general practice, as well as a practicing cardiologist, argues in this article that there is no role such for the State, saying:
It is the true economy and the integrity of society that the government should protect or promote. Lockdowns do the exact opposite. They fracture us, harm us, and weaken us all. If maintained long enough, they will disintegrate us. In the meantime, they undoubtedly obstruct our efforts to find the best way to respond to pandemics. They should be opposed—not because of tradeoffs—but because they are antithetical to the economy, that is, to the good of society.
Before you accuse him (or me) of being concerned only with money, I should point out that he using the word ‘economy’ in its fullest meaning, one that incorporates a Christian vision of man and society. He says the following:
The economy is not simply a sum total of exchanges of material goods and services among consumers, businesses, and governments, to be measured as a “GDP.” That is the concept that the utilitarians are accustomed to, and it’s how mainstream political philosophy conceives of the economy. Originally, however, the Greek term Oîkonomia meant “household affairs” and came to refer, by extension, to the entire life of the community as such.
The reason to consider the life of the community as such is that the human being is, by nature, a social animal who depends essentially on the division of labor that takes place within an integrated and wholly interconnected society. We depend on the division of labor from the moment we are born: we need parents who can feed us, and our parents themselves need the specialized work of others to survive—specialized work that invariably crosses different generations. The division of labor forms a more or less tight-knit “political” community that promotes and defends the interests of its own members. That community may be a small primitive tribe or a huge nation-state, it is nevertheless one community engaged in the division of labor in its own unique way.
In light of this, I suggest now is a time particularly, that we hope that those who govern us are inspired by the Holy Spirit as they execute their duties. And so for me, the 50-mile march for freedom, our ‘March for Eternal Life’ evoking the Spirit of Pentecost is an occasion for prayer, meditation, and pilgrimage. We intend to pray for our leaders and ask God to send his Holy Spirit to guide them, and that they might listen to Him, and for their conversion and the conversion of the State of California. This is a Holy Crusade for today.

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