Who Am I?

Another Gluten Free Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jesus Creed 25 – In the Jordan with Jesus

Posted: October 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 25 – In the Jordan 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: Matthew 3:13-17.

This last part of the book looks at the active obedience of Jesus as he lives a perfect life of love. McKnight starts at the Jordan, but it really starts at Jesus’ birth. We just don’t know a whole lot until the Jordan. But we needed someone to pave the way for us. Or as Scot puts it after an opening illustration, “Opening a path to a spiritual clearing is what Jesus does for us with his entire life.”

I’m not sure I fully understand why this aspect of the grace and atonement of Jesus is so very important to me. But I do not I’m not alone. Iraneaus writes about it in the second century. Paul mentions it more than once in the first. For a time recently, people have seemed to find it less important, but that time appears to be passing. I hadn’t particularly noticed this train of thought when I first read The Jesus Creed, but after reading Embracing Grace I’m able to connect it to my reaction. I used different words and found most of my examples in putting it together in the early fathers. But I’ve come to see it’s the same basic idea.

To get these theological terms in focus, we need to remind ourselves of what God asks from us. Here’s the mystery of the Jesus Creed: Jesus both loves God and loves others for us and he summons us to love God and to love others. Three theological terms clarify this. First, Jesus substitutes for us in loving God and others perfectly. The term ‘substitution’ tends to be a little too clinical for what the Bible is getting at, so it is important to observe that, in substituting for us, Jesus also represents us before God in loving God and others. Further, by representing us he empowers us to participate with him in loving God and loving others.

I’m not sure this can be stressed enough. I sometimes have the sense, with some of the things we say and some of the songs we sing that we have reduced the gospel to virtually nothing but the cross. And that’s bizarre for something that doesn’t even show up in Christian art until the fourth century or so. Is the cross important? Absolutely! But when it seems to overwhelm Jesus’ life, his resurrection, the coming of the Spirit, and his promise to come again, which it sometimes seems to do, I think we’re going too far. The whole picture is not just important, but essential. I don’t think I see any ‘most important’ aspect, unless you wanted to say they are all ‘most important’.

Scot then spends some time emphasizing the fact that John’s baptism was for repentance. Why? So he could explore it in this section.

John’s baptism is for repentance, but Jesus is sinless. So why was Jesus baptized? To begin with, we are no more baffled than John himself, for he does his prophet’s best to keep Jesus from jumping into the Jordan with this jumble of sinners. … According to John, never were two people more unequal: the sinful John and the sinless Jesus.

But Jesus is baptized anyway. John’s baptism is for repentance, and Jesus doesn’t need to repent. Clearly then, if Jesus doesn’t need to repent, then he must be repenting for others, for us. Why would he do that?

Because in so ‘repenting for us,’ Jesus begins to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit for his followers. John baptizes with ‘water,’ but Jesus will baptize ‘with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ John is referring here to the prophetic prediction of the coming of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit comes upon Jesus at his baptism when it comes down as a dove, and it comes on all his followers on the great day of Pentecost when they are flooded with the Spirit.

With these considerations, the baptism of Jesus becomes clear: Jesus is baptized to repent perfectly so God can send the Spirit to empower us for our vocations. … The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person — and he would not need it.

Here’s the big picture and how baptism fits into it: the spiritually formed person loves God (by following Jesus) and others. Jesus loves God and others perfectly. We don’t love God perfectly, and we might as well admit it. We love God and others perfectly only when we follow Jesus through our piles of sin, which we do when we participate in Jesus’ own life. This expression ‘following Jesus’ that we’ve often used now gains full clarity: To follow Jesus means to participate in his life, to let his life be ours.

I know that was a long excerpt, but this strikes me as so important. Scot summarizes it in this following thought.

There is only one reason for Jesus to repent for us: We can’t repent adequately.

He proceeds to explore why, and we fail in all areas. We don’t know our own hearts perfectly. We never truly and completely tell the truth to God about sin, however hard we try. Our decisions or commitments to change are flawed and tend to contain that connector ‘but’, and we do not follow through with consistently changed behavior. Basically, we’re pretty lousy at repenting, so Jesus does it for us.

It’s also important to note that John’s baptism was one both of repentance and for forgiveness of sins. By participating in Jesus’ repentance, our sins are truly forgiven. The renovation of our hearts begins. One of the things Baptism today is still for is the repentance of sins. It’s one of a long list of things such as our adoption or entrance into the communion of God’s family and Jesus’ body, but still also for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus paved the way for us — with his entire life of active obedience.

That cannot be reduced to a single event or sequence of events within his life. His whole life paved the way for us. He blazed the trail through the impenetrable jungle. And it’s the only path that actually leads out.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 12

Posted: October 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 12

34.  In each of us the energy of the spirit is made manifest according to the measure of his faith (cf. Rom. 12:6). Therefore each of us is the steward of his own grace and, if we think logically, we should never envy another person the enjoyment of his gifts, since the disposition which makes us capable of receiving divine blessings depends on ourselves.

We all receive different gifts from God. St. Maximos here notes that the grace given to us is according to our disposition. We are stewards of the gifts given to us and should focus our attention there and not on the gifts of others. I say it that way because it seems to me that attention is often the first step toward envy.

Envy is an easy trap and it’s an attitude that knows no reason. If we focus too much on what another has, we can find ourselves envious of something we never before desired. While St. Maximos is speaking in this text of envy of the grace of spiritual gifts that another has received, I can’t help but think of our modern American culture. So much in it depends on the inculcation of envy in our hearts. Our consumer economy depends on the constant growth in our desire for things we never previously wanted. And one of the primary tools in that process is envy.


Jesus Creed 24 – Reaching Out in Jesus

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 24 – Reaching Out in 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: Matthew 9:36-11:1; 28:16-20; John 20:21.

Love has arms that reach out — always.

That’s the opening to this chapter and it challenges immediately. We do not get any easy outs as Christians. We are called to do the impossible. We are called to make our enemies one of us by embracing them with arms open wide. We are not allowed divisions of race or nationality or ethnicity or gender. As Christians, we declare a new humanity — a humanity in whom Babel is overthrown.

Fortunately, God does not leave us to our own devices to accomplish an impossible task. He gives us his grace, which is to say himself. He has become one with us and in and through Jesus he pours himself into humanity, and particularly into those who cooperate with the power of his grace. We are called to act in love, even when we feel anything but loving. But we are never left to love on our own.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 11

Posted: October 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 11

28. Blessed is he who knows in truth that we are but tools in God’s hands; that it is God who effects within us all ascetic practice and contemplation, virtue and spiritual knowledge, victory and wisdom, goodness and truth; and that to all this we contribute nothing at all except a disposition that desires what is good. Zerubbabel had this disposition when he said to God: ‘Blessed art Thou who hast given me, wisdom; I give thanks to Thee, 0 Lord of our fathers; from Thee comes victory and wisdom; and Thine is the glory and I am Thy servant’ (1 Esd. 4:59-60). As a truly grateful servant he ascribed all things to God, who had given him everything. He possessed wisdom as a gift from God and attributed to Him as Lord of his fathers the efficacy of the blessings bestowed on him. These blessings are, as we have said, the union of victory and wisdom, virtue and spiritual knowledge, ascetic practice and contemplation, goodness and truth. For when these are united together they shine with a single divine glory and brightness.

It has always been the Christian teaching that our true inner transformation, our reshaping according to the image of Jesus, happens in and through the power of God. As St. Maximos says here, “we contribute nothing at all except a disposition that desires what is good” — which is to say a disposition that desires God.

However, there sometimes seem to be many Christians today who discount the importance of that disposition. We must desire the light over the darkness. As John writes, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)” If we choose to walk in darkness, if we choose to try to refashion ourselves in the image of idols, God will let us do so.

However slight, we must begin with a disposition turned toward God, which necessarily means a disposition turned toward love. We might not even be able to want to love our enemies. But perhaps we can want to want to love them. Failing that, if we can even want to want to want to love them, it’s a place to start. (I believe I heard that once from Fr. Thomas Hopko.) We have to have a disposition that desire good and desires God, however faint that desire might initially be.


America’s Four Gods

Posted: October 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on America’s Four Gods

Two Baylor professors have published a book that is gaining a fair amount of attention. Baylor has been conducting a different sort of survey of religion over the last few years. These surveys go beyond the basic sorts of questions about affiliation and attendance and probe attitudes and specific practices. This sort of approach is more valuable and useful in our richly pluralistic nation.

In America’s Four Gods,  the authors note that across the spectrum of religious belief, Americans tend to divide into four different groups with very different basic images of the God they worship. On their site, they have a brief little quiz to identify the God in which you believe and compare you to your demographic. (I’m in a minority in mine — well below 20% in all demographics. But I knew that already.) And they also have a little test of your response to images. Both are a fun little diversion. America’s Four Gods has also gained some media attention on ABC News and in USA Today.

Of course, that’s not a new idea to me. My formation was more pluralistic than most, so I’ve always found it natural to listen to how someone describes their God, try to understand that God, and decide if their God was a God I was willing to worship or follow. I did that when exploring all sorts of religions and religious practices. I didn’t stop doing it as I’ve become Christian. Nor did I have a foundational assumption — as many seem to have — that “Christians” all worshiped the same God. Instead, I looked at everything they said about God and made the same sort of decision about the God they described.

That’s why I phrase things the way I do. When I say, for instance, that Calvin’s God repulses me and I would be something other than Christian if I believed his God was really the Christian God, I’m judging the God he describes and deciding whether or not I am willing to worship that God. In the case of Calvin’s God, it’s as clear as such things can be. There’s nothing about that God that I find the slightest bit attractive or worthy of worship. As a result, I tend to use Calvinism as an example when I write about this process.

However, I also recognize that however I try to mediate or qualify my statement, those who do worship Calvin’s God will hear me saying that they are not Christian. And that’s not really my intent. It’s my own personal judgment about the sort of God in which I am or am not willing to believe. In fact, if God is as I believe him to be, then I know that he is at work trying to heal and renew and restore all of us. Our image of him can certainly hinder our ability to cooperate with his efforts. And if we choose to wrap ourselves in delusion and reject healing God will not force himself upon us. God is not willing that any should perish, but he is also not a tyrant. The God we worship matters. But it doesn’t change God or in any way control his activity. I just don’t happen to believe that Calvin’s God, Brahman, or any of a host of ways of describing the ultimate reality of our universe actually exist.

The Four Gods that the authors identify are divided into four general quadrants: Authoritative, Benevolent, Critical, and Distant. These are broad categories, but the professors found they are also predictive of attitudes and behaviors across a spectrum of areas. In other words, the general sort of God in which you believe shapes the way you live and act. I suppose that’s not surprising. As I’ve heard Bishop N.T. Wright say, “We become like what we worship.”

I wasn’t surprised that the Distant God, which is essentially the same sort of God that the Deist founders of our nation worshiped, is still widely followed. Roughly a quarter of the population, across all religions, believe in this sort of God. This is the God who starts the universe running and then mostly stays out of it.

I was, however, discouraged that so few Americans believe in a Benevolent God. Now, that does not mean that those who believe in a different sort of God don’t believe that God can be kind, merciful, and loving. They often do. It does mean, though, that they do not believe that love defines his essence. Most people do not truly believe that God is a good God who loves mankind. It’s hard to find an Orthodox prayer or liturgy that does not somewhere declare God’s goodness and love for the whole of humanity.

That does not mean that God is a God of enlightenment toleration. He’s not the good God who tolerates anyone and any behavior at a respectable distance. No, he is the God who seeks to heal us and who desires union with us. And sometimes the prescription for healing is painful. But he is the God who has suffered with us, who brings himself to us by becoming one of us in every way.

The deepest problem with Protestantism is that it makes it even easier for us to define God any way we please. If we don’t like one picture of God, we’re free to invent another. That’s always been a problem for Christianity, so the issue itself isn’t new. We have a desire to remake God in our image. But Protestantism, in which every person decides for themselves (or at least has the authority to decide for themselves) what sort of God they worship, exacerbates that tendency in us all. I think the deeper studies like this one simply reveal that underlying weakness. Yes, the majority of the people in this nation are Christian, but we can hardly claim to all worship the same God.

Lord have mercy.


Jesus Creed 23 – Forgiving in Jesus

Posted: October 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 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 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35.

For me ‘forgiveness‘ is something of a scary thing. I know that may sound odd, but I can think of no better way to express it. In fact, I’m often unsure why others don’t seem to recognize that this ‘forgiveness‘ thing is pretty scary stuff.

There are multiple perspectives to consider.

Forgiveness, in the Old Testament, is a ‘God thing’ and a ‘repentance thing.

In other words, God (and pretty much only God) does it and it requires repentance first. Scot describes this as the standard view of Judaism.

Christianity stands that on its head.

A brief summary of each: First, Jesus innovates in his world when he urges his followers to have a disposition of forgiveness rather than of strict justice. Second, so important is forgiveness to Jesus that forgiving others is a litmus test of whether or not one is a follower of Jesus. Third, forgiving others knows no limit for Jesus’ followers. Fourth, forgiving others is effective in his society of followers. The ultimate observation we make is that Jesus is the example: On the cross Jesus looks to those who are crucifying him and forgives them.

What Jesus says about forgiveness is rooted in the Jesus Creed: God loves us, so we are to love others and to love God. Loving others means forgiving them. Put succinctly, the Jesus Creed manifests itself in gracious, preemptive strikes of forgiveness.

We should do that more often. If we follow the Jesus Creed, we will not only ask God to forgive us, but we will forgive others. Preemptively. That is, before they have repented or asked for forgiveness.

I remember the first time I ever heard about the Orthodox service of Forgiveness Vespers. It was in Molly Sabourin’s Close to Home podcast titled simply Forgiveness. (Take a moment to click the link and listen to the podcast. It’s well worth the time.) I must have listened to it at least three times in succession and I’ve listened to it multiple times since. I immediately recognized it’s beauty and uniquely Christian quality.

I have not attended one. Forgiveness is simultaneously threatening and incredibly attractive to me. Forgiveness Vespers captures, I think, the way I desire reality to be. I’m just not sure I trust that it actually does describe reality.

Lord have mercy.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 10

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 10

27.  No one can truly bless God unless he has sanctified his body with the virtues and made his soul luminous with spiritual knowledge. For a virtuous disposition constitutes the face of a contemplative intellect, its gaze turned heavenwards to the height of true knowledge.

We can cry out to God. We can yearn for God. We can pray for mercy. We can do many things. But we cannot truly bless God until we begin to grow in communion with him — which necessarily means that we have changed and are changing. When you consider that we are creatures who can, in and through Jesus of Nazareth, grow to actually bless the creator of all that is, it’s a pretty awe-inspiring thought. What does it mean to bless God?


Jesus Creed 22 – Restoring in Jesus

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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: Mark 4:35-41; 9:14-19; John 21:1-25.

When we fall, Jesus picks us up. He’s busy. A disciple is called to love God and to love others, and this means: trust completely, abide constantly, and surrender totally. This is difficult.

That’s an understatement, of course. This chapter reminds me of something I heard once. An Orthodox monk was asked about life in the monastery and his response went something like this, “We fall down and get back up; fall down and get back up.” In many ways, that’s the image of the journey of the Christian life. Although we fail uncountable times, we only truly fail if we are no longer willing to get back up and remain determinedly unwilling. Jesus is always there to forgive and restore us “70 times 7 times,” which is to say as many times as it takes. He did not come to condemn us, but to heal us and give us life.

Salvation is union with Christ.

I think it’s important to emphasize that point, because I think salvation is often confused as many other things. Sometimes it seems to me that some Christians confuse salvation with forgiveness. Thus, once they have been forgiven, they sometimes believe they are saved. Forgiveness is certainly a part of the whole journey of salvation, but it is not in and of itself salvation. Nor does our journey toward salvation begin when we recognize our need for forgiveness. I tried to express some of that from my personal perspective in my post, Walking in my Shoes.

At some point in the course of that journey you will recognize your own failure. You will know that you need forgiveness. You will know that you need restoration. And when you do, as long as you are willing to get back up, it’s there in endless supply. But those points will come at different places for every human being. And that recognition and decision to get back up, whether mild or intense, understated or dramatic, is not salvation. It’s a mile marker on the way of salvation.


Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 9

Posted: October 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Theology (Third Century) 9

21.  Let us illumine our intellect with intellections of the divine world and make our body refulgent with the quality of the spiritual principles we have perceived, so that through the rejection of the passions it becomes a workshop of virtue, controlled by the intelligence. If the natural passions of the body are governed by the intelligence there is no reason to censure them. But when their activity is not controlled by the intelligence, they do deserve censure. This is why it is said that such passions must be rejected, for although their activity is natural, they may often be used, when not governed by the intelligence, in a way that is contrary to nature.

Let’s take a very simple natural passion, hunger, as an example. In and of itself, it’s a good thing. When we suffer hunger, we are reminded to eat and we can then seek food. But it is easily disordered and we eat without thinking and driven by other passions. We feel we suffer hunger when our bodies do not actually require food. In today’s world, food is crafted specifically to inflame that passion in a deliberate effort to make us overeat. Or hunger could be disordered so we eat to excess and then regurgitate. In our disordered state, we can screen it out and starve ourselves. When a natural passion, even a simple and good one, becomes disordered, the ways it can rule and destroy us are legion.

The wisdom of St. Maximos is evident to me and just as applicable to our day as it was to his.