The Didache 20 – Who Causes You To Err?

Posted: June 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you.

The construction of the sentence above is awkward in this, probably more literal, translation. I’ve read a number of the available translations and the general sense I get from them all is a warning about those who teach a way that is different than the way in the Teaching (didache) because if you practice the things they tell you to do, your practice of those things will move you away from God.  Father Stephen had a post the other day about belief and practice that seems to me to fit like a glove with this idea. What we truly believe is to a very large degree shaped by those things we actually do. It makes perfect sense to me, as someone who has practiced many different spiritual paths, that when we do the things “false teachers” would have us do, when we follow their way, that we are led astray from God.

The problem in modern, pluralistic Christianity, is discerning true practice from false. This is not an easy matter. The teachers today in Christian pluralism to a large extent sincerely and earnestly believe they are teaching true practice consistent with the teachings of Holy Scriptures and the apostles. They seek to bring the life of God to people even as they teach divergent and contradictory practices. We do not face a problem of motive today as much as a disconnect from the history and tradition of the church.

I’ve heard some suggest that “false teacher” will fail to produce “fruit”. While there are instances where that may certainly be true even today, I would suggest that observation largely does not conform to reality. First and foremost, it attempts to limit God in a way that it seems to me that God refuses to be limited. For my evidence, I point to the pluralism in belief and practice across the Christian spectrum and suggest you show me a place where God is not working at all. That is in spite of the fact that we find utterly contradictory practices in that spectrum and contradictory portraits of God. It is my impression that God surveys the landscape we have created and does what he can in every corner of it. God is eager to save and is not willing that any should perish. And he doesn’t tend to accept or even acknowledge limits. I will observe, though, that some flavors of Christianity today give him less to work with than others. And since we are to a large extent shaped by the things we do, the more iconoclastic among us are actually stripping away tools for our salvation.

As James notes, it is the teacher who will give an account to God. It is the teacher who will be judged more strictly. I pray that I have never led anyone from the way of life. Mostly, though, I pray for mercy. I’ve done the best I knew to do. And sometimes when I survive the modern landscape of Christianity, I marvel that we are not all prostrate before God praying for mercy for that which we have done to the body of the Son. I’m not even sure it’s of supreme importance who is “right” and who is “wrong”. None of us have any excuse for letting things reach this point. We need to beg forgiveness of one another.

I had actually intended to reflect on a larger segment of the Teaching in today’s post rather than this single sentence. I thought I had little to say on it. But as I wrote, the words kept coming in a direction I did not anticipate when I began. I always find that aspect of writing fascinating and sometimes a little disturbing.

Grace and peace, all.


Celiac Disease Background and Treatment

Posted: June 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Celiac Disease Background and Treatment

I don’t really have any particular comment to make on this. It’s from the Mayo Clinic and is an excellent short video about celiac. It’s the best I’ve seen at explaining the disease in five minutes. So if you don’t want to read something lengthy or watch an extended video, this will give you the information in a nutshell.


The Didache 19 – The Way of Death

Posted: June 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 19 – The Way of Death

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

And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.

The section in the Teaching on the way of death is much shorter than the one on the way of life. That is, I think, as it should be. As Peter said of Jesus, “You have the words of life,” so we should strive to absorb and live and speak those words of life. Some of the markers for the way of death are among those behaviors we were warned against in the way of life. Others are listed only here. It’s an interesting list and I think it would do us well to be aware if any speak into our lives. America does not have a culture which is particularly good at pitying a poor man, for example. We have many who are advocates of the rich. It’s worth considering.

There is no suggestion within the Christian faith that we can somehow live within the way of life apart from Jesus. Nevertheless, we must choose how we desire to live, what sort of human being we wish to be, and who we will follow. When we find any of the above shaping our lives, we must remember that they are not a part of the way of life. And since the way of life is Jesus, that means we are not partaking of the life he desires to give us all.


Taste of Ethiopia Take Two

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tonight, after our new roof was installed, we had made plans to go back to Taste of Ethiopia for dinner. My wife had called the owner, Woinee, several days in advance so that she could make her gluten free injera (Ethiopian flat bread made primarily from teff). Unfortunately, she had a catering engagement when we got there. Her husband is very nice, but we missed her personality and conversation at dinner. However, before she left, she had left the special injera for me!

I ordered the vegetarian sampler so I would could share and still have plenty of leftovers tomorrow. My younger son got a ground beef dish. I believe it was called kifto or something like that. My wife had the doro wat this time. My wife and son shared one family style dinner plate on the normal injera. I had a separate plate on top of my injera. We both had rolls of injera on the side. I also splurged with two cups of their coffee. I love it.

My injera? Wonderful. It was flexible and spongy, not the slightest bit crumbly. It had the texture of a real bread. And I loved being able to tear off pieces of it to use as my utensil picking up bites of food. I’m looking forward to my leftovers tomorrow. If you live in Pflugerville or the Austin area, you have to try out the restaurant. If you can’t eat gluten, call Woinee at least three days in advance and explain your special need. Otherwise, show up any time and indulge. If you can make a lunch visit and try their vegetarian buffet, I recommend that as your intro to the cuisine. If you have younger kids who tend not to be adventurous, they do have very American options like chicken nuggets for them.

My wife does recommend the doro wat with rice the way I had it last visit rather than eating it with injera. The rice mixes with the sauce and makes it easier for you to get more of the full flavor of the dish in every bite. My wife loves Woinee and missed her tonight but does not love the food as much as I do. Still, she likes it and will be happy to go there with me any time I crave another dose of Woinee’s food.


The Didache 18 – Confession

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 18 – Confession

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

In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.

The Teaching emphasizes confession. As in James, the earliest records are of confession before the whole church. Historically, it developed to be just the presbyter listening as you confessed to the Lord because public confession tended to harm those who heard the confession and were not strong enough to bear it. Some would hear the sin confessed and be tempted by that same sin. Others would hear the confession and pride like that of the pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and the publican would begin to weave its way into their hearts. Yet it is important that we confess to someone or the confession simply does not have the same power in our own minds and lives. Silent, inward confession does not tend to lead to change.

Confession has all but vanished from modern evangelicalism. The “altar call” or “invitation” provides a poor substitute among those groups who use it. “Accountability partners or groups” feel creepy and sick to me the way they are typically presented. They seem to be more about artificial control-based relationships than anything else. There is no confession. And as a result we are not honest with each other, with ourselves, or with God.

How can we avoid the masquerade discussed in my previous post if we do not know how to tell the truth?

For that is ultimately what confession is. We tell the truth about ourselves to God in the presence of another human being. And in so doing, we begin to become human once more.

This marks the end of the Teaching on the way of life. It’s been a list of commandments to do and things we need not to do. All of it taken together forms the way of life.


The Didache 17 – Do Not Add Or Subtract

Posted: June 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 17 – Do Not Add Or Subtract

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

You shall hate all hypocrisy and everything which is not pleasing to the Lord. Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom.

Hate hypocrisy. Hate all that is an act. I’m not a huge Casting Crowns fan, but I do think they captured something important in their song, Stained Glass Masquerade. I’m not even sure if the group who did this video around the song even knew the origin of the masks they used or just how appropriate they were to a discussion of what it means when we become actors rather than true human beings with one another.

“Stained Glass Masquerade”

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

However, even worse than the way acting or hypocrisy has embedded itself in the church is the reality that it is extremely hard to find any of the many schismatic branches who have not either added to the faith or subtracted from it. At this juncture in my exploration, I’m willing to say that if Orthodoxy has not traditioned that original faith without addition or subtraction, then it’s probably completely lost to us. I can trace places where every other tradition and schismatic Protestant tradition has either added something or subtracted something. Usually it’s multiple instances. And I can trace it back historically to when they did it. So far, I’ve not found any example of that in Orthodoxy. I’m hardly through looking though.


Are You Saved?

Posted: June 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I listened to the following from Molly Sabourin in one of her podcasts quite a while back. Somebody uploaded it to youtube with visuals. It’s timeless and beautiful.

Molly’s words require no elaboration from me. They are haunting and beautiful and stand easily on their own. Still, I have sought for words to express how I reacted when I first heard this in her podcast. There was a profound sense of affirmation and proper orientation. My heart sighed, “Yes!” as tension I had carried for so long melted away. I’ve had many interactions with Christians and experiences with Christianity, both positive and negative, throughout my life. All of those were “legitimate” in the sense that they all infomed the first thirty years of my process of conversion. I don’t discount one in favor of another. The events and decisions that led to my Baptism at age six or seven were not somehow false or invalid because my identity did not begin to truly become intertwined with Jesus of Nazareth until my early thirties when I generally consider the process of my journey to have reached the point where the language of conversion is the only language that fits.

However, as many Americans who wind their way into or within Christianity often do, I reached that point in my journey in a tradition which attempts to reduce the broad, rich, and varied use of the concept of “salvation” within Christianity to a single event at one specific point in time. They want to use the metaphor of a wedding rather than the biblical metaphor of a marriage. They want to make salvation about an intellectual decision that you make fervently and sincerely enough for it to stick in that instant. And as far as I’ve been able to discern, “salvation” is reduced to an answer to the question, “What happens when I die?”

That was never a particular concern of mine. To the extent that I considered it at all, I was perfectly satisfied with my childhood and adult belief in the transmigration of souls blended with a later developing belief that some might remain pure spirit as a form of kami. I wasn’t worried about the caricature of “hell” you encounter in American culture in general and more seriously in evangelicalism because I didn’t believe in it. (I still don’t believe in either the funny cultural parody or the more serious evangelical caricature of hell which the culture rightly parodies. But that’s a discussion for another day. I do believe in the power of death (hades) which Christ has defeated. And I do believe in the reality of the experience described by the metaphor of gehenna that flows from the eschaton of the narrative of the Christian story. Pick which you mean by the English word drawn from the name and realm of the goddess Hel.)

As N.T. Wright and others have pointed out in detail, the Holy Scriptures also say fairly little about what happens in the interim period between the time our bodies sleep and the resurrection of the dead. There are just a few words here and there. Instead of the deep and multi-faceted concepts of salvation found in our Holy Scriptures, much of evangelicalism has reduced salvation to a single facet that does not ever seem to be the primary focus of the New Testament. And in so doing they have crafted a framework in which my own personal story simply won’t fit.

Molly captures in her words so much of the way the story and person of Jesus of Nazareth had reshaped and reformed my own personal story and identity in something more like the full richness of the scriptural usage of the concepts of salvation. In one sense, all humanity was saved when Jesus united the human and divine natures fully, in their entirety, and lived the life of a faithful human being; was crucified by the powers as our ransom; and broke the power of death over humanity in his Resurrection. Because of Jesus, it is no longer the nature of man to die. In Christ we find our salvation.

In another sense, I am working out my salvation today in this life with fear and trembling. I see as though through a mirror, darkly. But as best as I am able I am pressing forward, running the race, and trying to learn to obey the commands of Jesus as I try to follow him. In this sense, I can hardly say I was saved at some earlier point in my life. I’m still alive. While it seems incredible to me at this moment that I would ever do anything but follow Christ, it was once just as incredible to me that I would. If over the course of my life I turned to a different spiritual path and followed other gods, in what sense would I be “saved” in the particular Christian sense? I continue to be in the process of being saved. As with marriage, this is a process and a life. We follow a personal God of perfect relationship. How could it be anything else?

And finally, in another broad scriptural sense, I will one day stand before God with my true self fully revealed in his light to myself and all others. There is no account of that final judgment in the Holy Scriptures that does not describe it as a judgment over the totality of our lives — over who we are with no lies and no deception. God is love and light, but so pure that no shadow of darkness can persist in his unveiled presence. The question will not ultimately be about what God thinks of me. The ultimate answer to that question was the Cross. God loves me. The question will be, “Do I love God?” I pray that I grow in the grace and love of God so that through Jesus my answer is, “Yes!” For this reason I pray, “Lord have mercy.” But a lasting life in a resurrected body continuous, yet discontinuous, with my present body and in some sense like our Lord’s in his Resurrection working within a restored and healed creation that has been made new and is overflowing with the unveiled glory of the Lord marks the fullness of the Christian story of salvation.

That is our hope. Nothing less.


The Didache 16 – Do Not Engender Bitterness

Posted: June 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 16 – Do Not Engender Bitterness

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

Do not remove your hand from your son or daughter; rather, teach them the fear of God from their youth. Do not enjoin anything in your bitterness upon your bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest ever they shall fear not God who is over both; for he comes not to call according to the outward appearance, but to them whom the Spirit has prepared. And you bondmen shall be subject to your masters as to a type of God, in modesty and fear.

I’ve been around American evangelicalism long enough to know how many in that tradition will interpret the first sentence above. Does it help you at all to know that it is also interpreted “Do not remove your heart”? How about the caution in the next sentence against enjoining anything in your bitterness? Ring any bells with what Paul tells fathers in Ephesians? Sigh. I really don’t have anything I feel like saying. I would be “preaching to the choir” as they say in Baptist circles. The ones who actually need to hear what I might say never would, even if it is part of the way of life.

Christianity was already putting limits on the treatment of slaves in the first century. In Roman culture the head of the household held the power of life and death over children, over wives, and over slaves. It’s hard for us to imagine today. To be fair, in some part these limits did flow from the limits God had worked to place within Torah and within the life experience of all Jews. Christianity just took it to its conclusion in Jesus. Eventually the Church would hold that no baptized Christian could be a slave to another man. While there were issues with the treatment of serfs and other peasants beholden to the Lord of the manor, slavery as such had almost vanished in the West before the introduction of African slaves in the early modern era. It was a huge step backwards for Christians and took centuries to correct. My own denomination, the SBC, was formed in a schism in support of slavery.

Again, sigh.


The Didache 15 – Do Not Hesitate To Give

Posted: June 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 15 – Do Not Hesitate To Give

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

Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. If you have anything, through your hands you shall give ransom for your sins. Do not hesitate to give, nor complain when you give; for you shall know who is the good repayer of the hire. Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal?

The Teaching is as bad as the Holy Scriptures about commanding us to give, to give extravagantly, and to give cheerfully. And I’m lousy at giving. Frankly, I don’t understand how the overwhelming majority of those within American Christianity screen out all the ways we are commanded to give, to care for the poor, to be generous, to not be ruled by stuff, and all the different ways it is put. I can’t. I know I don’t do anything like what we are told to do, but I’m also unable to screen out the commands and somehow decide that all is copacetic.

There’s not sense here that it’s the eternal stuff that matters and the earthly stuff is just a shadow. Rather, the things that are happening here and now are that in which we partake most deeply. These mortals things are shaping us into the person we will be eternally. We can’t be one thing and something completely different in the resurrection. We will simply be more fully and completely and utterly visibly the person we have made ourselves to be. There will be no darkness in which to hide.

The more deeply I delve into Christianity, the more I understand why Jesus said it is difficult for the rich to enter into life.


The Didache 14 – No Schisms

Posted: June 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 14 – No Schisms

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

Do not long for division, but rather bring those who contend to peace. Judge righteously, and do not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. You shall not be undecided whether or not it shall be.

Division here, of course, means schism. The Teaching simply echoes Jesus, Paul, John, James, and Peter. Somehow Protestants in general, and Baptists in particular, proclaim a theoretical idea that Christian faith should be shaped first by the Holy Scriptures even as they completely ignore one of the central tenets of what we call the New Testament. How bizarre is that?

Historically, schisms were rare and treated seriously. Most schisms were either healed or the schismatic sects died off. Before the Reformation there were really only three enduring schisms in the Church, mostly defined by geography and a healthy dose of local politics at the time of the schism. Those three are the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox (often improperly called monophysite, but actually miaphysite), the Chalcedonian Orthodox (often called “Greek” regardless of actual ethnicity) , and the Roman Catholic Church. That was it.

Enter the Reformation.

According to Pew Research, we now have something over thirty thousand identifiable sects, denominations, or more accurately, schisms – divisions in the church. It is routine for even a very small town to have at leasts tens of different types or flavors of “Christian” from which the discerning Christian spiritual consumer can choose. Larger cities will have hundreds if not thousands of choices. Where I live, there is no Church of Pflugerville. There are instead myriad “churches”. Since Jesus said that people would know and accept that he was Lord because of our love and our unity, it’s little wonder that Western Christianity is withering on the vine. Heck, I’m instinctually pluralist and still like aspects of Hinduism’s inclusive nature and I’m even turned off by the present day divisiveness of Christianity. If Protestantism has offered anything else of enduring value, I’m having a hard time seeing it.

The next sentence is one of those tensions in Christianity. We are not the final judge. We can never judge someone’s salvation. And really we can’t judge anyone’s heart. When we judge, we will be held to the same standard. And woe to us when we become the hypocrite or when we judge ourselves more highly than any other. Nevertheless, we are not just called, but actually commanded to love. And in order to love, we must judge what action would be for the good of the beloved. And sometimes the most loving thing we can do is reprove another. When we do, as James points out, we must be no respecters of person, of wealth, or of power. And we should proceed trembling, for we are treading on the most dangerous of soils for our own salvation.

And we must not be undecided. That’s probably the hardest for me. I tend to doubt much. I live within the whirlwind of deconstruction. Every belief I hold, every decision I make, every action I take is subjected to those forces. And a lot of my rationales fall apart. Jesus has held so far. If anything, he has become more real, more present, and more solid the longer I’ve tried to follow him. I act decisively at times. But I always do so in the recognition that my certainty is probably temporary and how I perceive this moment will probably change. And I know how limited my understanding in any given moment truly is. This one is hard. Really hard.