Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 10

Posted: August 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 10

18. If ‘love is long-suffering and kind’ (1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is fainthearted in the face of his afflictions and who therefore behaves wickedly towards those who have offended him, and stops loving them, surely lapses from the purpose of divine providence.

Indeed. Yet love is hard, especially toward those who are afflicting you. Of course, I’ve often seen people confuse love with allowing others to abuse you when there are other options. That’s not love. If you study the ancient Christian martyrs, you’ll encounter many places where, if they had an available option, they act to escape. In no small part, it was out of love for their persecutors. These were not people who feared death, but they also did not seek it. They loved life. Moreover, they did not want another human being bearing the burden of the evil of murder. So we do not allow others to abuse us. But we should not respond in like manner when they do. I can’t claim to have such restraint, sadly. But that’s not a reason to stop trying.


For the Life of the World 31

Posted: February 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 31

The series continues with the seventh chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast on chapter seven.

This final chapter of the book, And Ye Are Witnesses of These Things, focuses on the Church as mission and how being mission is its very essence and life. Yet, as we’ll see, when Fr. Schmemann writes of “mission” he is not exactly talking about the same sort of thing often labeled as “witnessing” by evangelicals. In his podcast, Dn. Hyatt opens with an amusing story about a summer in college spent with the Baptist Student Union “evangelizing” on the beach in Galveston, TX. I don’t really have any similar stories, though during one of my encounters with Christianity as a teen, I did engage in a bit of that sort of “witnessing”.

Part of the problem, of course, is our common use of the word “witness” as a verb rather than a noun. Used properly, it’s a description of what we are, not an activity in which we do or don’t engage. Perhaps it would have more impact if, instead of translating the scriptural word, we transliterated it instead. How many people are anxious to be martyrs of Christ? As the bard would say, “Must give us pause…”

I’ve been a member of an SBC church now for more than a decade and a half. I’ve also attended various non-denominational or inter-denominational bible studies and other evangelical groups over that period. I’ve been exposed to many different evangelical techniques for “witnessing”. Most of them have reminded me more of used car salesmen or telemarketers than anything I could or would relate to communicating any sort of spirituality or meaningful faith to another human being. Christianity offers a perspective of reality worthy of the dignity of the human soul. But you would never know that from its common modern reductions.

Examine the various techniques (if any) for “witnessing” that you have been taught over the course of your life. If they require that you manipulate the other person in an attempt to produce an intellectual or emotional “crisis” so that you can then offer your “solution” to the crisis you induced, then you’re doing the same thing a good salesman or con man does. Sure, you can “convert” people that way. But you cannot do that to another person and simultaneously love them. And if our actions do not conform to love as Jesus loves and as our Holy Scriptures define love, then however good or bad our actions and intentions might be, they are not Christian.

The ends do not justify the means. In fact, the means we used always produce corresponding ends. The only way you can “convert” someone to a life of thanksgiving and communion of love is to live such a life yourself. You can only “convert” someone to love by loving them. I read 1 Corinthians 13 a lot. The same thought processes that justify manipulating someone into a crisis in order to achieve the greater good of “making” them a Christian flow along the same lines that have “justified” every “Christian” atrocity in history. It may look harmless, but it’s not.

A good example of the difference can be found right here in the US. Compare the difference in the missionary outreach of the Russian Orthodox to the natives in Alaska to the Protestant treatment of the natives on the continental US. The mission in Alaska was sent to help protect the natives from abuses by the Russian companies. They learned the native languages. They created a written form of it. They translated the liturgy and scripture into the native languages and they built on that which was true and good in the native culture. Oh, they were still men and the mission was hardly perfect (and the business interests were always more powerful than the missionaries), but it flowed along the lines of love more often than not.

By contrast, though there were definitely exceptions, most “mission” efforts by Protestants in the continental US colluded with business interests and the idea of “manifest destiny”. They sought to strip the natives of their culture and turn them into imitations of good European descent protestants. In fact, when the US bought Alaska, our “missionaries” used exactly those same tactics in efforts to “convert” what were by then native Orthodox Christians. The history is fascinating. I knew the American part, of course. Though much diluted, Cherokee blood does still run in my veins. And I heard stories growing up.

You cannot be a true Christian witness unless you love and honor the other. If you do not see them as an icon of God, if you do not respect their dignity and freedom as God does, if you manipulate or coerce or treat them as an “object” in any way, then it hardly matters what you can get them to “confess”.

I didn’t realize when I began writing that I had an introductory post on this subject rather than an introductory paragraph. I suppose I’ll actually dive into Fr. Schmemann’s book tomorrow.


On the Incarnation of the Word 52 – United In Peace

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 52 – United In Peace

I’ve spent no small amount of time reflecting on the Christianity Athanasius describes in today’s section of his treatise. The things he takes for granted are more difficult to see among Christians today.

Who then is He that has done this, or who is He that has united in peace men that hated one another, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, even Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? For even from of old it was prophesied of the peace He was to usher in, where the Scripture says: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their pikes into sickles, and nation shall not take the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

The above is a fairly consistent ancient interpretation of that famous Scripture. They saw the peace of Christ as something real already working itself into and through the live of those who joined the already present and growing Kingdom. These days, it seems that many Christians instead interpret the peace of Christ that passes all understanding as something internal, individual, and purely spiritual, not as something that has any real, tangible, communal reality. They view the description of the prophecy above as something that will happen in the future, not as something that is already in the process of being fulfilled.

And this is at least not incredible, inasmuch as even now those barbarians who have an innate savagery of manners, while they still sacrifice to the idols of their country, are mad against one another, and cannot endure to be a single hour without weapons:  but when they hear the teaching of Christ, straightway instead of fighting they turn to husbandry, and instead of arming their hands with weapons they raise them in prayer, and in a word, in place of fighting among themselves, henceforth they arm against the devil and against evil spirits, subduing these by self-restraint and virtue of soul.

Athanasius is saying this peace is breaking out among warring peoples as they turn to Christ. It’s not an ideal. It’s not hypothetical. It’s real. He was writing in a age in which wars were not at all unknown. Athanasius lived within the context of an empire that defended itself against those who warred against it and by the time of this writing, Christians were participants within the government of that Empire, sometimes the emperors were Christian, and many in those armies were Christian. His head was not off in the clouds and out of touch with reality. He dealt with those realities every day.

And yet, Athanasius still writes the above. What did he see and experience that we are missing?

Why, they who become disciples of Christ, instead of warring with each other, stand arrayed against demons by their habits and their virtuous actions: and they rout them, and mock at their captain the devil; so that in youth they are self-restrained, in temptations endure, in labours persevere, when insulted are patient, when robbed make light of it: and, wonderful as it is, they despise even death and become martyrs of Christ.

It was, of course, St. Paul who famously wrote that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. The weapons of the powers haven’t changed and the above captures some of them well in its list of things those who follow Christ resist and overcome. The threat of death, of course, remains the ultimate weapon. Death’s power over us may have been broken in the Resurrection, but we still often give it power through our fear.


Sola Scriptura 3 – Authority

Posted: August 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Sola Scriptura | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Authority is a difficult and complex concept and I recognize I can’t begin to plumb its depths in today’s short post. But this feeds an important stream in the deconstruction of the philosophical idea of sola scriptura. So I can’t simply ignore it in the context of this series.

My own cultural shaping has been labeled “postmodern” in some contexts. To the extent that is used to describe a shaping that is sensitive to and suspicious of the assertion or application of power and describes a lens which is incredulous toward metanarratives, I accept the label. None of us are ever free from the exercise of power and influence by others. Or at least rarely does one become free. I have read descriptions and stories of monastics and martyrs who reach the point of submission to Christ that they appear truly free from all other powers — even their own passions. That is not true for most of us.

Although many people assert that they rely on Scripture alone for their authority, that is not typically the case. If you listen to them speak, in most cases they have readily discernible sources for their interpretation of Scripture. It is those people who actually exercise authority over people, not Scripture itself. Comparatively few people actually read Scripture and wholly interpret it for themselves. Rather they place their trust in the interpretation of other individuals or communities within a common context.

I do read somewhat widely and always have. And some interpretations hold more weight or feel more accurate to me. But I’m far too postmodern to actually place my confidence in the interpretation of any single human being or even a group of people situated in the same time and cultural context. And I’m far too postmodern to trust my own interpretation as authoritative. That requires a particular sort of arrogance I might like to have, but cannot develop. I’m all too aware how well and thoroughly and even unintentionally I can deceive myself.

Where then do I place my confidence? When it comes to an understanding of Scripture, I have more confidence in an interpretation when I see it held and taught in every age by a broad number of people. Both are important. If we believe our faith is rooted in a God who became one of us so that we might commune or become one with him, if we believe that that God is love (not as attribute or in part or in action or in feeling but in essence), then having become one with us he would work to help sustain our proper understanding of him. And he would do so in the only way possible, in and through his people across time and space and culture.

So I don’t trust my own interpretation of Scripture where I can find no confirmation for what I think I see. I hold it loosely. I don’t trust the interpretation of any individual. I don’t trust the interpretation of a group when the interpretation and the group are largely confined to a particular period of time or culture. One of those sources seems to be where everyone who holds to some idea of sola scriptura places their trust. And I can’t do that.

I think fewer and fewer people can.