Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

29. When you are insulted by someone or humiliated, guard against angry thoughts, lest they arouse a feeling of irritation, and so cut you off from love and place you in the realm of hatred.

I have discovered that a dangerous moment for me arises when my ideas or thoughts are attacked or put down. And I am right. And I can prove it.

As we have discussed, a passion in the patristic sense does not necessarily appear explosive, overt, or even wrong — at least at first. Rather, it is the process of taking a step down a path in response to external stimuli without the conscious intervention of our will. What often happens when that begins, at least in my experience, is that our wills can become ruled by the passion rather than the other way around.

People have often called me strong-willed, though not infrequently in less flattering terms. And, in truth, a strong will is rarely a good thing when it is ruled, marshaled, and focused by a passion rather than the other way around. Too often in my life, my irritation at the words or actions of another has been a passion which has merged my intellect and expressive talent with my will for the purpose of destroying another.

Oh, I don’t believe that’s my intent at the time. I’m just defending myself or my ideas. Certainly I don’t hate the other person or want to hurt them! But that’s a lie. And it’s even worse when I am demonstrably right and others around me see and acknowledge that I am right. For now I am justified in my passion! And that makes it even harder to break free.

I became truly and consciously aware of how dangerous and insidious this passion is, at least for me, many years ago at work. I don’t remember exactly how or why it started, but another person on our team either didn’t understand my ideas or strongly held a different idea about the direction we should take. I’m not even sure which one it was or what triggered my passion. It had to be something small at first.

However it began, I look back and see how I began to dismantle his proposals or ideas in our meetings. Oh, I was always careful to focus my discussion on the idea and never the person the way you are supposed to act in business settings. (I would note that our ideas our perhaps more closely entangled with ourselves than we might think.) And I was never directly insulting or otherwise inappropriate. Moreover, my ideas about the direction our project needed to take were actually the right ideas (and that has since been proven over time) and most of the people on the team agreed with me. That created a lot of positive reinforcement, which is not a good thing when it is feeding a passion.

Finally, some weeks or months later, I remember sitting in a meeting having a discussion on something. I was dissecting something that particular coworker had proposed. I had others joining in with me as I often did. Suddenly, as we were laughing at something somebody had said (I don’t even remember if it was something I said or not), I looked over at my coworker and had one of those thoughts that stops you cold. It felt like somebody had thrown a bucket of cold water in my face.

There’s more than one way to be a bully.

Yes, I know that as adults, especially in professional settings, that’s not a word we typically use. But I endured quite a bit growing up and that’s certainly one area where I suffered. There are many reasons that was the case. I went to a lot of different schools growing up, so I was often the “new” guy trying to find a place. I didn’t fit into easy categories. There was the part of me who was the intelligent, shy bookworm. There was another part that was the highly creative actor, writer, and performer. There was another part that loved sports, riding bikes, and exploring the world around me. So I rarely had a “group” and even the friends I thought I had sometimes flipped against me. So the thought that I might have become a “bully” myself was devastating for me.

I went back to my desk, stepped back, and looked at what I had done. Nobody on our team respected our coworker. He had become an object of ridicule and scorn. However, it didn’t end there; such things rarely do. The whole team was a mess. The dynamic between my coworker and me had become one of the dominant dynamics of the entire team.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I crafted and sent an apology to my coworker and the entire team that simply outlined the things I had done wrong. I did not justify them, though I certainly had justifications, as that would have accomplished nothing. And then I said I wasn’t going to act in those ways anymore. An apology didn’t magically fix the problem, but it at least allowed a healing process to begin, especially when I quit feeding the negative feedback loop that had engulfed us.

I’ve noticed that Christians often tend to think of being ruled by passions in terms of the dramatic passions like lust, addictions, and rage. And those are indeed extremely destructive to you and to everyone around you. But the fact that many of us can avoid or break free of such passions does not mean we are truly free. The less overt passions are all the more insidious because they are difficult for us to see. And yet anytime we are ruled by a passion, anytime a passion is able to bypass or control our will, we will think and act in destructive ways.

I think when we begin to recognize the reality of our situation, we truly begin to see how much we need grace, which is to say that we need God.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.


Evangelical Is Not Enough 1

Posted: January 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Evangelical Is Not Enough | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelical Is Not Enough 1

I purchased Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard because Elizabeth Esther decided to host a weekly book club conversation on her blog and her description of the book sounded interesting. I’m sure it will be more interesting to follow the conversation on her blog (this week’s installment kicks off with a video), so I encourage anyone interested to read the conversation there. However, since I’m reading through the book, I thought I would capture some of my reaction to each chapter here as well.

Chapter One highlights some common distinctive features of the evangelicalism that shaped Thomas Howard in his childhood formation. He is not negative about that experience. Indeed, he adopts an attitude of thankfulness and points out the positive aspects of each distinctive without even really raising the less positive side of each. I think that’s a good way to begin a book like this.

Even though I can’t claim that this sort of perspective was a dominant feature of my childhood formation, I have been in a single evangelical church since the conclusion of my journey of conversion in my very early thirties. I could recognize most of the traits he outlines in my church. A couple of comments really stood out to me, though.

Evangelical spirituality centers, finally, on personal daily devotions, also called “quiet time.”

That nails it. If you ask anyone what discipline to practice, that’s what you’ll hear, and that’s pretty much all you’ll hear. I tried it, of course, for an extended period of time. It’s what I’ve always done within any sort of spiritual context. Practice it as recommended and see what happens. Personally, I’m stumped how this single discipline suffices for spiritual formation for anyone. I found it particularly ill-suited for me and began searching for anything with more depth fairly quickly. I suppose that’s one reason I simply haven’t read a great deal by “evangelical” authors. I still don’t grasp how this singular practice came to be the center and almost the fullness of evangelical spirituality. It’s one of those things that remains a mystery to me.

The acid test of vocal prayer came at the end of the prayer, however. If someone finished his petition or thanksgiving with a bald “Amen,” he gave everything away. He was not one of us. A true evangelical used the scriptural formula, asking it all in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or, in the shorter phrase, “… in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I had to laugh at that one. It’s one of those little things you pick up pretty quickly. I’ll also add that, even though we affirm the Trinitarian nature of the faith, heaven forbid if you close a prayer “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” You also won’t hear prayers opened addressing the Holy Spirit. There are lots of unspoken rules regarding “spontaneous” prayer within evangelicalism.

I also found it somewhat interesting that the book was published in 1984. At that point in my life I was not very open to Christianity at all. In fact, I had a great deal of antipathy toward Christianity and Christians. If you had told me then that one day I would consider myself someone who was at least attempting to become Christian, I would have laughed at you. I probably also would have taken it as a major insult. And I held a particular antipathy toward the sort of Christian Thomas Howard describes as “evangelical” in this chapter. Go figure.

The opening chapter really just lays the groundwork to describe the outlines of what Thomas Howard is referencing as “evangelical” in the book, but he does so in a generous and irenic fashion. He is not angry about his upbringing as some who are raised within evangelical confines can be. He just eventually found that it was insufficient. It was not enough. The rest of the book explores the reasons why that’s true.


On the Incarnation of the Word 20 – The Word Only Could Bestow Incorruption

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 20 – The Word Only Could Bestow Incorruption

In this section of his treatise, Athanasius restates the points he has already explored and summarizes them in a way that exposes a greater fullness.

We have, then, now stated in part, as far as it was possible, and as ourselves had been able to understand, the reason of His bodily appearing; that it was in the power of none other to turn the corruptible to incorruption, except the Saviour Himself, that had at the beginning also made all things out of nought and that none other could create anew the likeness of God’s image for men, save the Image of the Father; and that none other could render the mortal immortal, save our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Very Life; and that none other could teach men of the Father, and destroy the worship of idols, save the Word, that orders all things and is alone the true Only-begotten Son of the Father.

This is a summary of the heart of the power and wonder of the Incarnation. From what did we need saving? Mortality, corruption (as in bodily corruption and decay), the worship of other gods, and the stained and distorted image we bore as a result. I’m not sure that’s what you’ll hear in many Christian services in America today. I could be wrong, but I’ve tended to hear something different.

And so it was that two marvels came to pass at once, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid. 6. Whence, as I said before, the Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all, “Bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

The death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body. That statement is so cosmic, so grand, that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it. My reaction every time I hear or see that declaration? Wow! The full power and presence of death was gathered into one place at one time in the body of our Lord. And at that point and through the union of man and God, death and corruption of the eikon were eliminated everywhere for all time.

And in that, the devil and all other Powers who held men in bondage in and through their ability to wield the power of death had their ultimate weapon stripped from them. The Powers are now disarmed.


On the Incarnation of the Word 13 – What Was God To Do As We Worshiped Other Gods?

Posted: September 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 13 – What Was God To Do As We Worshiped Other Gods?

In this next section, Athanasius explores the question: What was God to do in light pf our worship of gods we had created?

Or what profit to God Who has made them, or what glory to Him could it be, if men, made by Him, do not worship Him, but think that others are their makers? For God thus proves to have made these for others instead of for Himself.

Athanasius once again employs the metaphor of an earthly king.

Once again, a merely human king does not let the lands he has colonized pass to others to serve them, nor go over to other men; but he warns them by letters, and often sends to them by friends, or, if need be, he comes in person, to put them to rebuke in the last resort by his presence, only that they may not serve others and his own work be spent for naught. Shall not God much more spare His own creatures, that they be not led astray from Him and serve things of nought? especially since such going astray proves the cause of their ruin and undoing, and since it was unfitting that they should perish which had once been partakers of God’s image.

Notice how he phrases it not in terms of punishing his creatures (man), but of sparing them. We become like what we worship. And when we worship that which is not God, we begin to reshape ourselves into something less than human.

What then was God to do? or what was to be done save the renewing of that which was in God’s image, so that by it men might once more be able to know Him? But how could this have come to pass save by the presence of the very Image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ? For by men’s means it was impossible, since they are but made after an image; nor by angels either, for not even they are (God’s) images. Whence the Word of God came in His own person, that, as He was the Image of the Father, He might be able to create afresh the man after the image. But, again, it could not else have taken place had not death and corruption been done away. Whence He took, in natural fitness, a mortal body, that while death might in it be once for all done away, men made after His Image might once more be renewed. None other then was sufficient for this need, save the Image of the Father.

This is simply heartbreakingly beautiful. The Word took a mortal body to do away with death and renew his image in man. It was a task no other could accomplish.


On the Incarnation of the Word 11 – The Descent of Man

Posted: September 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 11 – The Descent of Man

Why are we created in the image of God? Athanasius begins with that question today.

God, Who has the power over all things, when He was making the race of men through His own Word, seeing the weakness of their nature, that it was not sufficient of itself to know its Maker, nor to get any idea at all of God; because while He was uncreate, the creatures had been made of nought, and while He was incorporeal, men had been fashioned in a lower way in the body, and because in every way the things made fell far short of being able to comprehend and know their Maker—taking pity, I say, on the race of men, inasmuch as He is good, He did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest they should find no profit in existing at all.

One problem with the free online translations is that, given what copyright has become in the US, they all employ a somewhat dated English. Usually that’s not too much of a problem, but it doesn’t make what Athanasius is saying here any easier to understand. Basically, he is saying that the uncreated and incorporeal God is so far beyond our nature and understanding that we had no possible way in ourselves of knowing him at all. But God didn’t want that, for without knowledge of him, there is no meaning to our existence.

For what profit to the creatures if they knew not their Maker? or how could they be rational without knowing the Word (and Reason) of the Father, in Whom they received their very being? For there would be nothing to distinguish them even from brute creatures if they had knowledge of nothing but earthly things. Nay, why did God make them at all, as He did not wish to be known by them?

In other words, God wanted us to know him. He did not want us to be simply another animal in creation. He made us rational, but our rationality comes from our connection to the Word.

Whence, lest this should be so, being good, He gives them a share in His own Image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and makes them after His own Image and after His likeness: so that by such grace perceiving the Image, that is, the Word of the Father, they may be able through Him to get an idea of the Father, and knowing their Maker, live the happy and truly blessed life.

So from the beginning, he gave us the gift of his own image and likeness. From the beginning, God was working to be with us. The presence of God with us is grace and in that grace, perceiving the image of it within ourselves, we have some idea of God intended to bring us to know him and live in the fullness of life.

But we did not grow in knowledge of God through the image of the Word. Instead, seeking our maker, we created idols instead. We manufactured gods to worship. We set ourselves on the path of destruction. Athanasius understood Romans 1:18-32 better than most modern voices I hear.

But men once more in their perversity having set at nought, in spite of all this, the grace given them, so wholly rejected God, and so darkened their soul, as not merely to forget their idea of God, but also to fashion for themselves one invention after another. For not only did they grave idols for themselves, instead of the truth, and honour things that were not before the living God, “and serve the creature rather than the Creator,” but, worst of all, they transferred the honour of God even to stocks and stones and to every material object and to men, and went even further than this, as we have said in the former treatise. So far indeed did their impiety go, that they proceeded to worship devils, and proclaimed them as gods, fulfilling their own lusts. For they performed, as was said above, offerings of brute animals, and sacrifices of men, as was meet for them, binding themselves down all the faster under their maddening inspirations. For this reason it was also that magic arts were taught among them, and oracles in divers places led men astray, and all men ascribed the influences of their birth and existence to the stars and to all the heavenly bodies, having no thought of anything beyond what was visible.

I’ve often heard Romans 1 described as God being pissed off at the unrighteous things man does. (No, they don’t use those words exactly, but that’s pretty much what a very common modern interpretation of the passage actually means.) And that shallow interpretation completely misses the point, a point which the Christians living in ancient Roman would never have missed. (Study ancient Rome sometime.) Rather, the point is that we reject God, the one whose image we bear, and we worship gods we make instead. As we do so, we seek nonexistence and we inevitably darken our minds, since the light of our reason flows from the Word. The specific acts Paul describes in the second part of the passage? Those merely illustrate our descent as we worship other gods.

That passage is one of the saddest in scripture. Can you not hear the ache in your Father’s voice as three times the passage repeats that “God gave us up” (or gave us over) to the ever-darkening pursuit of other gods. If you have ever had children who pursued harmful things, you perhaps begin to understand.

And, in a word, everything was full of irreligion and lawlessness, and God alone, and His Word, was unknown, albeit He had not hidden Himself out of men’s sight, nor given the knowledge of Himself in one way only; but had, on the contrary, unfolded it to them in many forms and by many ways.

God had done many things to make himself known, but we didn’t know the Word.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 7 – Ignatius to the Philadelphians

Posted: July 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Next, let’s look at the letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Philadelphians. This is a very short letter and I recommend reading the entire letter. For the purpose of this post, though, we’re going to focus on chapter 4.

Be diligent, therefore, to use one eucharist, for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup, for union with his blood; one altar, even as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons, who are my fellow-servants, to the end that whatever ye do, ye may do it according unto God.

One eucharist or thanksgiving because there is one flesh of Jesus. One cup in union with his blood. And the one eucharist and one altar are associated with the one bishop of a particular place.

Here in a single sentence forming a single section of his letter, we find the ideas of oneness with each other associated with the eucharist united to the body and blood of Jesus tied to the single bishop of a particular physical place. We find here the tangible physicality of our faith. It is not something invisible or ethereal. It is not something abstract. Rather, each aspect is tied to our physical reality and ultimately to the physical reality of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This sentence describes an experiential reality that is very different from what Zwingli described. Moreover, it’s extremely early and is consistent with what we find in the Holy Scriptures that we call the New Testament and the other writings of the first century such as the Didache. As we move forward, we’ll see that continuity maintained. Certainly there are refinements to the liturgical practice of the church. And it is influenced by and adapted to the cultures it meets as Christianity spreads. Nevertheless the differences are minor and the understanding of the church and of the eucharist remains largely uniform and consistent. There is no significant point of discontinuity where the belief or practice of the church changed in the ancient world. There are battles already with gnostics, judaizers, and schismatics. Nevertheless, the thread of the church is easy to find and follow through them. It continues. The other groups fade away and vanish.

The reason I wanted to start here at the beginning and move forward is in part because of the arguments of the restorationists. They generally claim that either after the Apostles died or after the first century or after Constantine (or pick your date or event) the whole church basically apostasized. The restorationists then claim they are restoring “true” Christianity. The problem is that there is no such point of historical discontinuity in the ancient church. We’ll see that as we continue. The more we learn about the ancient world and our ancient faith, the more that fact is confirmed. So basically, for the claims of the restorationists to be true, we have to say that the Apostles failed to either understand the teaching of Jesus or to communicate those teachings to those churches they established and those people whom they personally taught. However, if the faith could not even be communicated to those directly in contact with Jesus or with the apostles, how on earth are we supposed to rediscover it two thousand years later? If it was lost that early, it’s gone. We have no idea what the correct interpretation of our texts might be. And we have no hope as far as I can see of recovering it. It strikes me that the perspective of the restorationists is ultimately one of hopelessness.

I’ve noticed that Protestants don’t generally like Ignatius. You’ll find all sorts of attempts to dismiss him if you look for them. And I understand why. Ignatius is writing perhaps 60 to 75 years after the Church in Antioch, a Church that was home to Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, was established. There were likely people still around who had known one or more of them at least in their childhood. Does what Ignatius describes sound anything like the Protestant reality today? We have more of his letters still to read. Judge for yourself.

I want to close today’s reflections on this letter with another sentence from it. It’s one that sticks in my mind. Think on it.

For where there is division and anger, God dwelleth not.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 4 – Clement of Rome

Posted: July 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Having already reflected on the Didache or Teaching in my previous series, I want to begin our exploration of the historical view of the Eucharist with the Letter of Clement, Bishop of Rome, to the Corinthian Church. This letter was written in the late first century. Some date it as early as 70 AD. Others as late as 96 AD, the last year of the reign of Domitian. The letter’s reference to persecutions would tend to indicate to me that it was written sometime during the latter part of the reign of Domitian (81-96).

This letter does not directly discuss the Eucharist, though it is referenced a number of times as “offerings”. However, it does contain an important look at church structure, order in worship, and the importance of unity and avoidance of schism. The issue in the Corinthian Church that Clement is writing to address is division and schism. It appears they were even trying to depose their Bishop! Of course, as we know from Paul’s letters to Corinth, with which Clement certainly seems to be familiar, schisms and divisions were apparently a recurring problem in Corinth.

I’ve realized as I’ve been rereading Clement that I probably need to briefly discuss the matter of the Holy Scriptures. There was no established “New Testament” canon for these first few centuries. Most people did not have access to all of the writings that the Church would later canonize, though the ones which would become canonical tended to become more widely read and available as the years passed. Clement obviously has at least one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Of all the other NT writings, he quotes or alludes to Hebrews the most. It also seems that he had James’ letter. Beyond that it’s hard to say from this one document how many of the writings he had read, though of course he would have been schooled in the oral tradition of the apostles and that shows most clearly in his interpretation and application of texts from the Septuagint in light of Christ.

Clement quotes extensively from the Septuagint (LXX) just as the NT authors themselves do. In the first century and in the Greek East to the present day the LXX was and is the canonical text of the Old Testament or what is referred to in the NT itself everywhere except for one reference in 2 Peter as the Scriptures. The LXX was the Greek translation of the Hebrew texts that were used in synagogues almost everywhere except in Jerusalem and Judea by the first century since Greek was the lingua franca of the diaspora and the Empire, even if Latin was used to conduct business. Since the earliest converts to the Church consisted of many Greek speaking Jews and later pagan gentiles, the Apostles and other early writers wrote entirely in Greek and quoted from the LXX. It’s clear from their texts and from surviving early liturgies that the LXX was what was read in Church. Over time, the writings that came to form the NT canon were also the texts that were read in the Church.

The entire letter is not very long and I do recommend that you take a few minutes to read it in its entirety. However, I’ll reflect on just a few excerpts. As I mentioned, the problem was that they were suffering from schisms and were trying to depose their bishop. Clement addresses the latter directly in Chapter 44.

Our Apostles, too, by the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ, knew that strife would arise concerning the dignity of a bishop; and on this account, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the above-mentioned as bishops and deacons: and then gave a rule of succession, in order that, when they had fallen asleep, other men, who had been approved, might succeed to their ministry. Those who were thus appointed by them, or afterwards by other men of good repute, with the consent of the whole Church, who have blamelessly ministered to the flock of Christ with humility, quietly, and without illiberality, and who for a long time have obtained a good report from all, these, we think, have been unjustly deposed from the ministry. For it will be no small sin in us if we depose from the office of bishop those who blamelessly and piously have made the offerings. Happy are the presbyters who finished their course before, and died in mature age after they had borne fruit; for they do not fear lest any one should remove them from the place appointed for them. For we see that ye have removed some men of honest conversation from the ministry, which had been blamelessly and honourably performed by them.

Clement refers here to the bishops who “blamelessly and piously have made the offerings”. That is pretty clearly a reference to the liturgy and eucharist as we saw outlined in the Didache and as Paul describes in his own first (surviving) letter to Corinth. It’s important to note that the Apostles installed bishops and deacons to care for the churches they started. We see that in the NT in a number of places. James was the Bishop in Jerusalem at the first council described in Acts 15 and officiated or facilitated that council, even though both Peter and Paul were present. Paul installed Titus and Timothy as bishops later and that’s reflected in his letters to them. After those initial bishops had fallen asleep, successors were chosen by “other men of good repute” by which we know from other sources referred to other recognized bishops (always at least two) and by the acclamation of the Church into which the successor was being installed as bishop. (Though it didn’t happen often, there are accounts of times when the people of a Church refused to accept a heterodox bishop — even if it meant gathering in the fields.) Historically, it appears that Clement may have been the first bishop of Rome installed by this method rather than directly by an Apostle.

The primary distinction, especially at this point in the life of the Church, between a presbyter (in English typically translated priest) and a bishop was that while there might be many presbyters according to the needs of the people and the size of the Church (which sometimes gathered in multiple locations in a city — Rome is a good example in Paul’s letter to them), there was never more than one bishop for any given place. Thus Corinth could have presbyters in the plural, but it only had one bishop. The presbyters helped the bishop while the deacons served the people.

I had thought I would touch on Clement of Rome in a single day with a relatively short post. As I’ve written, ideas, practices, setting, and culture on which I really need to lay some groundwork for future discussions have kept coming to mind. This post is already much longer than I typically write. So I’ll try to wrap up Clement in tomorrow’s post.


The Didache 33 – Reprove One Another In Peace

Posted: July 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel. But to anyone that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.

Like the NT, the Teaching is still close enough to the Jewish roots of our faith that when we read “peace” we should hear the full resonance of “shalom”. So we reprove one another from the desire not for control nor even to achieve a cessation of hostility, but to restore the one we reprove to wholeness, to completeness, to fullness of life. If you speak in anger, however righteous your anger might be (or at least that you believe it to be) you can never accomplish that goal.

I have nothing against tolerance. It is certainly immensely better than the intolerance that plagues mankind. It is better by far to politely tip your hat to the other from across the room than it is to treat the other as something less than human, which is where intolerance always ends. Yet, while infinitely better than intolerance and hatred, tolerance is not love. It will not bring shalom to the other. Tolerance is not evil, but it is weak. Love is both good and strong.

But love is also exceedingly hard. For to love, you must sacrifice yourself. You must make yourself lower than the beloved. You must pour yourself out into the vessel of the other. And that is risky for you can never know the results in advance. You might be hurt. You might be rejected. You might be used.

You might be crucified.

And yet the command Jesus gave us was to love others as he loves us. And whereever we turn in the Holy Scriptures or in Christian writing and teaching, we can never escape the admonition to obey his commands. We see it here again.

I’m lousy at speaking the words to people that I think they might need to hear and acting to help them live them out. Part of my problem is that I have a hard time taming anger in tense or difficult situations. Another part is that I don’t like tense situations at all. Both of those flow from very early formation and though I have made considerable progress on the former — “I’m better than I used to be!” — the latter is unlikely to change.

I understand the concept of gentle reproof flowing from a desire to bring shalom back into the life of another. It took a long time for me to reach that point, but I believe I do finally understand the picture. I don’t see any way I could actually do it. At least not as I am today. Perhaps through the grace and healing of our Lord Jesus Christ, I might someday be the sort of person who could. But I’m gradually learning to lie less to myself about who and what I am. And I am not yet that person.


The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

Posted: June 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.

The way of Jesus, the way of life, is the way of love. We should not find that surprising for as St. John tells us, “God is love.” Nevertheless, we do not want to love every other human being we meet. We believe we ought to be able to pick and choose whom to love. Some people, after all, are not worthy of our love. Is that not so?

No, the way of life is about perceiving reality and acting accordingly. We are to love even those who actively hate us because we perceive their reality as a beloved eikon of God and as our brother or sister.

I see dimly how this is true. Jesus had no enemies. Those who plotted his betrayal and death were not his enemies, though I’m sure they saw themselves as such. They were his brothers. The Romans who crucified him were not his enemies. He forgave them their actions done in ignorance. Judas was not his enemy. Jesus loved him.

Each time I read this part of the Didache these days, I am reminded of two posts by Father Stephen Freeman about a monk in the Holy Land who has no enemies, On the Edge of Heaven and A Single Monk. I invite you to read his posts. Father Stephen expresses what I would say better than I possibly could.

In the face of the God of love and those human beings who truly love, I can only exclaim, “Lord have mercy!” If we love those who hate us, we can have no enemies. Instead, we too often choose to live in delusion surrounded if not by perceived enemies then by those we keep at arm’s length because they might be our enemy. In fear, we push them away rather than embracing them.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


Fasting and Humility Redux

Posted: June 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fasting and Humility Redux

I wrote a few days ago about Fasting and Humility as I’ve struggled with the necessity for being “out there” with your condition that celiac imposes on you when you have it. Since then, I’ve encountered the following quote by St. Isaac the Syrian. It’s caused me to pause and reflect a bit more.

If you practice an excellent virtue without perceiving the taste of its aid, do not marvel; for until a man becomes humble, he will not receive a reward for his labor. Recompense is given, not for labor, but for
humility.

This is, of course, exactly what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. We do not practice any discipline or virtue for the purpose of achieving some desired goal or reward. We cannot manipulate God or other human beings in that way successfully or without ultimately dehumanizing ourselves. It is only as we learn to serve our Lord in humble obedience that we begin to see any benefit from anything we do.

Yet true humility is perhaps one of the most universally difficult things for us all to achieve, even fleetingly. I do not wish to be quietly humble. To the extent they notice me at all, I want others to notice my excellence, not my failings. We want to be first, not last. Even when we try to turn that upside down and say we are seeking to be last, we make the pursuit of “lastness” a competition unto itself. Humility itself does not seem to me to be something you can actually try to achieve. It seems to me that if it can be achieved, it is only achieved by emptying yourself of the things for which you are striving and filling yourself with God and the loving service of other unlovable human beings in whatever way God desires. That’s speculation on my part, of course, since I’ve certainly not done that at all. But it seems to me that it’s at least part of what I’ve seen in the few I’ve encountered who are humble.

If this fast can in some measure teach me humility, so mote it be.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.