Who Am I?

The Didache 13 – The Faces of the Saints

Posted: June 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 13 – The Faces of the Saints

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

My child, remember night and day him who speaks the word of God to you, and honor him as you do the Lord. For wherever the lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words.

This section begins with an exhortation to always remember and honor the one “who speaks the word of God to you.” It’s an interesting phrase and none of the other translations make it clear. The “my child” reminds me of John. And thinking of him leads me to think that it does mean the shepherd, the episcopos, the bishop.

The next sentence is confusing, but after reading several translations, N.T. Wright came to mind. Whereever it is proclaimed that “Jesus is Lord,” he is particularly present. Of course, Jesus is Lord everywhere and over every power whether or not his lordship is proclaimed. Nevertheless, there is a particular and mysterious power in the proclamation itself. Further, connected as this is with the first sentence and the one following, there is a particular connection between the proclamation, the proclaiming community, and the bishop who shepherds the community in that particular geographical location.

In addition to its obvious meaning of those who live in the same place and time as you and with whom you should be closely bound, the last sentence above led me to think of icons. Those are representations, mystical connections if you will, to those whose bodies sleep, but who we still believe are with us, surrounding us, and involved in the life of the church. As Christians, we do not believe that death has any power over us. We know that the history of iconography stretches back at least to the second century. And it seems likely that is goes all the way back into the first. In fact, you don’t find any major influence or presence of iconoclasm in the church until Islam began to influence it. At any rate, it was a picture that came to my mind as I reflected on that sentence and the way it connected to the other two. The Teaching is often dense and says much with few words.


Taste of Ethiopia

Posted: June 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

My wife, our law school son, and I headed to Taste of Ethiopia for lunch. None of us had had any prior experience with Ethiopian food, but the reviews were enticing. This restaurant is truly a dining jewel hidden away in a corner of a strip mall here in our own town of Pflugerville. If you live here and have not yet eaten here, you need to correct that omission as soon as possible.

We were met by the owner, Woinee Mariam, as we entered. My wife and I got the coffee while our son got the spiced iced tea. Since this was lunch, Woinee explained, it was not the full coffee service, but the coffee was still amazing. As a big poster declares, coffee truly is Ethiopia’s gift to the world. Apparently, in the full evening coffee service, Woinee will roast, grind, and brew the coffee in the traditional way. (Actually, I’m not sure if she does that at the restaurant or not, since it would certainly take time. But I’m anxious to find out!)

I then explained to Woinee that I had celiac and couldn’t eat wheat, barley, or rye. While not exactly an allergy, for practical purposes it can be treated that way. She said that her daughter can’t eat gluten or dairy, so she understands the diet. And she makes everything herself, so she knows exactly what is in it. Unfortunately, the injera (ethiopian flat bread) they typically make does contain wheat, so I couldn’t have any. However, Woinee said that if I call three days in advance, she can ferment the teff and make traditional gluten free injera for me! Wow! Obviously, that’s now high on my list of dining plans. I can’t wait!

I had the Doro Wat with rice (since I couldn’t have the injera). The chicken fell off the bone. The hardboiled egg was delicious. And the sauce was absolutely wonderful. I thought I would start with what is considered the national dish of Ethiopia for my first visit and it lived up to the reviews in every way.

My wife and son got the vegetarian lunch buffet. Woinee wouldn’t let them get forks! She came over and walked them through how to unroll and tear of pieces of injera and pick up and eat the food using the injera as their only utensil in the traditional Ethiopian manner. They tried some of everything and cleaned their plates – picking up all the food with their fingers.

At one point an older gentleman who was eating when we arrived left and Woinee ran out the door to ask him if he wanted some water to go. She came back in to get it for him and told us he was working outside and it was too hot not to have water. That sort of individual care and attention characterizes her approach to everyone. It’s as though we were guests in her home. When Woinee found out that our son was in law school, she gave him a big hug and told him that he must be very smart and a hard worker to be doing that.

If you live here and you’ve never eaten at Taste of Ethiopia, 1466 Grand Avenue Parkway, Pflugerville, TX, then go. You won’t regret it.


The Didache 12 – Be Meek

Posted: June 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 12 – Be Meek

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

Rather, be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and pitiful and guileless and gentle and good and always trembling at the words which you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself, nor give over-confidence to your soul. Your soul shall not be joined with lofty ones, but with just and lowly ones shall it have its intercourse. Accept whatever happens to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass.

I’ve heard and read many speak about the word and concepts I gather are here translated “meek”. It’s my understanding that it’s a word like “nous” in Greek. It simply doesn’t translate easily into English in a single word. I look at the longer description above and I think of what is called the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,  and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus lowered himself to become one of us. And even by our standards, he made himself lowly. He did not return evil for evil. He did not revile in turn.

But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“ Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

Jesus sought out the weak, the scorned, and the powerless. He taught that the last shall be first and the least the greatest.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”
But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
They said to Him, “We are able.”
So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized;  but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”
And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Some might turn the last sentence from the Teaching into a form of fatalism. It can be made into a Christian form of insha’Allah. However, I believe that is a mistake. Rather, it points to a matter of trust. Ours is a God who is not responsible for evil, but who brings good from evil. The story of Joseph is one of many which illustrates that reality. We also believe that God desires all to be for our salvation. In the end, we simply don’t know why. We are finite. God is not. We are not God. God is. I’m reminded here of Job. He demanded a single thing of God, the answer to a one word question, “Why?” And when God finally does speak and respond, he doesn’t actually answer that question at all. Job is rendered silent by the answer nevertheless.

God is God and we’re not. Will we trust God?


The Didache 11 – Flee From Every Evil Thing

Posted: June 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 11 – Flee From Every Evil Thing

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

My child, flee from every evil thing, and from every likeness of it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leads to murder. Be neither jealous, nor quarrelsome, nor of hot temper, for out of all these murders are engendered. My child, be not a lustful one. for lust leads to fornication. Be neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye, for out of all these adulteries are engendered. My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leads to idolatry. Be neither an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier, nor be willing to took at these things, for out of all these idolatry is engendered. My child, be not a liar, since a lie leads to theft. Be neither money-loving, nor vainglorious, for out of all these thefts are engendered. My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy. Be neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered.

The Teaching continues with other “sins”. Notice how everything given here leads to graver sins: murder, fornication and adultery, idolatry, theft, or blasphemy. Does that mean that if you lie you will inevitably be a thief? No, of course not.

But this does explore and build upon the Sermon on the Mount. If you bring those behaviors into your life and beginning shaping yourself through them, then you are living on the way that leads to murder, to adultery, to theft, to idolatry, or to blaspemy. We never remain static. We can’t simply stay in one spot and tread water as human beings. Life is flowing constantly around us and we are moving toward becoming and being some type of human being. If you incorporate a pattern of telling untruth to others, you are shaping yourself into a dishonest person. At some point along that way, the dishonesty of theft will likely come to seem perfectly natural. That is so true that when you begin to adopt that way, in some sense you are already a thief.

The message is clear. These are markers of the way of death. If you perceive these within yourself, pray to break free from them so you can inhabit the way of  life instead.


The First Year – Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free

Posted: June 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The First Year – Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free

One of the books I picked up on celiac (and by far the best so far) is a book by Jules E. Dowler Shepard, The First Year – Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free. Jules has celiac and shares her story in the book. In a guide intended for those who are newly diagnosed that’s a critical factor. As she describes things to do and how to work through all the issues we encounter, you know she has been there. She’s not just imagining them.

The book is formatted so that it could be read and followed over a period of adaptation lasting a year from your diagnosis. I suppose some people might read that way. I’m not sure. I definitely don’t. I’m a sponge. I read it the first time over the course of a couple of day, marking pages of particular interest as I went. I’ve since referred back to it a number of times.

The days of the first week are focused on providing the history and the most accurate current information available on celiac disease. The information is easily the most current and most accurate of any book I’ve read. It’s also extremely thorough without ever being dry or overwhelming for someone who just received a pretty major disease diagnosis requiring a fairly dramatic life change.

The book is divided into sections on learning and on living. The sections on living include a wealth of recipes and extremely practical advice for a wide array of situations: birthday parties, business lunches, handling college, eating out, and talking to friends and coworkers about celiac. I highly recommend this book. If I had three thumbs, I would give it three thumbs up! As it is, Jules with have to settle for two thumbs. 😉

The foreword is by Alessio Fasano, MD, the founder of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland. (I recall that my father did some of his education at the University of Maryland, but I don’t remember any details.) For additional historical information, details on the research done by the center, and studies underway, I recommend watching the following video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQHiBC_O9Y4

The Didache 10 – The Second Commandment

Posted: June 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 10 – The Second Commandment

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

And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. You shall not covet the things of your neighbor, you shall not swear, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall bear no grudge. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is a snare of death. Your speech shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed. You shall not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor evil disposed, nor haughty. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.

It would be depressing to focus on the second commandment of the Teaching to the extent that I focused on the first, so I’m going to tackle it in one post. In order to live the way of life, you must move away from the way of death. The second commandment deals with some of the things that characterize the way of death. As one would expect, a number of the practices are drawn directly from what we call the Ten Commandments. However, I wanted to focus more on the ones that are not.

The first such practice specifically listed along the way of death is pederasty. It’s difficult today to understand the extent to which children were viewed as property in the ancient world, as something that could be used as its owner saw fit. Within that larger context, of course, there were many families and tribes that cared for and protected their children. But things that we do not consider normative in the modern world were much more common in the ancient world. And pederasty was one such thing. From the very beginning, Christians taught and acted to protect the weakest and those most scorned by society, as we can see in the way they treated not just the poor, but women and children as well.

The next practice of death to avoid is fornication. I must confess that raised in the culture, environment, and various settings that I was, I have a great deal of difficulty internalizing whatever a ‘Christian’ perspective of sexuality might be. Fortunately I’ve been married to one lovely woman for the entire time I’ve been ‘Christian’ and my own internalized approach to sexuality within the context of marriage seems to be very similar to the Christian perspective, so it’s never been as major an issue for me as it would have been if I had been a Christian while not married. Nevertheless, it does mean that I don’t tend to react on this issue as many of my fellow Christians do when I hear that a couple are living together, when someone I know is pregnant and unmarried, or any of a host of similar situations. I’m not even sure if, on balance, that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

With that said, I’ve always been aware that sex can never truly be “casual”. I am not a dualist. I do not separate body into one sphere of existence and mind and spirit into another. We are whole human beings. Everything we do with our bodies affects our spirits and vice versa. I knew that was true long before I was Christian. In fact, I think I’ve always known that was true. And there is hardly anything more intimate we can do with our bodies than sex. How then can it ever be spiritually insignificant? From a historical perspective, where we have surviving pagan perspectives of Christians in the ancient world, their sexual restraint is often noted. (Their strange belief in resurrection, cannibalistic ritual practice, and care for the poor and sick outside their own group are also noted.) I do hear many Christians today speak as though this is some sort of modern, cultural issue. It’s not. In human practice and history, Christian sexual restraint has often been markedly different from the cultural norm. I would say that the disturbing thing in our modern society is not that “the culture” is highly sexualized, but that there is no discernible difference between the practice of Christians and non-Christians within it. I found Lauren Winner’s book, Real Sex, actually helpful on this topic. That’s not true of most other things I’ve encountered.

I don’t know the particular setting, language, or context for the practices translated here as “magic” and “witchcraft”. As such, anything I surmise is probably more likely wrong than right. Nevertheless, simply based on other things I’ve picked up over the years about the perspective within the ancient world, “witchcraft” makes me think of efforts to contact, communicate, or control spirits, either of dead human beings or otherwise. If so, magic would be other efforts to influence the world or people around you, predict the future, or similar exercises. I think the general rule should be that we not attempt to extend our personal sphere of power inappropriately over creation or our fellow human beings. And don’t open yourself up to spirits.

You can’t read early Christian writings without encountering their struggle against the culture of their era concerning children. Abortion is not a modern issue. It was an ancient issue as well. While I don’t believe the whole modern “culture war” approach is even vaguely helpful and don’t believe that changing the law at this juncture is or would be a beneficial approach in the US, I’ve also never been comfortable with abortion. It’s one of the reasons I was a teen parent. However, the ancient issues and practices toward children were actually much worse in some ways than we face today. As I pointed out earlier, children (and women) were effectively considered and often treated like property. If the male of the family or household did not want another girl, if the baby was deformed, or for a host of other reasons, the infant would often be killed after birth. While the infant might simply be killed, the more “moral” members of society would instead practice “exposure”. When a child was “exposed” the child was left outside the city in the wild. The theory was that the child’s fate was left up to the gods. If the gods wanted to save the baby, they could. In practice, of course, exposed infants died of thirst, exposure to the elements, or were torn apart and eaten by wild animals. By and large, the exposed infants were simply ignored by everyone. If someone did take in the exposed infant, it was typically to a life of slavery.

Christians prohibited abortion and exposure (or any other form of post-birth killing) of infants among themselves as the Teaching indicates. As a group, this made them extremely attractive to women, who were typically given no voice in these matters. Many Christians would go farther and take those exposed infants they could find to raise safely among themselves.

Many of the next actions listed involve attitudes and things we say to one another. I notice particularly that these are listed alongside with the gravest of the practices of the way of death. Apparently they are as serious as murder. James has some good words on this subject in his letter. The words we say to each other, the manner in which we view each other, are much more important than we typically credit.

This section closes with the line:

You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.

Hatred of any human being places me on the way of death rather than life. The rest of the list are various ways you love the human being. It ramps up quickly. Reproof we might find easy, though we must be careful it truly is an act of love. Prayer — true prayer for the other — takes it to another level. But then it concludes that some we must love more than we love our own lives — the way that Jesus loved us.

The way of death seems frightening, but in practice it is so easy to live within it. We slide into its rhythms and allow it to shape our life and being without even being aware that that is what we’re doing. I’m reminded that Jesus warned,

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.


The Didache 9 – Sweaty Alms

Posted: June 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 9 – Sweaty Alms

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

And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.

Do you have the money for your alms identified? Does it “sweat” while you wait for the Spirit to show you to whom to give the money?

Or are you more like me, thinking about giving less that I should? I’m a long way from the point where I could say that my alms sweat in my hands. And I’m certainly no expert on listening to God. But I think this statement in the teaching really drives home the earthiness and immediacy of what it means to give. It is not some abstract transaction.

I pray for sweaty alms. And I fear that my prayer might be answered.


The Didache 8 – Examined

Posted: June 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 8 – Examined

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

Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny.

As N.T. Wright has noted there is not a single place in the Holy Scriptures where the future judgment is mentioned as examining anything other than the totality of our lives. How could it be otherwise? How often do I receive when I have no need? And how often do I fail to give as the commandment of Jesus provides?

We are a nation of such wealth as could not have even been imagined in the ancient world. I’ve noticed that we do not care to dwell overmuch on the things Jesus says to the rich. I do understand that. I find his words to us disturbing as well. But at some point we will all have to give an account. We will be examined concerning all we have done and all which we have not done.

I pray I have truly desired to do better than I have actually done.


And If I Don’t Heal?

Posted: June 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I prefer the best and most accurate information I can obtain. At all levels and circles of my life I try to interact with reality as it is rather than as I desire it to be. That does not mean that my understanding of reality does not adapt or evolve. It is constantly doing both — anything less would simply be another form of hiding from reality. I think I understand some of the reasons I am shaped that way. Some of it probably has something to do with developing some sense of control in situations where I often had very little.

But sometimes reality can be a little disheartening.

I’ve read this article, When Celiac Disease is Diagnosed in Adulthood, Intestines Don’t Always Heal Completely, several times now. The article reports on two studies presented by two different research teams at a recent medical conference.

The Irish study is not too bad — though I do have a lot of Irish in me, so that catches my attention. In it, at least two-thirds of those who did not have intestinal healing at the two to three year mark also had poor compliance with the gluten free diet. They did not stick to the fast. That stresses the importance of strict adherence to a gluten free diet over the long haul, but I had already absorbed that. Believe me, I am taking this seriously.

The Mayo Clinic study, though, does not share that problem. Most of their participants had good adherence to a gluten free diet. But their percentages were not markedly different.

In one presentation, Dr. Alberto Rubio-Tapia and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota described their study of patients whose celiac disease had been diagnosed (and confirmed with a biopsy) during adulthood and who later had additional biopsies to determine whether or not their intestines had healed.
— Of 141 adults who had been gluten-free for less than 2 years, only 79 (56%) had healed intestines.
— Of 65 adults who’d been gluten free for 2 to 5 years, only 37 (57%) had healed intestines.
— Of 27 adults whose intestines were examined more than 5 years after they became gluten-free, only 14 (52%) had intestinal healing.

It seems that my odds are about even that my small intestine will heal completely. I can do everything I’m supposed to do and it still comes down to a flip of a cosmic coin. I do not appreciate the irony.

It seems that two of the factors that appear to influence recovery are age when diagnosed and the extent of villi damage. Neither of those are in my favor. I’m a middle-aged guy in my forties and my villi were basically gone when I was diagnosed. Visually, instead of white shag carpet, my small intestine looked like pink tile. Under the microscope, my doctor said it looked like my villi had been mown down by a lawnmower on its lowest setting.

On one level it doesn’t really change anything. I have to continue to develop the rythms and patterns of a life free from gluten. I will continue to work to shape my life with the rythms of prayer, not because I believe it is some form of magic or that I can somehow manipulate God, but simply because I know I need help to maintain this fast. It goes back to that integration between body and spirit I’ve discussed elsewhere.

I’ve already seen some of the acute symptoms, including ones I had no idea might be related, subside. And as I maintain the fast from gluten, I will heal at least some. And some healing has to be better, even if I remain at greater risk for complications associated with celiac. And who knows? My particular coin might still be heads. I might heal completely. If these studies had not been done, I wouldn’t even know that it’s something we need to monitor.

Still, I would be lying if I said the study didn’t bother me. I had more of a sense of control before I read it. And at least when it comes to my closest circle, the circle of my mind and my body, I strongly dislike loss of control. I suppose I find it threatening.

Oddly, I’m already doing as well as I know how on the gluten free diet. I will try to make it even healthier to the best of my ability. And I will continue to learn more. But there is little more I can do in that arena.

I can, however, do much better at developing and maintaining the rythms of my practice of prayer. Perhaps a place to start?


The Didache 7 – Ask It Not Back

Posted: June 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 7 – Ask It Not Back

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

If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts).

Obviously, this is largely drawn from the Sermon on the Mount. Still, the balance of the repeated phrase, ask it not back, stands out to me. In the first instance, it is paired with take, in the second with give. In the first there is a sense of force against you and indeed helplessness on your part for you are not able. In the second you are in the position of power, with the ability to demand back that which you have given.

But it is the Father’s will that we give from our blessings to all.

Give.

All.

Those are tough words. I love some enough to give to them. I do not love all that much. And yet that’s the sort of love God has for us. All of us. The loved and the unloved and the hated are all loved by God. We who live and move and have our being in the overflow of that love have no excuse for doing less.