15 Authors

Posted: October 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

I don’t often participate in the blogging lists in which you are tagged and tag others in turn. I guess it’s just not my thing. However, Fr. Christian Mathis (how cool a moniker for priest is Fr. Christian?) tagged me for this one and I have to confess the topic intrigues me.

15 Authors (meme)

Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

Those who know me know I’m something of a reader and have a small personal library. Moreover, I’ve read constantly virtually my whole life. I mean that literally. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. More than fifteen authors sprang to mind in the first minute that I considered the meme and more have continued to come to flood my mind, so I’m going to be a little more selective in the ones I pick. I’m also going to pick authors who have really influenced me — whatever that influence might have been — rather than the best list. I couldn’t possibly put the authors in any sort of order, so I’m not even going to try. So here my top fifteen in no particular order.

1. Edith Hamilton. I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology the first time when I was in the fourth grade. I choose to list her because she was my gateway into a love for ancient history, the exploration of ancient beliefs, and a world of ancient literature. After I read her Mythology, I quickly moved on to read Bullfinch’s Mythology, the Illiad and the Odyssey by Homer, and many other works. I suppose it would make a loftier soundbite to say that Homer influenced me, but the truth is that if I hadn’t read Edith Hamilton, I’m not sure I would have read Homer at all. I certainly wouldn’t have read his works until I was much older.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien has influenced and still influences me deeply. I no longer have any idea how many times I have read his novels of Middle Earth and I still read them regularly. I’m not sure I knew he was a Christian or consciously saw the ways his faith influenced his writing until I was in my thirties, but they nevertheless helped shape me as a human being.

3. C.S Lewis. I can’t mention Tolkien without also mentioning C.S Lewis. I was pretty young when I received a boxed set of his Narnia novels and read them for the first time. As with most of the authors who have influenced me, I’ve read his books many times over. I’ve also shared Narnia with my children — even reading The Magician’s Nephew over the course of some weeks to my daughter’s second grade class at one time. I loved his Space Trilogy when I read it. And I’m certain the rest of his books shaped some of my perception and understanding of God.

4. Robert Heinlein. I was introduced to the twists and turns of Heinlein’s writing by A Stranger in a Strange Land (I believe I stumbled across it in my father’s library) when I was eleven or twelve. I was fascinated by his insights and perspectives — a fascination that would never wane. I thoroughly enjoyed the “children’s books” from his early career (Space Cadet and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel anyone?). I loved the ones more in the middle such as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and I reveled in the rollicking fun of his later novels. Friday and The Number of the Beast are a blast. His writings could rarely be called conventional, but then I’ve only lately been a more conventional sort of person.

5. William Shakespeare. The Bard has a special place on my list and in my heart. I remember one of the first acting sorts of things I did publicly. I was in 4th grade and living (for a few months) in West Virginia and decided to do something in some sort of talent show. I had been reading Shakespeare (I had a volume of his complete works) and elected to do the scene from King Lear in which Cordelia and Kent are banished. Yes, I did all the parts. I loved it and that experience led me to take acting classes through the Alley Theater when we later lived in Houston. I’ve read most of his works, seen his plays, and performed in them more than once over the years. Most recently I had the pleasure of taking my youngest daughter to Shakespeare in the Park here in Austin to see A Midsummer’s Night Dream for the first time and watch her laugh as she fell under the Bard’s comedic spell.

6. Anne Rice. I was in 6th or 7th grade when An Interview with a Vampire came out in paperback. A friend of mine had it and lent it to me. I read it straight through, much of the time upside down in a recliner. I’ve read it and others of her books many times since. The history with which her stories have been interwoven has always appealed to me and her characters live and breathe. Her books are a part of me.

7. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His book, Science of Being and Art of Living: Transcendental Meditation, was the first in that vein I remember deeply reading and regularly practicing when I was twelve years old or so. Like Edith Hamilton, I would hardly classify him as the deepest or the best in this category. But if I had not read him, would I have read Lao Tzu, the Bhagavad Vita, or the story of the life of Prince Siddhartha? It’s hard to say, but he was certainly a significant part of my early spiritual formation.

8. Isaac Asimov. From psychohistory to the three laws of robotics to the caves of steel in which a crowded and insular earth population huddled, Asimov’s writings fascinated me. Even when robots were the central focus, he was always writing about what it meant to be human.

9. St. Athanasius. In his work, On the Incarnation of the Word, St. Athanasius describes a God in whom I not only could believe, but one in which I wanted to believed. More than any other single factor, I think it was his writing that snapped my resistance against and antipathy toward this thing called Christianity. People and events certainly contributed, but it was when I read his description of God that I truly let go of my anger and despite and decided this was actually a God whom I could worship. I’ll also let St. Athanasius stand in my list for all the ancient Fathers who have meant so much to my spiritual formation as a Christian. I think especially of St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Isaac the Syrian, and St. Maximos the Confessor, but a host of others have contributed as well. Without their works I’m not sure I could have bridged the gap from what I was to something more like a Christian. Even if I could have made that leap without them, I’m not sure I could have remained Christian all these years.

10. Mary Stewart. Another book I read at a pretty young age was a collected set of tales of King Arthur and his Knights. The book was somewhere around a thousand pages I think, but I no longer have it and have no idea which collection it was. But the Arthurian mythos has been a significant piece of who I am ever since. I also loved Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon and was torn about which of these two to list at this point. But I finally had to go with Mary Stewart. I was around twenty years old when I was fascinated anew by her rendering of Arthur and Merlin.

11. N.T. Wright. I didn’t encounter Bishop Tom’s writings until five or six years ago. Nevertheless, he has been a huge influence on my understanding of Jesus and Christianity. I’ve read many of his books and listened to just about every lecture or sermon he’s done that can be found online. If you are unfamiliar with his body of work, I would recommend any of it.

12. Edgar Allen Poe. I know The Raven by heart and used to love watching Vincent Price read the poem each year. Lenore still pulls at my heart. The Pit and the Pendulum and The Telltale Heart are masterworks of horror while also peeling back the masks we all wear.

13. Scot McKnight. The Jesus Creed has been a part of my own (poor and sometimes barely present) rule of prayer for some years now. Oddly, it was also through his writing that I first came to see that the Orthodox were something other than an Eastern sort of Catholic. Somehow I had never made the mental leap from the ancient Fathers to the modern Orthodox Church.

14. Stephen R. Donaldson. I believe I was either twelve or thirteen when I first read Lord Foul’s Bane. I’ve followed the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever faithfully ever since. Stephen Donaldson introduced me to the idea of the deeply flawed anti-hero who, though he often does great damage to those around him, can also achieve great good. I think I’ve always been more of a Thomas Covenant or a Lestat than I’ve been an Aragorn, a Frodo, or a Gandalf.

15. Anne McCAffrey. I had a hard time deciding who to choose for the fifteenth slot in this list. From Killashandra Ree to Lessa her characters have spoken to me in their flaws and in their courage.

There are many other authors and books that have shaped who I am today. But these are fifteen who all hold a special place for one reason or another. I’m also lousy at following rules, so I’m not going to tag fifteen other people. The only person I’m going to tag is Tom Cottar. I want to see fifteen authors who have influenced him and why. (And I can harass him about it until I wear him down if needed.)


Reflections on Resurrection 1

Posted: October 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Throughout this blog and in my comments elsewhere, I often focus on resurrection. In many ways, it is the Christian teaching of resurrection which drew me deeper into this faith and it is certainly one of the linchpins that keeps me in it. I can say with certainty that if I did not believe in Christ’s Resurrection and that it was the first fruit of our own resurrection, then Christianity would hold no interest for me. As Paul writes, if Christ is not risen then we are of all men the most pitiable.

However, there seems to be a great deal of confusion today, even among Christians, about Resurrection. Since it dawns on me that it is not possible to really understand some of the things I write without understanding what is wrapped up in that one word, I thought it might be wise to write a short series outlining my perspective on the subject. I’ll write, as I normally do, from a personal perspective. If you’re more interested in a comprehensive academic treatment of Christ’s Resurrection, I would recommend N.T. Wright’s big book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. That sort of exhaustive treatment is not my goal.

When pressed, I normally describe my background and childhood formation as pluralistic. In order to understand what is behind some of the things I plan to write in this series, I think I need to explain what I mean when I use that term. First, I need to say that my childhood was not shaped within the context of a single non-Christian religion nor was it particularly non-theistic or atheistic — though there were certainly aspects of a number of different religions and non-theistic or loosely theistic influences. However, my childhood, whatever else it may have been, was not anti-Christian at all.

In fact, while I’m not sure anyone growing up in the American South in the 70s could avoid exposure to Christianity, my experience of it was, while pretty varied, largely positive. I was baptized in a Baptist Church at a pretty young age. At different times I attended both Episcopal and Catholic schools. (I also attended a bunch of different public schools, a nonsectarian private school, and was even home-schooled for a few months in Mississippi when my mother discovered the local schools were still segregated.) Over the course of my childhood, I also experienced a wide array of other Christian traditions and denominations. Ironically, though not raised strictly Christian, I probably encountered more of the diversity which constitutes Christianity in America than most of my peers.

I could, if I wanted, frame a relatively typical Baptist conversion narrative. I don’t do so because that does not truthfully capture the reality of my experience. Yes, my encounters with and scattered experiences within a Christian context were authentic (whatever that means), but they were hardly my only spiritual influence. Moreover, my rejection of what I understood about and experienced from Christianity as a sixteen year old teen parent was just as authentic as any of my earlier experience. These were markers on my journey of conversion, but I don’t consider myself to have finally converted to Christian faith and practice until my early thirties when I unexpectedly reached a point where that label described something central to my identity.

Christianity, though, was just one aspect out of many in my formation. My family and thus our extended circle of family friends includes many involved in the scientific and academic community. Although, of the many things I’ve been or practiced, I never felt any pull toward atheism or even classical enlightenment-style deism, that perspective and manner of approaching life and reality has certainly been a part of my formation. I don’t find it threatening. I also do not find it antithetical to belief. I do find that this part of who I am is the part that’s mostly likely to make the determination that a particular religion (or one of the many different Christian Gods proclaimed today) is not worth believing or practicing, and its deity not worth worshiping.

The other most significant and formative spiritual perspective from my childhood was Hinduism. Why Hinduism? The simplest answer is that we had Indian friends and my mother was at least dabbling in it. It was just part of the air I breathed as a child, as present to me as was Christianity. Now, it’s important to recognize that the term itself is a broad label encompassing virtually any religious practice rooted in the perspective found in the ancient Vedic texts. It’s not really a single religion in the sense of a single set of beliefs and practices, though there are a number of consistent underlying perspectives on the nature of reality. Rather, there are many gurus, past and present, who teach different things.

I never really followed a guru. I’m not sure why, exactly. I just didn’t. I did spend some of my late preteen and early teen years actively practicing transcendental meditation, which does have a particular guru, but I never formally engaged it. I just practiced privately using a book as a guide. Beyond that, I explored various published writings including, of course, the Bhagavad Gita.

Hinduism, however, was not the only other part of my childhood spiritual formation. I don’t remember ever hearing the term New Age in the seventies. However, many of the things lumped under that heading in the bookstore today were part of my experience. My parents ran a small press bookstore in Houston for a few years and that gave me easy access to books on numerology, runes, palmistry, astrology, tarot, and many related topics. Even before then, I remember sitting with my mother when I was as young as six or seven as she brought out her tarot deck and did readings. I also clearly remember participating in a past life regression workshop my parents hosted for a friend when I was eleven or twelve. I was captivated by the modern myths of Atlantis. I also recall some interaction with Wiccan and neopagan systems of belief. (In my twenties I also had a number of Wiccan friends.)

After being rejected by and in turn rejecting the Christian aspect of my formation, I tended to operate from a basic Hindu perspective of reality, but I explored a number of different options. I read a fair amount of the Qur’an at one point, but Islam never held any appeal to me. We had had some Jewish family friends growing up and there were aspects of modern Judaism that did appeal to me, but it’s not a direction in which I was particularly drawn. I did explore Buddhism and Taoism, but at the time they didn’t really appeal to me either. (Ironically, I find some elements of both more compelling now after being significantly shaped by Christian faith and practice than I did at the time. If I was going to be anything else other than Christian today, it would probably be one of those two.) I looked a bit at Wicca and neopaganism, but they were just too modern for me, if that makes sense. I have a deep sense of history. You may have noticed that in some of my writings.

For most of my twenties, I settled into a sort of lackadaisical Hindu belief and practice. I didn’t seek a guru. I didn’t actually attend anything. But those were the beliefs about reality I privately held and, to the extent I practiced anything, I practiced Hindu meditation. I also continued to privately practice tarot, but I abandoned most of the other practices in which I had dabbled over the course of my childhood.

Why does this matter for this series? It’s really pretty simple. When we discuss Resurrection and the nature of the human being, a lot of people today — including many Christians — seem to believe something more like the other perspectives in my spiritual formation than anything identifiably Christian. And it seems to me that many people don’t even realize that’s the case. Now, I’m hardly anything approaching a guru when it comes to Hinduism or any other religion. In fact, after the last fifteen years during which I have consciously and deliberately embraced and explored Christian belief and practice, I’m pretty certain I know more about Christianity than I do any other belief system. I absorbed a lot from those other systems and explored them all to some extent, but never with the commitment or to the depth that I have Christianity. Nevertheless, I am conscious of these other perspectives on reality and see their influence (or the influence of some of their cousins) in American Christianity in ways that many, perhaps, do not. And it seems to me that the central point of dissonance lies in the all-important Christian proclamation of resurrection.

I’ll continue this series next week, but if anyone is reading this over the weekend and is willing to share, what thoughts come to your mind when you hear resurrection?


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 16

Posted: October 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

41.  The first good which actively affects us, namely fear, is reckoned by Scripture as the most remote from God, for it is called ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Setting out from this towards our ultimate goal, wisdom, we come to understanding, and this enables us to draw close to God Himself, for we have only wisdom lying between us and our union with Him. Yet it is impossible for a man to attain wisdom unless first, through fear and through the remaining intermediary gifts, he frees himself completely from the mist of ignorance and the dust of sin. That is why, in the order established by Scripture, wisdom is placed close to God and fear close to us. In this way we can learn the rule and law of good order.

I was reminded, when I read the above, of a recent two-part sermon series by Shane Hipps at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI. The first one, Touching the Stove, explores precisely that positive aspect of fear in a way I had never before considered it. (The second part, Outside the Boat, is pretty good too.) Fear and any resulting abstention from evil is not wisdom, but it is the first baby step toward wisdom. That’s an important distinction. It strikes me that there are too many today who preach fear and treat fear as though it were the destination rather than that which is sometimes our first immature step toward union with Christ.


Jesus Creed 30 – At the Tomb with Jesus

Posted: October 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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: Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:13-35; John 20-21.

I think we tend to forget what a total and complete disaster the tomb was for Jesus’ followers. Scot explores that to some extent and relates it back to our experiences of loss. After disaster, we can still find new life. The tomb proved that. Scot draws a central point from it.

If we participate in Jesus’ resurrection by owning his story as our story, we find hope.

Let that sink in. We have hope through the resurrection or not at all. Paul says exactly the same thing. But I’m not convinced that’s truly where Christians today place their hope. I would rather be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

Jesus’ life, from front cover to back cover, including the dust jacket, is a life shaped by the Jesus Creed. He learned the Shema from his father and mother; he amended it for his followers in the shape of the Jesus Creed. Most importantly, he lived it. We are called to participate in that very life, for it is that resurrected life that can form our lives.

In Baptism we have died and are risen again with Christ. We proclaim that when Christ came out of that tomb, he healed our nature such that it is no longer the nature of man to die. Without the Resurrection, Christianity has nothing of meaning or value to offer. Without the Resurrection, it’s ridiculous to live as Christians ought to live. But if it’s true, it changes everything and speaks to every aspect of our lives. It’s as simple and as radical as that.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 15

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 15

39.  The spirit of the fear of God is abstention from evil deeds. The spirit of strength is an impulse and disposition prompt to fulfill the commandments. The spirit of counsel is the habit of discrimination according to which we fulfill the divine commandments intelligently and distinguish what is good from what is bad. The spirit of cognitive insight is an unerring perception of the ways in which virtue is to be practiced; if we act in accordance with this perception we will not deviate at all from the true judgment of our intelligence. The spirit of spiritual knowledge is a grasping of the commandments and the principles inherent in them, according to which the qualities of the virtues are constituted. The spirit of understanding is acceptance of the qualities and principles of the virtues or, to put it more aptly, it is a transmutation by which one’s natural powers commingle with the qualities and principles of the commandments. The spirit of wisdom is ascension towards the Cause of the higher spiritual principles inherent in the commandments, and union with it. Through this ascension and union we are initiated, in so far as this is possible for human beings, simply and through unknowing into those inner divine principles of created beings, and in different ways we present to men, as if from a spring welling up in our heart, the truth which resides in all things.

I wanted to share this text since it expands on the text I posted last Thursday and I find the progression it describes compelling. Of course, we don’t move smoothly from one spirit to another. Rather, we move forward only to fall back. We get “stuck” for long periods of time. Sometimes, through the grace of God, we leap forward for brief periods only to return to our former position. But always we seek to become so one with God that a life abiding in him truly becomes a spring welling up in our heart.


Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 29 – At the Cross with Jesus

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 23:26-49; John 18-19.

Scot explores the grotesqueness of the cross in a way that is impossible to summarize if you do not already understand it. But I love this bit:

Beginning to end, the crucifixion of Jesus is a grotesque scene, one that is far from the mind of most persons who wear crosses around their necks. No one, to use a modern analogy, has the macabre affront to wear a necklace with a guillotine or a gallows or a noose or an electric chair, or cells on death row.

Scot makes precisely a point I tried (and often failed) to explain to those who were Christian about one reason I became Christian.

In fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews explains something many Christians miss when it comes to the cross: Jesus suffers to sympathize with our sufferings.

Jesus with us. In our worst suffering, in our darkest hour, in our most hopeless moment, Jesus is right there with us. He understands it all and weeps tears of empathy and love for us. There is no place of sorrow, no depth of abandonment, no height of unwarranted cruelty and despite where Jesus has not gone and is not walking with us. For this he is named Immanuel.

The Cross is thus also, paradoxically, the revelation of the glory of God. It is the revelation of his love and his mercy and his faithfulness to his creation.

Glory to God!


Jesus Creed 28- At the Last Supper with Jesus

Posted: October 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 28- At the Last Supper with Jesus

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 reading for this chapter is: Luke 22:7-38.

To keep its past as part of its present, God gives Israel a series of rituals, routines, and rhythms.

This is not an insignificant point. Only once in the Holy Scriptures does God himself provided a detailed and specific ‘order of worship.‘ And that order is deeply liturgical, symbolic, and orders the days, months, years, and lives of Israel. It includes many, many ritual and physical actions. It includes many set prayers. Moreover, if the whole of Scripture speaks of Christ (which is certainly what both the New Testaments and early Christians asserted), then we see Christ in that ordered worship.

While our worship, as Christians, is and has always been different, I have difficulty finding any rational support for ignoring this aspect of our worship, corporate and personal. It’s pretty clear from the NT that Christian worship grew out of and alongside the first century synagogue tradition. The descriptions of Christian worship from the outset (including descriptions by men who were taught directly by the Apostles) are highly liturgical and seem to be similar to a first synagogue liturgy restructure to place the Eucharist at its center. Moreover, I’ve studied the ancient world and it’s a serious anachronism to try to place anything like our modern “non-liturgical” worship into that context. It doesn’t fit at all.

And truth be told, we are creatures of habit. Anything with which we attempt to replace a traditional ‘liturgy‘ quickly becomes, in all but name, a liturgy of its own. I don’t think my SBC tradition reflects enough on this point. Why do we resist any faith that demands we order our lives according to it rather than the other way around? I think we need to be more honest with ourselves and God in this area.

Not that there aren’t potential concerns.

Routines can become ruts; some people, no doubt, repeated the Shema mindlessly.

Sure. But how many people walk through our supposedly extemperaneous services mindlessly and out of habit? As with set prayers, the problem is not in the form of worship, but in the worshipper. And yet it strikes me that we need sacred forms in worship. We need to be faced with the sacred. We need it to shape our lives and our worship.

But there are rituals and routines that we all need, and when securely established, they become rhythms that create a beat, and they inspire in us a step and a dance. There are some gentle rhythms in nature, … There are spiritual rhythms, too.

And then McKnight makes an important point, even though it’s not emphasized at all.

Passover is the decisive link between the rhythm of Israel and the rhythm of the church. Roughly speaking, Good Friday is to Christians what Passover is to Israel.

McKnight explores the way the church calendar can order our lives. There is Sacred Time (Advent through Pentecost) and Ordinary Time (Pentecost through Advent). God’s love for us is front and center during Sacred Time. Our love for God and others comes to the fore during Ordinary Time.

Sacred Time captures our redemption. Ordinary Time our response. And within that calendar, we have activities, prayers, and daily rhythms. One or two days a week won’t cut it.

Scot McKnight identifies with the Anabaptist tradition so, as I’ve explored elsewhere, his views on the Eucharist itself flow more from the 16th century innovations of Zwingli than anything that can be connected with historical Christian belief and practice. Nevertheless, this chapter is worth reading. It is certainly thought-provoking, as is true of the book as a whole.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 14

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 14

38. Scripture says that seven spirits will rest upon the Lord: the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of spiritual knowledge, the spirit of cognitive insight, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of strength, and the spirit of the fear of God (cf. Isa. 11:2). The effects produced by these spiritual gifts are as follows: by fear, abstention from evil; by strength, the practice of goodness; by counsel, discrimination with respect to the demons; by cognitive insight, a clear perception of what one has to do; by spiritual knowledge, the active grasping of the divine principles inherent in the virtues; by understanding, the soul’s total empathy with the things that it has come to know; and by wisdom, an indivisible union with God, whereby the saints attain the actual enjoyment of the things for which they long. He who shares in wisdom becomes god by participation and, immersed in the ever-flowing, secret outpouring of God’s mysteries, he imparts to those who long for it a knowledge of divine blessedness.

The only true wisdom lies in union and communion with God. That strikes me personally as the most important point of all. There is, however, a clear progression toward that true wisdom and the first step is to begin to choose to abstain from evil. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many modern Christian groups get stuck in that first step (perhaps with brief forays into the second — the practice of goodness). To grow in union with God it is important to learn to stop doing evil and start doing good. Moreover, we have to learn to desire what is good over what is evil. But that’s just the starting point, not the destination or goal. It’s important not to lose sight of that point.


Jesus Creed 27 – On the Mountain with Jesus

Posted: October 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 27 – On the Mountain with Jesus

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 reading for this chapter is: Luke 9:28-36.

Why is Jesus transfigured? He needs no experience for assurance in the face of his coming death. So why the transfiguration, complete with Moses (Torah) and Elijah (Prophets) speaking about his coming death?

Jesus is transfigured to reveal to Peter, John, and James life’s deepest mystery.

He is demonstrating what lies beyond that valley of suffering and death.

The Transfiguration is one of those moments when a full disclosure of life’s mystery bursts open, brushes up against us, and reminds us that ‘all is elsewhere.’

What we see in Jesus’ transfiguration is not so much his deity, but the glorification of his humanity — what all humans really and potentially are. C.S. Lewis calls this the ‘weight of glory.’ He reminds us in a long sentence:

‘It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.’

There (Lewis continues), consequently, ‘no ordinary people’ even if our fallen framework for life prohibits us from seeing humans for what they really are.

The Transfiguration is our hope.  As St. Athanasius wrote, “For He was made man that we might be made God.” But it’s also a warning. It is God’s will that we be conformed (and transformed) to the image of his Son. All too often, though, it is our will that we be conformed to the image of death — that we make ourselves into monsters.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 13

Posted: October 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 13

36.  He who aspires to divine realities willingly allows providence to lead him by principles of wisdom towards the grace of deification. He who does not so aspire is drawn, by the just judgment of God and against his will, away from evil by various forms of discipline. The first, as a lover of God, is deified by providence; the second, although a lover of matter, is held back from perdition by God’s judgment. For since God is goodness itself, He heals those who desire it through the principles of wisdom, and through various forms of discipline cures those who are sluggish in virtue.

St. Maximos here describes a God who is truly “not willing that any should perish.” So many modern descriptions of God do not. This is a God who meets everyone where they are. If we desire communion, he gives us grace, that is himself, to give us the strength to move forward. And if we do not desire God, he uses loving discipline (not the borderline or outright abusive treatment many modern Christian parenting gurus recommend) to heal us.

Often God allows us to experience the natural consequences of our choices. Sometimes he might rescue us from them. Always God is drawing us to communion — with Him and with other human beings.