Gluten Free and Now Dairy Free

Posted: November 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Sigh.

That’s a significant part of my reaction to the subject of this post.

As I’ve maintained a gluten free diet and healed from the fairly extensive damage to my body, there have been certain symptoms that have not improved and which have even gotten worse. I mostly put them out of my mind and tried not to think about them — mostly because I had a pretty good idea what they likely meant.

Finally my wife put her foot down and told me I had to figure out what was wrong so I could continue getting well. She suggested that as a result of the damage from celiac disease I might not be able to tolerate dairy any longer. Of course, I’m reasonably well-read and already knew that a fair number of those with celiac also can’t tolerate dairy. I just didn’t want to be one of them. I really didn’t want to have to give up yet another major food group.

But I couldn’t just keep running away from it, especially with my wife insisting I deal with it, so I decided to try a few weeks on a strict dairy-free diet. And I quickly began improving which, since I didn’t change anything else in my diet, pretty much confirms that I can’t tolerate dairy anymore.

I know it’s good to identify what’s wrong with you so you can get well. But I would be lying if I said that it didn’t piss me off. I like dairy. Oh well, I know I can deal with it, but an increasingly restricted diet is still a pain.


Reflections on Resurrection 4 – Reincarnation

Posted: November 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I confess I was quite surprised when a recent Pew study revealed that 22% of American Christians believed in reincarnation. In fact, that’s probably one of the things that has been percolating in the back of mind leading to this present series. I don’t have a negative view of a belief in reincarnation in any of its forms. As I explained in the introductory post of this series, reincarnation was a significant facet in my childhood spiritual formation. And as an adult, before I found myself drawn into Christian faith, it was also a central component of my own belief system. For me, the view of reality (and what it means to be a human being) embedded within the concept reincarnation is better than all competing views with the notable exception of resurrection. If I ever ceased believing in the Christian narrative of resurrection, I have no doubt I would return to some belief system that incorporated reincarnation.

At it’s core, reincarnation presupposes that some essence of who and what you are (let’s call that your soul) existed and lived before your body was conceived and that same essence will endure after the death of your body. In some perspectives, that constant cycle is a central part of the problem and the goal is to bring the cycle to an end, typically through the release of your sense of individual identity and reunification with the greater whole. In other perspectives, the cycle of rebirth is positive and beautiful. However, this view requires some concept of the preexistence and the immortality of the soul. Something that is truly you must have existed before you were born and be independent of your physical body, so it can persist and animate a future body.

While I hold no animus toward the narrative of reincarnation and, indeed, think highly of it, I also recognize that it is utterly incompatible with the Christian narrative of resurrection. Christianity holds that we were created — body and soul — upon our conception. We had no preexistence and thus no former lives. Christianity shows us that we are integrated beings, that we are, in fact, our bodies — even if we also transcend our bodies in some sense. And Christianity proclaims that we will all be resurrected bodily in a manner continuous with the person we now are. Obviously, if we have had many lives and many bodies, such a proclamation is nonsense.

I don’t grasp what the 22% of American Christians who say they believe in reincarnation think Christianity teaches. I don’t see how they could believe in bodily resurrection unless, perhaps, they believe they get to pick which of their many bodies will be resurrected? That particular statistic baffles me. Resurrection and reincarnation just don’t mix.


Reflections on Resurrection 3 – Preexistence of the Soul

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 3 – Preexistence of the Soul

The preexistence of the soul refers to the understanding that our souls, as disembodied spirits of some sort, existed before our bodies existed. When this is combined with the understanding that our souls are naturally immortal (and it is almost always so combined),  we become possessors of eternal souls. Christianity, of course, confesses God as the only eternal, but I still sense that a lot of Christians today have some belief that their soul somehow existed before they were conceived.

Christianity teaches that we are each created embodied beings and we did not exist before we were conceived. Moreover, in some sense our creation is a synergy between God and our parents. The creation of a whole human being is a beautiful image — much more beautiful to me than the image of shaping a body for an existing spirit to inhabit.

Now, like the immortality of the soul, most people don’t directly talk about the preexistence of the soul. However, I do believe this perception of what it means to be a human being underlies some of the things that are more commonly expressed even among Christians today. I wanted to clearly identify both ideas before proceeding.


Reflections on Resurrection 2 – Immortality of the Soul

Posted: November 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 2 – Immortality of the Soul

It’s hard to decide how to organize this series. I know the outline of the topics I want to cover and the points I hope to make, but the topic does not readily lend itself to decomposition into blog post sized chunks. Nor is the best order in which to publish the various topics at all obvious. I picked the immortality of the soul as my starting point because this thread seems very strong in our culture today.

Of course, it’s tricky to even talk about the soul. What is the soul? What does that word reference? In ancient Hebrew thought (some of which we see in our Old Testament), for instance, the soul simply referred to the whole person. The center of the will was in the heart. The feelings were in the bowels. Life was in the blood. And human beings were also imbued in some sense with the breath from God. Human beings were understood as thoroughly embodied beings.

That’s not how the word is typically used today. Rather the soul is most often seen as purely spiritual. Moreover, this spiritual soul is understood as the real person separate from the body. Our bodies are then seen as mere vessels to contain our souls and separate from our being and identity. I once heard someone describe a modern neo-platonic professor they knew. Instead of saying that he was going for a walk, he would say that he was taking his body for a walk. While most people are not that precise in their language, I sense a thread much like that permeating a great deal of modern Christianity. Only if you perceive the true reality of a person as somehow separate and distinct from their body could you make the statement at a funeral that the body is not the person we have loved and that they have left their body behind like a discarded shell.

Therefore, it seems to me that when people today refer to the immortality of the soul, they usually mean the immortality of that disembodied spirit. And moreover, they seem to consider the spirit somehow naturally immortal. Then Christian faith is often reduced to a proposition regarding the fate of this naturally immortal soul.

And this gets a little tricky since Christianity does in a sense teach the immortality of the soul. However, Christianity does not teach that we are naturally immortal as a disembodied spirit. Rather, through the power of God in the union of the Word and our human nature in Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus’ defeat of death, it is no longer the nature of man to die. Hades or death has been emptied. But we have no being that is somehow separate from our bodies and our life flows from God. We have no independent immortality at all. Fortunately, God does not begrudge existence to any of his creation.

It’s a nuanced and, I think, important distinction from what I sense as the common understanding of our culture and that distinction will be important as we proceed through my reflections. That’s why I chose to begin here.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 10

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 10

27.  No one can truly bless God unless he has sanctified his body with the virtues and made his soul luminous with spiritual knowledge. For a virtuous disposition constitutes the face of a contemplative intellect, its gaze turned heavenwards to the height of true knowledge.

We can cry out to God. We can yearn for God. We can pray for mercy. We can do many things. But we cannot truly bless God until we begin to grow in communion with him — which necessarily means that we have changed and are changing. When you consider that we are creatures who can, in and through Jesus of Nazareth, grow to actually bless the creator of all that is, it’s a pretty awe-inspiring thought. What does it mean to bless God?


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 9

Posted: October 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 9

21.  Let us illumine our intellect with intellections of the divine world and make our body refulgent with the quality of the spiritual principles we have perceived, so that through the rejection of the passions it becomes a workshop of virtue, controlled by the intelligence. If the natural passions of the body are governed by the intelligence there is no reason to censure them. But when their activity is not controlled by the intelligence, they do deserve censure. This is why it is said that such passions must be rejected, for although their activity is natural, they may often be used, when not governed by the intelligence, in a way that is contrary to nature.

Let’s take a very simple natural passion, hunger, as an example. In and of itself, it’s a good thing. When we suffer hunger, we are reminded to eat and we can then seek food. But it is easily disordered and we eat without thinking and driven by other passions. We feel we suffer hunger when our bodies do not actually require food. In today’s world, food is crafted specifically to inflame that passion in a deliberate effort to make us overeat. Or hunger could be disordered so we eat to excess and then regurgitate. In our disordered state, we can screen it out and starve ourselves. When a natural passion, even a simple and good one, becomes disordered, the ways it can rule and destroy us are legion.

The wisdom of St. Maximos is evident to me and just as applicable to our day as it was to his.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 25

Posted: August 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

93. Death in the true sense is separation from God, and ‘the sting of death is sin’  (1 Cor. 15:56). Adam, who received the sting, became at the same time an exile from the tree of life, from paradise and from God (cf. Gen. 3); and this was necessarily followed by the body’s death. Life, in the true sense, is He who said, ‘I am the life’ (John 11:25), and who, having entered into death, led back to life him who had died.

Frederica Mathewes-Green recounts an event in her conversion when she heard Jesus tell her that he was her life — the other paths she was pursuing were not her life. I’ve never experienced anything quite as dramatic — though admittedly my life has been such that perhaps I’m not the best judge of what qualifies as drama — but the journey of my life has been marked by encounters, events, and experiences that are hard to explain in ways other than God’s active love for me. If Jesus is truly our life, then whatever we might find along other paths and from other sources is not ultimately life.

When I try to explore the reasons I remain Christian, this is probably close to the center. I feel at times somewhat like the disciples in John 6. Where else are we going to go, Lord? You have the words of life.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

72.  Just as it is easier to sin in the mind than in action, so warfare through our impassioned conceptual images of things is harder than warfare through the things themselves.

I quit smoking slightly more than fourteen years ago. (I could count the days over fourteen years if I wanted, but I try not to dwell on it that much.) I had smoked and smoked fairly heavily for two decades by that time. My body and mind had been formed and shaped with and around nicotine. As studies have shown, one of the effects of nicotine is that it increases focus and concentration. So in addition to breaking the other physical aspects of addiction, I had to learn how to intently focus my mind without the aid of a drug. But I managed all of that and the physical aspect of my smoking addiction has long since passed. I not only fought that war, I won it.

My conceptual images of smoking are another thing entirely and I am still not free from them. I can still remember the feeling when that first deep drag floods your body with sensation. The memory is so intense, it’s as though I can almost relive it. And it’s compelling. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have to remind myself that I am not a smoker and I am never going to be a smoker again.

I won the war over the things themselves years ago. The war over my impassioned conceptual images of the things? Not so much. That war continues. I think I grasp some of what St. Maximos is describing in this text.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

Posted: August 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

57.  There are virtues of the body and virtues of the soul. Those of the body include fasting, vigils, sleeping on the ground, ministering to people’s needs, working with one’s hands so as not to be a burden or in order to give to others (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9, Ephes. 4:28). Those of the soul include love, long-suffering, gentleness, self-control and prayer (cf. Gal, 5:22). If as a result of some constraint or bodily condition, such as illness or the like, we find we cannot practice the bodily virtues mentioned above, we are forgiven by the Lord because He knows the reasons. But if we fail to practice the virtues of the soul, we shall not have a single excuse, for it is always within our power to practice them.

Personally, I find the sorts of things St. Maximos describes as virtues of the body much easier than the ones he describes as virtues of the soul. And yet, if we do not fast, how will ever learn self-control? If we do not minister to people, how can we ever love them? And if we never perform vigils, will we learn to pray — much less pray without ceasing? They are interconnected and intertwined. As a rule, when we act in an outward way through the powers and abilities our bodies provide us, we also act inwardly such that, if it is our will to become a different sort of person, over time we will.

God does not abandon us to that struggle. Indeed, he gives us himself. Nevertheless, it is our struggle, for we struggle ultimately with our own will. It’s the perennial question, what sort of person do we choose to be?


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 6 – Resurrection

Posted: June 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Now that I’ve discussed death and the abode of the death, it seems appropriate to interject the Christian belief in resurrection, certainly one of the most central tenets of our faith. (If you missed my post on Rob Bell’s Resurrection video, now’s a good time to pause and check it out.) Resurrection means and has always meant a physical, earthly life with a body that is in some sense continuous with our present body. There seems to be a lot of confusion on that point today. As far as I can tell, prior to Christ’s resurrection, the idea of any sort of resurrection was unique to the Jewish people. And their belief was far from universal even among themselves and markedly different in a number of key ways from what became the Christian confession in light of Jesus’ resurrection.

I’ve practiced a number of non-Christian religions and explored many more than I’ve actually practiced. I’ve also studied a bit of ancient history. I’m not aware of any religion outside Judaism and Christianity whose beliefs include resurrection. Resurrection is certainly a central part of the view of reality that drew me deeper into Christian faith and which keeps me in it. There are a few facets of the Christian confession which I know with certainty if I ceased to believe they were true, I would abandon this faith and move on to something else instead. Resurrection is one of those key facets. I’m frankly shocked that Resurrection seems more like an afterthought or something peripheral to many Christians today. It’s not. It’s right at the very center of our faith. Without resurrection nothing about Christianity is appealing or even makes sense.

In Christ’s Resurrection, which is the first fruit of our own future resurrection, death was destroyed. Humanity was in bondage to death and God had to rescue us from the vice of its relentless grip. Moreover, death was the ultimate tool that Satan and the Powers used to enslave us. And in and through that dark power, sin swirled around and within us. One of the many images used by the Christian Fathers was the image of a baited trap. Death thought it had swallowed a man in Jesus of  Nazareth and discovered too late that it had swallowed God. Sheol/Hades was burst open from the inside and death was destroyed. The icon of the harrowing of Hades speaks louder than words. The abode of the dead now stands empty with its gates burst asunder.

It was only a part of the story and purpose of the Incarnation, but in his death and resurrection Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, healed the wound of death in the nature of mankind. It is no longer our nature to die! We see that in the language of the Church. In the NT, those who have died are said to have fallen asleep in the Lord. God has accomplished all that he needed to accomplish in order to rescue us. Jesus has joined our nature with God’s and flowing from him are rivers of healing water. We are no longer subject to death and we live within the reality of the forgiveness of sins.

But God will not force himself on us. Jesus has truly done it all and offers us the power of grace, which is to say himself, in and through the Spirit for our healing. It’s in and through the mystery of the Incarnation that God can join himself with each of us. But in order to be healed, we must cooperate and participate with the Great Physician. We have to want God. Or at the least, we have to want to want God. (Sometimes that’s the best we are able to do. Not to worry, God came to us in the Incarnation and he will keep coming to us wherever we stand.) And thus we live in this interim period where the fullness of the work of Christ remains veiled.

Christianity has relatively little to say about what happens to us when we die or our “life after death.” Off-hand, I can think of only three places where it’s mentioned in the NT with virtually no detail offered. Our faith, however, has a great deal to say about resurrection, new creation, and re-creation. I like Bishop N.T. Wright’s phrase “life after life after death.” The Christian story is that we do not die. God sustains us somehow until that time when all humanity is resurrected as Christ is resurrected.

In light of that reality, perhaps it’s clear why I chose to place the post on Resurrection at this spot in the series. Sheol/Hades are no more. So where “hell” in Scripture is used to translate either of those words, it must in some sense be understood as referring to an aspect of reality that ended with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The enormity of just that one piece of Christ’s work is overwhelming to me.

Truly we can now shout, “Death, where is thy sting?