The Jesus Creed 12 – Women: The Story of Compassion

Posted: September 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 12 – Women: The Story of Compassion

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Luke 7:11-17, 36-50; 8:1-3.

Jesus, in his radical actions of compassion, does not permit his followers to embrace the stories of only those who are similar — we are to love all those who sit at Jesus’ table.

Isn’t that the most difficult part of this? If our ‘fellowship’ looks homogenous (and it mostly does, especially when I see the pictures in publications like ‘The SBTC Texan’), what does that say about us? Do we seek the comfortable at the expense of faithfulness?

Sometimes we treat the needy as if they are pariahs, as if they have done something to deserve their fate. … Even when we believe that God loves everyone, we still don’t know what to do with some people. The distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’ creates hostility between the haves and the have-nots.

But Jesus, with eyes abrightin’ and heart awarmin’ and hands astretchin’ and feet amovin’, does offer hospitality to persons at the edges of society. He enters the safety zone, walks to the edges, takes the needy in his hand, escorts them back across the zone, offers them a spot at his table, and utters the deepest words they are to hear: ‘Welcome to my table!’ He offers them a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.

The first woman McKnight examines is the widow leading a funeral procession. “Jesus knows widowhood firsthand because his mother is widowed. Even though Judaism developed a small bundle of laws protecting widows, the label ‘widow’ (Hebrew: almanah) quickly became synonymous with poverty. … The widow from Nain had already seen the death of her husband, and she is now losing her ‘only son.’ And thus she is probably losing her income. She is weeping in grief when Jesus observes her.

Jesus empathized with the woman. And the words he utters reflect that fact. ‘Don’t cry.’ He had probably uttered them to his own mother.

Another story of empathy we see is toward the woman who bathed his feet in perfume and tears in the house of Simon. His response to her is full of compassion.

Notice how Jesus’ compassion for these women turns into action to resolve the problem: he raises the widow’s son, he forgives the prostitute and gives her a new vocation, he exorcises demons from Mary Magdalene, and he heals Joanna, Susanna, and others. … Jesus’ kind of compassion is not abstract commitment. It is real and personal and concrete. Compassion moves from the heart to the hands and feet.

Absolutely. McKnight concludes this chapter with Mother Theresa’s creed. He even calls it her “Shema”.

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

And I would add: Amen and amen.


For the Life of the World 32

Posted: February 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 32

The series now moves to section 1 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.

Whatever the achievements of the Christian mission in the past, today we must honestly face a double failure: the failure to achieve any substantial “victory” over other great world religions, and the failure to overcome in any significant way the prevailing and the growing secularization of our culture.

In a strange way, both of those threads are tightly interwoven throughout my childhood formation. As Fr. Schmemann has noted elsewhere, “secular” is not a synonym for “atheist”. They are not expressing or addressing the same concept, though there is a fair degree of overlap between the two. One thing I find fascinating is that Fr. Schmemann saw these forces at work and correctly understood them before I was born. A lot of people have looked back and interpreted what happened during the part of the cultural turn that marks my life, but I’m not sure I’ve encountered many who saw it and understood it as it was happening. Fr. Schmemann did.

In regard to other religions Christianity stands simply as one of them, and the time is certainly gone when Christians could consider them as “primitive” and bound to disappear when exposed to the self-evident “superiority” of Christianity. Not only have they not disappeared, but they show today a remarkable vitality and they “proselytize” even within our so-called “Christian” society.

Of course, I’m not sure that many people would even call our society “Christian” today, but his point above describes my life. I grew up studying, learning, and practicing everything from Transcendental Meditation to palmistry to numerology to past life regression to astrology to tarot to Hinduism to Taoism. (Buddhism didn’t attract me as a child.) Yes, Christianity was in the mix, but I’m not sure I would even describe it as a prime contender. Nor am I talking about some sort of teenage exploration. I had experienced, practiced, or explored to some degree all of the above and more by the time I turned thirteen.

In fact, that perspective on reality was so much a part of me that I have never been able to grasp the common evangelical assertion that Christianity is not a religion. Of course, part of that is the shallowness behind the evangelical version of the assertion. The various reasons given usually lack depth. It’s one example where evangelicals have exactly the right idea, but don’t seem to grasp why it’s true. I began to really understand the reason for that assertion (both in terms of today and in the context of the ancient world) from some things I heard from Fr. Thomas Hopko. And then, of course, this book has really helped clarify the idea for me — probably better than anything else I’ve read or heard. But my “default” formative perspective still sees Christianity as simply one among many religions. It takes real effort for me to overcome that lens.

I believe it was GK Chesterton who wrote: When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything. The experience of my life has certainly been evidence of that truth.

As for secularism, nothing shows better our inability to cope with it than the confusion and division it provokes among Christians themselves: the total and violent rejection of secularism in all varieties of Christian “fundamentalism” clashes with its almost enthusiastic acceptance by the numerous Christian interpreters of the “modern world” and “modern man.”

At it’s heart, secularism involves wrongly dividing the world into categories like “nature” and “supernature” (and possibly dismissing the latter entirely), “profane” and “sacred”, “material” and “spiritual” rather than the proper categories of created and uncreated. Whether they embrace or reject the “supernatural”, most Christian groups today have accepted that manner of perceiving reality. And that drives the confused response.

The object of mission is thought of as the propagation of  religion, considered to be an essential need of man. … But what are these “basic religious values”? If one analyzes them honestly, one does not find a single one that would be “basically” different from what secularism at its best also proclaims and offers to men.

You see this in the common approach to “evangelization” today. The goal is to “convert” others into what you are. Further, our secular society professes much the same “values” in many (though not all) areas as Christianity. (That’s not entirely surprising, since I think Fr. Schmemann is correct in his insight elsewhere that the “secular” perspective of reality has its roots as a Christian heresy.)

It sounds like a paradox, but the basic religion that is being preached and accepted as the only means of overcoming secularism is in reality a surrender to secularism. … And it is really amazing how little difference exists in the religious self-consciousness of members of confessions whose dogmas seem to stand in radical opposition to one another. For even if a man changes religion, it is usually because he finds the one he accepts as offering him “more help” — not more truth.

Oddly the SBTC magazine recently had an editorial decrying exactly that tendency, that people today don’t really care all that much what a particular church or denomination teaches or believes. I have to admit, living in the wilds of Christian pluralism, I tend to share that attitude. I’ll check to see if a place is too obnoxious in their statements about the proper “role” or “place” for women and steer clear of them. If they are stridently anti-evolution or even anti-science, I’ll tend to give them a wide berth. And if they are nutty in their interpretation of and focus on “end times” I’ll keep my distance. Beyond that, Christianity has become so fragmented that I don’t really expect any coherence or place any particular stock in “denominational distinctives”.

And in this general religious decline, the non-Christian “great religions” have an even greater chance of survival. … Have not Oriental wisdom and Oriental mysticism always exercised an almost irresistible attraction for religious people everywhere? It is to be feared that certain “mystical” aspects of Orthodoxy owe their growing popularity in the West precisely to their easy — although wrong — identification with Oriental mysticism.

Why? Because if you are looking for a religion that “helps” then Buddhism or other Eastern religions can certainly offer that to you. They may “help” better than Christianity, and certainly better than much of what Christianity has become in the modern pluralist West. People are flocking today both to other religions and to no particular religion at all.

It is a very serious question, indeed, whether under its seemingly traditional cover certain forms of contemporary Christian mission do not in reality pave the way for a “world religion” that will have very little in common with the faith that once overcame the world.

If anything, we’re simply farther along that path today.


On the Incarnation of the Word 16 – Was the Cross the Sole Aim of Christ’s Birth?

Posted: September 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 16 – Was the Cross the Sole Aim of Christ’s Birth?

This section of On the Incarnation of the Word by Athanasius is a very short one, but I think critical for us today. I very much recommend that you read the entire section several times and reflect on it. It seems to me that some segments of modern Western Christianity have so emphasized the Cross that the life of Jesus simply becomes a preparation for it and the Resurrection is reduced to little more than an afterthought.

I was particularly struck by this fact some years ago when the SBTC Texan, the newspaper for our state convention, published a series of articles defending and discussing the Resurrection. They all strongly defended the historicity of the Resurrection and clearly held it to be important. However, when they tried to express why it was so important, the best that anyone could say was that it proved that the Father accepted the Son’s payment for our sins on the Cross.

It was one of those moments of crystalline clarity for me. I had been a part of this group of Christians for more than a decade and I had never until that moment really begun to understand how they perceived Christ. I thought I had, of course. But I realized then that I really hadn’t, after all.

In all of the ancient writings, as in Scripture, you will rarely ever find the Crucifixion separated from the Resurrection. If you’ve been reading the posts on my blog where we’ve been working through some of them, perhaps you’ve noticed that. Without the Resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth was simply another first century failed Messiah wannabe. In this section, however, Athanasius points out that we also can’t reduce the work of Christ to simply his death and resurrection.

Now for this cause, also, He did not immediately upon His coming accomplish His sacrifice on behalf of all, by offering His body to death and raising it again, for by this means He would have made Himself invisible. But He made Himself visible enough by what He did, abiding in it, and doing such works, and shewing such signs, as made Him known no longer as Man, but as God the Word.

When you look at it that way, it’s obvious. Of course, in one sense the Word did become flesh to die. That is he became fully human in every way and inherited the fullness of our mortal nature. At the same time, though, he joined it to the divine nature which could not die. And in the heart of that paradox, he defeated death on behalf of all mankind.

However, that was only part of his work. As Jesus said, he came to make the unknowable God known to us. In him, we know and experience the fullness of God. We are able to participate in the life of God. We can be one with God and with each other. We can know true communion. So Jesus also came to make God known in the only way we could know him.

For by the Word revealing Himself everywhere, both above and beneath, and in the depth and in the breadth—above, in the creation; beneath, in becoming man; in the depth, in Hades; and in the breadth, in the world—all things have been filled with the knowledge of God.

When we try to reduce the work of Christ to something simple which we can rationally grasp in its entirety, we render it meaningless. When we reduce the Incarnation of the Word to a single task, whatever that task might be, we strip it of its transcendence and mystery. The Incarnation transformed all creation in ways that go beyond any words we might use.

Christ was born to live, to die, and to rise uncorrupted and incorruptible from the grave. No single act is of greater purpose or necessity than the other. It is in the fullness of Christ that we find salvation. Had Christ not filled creation in a new way in the Incarnation, had he not made himself known to us through our senses, had he not recreated us as human beings in his death and resurrection, Pentecost could not have happened. Man has been united to God in Christ, thus God can particularly indwell man in the fullness of the Spirit through Christ without consuming us. (Remember, our God is a consuming fire.) And through the physical body and blood of Christ, we know the unknowable God.

Is your mind blown yet?