Response to Crisis

Posted: June 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Response to Crisis

In the wake of my wife’s health crisis, I’ve pondered the various ways we tend to respond in high pressure, frightening, and even overwhelming situations. When people tell my wife or me they are impressed by how well I juggled everything, I confess I’m a little bemused. From my perspective, I simply did what was necessary to take care of my family, help my wife recover, and give her peace of mind as she did so. Nothing I did feels particularly remarkable to me. I tend to think that anyone would have done the same.

But then I realize that I have been shaped and formed to handle crises. In some ways my childhood can mapped from crisis to crisis with routine crisis management in between. I am no more immune to being overwhelmed than anyone, but perhaps my threshold is higher than that of many people. Such things are hard for me to judge. I do know that in crisis situations, in some sense everything seems to slow down as I begin to select options and sort what must be done from what can wait.

In a lot of ways, it’s the normal ebb and flow of life, not the crisis peaks and valleys, that I’m sometimes ill-equipped to handle. But I’m learning and I muddle through as best I can.

My wife is not yet back to one hundred percent, but she’s well on her to full recovery. The worst is well behind us now — a bad memory. I appreciate the thoughts and prayers of those of you who offered them. Thanks. I think I’m ready to jump back into blogging.

Peace.


The Jesus Prayer 7 – Seriousness of Disciplines

Posted: March 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Khouria Frederica points out that Orthodox Christians, at least those who actively practice their faith, take a more serious attitude toward spiritual disciplines than a lot of what you find today in the other Christian traditions.

This rests on the assumption that life is serious, salvation is serious, and in every moment we must decide anew to follow Christ.

It’s not that there is any question about God’s love or his forgiveness, as we’ve said; our salvation was accomplished on the cross. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). But we retain this terrifying freedom: we are still free to reject him. Judas’ tragic story is a sobering example. The end of our own story is not yet written, and every day exposes us to new temptations. The devil knows our weaknesses, probably better than we do, and “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

That is why there is in Orthodox spirituality a quality of urgency. We don’t assume that we have already made it to the end of the race, put “press on,” as St. Paul said.

I think I’ve always intuitively understood that the things we do shape us — that they matter — and I’ve always had at least some awareness that we become like what we worship. In fact, I think I’ve sometimes confused my fellow Christians when I’ve told them I’m not interested in their arguments about the correctness of their particular vision of God. I’ve understood the image of the God they describe and it’s not a God I’m willing to worship, much less love. Once I’ve made that decision, I no longer care about their arguments or their logic behind their vision and understanding of God. I reject their version of God whether they are right or wrong, so I might as well assume they are wrong. It makes perfect sense to me, but it often seems to confound certain sorts of Christians. They are so used to living within their arguments and logic — within the cogitative intellect — that they don’t seem to know what to do when someone refuses to engage the entire framework itself. “I don’t care about your arguments” doesn’t seem to be a response for which they are prepared. When I wasn’t Christian, I used to have fun from time to time deconstructing some of the arguments and leading people in circles, but as I Christian I see that was mean-spirited and ultimately destructive, not least for what it did to me. So I try to catch myself now and simply disengage. Or describe the God I perceive, however dimly, to the  best of my limited ability, and just continually return to that rather than engaging in arguments. Or say nothing to start with if I don’t think it will be helpful. That’s probably the hardest thing of all for me to do.

With that said, I think it’s important that I pass along Khouria Frederica’s warning. The Jesus Prayer is a tradition embedded within the entire context of the life of Orthodoxy and it can be spiritually dangerous to try to lift it out of that context and practice it alone. Spiritual disciplines are accomplishing something real or there is no reason to practice them. If that is true, then without the proper context and guidance, they can be particularly risky. A spiritual practice will generally change you, for good or ill.

When you pray the Jesus Prayer, you are invoking the name of Jesus of Nazareth. You are proclaiming him the Jewish Messiah. You are acknowledging him as Lord and God. And you are asking his mercy as both God and King. These are not light things. Moreover, it matters who you say Jesus is when you do this. The less your perception of Jesus aligns with his reality, the more distorted your practice becomes. If that were not true, then it would not have mattered that the Arians believed him to be a creature or that the Nestorians believed his divine nature had obliterated his human nature. A spiritual discipline undertaken wrongly can engender pride, among many potential pitfalls. I agree with her warning.

Obviously that’s an odd thing for me to say. I’m not Orthodox. I have no spiritual father or mother. Yet I practice the Jesus Prayer. That’s true, and I freely confess I may be foolish in my actions. I certainly don’t recommend that anyone use my practice as a guide.

The only thing I can say is that the Jesus Prayer came to me unbidden. It came when I knew practically nothing about Orthodoxy (even if I later discovered they believed and taught so many of the things I had come to understand and believe about God). The Jesus Prayer came to me when I hardly knew who Jesus was or which of these myriad Christian Gods described in modern Christianity was real. My rule of prayer remains a poor one, but I don’t think I could stop praying the Jesus Prayer now any more than I could stop breathing.

I accept it humbly as a gift of God.

I will note that I don’t “play” Orthodox as I’ve heard some do. My fast is the one required of me by celiac disease. I don’t try to follow Orthodox fasting rules. In some sense I’m just not very good at prayer. In another sense, I deliberately keep my prayer rule simple. I think I can be prone to pride and it’s better if I don’t foster it. I don’t have an icon corner. I take spiritual practices seriously and I recognize fully that I am not Orthodox. I try not to delude myself.

So yes, I practice the Jesus Prayer, at least to a limited extent. But absent spiritual guidance, you may not want to try this at home. I feel I would be remiss if I did not share this warning from the book.

Peace.


Be Careful Little Ears?

Posted: February 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Be Careful Little Ears?

The title of this post comes from a child’s song sometimes sung in at least some churches. I can’t actually remember when or where I heard the song. I probably heard it at some point over the last eighteen years as we raised children in a local SBC church. But I have this almost-memory of my mother singing it when I was little. It’s strange, sometimes, the things that pop into your head and the memories that surface when you’re searching for a title.

There is a certain truth in the song. The things we hear and see and experience, especially when young, do tend to form and shape us — often in non-linear and unexpected ways. I don’t believe we can truly be shielded from those experiences, no matter how “careful” we are, but we are shaped by them. I do believe the forces to which we expose our children are important. We cannot always, or even often, control them all. But where we can, I believe our choices do matter.

I’m not sure I’ve done my kids any favors in and through the church in which we raised them.

That was a hard sentence to write, but I believe it’s true. Of course, there are many things in our little corner of Christianity that have often seemed odd to me as an adult. Some things I would try on for size for a while and other things I rejected outright. I’ve been learning and struggling to understand which of the countless Christian stories best describes this faith for years, but I’ve been doing it as an adult.

Young earth creationism? Pshaw! That’s such a ludicrous idea it never had the slightest chance with me. I quickly figured out that I completely rejected what Protestant “complementarianism” in any of its flavors held about the nature and role of women. The rapture/end times stuff appealed to the part of me that loves a good fantasy novel for a season, but as I came to understand Christianity better, I also came to see the harmful side to that perspective. I saw the inconsistency in the teaching about hell as a place somehow separated from God where God sends people (for whatever reason) from the start. (If everything is contingent on God, then it’s not possible to be separated from God.) And the whole thing about Jesus’ suffering and death somehow being a payment to God? That never seemed right to me, though I set it aside for some years while I learned more about this Christian thing.

I guess I somehow thought my kids, especially with the balance of what we taught and lived at home, were able to make the same critical distinctions. In retrospect, that was a silly assumption. After all, I took in everything to which I was exposed more or less uncritically (at least at first) when I was growing up. But I didn’t begin to realize the nature of my error until one of my older sons was a senior in high school. He was dating a devout Roman Catholic girl and I remember his surprise that there were Christian traditions (most of them, in fact) that did not hold to young earth creationism. He knew that I rejected YEC, as I had often mentioned its failings, but somehow that didn’t translate into a broader understanding that you could be Christian without believing the universe was a few thousand years old. I then began to notice my sons were absorbing ideas about women I considered harmful. I decided I needed to immerse myself in the environment in which I had been placing them when my younger son entered the student ministry.

I did that for a number of years and it was a valuable experience. I even found a close friend in the process, something I didn’t expect at all. Over time I came to better understand some of the ways the Baptist youth experience shapes and forms teenagers. (And by extension, I believe that’s even more true of the various children’s ministries.) When we place our children in an environment and tell them it is about God, we are lending our own formational power as parents to the structures and teachings of that environment. Spiritual formation is already a powerful force and when we lend our reinforcement — even tacitly — we do not necessarily get to choose what does and does not get reinforced.

When I had reached a point where I had pretty much decided I wasn’t comfortable having my children immersed in such an environment, I shared my concerns with a couple of friends. One of them wondered if church could really have that much influence. After all, kids spend an order of magnitude more time at school, with friends, and at home than at church. I knew some of the things my children had absorbed could only have been found at our church — at least among their particular circles of friends. And at the time I wandered into musings about the power of spiritual groups and teachings in general at any age, but especially in the formation of children. I’ve touched on some of those forces in this post.

But this past weekend while skating with my youngest daughter, a different thought popped into my head out of the blue. Let’s assume my friend’s point was accurate and the influence of church is directly proportional to the time spent at the church. And given that so much more time is spent at school and with friends, that means church has relatively little overall influence. If that’s true, then what’s the point in taking your children to any church, especially one in which it is understood that everything is purely “symbolic” and nothing actually happens?

It seems to me we can’t have it both ways. Either the church exerts a powerful influence in the formation of our children or it has little influence at all. If the former is true, then it’s important to consider everything about that influence since we can’t really control what they will or won’t absorb. If the latter is true, then there’s no point in taking them to any church at all. It’s a waste of time and effort. It can’t simultaneously be important to bring your children to church and have that experience be meaningless in their formation as human beings.

I don’t really have any answers or deep conclusions. I knew from my own experience and intuition that influence is not bound by number of hours so I never really considered the implications of the opposite conclusion. Nor can I say why the thought suddenly popped into my head years later. My mind is sometimes a mystery to me. I often work through thoughts by writing. If you’ve read this far expecting that I have answers to offer, I apologize. Sometimes I just want to make the questions clearer.

Grace and peace.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted: November 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone who chooses to read my reflections and musings a Happy Thanksgiving! (If any of you aren’t US natives, it’s a thing here where we celebrate an idealized conception about the formation of our nation and during which we are supposed to give thanks.) I know that the holidays can be a deeply depressing time for many and I hope that’s not the case for any of you.

I am deeply thankful, as always, for my family. And though it perhaps sounds strange, I am deeply thankful for a God who became one of us and who meets me always where I am. I can love a God who understands me that deeply. I can worship a God who has suffered with us. And I long for a God who makes all things new.

My wife mastered gluten free holiday cooking last year, so it won’t be a problem this year when most of us have been diagnosed with celiac. I couldn’t tell the difference in her cornbread dressing last year. If anything, it was even better than it had been in the past. And the dressing was the main thing that needed to change. My wife always made her giblet gravy with corn starch, not flour. Most of the other staples of the holiday are naturally gluten free if you don’t introduce gluten during preparation. Cranberries, turkey, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are all naturally gluten free ingredients.

We also bought a free range, organic turkey from Sprouts this year. We are least trying to eat less industrialized food and have some care about the way our food animals are treated — which matters both for ethical and health reasons. It’s hard in our modern society where we are so disconnected from our food. But we’re committed to at least making the effort.

Grace and peace to all!


Another Gluten Free Holiday Season

Posted: October 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

We’ve had our first real taste of fall here and the signs of the holidays are popping up everywhere. Halloween is around the corner. Thanksgiving will be here in a blink of an eye. And I can sense Christmas looming just out of sight. I haven’t had much to write about celiac because I’ve largely settled into a routine. I mostly eat at home and mostly things we have cooked ourselves from scratch. When we do eat out, we tend to go to one of the same few places we know are safe. I feel better than I’ve felt in years and indications are that my body is steadily healing. I still haven’t found the right balance of foods to eat now that I’m actually absorbing more from them which, combined with erratic exercise habits as my new job has taken more of my time, means my weight has been jumping up and down (though more up than down lately). And, to put it delicately, my digestive tract still doesn’t quite function normally. But I’m doing so much better than I was that the issues which remain seem more like minor annoyances.

This will be my second gluten free holiday season, but the first for my two younger children. Our celebrations at home are easy since we cook everything ourselves. It also shouldn’t be too difficult for our son. The cafeterias at Baylor do an excellent job of meeting all sorts of dietary needs, including his. Our daughter, though, will face the round of middle school parties where she will probably not be able to eat much of anything. And there seems to be somebody bringing food to work during this period for one reason or another almost every week. And they tend to forget that I can’t eat it and offer me some or ask why I’m not having any. It doesn’t particularly bother me, but I remember enough about those middle school years to know that it’s uncomfortable to stand out at that age. Being different is not a good thing. But our daughter has a solid group of friends who help look out for her. And one of those friends recently found out she also has celiac disease.

My wife and I have the gluten free candy lists at hand, so we’re ready for Halloween. My wife adapted her secret family recipe for cornbread dressing (which my wife had already improved) to be gluten free last year, and that’s one of the most important holiday dishes that wasn’t naturally gluten free. Both kids have learned to be cautious and think before they eat, which is really the most important thing during this time of the year when food is everywhere around us. I think we’re as prepared as we can be.

I did get one bit of really good news a few days ago. My older son was tested for celiac disease and he does not have it. So at least one of my kids didn’t inherit it from me. And they know enough to be aware if my granddaughter develops any signs or symptoms, but so far she’s fine as well. I was so relieved to hear the news. They are young, don’t have a lot of money, and live in a small town setting. Celiac would have been a lot more difficult to manage for them than it has been for me. I was worried, especially after discovering both my youngest children had inherited the disease.

That’s my periodic celiac update. I hope everyone reading has a wonderful holiday season this year. Peace.


For the Life of the World 33

Posted: February 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 33

The series now moves to sections 2-3 of the seventh chapter of For the Life of the World. Here again is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast on chapter seven.

The second tendency consists in the acceptance of secularism. According to the ideologists of a “nonreligious” Christianity, secularism is not the enemy, not the fruit of man’s tragic loss of religion, not a sin and a tragedy, but the world’s “coming of age” which Christianity must acknowledge and accept as perfectly normal: “Honesty demands that we recognize that we must live in the world as if there were no God.”

I’m not sure how prevalent the above is today within Christianity. It’s hard for me to judge. However, I have a sense that the above sort of reaction, unlike the rise of pluralism, has declined. That’s not to say that any of the many purely secular perspectives are on the decline. Rather, as the statistics indicate, people are increasingly comfortable selecting “none” as their religion rather than trying to blend the two as Fr. Schmemann writes in the above.

It is true that many who do still believe in God in some sense have absorbed and accepted without question the secular perspective on the nature of reality, the mistaken categories I mentioned yesterday. I think that’s true in all sorts of Christian churches, denominations, non-denominations, and parachurch groups though perhaps the tendency is stronger in some than in others. But it’s not the sort of “nonreligious” Christianity described above. And I think that may be the natural outgrowth of Fr. Schmemann’s next point.

And first of all, secularism must indeed be acknowledged as a “Christian” phenomenon, as a results of the Christian revolution. It can be explained only within the context of the history whose starting point is the encounter between Athens and Jerusalem. It is indeed one of the grave errors of religious anti-secularism that it does not see that secularism is made up of verites chretiennes devenues folles, of Christian truths that “went mad,” and that in simply rejecting secularism, it in fact rejects with it certain fundamentally Christian aspirations and hopes.

In an essay in the appendix, Fr. Schmemann traces the above in more depth. I’ll probably continues this series into the appendix. I had recognized the above to some extent, of course, but he traces it farther back than I’ve ever managed to do. When we fail to recognize the origin of the secular perspective, though, we end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as Fr. Schmemann basically says above. He then has a beautiful long paragraph where he follows the implications of failing to recognize the connection between Christianity and a secular perception of reality. It’s too long to quote and excerpting would mangle it. If you ever get the book itself, make a point of reading this chapter slowly.

The only purpose of this book has been to show, or rather to “signify” that the choice between these two reductions of Christianity — to “religion” and to “secularism” — is not the only choice, that in fact it is a false dilemma. … What am I going to do? what are the Church and each Christian to do in this world? What is our mission? To these questions there exist no answers in the form of practical “recipes.” … “it all depends” primarily on our being real witnesses to the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, to that new life of which we are made partakers in the Church.

In other words, the only thing to do is to strive together to become Christian. Or so it seems to me. Fr. Schmemann’s closing thoughts for this chapter and book are beautiful. I don’t think I can add any meaningful comment to them.

The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom — not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called “sacraments,” but because first of all she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the “world to come,” to see and to “live” it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already “filled all things with Himself” that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty. A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world.


Merry Christmas!

Posted: December 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to take a moment and wish any and all who might wander by here a very,  merry Christmas. This is, of course, the season during which Christians celebrate the nativity of our Lord, the wonder of the Incarnation. But it has also become a broader American celebration of family. For those who have suffered loss, this season is also often bittersweet at best and dark and hopeless at worst. I especially wish grace and peace to all those suffering during this time and I offer up my prayers.

Lord have mercy.


Walking In My Shoes

Posted: November 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’m going to attempt to translate to words something that has long been coalescing in my heart and mind. As such I’ll probably express aspects of it poorly or in ways that are unintentionally difficult for anyone but me to grasp the intended meaning. My thoughts will probably also meander a bit, which I’m sure will be no surprise to those who know me.

Since I often find that my thoughts are spurred by music, I’m going to weave these thoughts around a fairly old Depeche Mode song, Walking In My Shoes, that at least to me relates to the thoughts revolving around and through my mind. Take a moment to watch the video. If you aren’t familiar with the song, I’ve also included the lyrics at the bottom of this post.

We all have a story and no two stories are the same.

That may seem obvious, but we often act as though it were not true. We recast those we meet into roles in our drama. We see them through the lens of our own narrative. We make them more like us than is often true. And when people fail to act according to the roles in which we have subconsciously place them, we tend to become angry and judge them accordingly. Less often do we recognize what we have actually done and the pain we have inflicted as a result.

That is one theme I hear resonating in this song. It’s the cry of one judged by others for failing to live out their assigned role. We all do that to people at times, even when we strive for something different. We are bound more tightly than we think by the lens of our experience. On the one hand, we can claim little right to judge unless we truly ‘walk in the shoes’ of the we are judging. And on the other, we are never able to truly do that. We are the product of our journey, not that of the other, and we can never escape that reality.

Would you have made better choices if you had lived my life?

Would you be a better person than me if you had experienced all that I have experienced?

Who are you to judge me?

These questions echo in the song and to one degree or another in the hearts of us all. These and the others like them are perfectly valid questions. And when raised, they must be answered. It seems to me that they are too often dismissed, instead.

I know that in many of my interactions with Christians over the course of my life, those questions formed at least a part of my reaction. I may not have expressed them verbally, but they were certainly in my heart. And there were times when those questions were twisted in knots of anger, especially when I would hear stories (whether real or not) of what seemed by my standards idyllic and peaceful lives from people who then condemned those who did not rise to their standards of (untried) “moral” excellence.

I’m hardly immune from our tendency to judge, though. For instance, to use just one prominent example, I hear John Piper’s public statements on things ranging from the I-35 bridge collapse to thoughts on divorce and abusive relationships and I am appalled. While I automatically reject such things and have no problem seeing the evil in them, there is always a part of me that thanks God that I was not shaped by my life and experience into someone like Piper.

It’s true that I don’t make the mistake of assuming I would have somehow turned out “better” if I had lived his life instead of mine. Nevertheless, when I do that, I know as I do it that in some way I am standing in the place of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, who thanked God that the circumstances of his birth and life were not those of people he judged to be in a worse state than his. As I am truly grateful that I did not experience whatever it was that made people like that who and what they are, I am left with no option but the prayer of the publican, “Lord have mercy!”

God, however, did offer a response to those cries of our soul. It’s one of the most beautiful facets of the gem of Christianity. In the Incarnation, the only begotten Son of God walked in our shoes. He kept the same appointments we keep, even the appointment with death. He experienced the pain we’ve been subjected to. He experienced the temptations of the apparent “feasts” laid before us. And through it all, he remained the faithful Man, the faithful Israel, the Man of Thanksgiving, the eucharistic Man.

Yet, from the vantage of his faithfulness where we are unfaithful, Jesus did not judge or condemn us. He ate with sinners. He offered love. He sought those who were discarded and lost. He made himself the least and the servant of all.

And Jesus commanded us to do that same.

That’s an uncomfortable place to be. We prefer to denounce and to distance ourselves from those we reject. We prefer to focus on things like the prophetic woes Jesus proclaimed on the scribes and pharisees. And yet, even here, if you dig below the surface things become a little harder to fit into a particular compartment. For instance, while it seems that Jesus used ‘hypocrite’ as an epithet, it did not commonly have that meaning at the time. Rather, a ‘hypocrite’ was one who spoke or acted in order to affect a crisis of decision in the audience. And neither actor nor speaker should be understood in modern terms. Both were connected to religious activities and rituals. The pharisees were attempting to live and speak in such a way that they provoked a crisis in Israel and bring the people to return to faithful adherence to the Law of Moses. In practice, they were doing something not dissimilar from what the pagan hypocrites of their era did. And that was not considered  a bad thing or an insult. It was noble. Dwell on that the next time you read the prophetic woes and see if you can find any modern parallels.

Having walked in our shoes, Jesus invites us to walk with him in his. He tells us that as we walk with him, love with him, consume him, we too can become faithful. We too can still participate in the life of God. He doesn’t try to make us good. He gives us life and offers us an opportunity to become truly human.

And that brings us to the last theme in the song I’ll explore. It’s something I think much of modern evangelicalism gets wrong. It’s the theme of repentance and absolution. The song says it well. “i’m not looking for absolution, forgiveness for the things I do.” Modern evangelicalism seems largely to assume that most people are looking for forgiveness or have some understanding of their need of repentance. Everything seems focused on the attempt to make people feel bad about themselves, provoke a crisis in their audience, and thus bring them forward toward proffered absolution.

I suppose that’s fine for those shaped in such a way that they do feel shame or guilt and a need for forgiveness. But that simply does not describe as many people today as it perhaps once did in a culture predominantly shaped by Christianity. But now? Even today, I echo the somewhat defiant words, “Before we talk of any repentance, try walking in my shoes.” Of course, Jesus did walk in our shoes. When he calls us to repentance, he is not trying to make us feel bad about who or what we are. He is trying to get us to release our burdens. “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” I heard that call. I hear it still today.

Once I began to try to follow Jesus, once I was captured in his embrace, I began to understand repentance. I began slowly to see places I did not walk with him, places I was burdened and heavy laden, and I began (very, very slowly) to turn from one destination toward a destination of life in Christ. That’s repentance, not some passing feeling of sorrow or remorse. Of course, when we do cry out for mercy and forgiveness, God is overflowing with all the mercy and forgiveness and embracing love we could ever need. Unlike us, God has no forgiveness problem.

“i’m not looking for absolution…” And yet, absolution is all that so many churches seem prepared to offer. I would never say there’s no place for that. There is. But if someone’s not looking  for forgiveness, then such churches have nothing at all to offer. The questions today more often revolve around the nature of reality and what it means to be a human being. Christianity has the most wonderful answers to those questions, but you almost never hear them.

When you interpret repentance as remorse and expect it as some sort of precondition, you also begin to enter some twisted territory. For instance, when I became a teen parent, I remember there were people who thought I should be remorseful about my choices. And I never was nor ever expect to be. Why? The answer lies in the face of that infant girl I held in my arms for the first time one night in a hospital almost twenty-eight years ago. That memory has never faded. I believe to my core that the world is a richer and better place with my daughter in it than it could possibly be without her.

Do I recommend teen parenthood? Of course not. It’s a hard and often painful path to walk. But I have never and will never regret my daughter’s existence. I even got thrown out of a Christian worship service because I refused to hide her away. They correctly felt that I was in no way ashamed about my daughter and the circumstances of her birth. I’ve recently seen that the same sort of attitudes persist among some Christians today.

Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to life in Christ even if the fire consumes me. But I’m still not sure I’m looking for forgiveness for the things I’ve done. Some I regret, especially where I have hurt other people. And if God is truly who we see in Jesus of Nazareth, then I do believe I regret worshiping other gods. But I don’t regret my life. I don’t regret my children. And I can’t honestly say I regret the choices that helped make me who I am.

I do, however, want to be fully and truly human.

Depeche Mode
Songs Of Faith & Devotion
Walking In My Shoes

I would tell you about the things
They put me through
The pain i’ve been subjected to
But the lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But i think your pulse would start to rush

Now i’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things i do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes

Morality would frown upon
Decency look down upon
The scapegoat fate’s made of me
But i promise now, my judge and jurors
My intentions couldn’t have been purer
My case is easy to see

I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what i’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

Now i’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things i do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes


On the Incarnation of the Word 51 – No Longer Mind the Things of War

Posted: November 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 51 – No Longer Mind the Things of War

Now Athanasius is stressing the point that Christ is passing among all people everywhere, crossing all national and cultural boundaries, and drawing people away from their former gods. Moreover, he notes that the savagery of war and murders that has always reigned among people is being ended by Christ. Here is his closing statement in this section.

But when they have come over to the school of Christ, then, strangely enough, as men truly pricked in conscience, they have laid aside the savagery of their murders and no longer mind the things of war: but all is at peace with them, and from henceforth what makes for friendship is to their liking.

I once held a strong perspective on doing whatever it took to protect house and hearth. While the way I was raised left me with a fairly strong compassion toward the weak, my attitude toward the strong was often, “Do unto them before they do unto you.” I considered what it would mean to kill someone in battle before I enlisted, and though it’s not something I ever had to do, I was satisfied that it was something I could do. I was also a whole-hearted supporter of the death penalty and perhaps even the idea that an armed society is a polite society.

Since my journey led me to self-identify with Christ, I’ve gradually found my basic assumptions about life and the nature of reality upended. I doubt I’ll ever be a St. Martin of Tours, who renounced all violence, but I find that is hard to both hold close a heart ready to do violence and follow the King of Peace.

Christianity was known for the peace it wrought among warring peoples. Is that still true today? Is it true when Christians in our nation are markedly more likely to support the use of torture than non-Christians? Is it true when people gather not to discuss concerns and find consensus, but simply to shout the other party down by any means possible? The words once asked of Jesus seem to hang in the air today?

Who is my neighbor?

Do we believe that Jesus’ haunting and penetrating answer to that question has changed? Or do we believe it doesn’t apply to us today because our situation, of course, is different?

Or do we simply not care?


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 17 – St. Cyprian of Carthage to St. Cornelius of Rome

Posted: August 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Baptists, Eucharist, and History 17 – St. Cyprian of Carthage to St. Cornelius of Rome

Now we move right to the middle of the third century with St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage. Today, we’ll look at his letter to St. Cornelius, Bishop of Rome. (As an interesting side note that I’m not sure many Protestants know, the Latin papa (or pappa) meaning ‘father’ is the word that Romans in particular used when addressing bishops. In another of the letters written to St. Cyprian, we see him called Pappa Cyprian. That word, transliterated into English, is Pope.) This letter is short, so you may want to read the entire letter rather than just the excerpt I’ve chosen for this series.

In this letter, St. Cyprian is actually writing in order to convey a conciliar decision of the entire synod of African bishops. All their names are in the salutation. The context of this decision is important. In the previous cycle of persecution some years earlier, some Christians had lapsed under torture or threat of torture and made sacrifice to other gods. A number of those lapsed Christians repented when persecution waned and sought to rejoin the Church. Earlier conciliar decisions had held that they first must undergo a lengthy period of penance, though it could be abridged if they became sick and were in danger of death.

At the time of this conciliar decision, another wave of more intense persecution was beginning. The African council had decided that lapsed Christians who repented and sought reconciliation should be fully received immediately without delay so that they would be strengthened and prepared to stand if need be in the coming persecution. It’s in that context that an entire synod of Bishops, not just one man, says the following.

For we must comply with fitting intimations and admonitions, that the sheep may not be deserted in danger by the shepherds, but that the whole flock may be gathered together into one place, and the Lord’s army may be arrived for the contest of the heavenly warfare. For the repentance of the mourners was reasonably prolonged for a more protracted time, help only being afforded to the sick in their departure, so long as peace and tranquillity prevailed, which permitted the long postponement of the tears of the mourners, and late assistance in sickness to the dying. But now indeed peace is necessary, not for the sick, but for the strong; nor is communion to be granted by us to the dying, but to the living, that we may not leave those whom we stir up and exhort to the battle unarmed and naked, but may fortify them with the protection of Christ’s body and blood. And, as the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose that it may be a safeguard to the receivers, it is needful that we may arm those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary with the protection of the Lord’s abundance. For how do we teach or provoke them to shed their blood in confession of His name, if we deny to those who are about to enter on the warfare the blood of Christ? Or how do we make them fit for the cup of martyrdom, if we do not first admit them to drink, in the Church, the cup of the Lord by the right of communion?

Those consuming the bread and wine are fortified with the protection of Christ’s body and blood. The Eucharist itself is a safeguard. Those who might end up shedding their blood as martyrs confessing Christ must not be denied the blood of Christ. Physical blood of real human beings is directly related in the thought of these Bishops to the blood of the cup of the Eucharist. Personally, I don’t know how you get more physical and tangible than that.

I’ll point out the obvious. A simple memorial or mere symbol has no power and could not do what they expected the Eucharist to do. The language and usage also doesn’t feel like a fit with Calvin’s purely spiritual meal. Coming as it does in the context of preparation for torture and execution on behalf of Christ, there is something deeply visceral in their usage of body and blood.