No conviction?

Here on the eve of the sacred Triduum — the three high holy days of Christianity, encompassing Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday culminating in the Great Vigil of Easter — I find myself, as a writer, especially challenged by these words of Peter Rollins, from his forthcoming book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales (which you can buy directly from the publisher or from Amazon). Read them for yourself — and ponder how they might apply to your life…

No Conviction

In a world where following Christ is decreed to be a subversive and illegal activity you have been accused of being a believer, arrested, and dragged before a court.

You have been under clandestine surveillance for some time now, and so the prosecution has been able to build up quite a case against you. They begin the trial by offering the judge dozens of photographs that show you attending church meetings, speaking at religious events, and participating in various prayer and worship services. After this, they present a selection of items that have been confiscated from your home: religious books that you own, worship CDs, and other Christian artifacts. Then they step up the pace by displaying your many poems, pieces of prose, and journal entries that you had lovingly written concerning your faith. Finally, in closing, the prosecution offers your Bible to the judge. This is a well-worn book with scribbles, notes, drawings, and underlings throughout, evidence, if it were needed, that you had read and re-read this sacred text many times.

Throughout the case you have been sitting silently in fear and trembling. You know deep in your heart that with the large body of evidence that has been amassed by the prosecution you face the possibility of long imprisonment or even execution. At various times throughout the proceedings you have lost all confidence and been on the verge of standing up and denying Christ. But while this thought has plagued your mind throughout the trial, you resist the temptation and remain focused.

Once the prosecution is finished presenting their case the judge proceeds to ask if you have anything to add, but you remain silent, resolute, terrified that if you open your mouth, even for a moment, you might deny the charges made against you. Like Christ, you remain silent before your accusers. In response you are led outside to wait as the judge ponders your case.

The hours pass slowly as you sit under guard in the foyer waiting to be summoned back. Eventually a young man in uniform appears and leads you into the courtroom so that you may hear the verdict and receive word of your punishment. Once you have been seated in the dock the judge, a harsh and unyielding man, enters the room, stands before you, looks deep into your eyes and begins to speak,

“Of the charges that have been brought forward I find the accused not guilty.”

“Not guilty?” your heart freezes. Then, in a split second, the fear and terror that had moments before threatened to strip your resolve are swallowed up by confusion and rage.

Despite the surroundings, you stand defiantly before the judge and demand that he give an account concerning why you are innocent of the charges in light of the evidence.

“What evidence?” he replies in shock.

“What about the poems and prose that I wrote?” you reply.

“They simply show that you think of yourself as a poet, nothing more.”

“But what about the services I spoke at, the times I wept in church and the long, sleepless nights of prayer?”

“Evidence that you are a good speaker and actor, nothing more.” Replied the judge, “It is obvious that you deluded those around you, and perhaps at times you even deluded yourself, but this foolishness is not enough to convict you in a court of law.”

“But this is madness!” you shout. “It would seem that no evidence would convince you!”

“Not so,” replies the judge as if informing you of a great, long-forgotten secret.

“The court is indifferent towards your Bible reading and church attendance; it has no concern for worship with words and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paint pictures of love. We have no interest in such armchair artists who spend their time creating images of a better world. We exist only for those who would lay down their brush, and their life, in a Christlike endeavor to create a better world. So, until you challenge this system and become a thorn in our side, until you die to yourself and offer your body to the flames, until then, my friend, you are no enemy of ours.”

P.S. If you order the book from the publisher’s website by April 15, you’ll save a whopping 40% off the regular list price.

  • http://farfromrome.blogspot.com PrickliestPear

    That’s a great piece. Thank you for posting that. I’m not overly familiar with Rollins, but I might check that out.

  • Liz

    Wow.

    Great piece.

  • http://splitthiswood.blogspot.com/ Didymus Thomas

    Great story!

  • http://www.AstroSphere.net michellegregg

    Incredibly interesting and thought provoking piece. Despite the terror that shook him, his conviction held him strong. The moment his conviction was seen as an illusion by authority, he was horrified that perhaps he was in fact invisible and pointless…terrified anew and humiliated that everything he thought he stood for could be so misconstrued…taken so lightly…seen as useless and unimportant. He was infuriated that he had been made irrelevant; that not only was he not going to be punished for his efforts at supporting and displaying what he believed was his life purpose, but that he wasn’t even taken seriously enough to pose a challenge.

    It’s funny how we are attached to the illusion we create of ourselves via our ego bodies…and how we are shattered when nobody else gets it. Often we’d rather be punished for our cause than mis-understood or dismissed as unimportant. The cause gives us meaning.

    Despite the judge’s summation at the end, I do think those who can should hold onto their paintbrushes and pens, and endeavor to create a better world with image and word. But perhaps this is too comfortable…as many as can might also take on the mantle of revolutionary and become the thorn in the side of authority/status quo…perhaps more of us should die to ourselves and step into the flame of revolution. Just a thought.

    The play on the word “conviction” brings a smile of irony.

    Thanks Carl!

    (sorry so long-winded!)

  • Tom

    I wonder what insight Celtic Christianity would derive from this parable. My guess is that the Celts would have little respect for participation in church meetings but more respect for artists and writers who express their faith in their art and writings.

    Perhaps they would say, “of course that’s no proof of faith. You should have spied on the way he treats his fellows, milks his cows or tills his fields.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Tom, I think your question is interesting, and part of what makes it so interesting is the fact that Peter Rollins is from Belfast and, in my humble opinion, is a far better representative of authentic Celtic spirituality than all the hyper-romantic treehuggers that are out there (and I say that lovingly, being something of a hyper-romantic treehugger myself). Peter is steeped in the mystical tradition and has a clear sense that authentic spirituality conceals God as much as it reveals him.

    I’d encourage you to read Peter’s books.


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