Changing the World, Teen Pregnancies, and Food Banks

Posted: May 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Changing the World, Teen Pregnancies, and Food Banks

I was reading Father Stephen’s post, To Change the World, and a number of different thoughts and emotions came to mind. I want to start with this quote:

But we cannot measure the Church and its life by its effect on the Kingdoms of this world. Sometimes we seem to have a great effect, sometimes we get martyred. In all times we are subject to the mercy of Christ and the workings of His salvation within the life of the world.

The example he uses to illustrate that point particularly struck home with me. When you’re a teen parent, especially one with few resources, you learn to swallow your pride. You learn to endure whatever you need to endure to obtain what you need for your family. But you do not remember those acts as acts of goodness or of love. When you do encounter actual goodness, real love, it sticks with you. Forever.

I remember when I was seventeen and working in Monroe, LA digging trenches and laying cablevision cable. We tried to share a house with a couple I worked with, but they decided it was too expensive and bailed to an apartment by the paper mills in West Monroe. (Gotta love the smell of paper mills in the morning!) We left that house as well since we couldn’t afford it by ourselves (leases don’t mean much when you have nothing) and took the first place we could find that we could afford, a tiny two room (yes, that’s two room, not two bedroom) house that had once been a parsonage, rented by the pastor and his wife of said church. (I have no memory whatsoever what church it might have been.) We did move in and water was included in the rent. So that was good. But we had zip left over to have the electricity turned on. You can manage without electricity and we had before, so we managed. When you have a baby, a roof and running water are the first things you worry about. Food for your child is second.

Perhaps a week to ten days later, the pastor’s wife stopped by while I was at work to see how things were going. When she discovered that we didn’t have electricity, she immediately took my first wife and daughter down to the electric company, wrote the check for the deposit, and made sure they turned on the electricity that same afternoon. It was quite a surprise for me when I finally got home after dark. (I tended to be out digging trenches until it was too dark to see many days.)

Those are the acts you remember. I doubt they remember us at all. We were in their lives for such a short period of time and we never really got to know each other. But that simple act of kindness and love has remained with me to this day. To be honest, if it weren’t for a trail of such acts through a period of my life where I had a pretty negative opinon about Christianity, I might not be Christian today. I do also remember the evil Christians did to me, but I was never able to say they were all like that. Because of people like that pastor’s wife, who would not take no for an answer. The kindness of strangers is nothing to sneer at.

While there are exceptions, when you act in an effort to control another person, even if “for their own good”, it’s not an act of love. God does not act that way toward us. He does not overpower us, though he may reveal himself to us. Even in that revelation, we have the freedom to say no. God does not manipulate us. Other than love, God does not have an agenda.

I wish that were more often true of Christians. Back when I attended and paid attention to the “business meetings” of our church (and that was years ago), I remember being somewhat repelled by the rules and forms and conditions our food pantry placed on our offering. Yes, I’m sure many people will go through whatever hurdles we set in order to get food. I’ve been in those shoes. I have not forgotten. Perhaps because I’ve been on the receiving end, I had a really hard time seeing the “caritas” in that approach. I’m sure that’s why I was so captivated by that portion of Sara Miles book, take this bread.

In his post, Father Stephen says this:

Is it good to help someone finish school? I think so.

Even that is bittersweet to me. Yes, I agree it is. But as I attended my Mom’s graduation last weekend (now both parents have doctorates and my brother has his Master’s degree), there were several things that caused me to pause and recognize that the last graduation I had was my graduation from 8th grade. I did get my GED. I have almost enough hours for my bachelor’s degree. But I’ve yet to actually have a graduation. I’ve been very fortunate. But still … I think it is good to help someone finish school.

Read Father Stephen’s post. And perhaps, instead of trying to change the world, simply try to actually do whatever good might cross your path on any given day.

Beyond Justification 5 – What does deification mean?

Posted: May 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Justification | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Beyond Justification 5 – What does deification mean?

First, I think there is one sentence from the article, Beyond Justification, that highlights the proper place within our understanding for this discussion.

Theosis is not just the “goal” of salvation; it is salvation in its essence and fulfillment.

In other words, if we are not united with God, if we do not come to live and share and move – to dance – in the communal life of the triune God that I tried to outline in my earlier post, then in what sense have we been saved at all?

This is where the largely juridical categories most often used in the Christian West tend to break down. While the details will vary, most in the Christian West tie salvation to some legal declaration by God that one is not guilty. This declaration tends to be labeled justification and thus salvation is largely equated with being justified. Once salvation itself is linked to whether or not you have attained a certain legal or forensic status, the preeminent question becomes how one attains that status. Thus, the Western categories of thought about God’s work with humanity through Christ tend to be as follows (with salvation predominantly tied to the first category):

Justification ==> Sanctification ==> Glorification

However, with only a few exceptions among primarily the early Latin Christian writers, this sort of perspective on salvation and these categories in particular did not come into being until the rise of Western scholasticism, marked most notably by Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas. The Protestant Reformation (and later Radical Reformation) disputed the mechanics for achieving these categories but largely accepted the categories themselves. This is a central reason why the Orthodox will often comment that in their eyes Roman Catholicism and Protestantism seem more like two sides to the same coin. Justification, understood as a legal status, is associated with salvation itself. Sanctification is seen as a process of moral improvement over time, as the development of personal righteousness in reality, a progressive development in our condition. Glorification is then seen as the final state freed from the influence and presence of personal sin. The specific category names may vary, but that is generally the perspective today of the Christian West.

This perspective is not even vaguely similar to that of the Christian East. Justification is not much discussed at all and when it is, it is typically discussed in an existential rather than a juridical sense.

God’s initiative and action in the creation of humanity according to his image, and in the incarnation, Cross, and resurrection are of universal significance to humanity and cosmic significance to creation as a whole. Orthodoxy understands justification in Christ as restoring to all humanity the potential for immortality and communion with God lost in the Fall. This is because all human beings share the human nature of Jesus Christ, which was restored in the resurrection. … Salvation does not consist in an extrinsic “justification” – although this “legal” dimension is fully legitimate whenever one approaches salvation within the Old Testament category of the fulfillment of the law (as Paul does in Romans and Galatians) – but in a renewed communion with God, making human life fully human again.

Salvation is not the declaration of a legal change in our status. Rather, drawing deeply on John 14-17, the letters of John, Hebrews, and much of Paul that is underemphasized in the West (especially Ephesians and Colossians), salvation is seen as union with God. God desires us to join and participate in the perichoretic dance of the Trinity in total union with God and with each other. This is the telos of humanity. The Fathers of the church explicate this beautifully. St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes (Against Heresies):

So, then, since the Lord redeemed us by his own blood, and gave his soul for our souls, and his flesh for our bodies, and poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God and man—bringing God down to men by [the working of] the Spirit, and again raising man to God by his incarnation—and by his coming firmly and truly giving us incorruption, by our communion with God, all the teachings of the heretics are destroyed.

For when the mixed cup and the bread that has been prepared receive the Word of God, and become the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, and by these our flesh grows and is confirmed, how can they say that flesh cannot receive the free gift of God, which is eternal life, since it is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and made a member of him? As the blessed Paul says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, that we are members of his body, of his flesh and his bones. He does not say this about a [merely] spiritual and invisible man, for the spirit has neither bones nor flesh, but about [God’s] dispensation for the real man, [a dispensation] consisting of flesh and nerves and bones, which is nourished by his cup, which is his blood, and grows by the bread which is his body.

And, of course, we have the words of St. Athanasius (On the Incarnation):

Much more, then, the Word of the All-good Father was not unmindful of the human race that He had called to be; but rather, by the offering of His own body He abolished the death which they had incurred, and corrected their neglect by His own teaching. Thus by His own power He restored the whole nature of man. The Savior’s own inspired disciples assure us of this. We read in one place: “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge that, if One died on behalf of all, then all died, and He died for all that we should no longer live unto ourselves, but unto Him who died and rose again from the dead, even our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again another says: “But we behold Him Who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He should taste of death on behalf of every man.”

He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured. In short, such and so many are the Savior’s achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves. One cannot see all the waves with one’s eyes, for when one tries to do so those that are following on baffle one’s senses. Even so, when one wants to take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, one cannot do so, even by reckoning them up, for the things that transcend one’s thought are always more than those one thinks that one has grasped.

The Word, the eternal Son, assumed humanity that we might become God. Or, in the more commonly heard English translation of the statement. God became man that we might become God. This is salvation in the Eastern Christian mind. Yes, we are freed from the penalty of our sins. We are forgiven. But that is merely the starting point. That frees us to receive grace, that is to receive the life and energies of God, so that we can grow in communion with God and with each other. We are not saved until we fully participate in the life of the Trinity and in the life of every other true human being.

Salvation is thus utterly synergistic, but not in the merit-based sense that the term typically has in the West. Rather, since salvation is at its core relational in nature, it is synergistic by nature. A relationship, by definition, is two way. A monergistic relationship is an oxymoron. Our participation is empowered by God through the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus, through the gift of the presence of God within us in the seal of the Holy Spirit, and through the intertwined physical and spiritual mystical communion with God and with each other in many forms, but exemplified and rooted in the Eucharist. When you understand this, you understand why the Orthodox say things like, “The only thing you can do alone is go to hell.

But what a glorious vision of salvation this is! At it’s best in the Western sense, salvation still leaves us outside God, at most observing God. We are closer, of course. We can observe something of the dance of the Trinity. But we do not participate within it. We do not become one with God and with each other in the sense that Jesus taught. Sadly, as N.T. Wright has noted, the West has become so dualistic that often what is presented as the ultimate condition of salvation looks a whole lot more like Plato’s happy philosophers than anything recognizably Christian. We’ve reduced it to something small and ultimately boring. And that is truly sad, for the Christian story of what it means to be human and of our ultimate salvation is the best one you will ever find. I’ve explored many such stories and they pale in comparison.

In truth, as in my post on the Trinity in this series, my words here barely scratch the surface of this topic. It is just that deep and that rich. I’m at best an infant in my understanding. But hopefully I’ve exposed some of the beauty. I think there are a few more things I want to say in this series. We’ll see how many more posts that will entail.