Richard Rohr Meditation: Beyond Comprehension

Remember, Jesus never said, “You must be right!” or even that it was important to be right. He largely talked about being honest and humble (which is probably our only available form of rightness).

.. Such admitted poverty in words should keep us humble, curious, and searching for God. Yet the ego doesn’t like such uncertainty. So, it’s not surprising that the history of the three monotheistic religions, in their first few thousand years, has largely been the proclaiming of absolutes and dogmas. In fact, we usually focus on areas where we can feel a sense of order and control—things like finances, clothing, edifices, roles, offices, and who has the authority. In my experience, I observe that the people who find God are usually those who are very serious about their quest and their questions. It is said that asking good questions is a sign of intelligence. But Western culture has spent centuries admiring and promoting people who supposedly have all the answers—which, too often, they have read or heard from someone else.

A Bigger, Inclusive Table

Jesus’ most consistent social action was eating in new ways and with new people, encountering those who were oppressed or excluded from the system. A great number of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms take place while he’s entering or leaving a house for a meal. In the process he redefines power and the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us that spiritual power is primarily exercised outside the structure of temple and synagogue.

As Christianity developed, the Church moved from Jesus’ meal with open table fellowship to its continuance in the relatively safe ritual meal we call the Eucharist. Unfortunately, that ritual itself came to redefine social reality in a negative way, in terms of worthiness and unworthiness—the opposite of Jesus’ intention! Even if we deny that our intention is to define membership, it is clearly the practical message people hear today. It is strange and inconsistent that sins of marriage and sexuality seem to be the only ones that exclude people from the table when other sins like greed and hatefulness are more of a public scandal.

Notice how Jesus is accused by his contemporaries. By one side, he’s criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11, for example); by the other side, he’s judged for eating too much (Luke 7:34) or with the Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 7:36-50, 11: 37-54, 14:1). He ate with both sides. He ate with lepers (Mark 14:3), he received a woman with a bad reputation at a men’s dinner (Luke 7:36-37), and he even invited himself over to a “sinner’s” house (Luke 19:1-10). He didn’t please anybody, it seems, always breaking the rules and making a bigger table.

During Jesus’ time, religious law was being interpreted almost exclusively through the Book of Leviticus, particularly chapters 17-24, the Law of Holiness. Jesus critiques his own tradition. He refuses to interpret the Mosaic law in terms of inclusion/exclusion, the symbolic self-identification of Judaism as the righteous, pure, elite group. Jesus continually interprets the Law of Holiness in terms of the God whom he has met—and that God is always compassion and mercy.

A Higher Sanctimony

Comey’s memoir shows he is more like Trump than he cares to admit.

But Mr. Trump told an interviewer that he had fired Mr. Comey because the FBI chief wouldn’t say publicly that the FBI wasn’t investigating Mr. Trump. The President also threatened Mr. Comey with a false claim about Oval Office “tapes.” Mr. Comey responded by leaking documents that caused Mr. Rosenstein to name a special counsel, which has put Mr. Trump’s Presidency in mortal peril.

.. The main lesson from Mr. Comey’s book is that Mr. Trump’s abuse of political norms has driven his enemies to violate norms themselves.

.. The most notable fact in the book is how little we learn that is new about Mr. Trump.

.. Mr. Trump is preoccupied with his critics and the validation of his presidential victory. He is clueless that his bullying and flattery would repel Mr. Comey

.. The book mainly adds Mr. Comey’s moral and aesthetic contempt for Mr. Trump.

.. Mr. Comey’s comparison of Mr. Trump to a “mafia” boss is hilariously overstated. Don’t they call it “organized” crime? And what about that code of silence known as omerta? The Trump White House can’t keep anything secret.

.. Mr. Comey reveals in his excessive self-regard that he is more like Mr. Trump than he cares to admit. Mr. Trump’s narcissism is crude and focused on his personal “winning.” Mr. Comey’s is about vindicating his own higher morality and righteous belief.

.. He accuses Mr. Rosenstein of acting “dishonorably” by writing the memo describing how Mr. Comey mishandled the Clinton probe. Yet he barely engages Mr. Rosenstein’s arguments, which quoted from former Justice officials of both parties. Mr. Rosenstein wrote that Mr. Comey was “wrong to usurp” the authority of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and wrong to “hold press conferences to release derogatory information” about Mrs. Clinton.

That mistake made Mr. Comey feel obliged to intervene again in late October—this time to announce the reopening of the probe in a way that helped Mr. Trump. Had Mr. Comey followed Justice protocol in July, he would not have had to make himself the issue in October, damaging the reputation of the FBI and Justice in the bargain.

.. This has been the habit across Mr. Comey’s career, though you’ll find no mention in his memoir of Steven Hatfill, the government scientist he wrongly pursued for years as the anthrax terrorist; or Frank Quattrone, the Wall Street financier he prosecuted twice for obstruction of justice only to be rebuked by an appeals court; or Judith Miller’s recantation of her testimony against Scooter Libby.

Mr. Comey has also had little to say so far about the controversy over the Steele dossier and his handling of the Russian investigation of Mr. Trump. Did he know that the dossier was commissioned by Democrats for the Clinton campaign? He also has nothing to say about the dismissal of his former FBI deputy, Andrew McCabe, for “lack of candor.”

Mr. Comey is getting his moment of revenge as much of the press revels in the attacks on Mr. Trump. Yet his career, reinforced by his memoir, is a case study in the perils of the righteous prosecutor. It also shows why Mr. Comey’s view of the FBI as “independent” of supervisory authority is wrong and dangerous. A presidential bully who abuses power needs to be checked, but so does an FBI director who turns righteousness into zealotry.

The Tragedy of James Comey

James Comey is about to be ubiquitous. His book will be published next week, and parts may leak this week. Starting Sunday, he will begin an epic publicity tour, including interviews with Stephen Colbert, David Remnick, Rachel Maddow, Mike Allen, George Stephanopoulos and “The View.”

.. Yet anybody who’s read Greek tragedy knows that strengths can turn into weaknesses when a person becomes too confident in those strengths. And that’s the key to understanding the very complex story of James Comey.

.. Long before he was a household name, Comey was a revered figure within legal circles.
.. But he was more charismatic than most bureaucrats — six feet eight inches tall, with an easy wit and refreshing informality. People loved working for him.
.. If you read his 2005 goodbye speech to the Justice Department, when he was stepping down as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general, you can understand why. It’s funny, displaying the gifts of a storyteller. It includes an extended tribute to the department’s rank and file, like “secretaries, document clerks, custodians and support people who never get thanked enough.” He insists on “the exact same amount of human dignity and respect” for “every human being in this organization,”
.. Above all, though, the speech is a celebration of the department’s mission.
.. Many Justice Department officials, from both parties, have long believed that they should be more independent and less political than other cabinet departments. Comey was known as an evangelist of this view.
.. Comey sometimes chided young prosecutors who had never lost a case, accusing them of caring more about their win-loss record than justice. He told them they were members of the Chicken Excrement Club
.. Most famously, in 2004, he stood up to Bush and Dick Cheney over a dubious surveillance program.

But as real as Comey’s independence and integrity were, they also became part of a persona that he cultivated and relished.

.. Comey has greater strengths than most people. But for all of us, there is a fine line between strength and hubris.