Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 24

Posted: November 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 24

68.  God is the cause of created beings and of their inherent goodness. Thus he who is puffed up with his virtue and knowledge, and whose grace-given progress in virtue is not matched by a corresponding recognition of his own weakness, falls inevitably into the sin of pride. He who seeks goodness for the sake of his own reputation prefers himself to God, for he has been pierced by the nail of self-esteem. By doing or speaking what is virtuous in order to be seen by men, he sets a much higher value on the approbation of men than on that of God. In short, he is a victim of the desire to be popular. And he who immorally makes use of morality solely to deceive by his solemn display of virtue, and hides the evil disposition of his will under the outward form of piety, barters virtue for the guile of hypocrisy. He aims at something other than the cause of all things.

Pride has many ways of ruling us. Humility, by contrast, is the most difficult of virtues. For when we set our eye on our humility, it immediately becomes pride. We can only truly be humble when we do not much think of ourselves at all.


Thirsting for God 1 – Matthew Gallatin

Posted: November 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 1 – Matthew Gallatin

I plan to spend several posts reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells. Before I began working through the book itself, I wanted to write a bit about the author and the reasons I decided to read his book. I encountered Matthew Gallatin through his Ancient Faith Radio podcast, Pilgrims for Paradise. I’ve listened to his podcast from the start and I’ve listened to many of them more than once. I did not, however, immediately buy his book. I recognized that it was primarily aimed at a different sort of audience than me.

Thirsting for God captures Matthew Gallatin’s personal journey through different Christian traditions and eventually into Orthodoxy, however it is framed as something of an apologetic for Orthodoxy aimed at Protestants, and the particular objections that most modern Protestants would raise. While I ended up Protestant, that’s mostly accidental rather than deliberate and I’ve never really embraced everything it means to be Protestant. I’ve sometimes jokingly referred to myself as the Accidental Christian and Reluctant Baptist (or vice versa).

The fundamental story of Protestantism (and this is true across all the tens of thousands of strands) is that at some point in its history the Church wandered from its true course as established by the apostles and lost its way. Each of the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations and non-denominations thus believe they are living and acting as the Church ought. Now, that particular description is most often used for those strands that are labeled Restorationist. However, the Restorationists simply push the time of apostasy all the way back to at or near the first century. They are the most extreme. However, every Protestant strand has begun because somebody at some point said the Church is off-track. Here’s how it “ought” to be done.

I never found that story compelling. Yes, the Church is composed of broken and sinful people, but it is not merely those people or we have nothing to say to the world around us. Moreover, if you really look at the historical settings and claims most of them aren’t very credible. Even the ones that arose in response to some real problems, like Luther, didn’t actually reconnect to anything historical in the Church. In a number of fundamental ways, he essentially reinvented a Christianity that did not exist before him. In fact, the origin of just about every distinctly Protestant belief can be traced to a particular person at a particular time over the last five hundred years or so. And I have too much of a historical bent not to notice that fact.

Matthew Gallatin became aware of Christ’s presence from a young age as a dirt-poor Appalachian farm boy. As he grew older, he began a love affair with theology and at the age of thirteen he and his parents became convinced that Seventh-Day Adventism held the truth of Christian doctrine and practice. He eventually went to an Adventist college where in depth study began to deconstruct his belief in Adventism. His turning point, in some ways like that of Frederica Mathewes-Green, came from a voice welling up inside him. Frederica Mathewes-Green was told that Jesus was her life and that those other things — they were not her life. (I can strongly empathize with her story.) Matthew Gallatin’s question was different. Do you know what you believe? Is what you believe the truth? I can empathize with that as well.

His first move over the course of five years was from Seventh-Day Adventism to Protestant “fundamentalism” and their commitment to the Bible “as it reads.” But, as we know, those strands of Protestantism are filled with their own divisions and thousands of different “simple” readings of the Bible. And in the midst of that he wondered where to find love, a question which led him to the charismatics — among whom he eventually became a pastor. Matthew has an interesting line at this point I want to share. “Sometimes I think I might still be a charismatic, were it not for the fact that I was also a pastor.”

It was at that point that the journey that would eventually end up in Orthodoxy began.


Weekend Update

Posted: November 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update

I’ve decided to start collecting links I find interesting and brief thoughts that pop into my head into one post that I’ll schedule to be published each Saturday. This is the first post in that series. We’ll see how it goes.

Faith

As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, access to health care is not merely a political or economic issue, though it is both of those. It’s also a faith and life issue. Cardinal Bertone expands on that at length with words of admonition for both governments and private health care companies. So when Roman Catholics like Boehner admonish other Catholics like Pelosi for not adhering to the clear direction of the hierarchs of their Church on some issues, it’s clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

These 55 Maxims for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko are wonderful. Some of them, such as number 24 — Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself — sound simple but are actually quite hard to do consistently.

Reflect on Father Stephen’s post on The Life of Thanksgiving.

Kyrie, Eleison! on the pure gift of God and the problems that come from asking the wrong question.

This CT article, The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church, was pretty good. I’ve purchased the electronic version of American Grace, but haven’t read it yet. I would be a bit stronger than the author on a few points. Many strands of American Christianity, even when lived, taught, and practiced well, ultimately describe a faith and a God not worth believing. In our past society, where cultural norms would push most people into at least some nominal adherence (usually in whatever strand was regionally dominant), that mattered less. But that ship has sailed and those cultural pressures no longer exist. I could empathize with all the reasons people gave for abandoning Christianity. In some ways, it reminds of the dwarves in The Last Battle. The splintering of Christianity means that some, when they come to see the Christianity they have been fed as an ass in a lion’s skin, reject the idea that there could be a real lion at all. It’s easy to be cynical.

Father Ernesto has a good and timely rant about those whom we force to work unnecessarily on holidays for our convenience, not from any necessity. Yes, we can blame the corporate interests and rampant commercialism — and they do indeed deserve a share of the blame. But ultimately those businesses are open because we patronize them. If we did not, then they would not be open. It’s really as simple as that.

Food

In this season when people like to get together to eat, About.com has a really good article on the basics of how to cook for someone with celiac disease. Communication is really important. As a rule, when I’m a guest I won’t quiz people about what is or isn’t in the food unless they bring it up first. After, it’s a social gathering and I don’t want to subject them to third degree about the food. However, I won’t anything about which I’m unsure. Sometimes that means I just get a drink and hang out without eating.

And this article on the impact of anti-gliadin antibodies on the brain and central nervous system is fascinating. I knew celiac disease could often impact the central nervous system and experienced some of those effects myself. This article explores research that reveals the mechanics of that impact, which I didn’t know.

Technology

Long Live the Web by Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the http protocol and html standard for those who don’t know) is an excellent discussion of the issues of net neutrality and open standards. Yes, I use Twitter instead of an open alternative, but the stuff I put out there isn’t hidden. And I don’t use Facebook. I’m also firmly in the neutrality camp since I know how new protocols are developed. (I even helped develop our own protocol for an application at work.) Moreover, we need to regulate our monopolies and near-monopolies more, not merely let them do what they want. I swear, it’s like most Americans today look back longingly to the days of the Railroad Barons. (Of course, I know that’s not the case. Anything that happened before they were born seems to be a complete mystery to most Americans. At least, that’s what most of the studies testing even things that should be common knowledge find. But it looks like they want to return to those halcyon days.)

Novell is being acquired by Attachmate? Back in the nineties, one of the applications I developed was designed to work with a database running as an NLM on a Netware server. I’ve also found their work with SUSE intriguing in more recent years. My organization does use Attachmate’s Infoconnect product, so I’m not unfamiliar with company. It’s an interesting combination.

IPv6 subnet calculators. Hex doesn’t bother me, but there’s a lot more space involved with IPv6. Tools are good things.

News and Commentary

Bruce Schneier weighed in on a NY Times debate about the new TSA procedures. As usual, it’s good stuff.

My main thought when I read Paul Krugman’s column was that I think he’s wrong. As far as I can tell, there’s no evidence in this millenium that the new Republican Party has any interest in responsibly governing even when a Republican is president.

In this video of a speech, Lawrence Lessig has some excellent thoughts on the question: Should Corporations Decide Our Elections?

This article, What the Secret Donors Want, details how the health insurance companies use secret proxies like the US Chamber of Commerce to wage war against reform even as they negotiate (supposedly in good faith, but now we know that’s not true) to try to get the most they can out of anything that might pass anyway.  I also read where, in a classic case of “I’ve got my government run health care, so screw you,” it’s mostly senior citizens who oppose health care reform. When you exclude them, a clear plurality of the population support reform. It brings to mind the absurdity of the tea party rallies that were, especially in places like Kentucky, filled with seniors protesting “government” in their government-provided motorized scooters.

I’ve tweeted any number of times that if the new Republican demagogues had even the slightest strength of their convictions, they would refuse to participate in the FEHB, and take their chances on the individual market. The FEHB is after all a government run and regulated exchange and was the model for the exchanges envisioned under the new law. I saw a tweet to a video that shows the idea is hardly original to me this week. Of course, nothing could have illustrated that lack of conviction better than the freshman representative outraged that he has to wait 28 days for the FEHB to kick in. (Most private employers require 60-90 day waiting periods before you get health insurance.) I’m not particularly concerned about myself since I do get to participate in the FEHB. In fact, I think one large exchange, if it was regulated like the FEHB, would be much better than the as many as 50 separate exchanges the HCR law allows. However, without any reform, I am concerned for my children, grandchildren, and friends. Unlike those who have lived protected by privilege from the harsh realities of our world, like they aforementioned representative, I know far too many people who have suffered grievously under our present system. It’s long past time for that end.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted: November 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone who chooses to read my reflections and musings a Happy Thanksgiving! (If any of you aren’t US natives, it’s a thing here where we celebrate an idealized conception about the formation of our nation and during which we are supposed to give thanks.) I know that the holidays can be a deeply depressing time for many and I hope that’s not the case for any of you.

I am deeply thankful, as always, for my family. And though it perhaps sounds strange, I am deeply thankful for a God who became one of us and who meets me always where I am. I can love a God who understands me that deeply. I can worship a God who has suffered with us. And I long for a God who makes all things new.

My wife mastered gluten free holiday cooking last year, so it won’t be a problem this year when most of us have been diagnosed with celiac. I couldn’t tell the difference in her cornbread dressing last year. If anything, it was even better than it had been in the past. And the dressing was the main thing that needed to change. My wife always made her giblet gravy with corn starch, not flour. Most of the other staples of the holiday are naturally gluten free if you don’t introduce gluten during preparation. Cranberries, turkey, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are all naturally gluten free ingredients.

We also bought a free range, organic turkey from Sprouts this year. We are least trying to eat less industrialized food and have some care about the way our food animals are treated — which matters both for ethical and health reasons. It’s hard in our modern society where we are so disconnected from our food. But we’re committed to at least making the effort.

Grace and peace to all!


Reality

Posted: November 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reality

Sometimes it seems to me that a great many Christians in our present culture and age have surrendered the reality of our faith. That manifests in a host of different ways and crosses both the modern “liberal” and “conservative” Christian divides. I’ll try to explore some of those ways in this post, but I’m not trying to be comprehensive. Rather, I’m trying to peel back the layers and at least make an effort to reveal what lies underneath.

Some ways this happens are obvious. For instance, there are many who deny the historical reality of our faith. They reject the virgin birth, the resurrection, and other facets of our faith yet often want to maintain some connection or identification with it. While our faith is not merely historical, it collapses if God did not in fact become one of us — fully and in every way — confronting the powers and ultimately defeating them. An euvangelion is a particular sort of “good news.” It’s the good news of a victorious king who has defeated the enemies that assail his people, and who has thereby made his people safe. Either that’s what Jesus accomplished or as far as I can tell, there’s no reason to be Christian.

Perhaps I see the demarcation more clearly than some who have been raised and formed within some sort of Christian context. I have been other things and I have worshiped other gods. Whatever similarities you can find between them, they say fundamentally different things about the nature of reality and what it means to be a human being. That’s why in some contexts (ancient and modern) Christianity is said to be the end of religion. God has intruded into history and in Jesus, the eternal Son and Word became one of us in every way. Jesus makes God known to us. Jesus reveals God to us. And Jesus provides the path through which we can know God and be one with God. If Christianity is true, we aren’t guessing about reality any more. But that’s only the case if Jesus of Nazareth truly forms the center of human history.

Sometimes this disconnect from reality happens in other ways. For instance, I’ve never been able to grasp what Christians who assert that the cosmos are only a few thousand years old are trying to achieve. That’s so clearly and demonstrably false across virtually every discipline of knowledge that it comes across more as a denial of reality than anything else.

It is true that as Christians we do not share the same understanding of reality as materialists who hold there is nothing beyond the sensible realm (though things like quantum mechanics stretch what we mean by sensible realm). But we should not deny the clear evidence of our senses. Where a materialist, for example, would perceive nothing but the physical mechanics of, for instance, the processes of evolution, a Christian would (or at least should) see a process infused by the particular sort of God who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. But the evidence for that view is in the Incarnation, not in anything we can learn through our study of nature.

How do you perceive a God who is sustaining and filling everything from moment to moment? How do you see the God who is maintaining the existence of both the observer and the observed? If we had the capacity to know God on our own, the Incarnation would not have been necessary. Everything we learn or know has the capacity to draw us to God or away from God. The result is really up to us. But we aren’t going to be able to somehow distill and separate God from his creation. Yes, God certainly transcends creation. That’s why he had to become human — to empty himself — in order for us to know him. But he’s not a separate aspect or element in creation. The smallest particle, the least bit of energy, the smallest fragment of a wave are all sustained moment by moment in and through Christ. There is nothing that has any independent existence. Only God is self-existent and eternal. Everything else is created and depends on God. Fortunately our God does not begrudge existence to any of his creation. It would be a frightening thing for existence to depend on the whim of the capricious God so many imagine.

Reality itself is thus fundamentally sacramental or a mystery of God. And our role within it is to act as priests — to minister God to creation and offer creation back as thanksgiving to God. If you can perceive reality through that lens, it makes a mockery of Zwingli’s musings. His idea that anything could merely represent God or, as is often said today, could be purely symbolic could only be true if there were, in fact, some sort of division between God and creation. His ideas require two thing that are altogether missing in the Christian perspective of reality — distance and self-existence. If water is never merely water then how can it become merely water when it is used sacramentally? It can, perhaps, become even more truly water, but it cannot become less. The same is true of oil and incense and bread and wine. They become even more real, not less.

I’m also confused about how modern Christians perceive reality when I see how many of them treat variation in Christian belief and practice almost as matters of personal taste and preference. Even after fifteen years, it makes no sense to me and it seems to be a pretty modern occurrence. As recently as two hundred years ago, though there were many differences among Christians, they all believed those differences really and truly mattered. Now? Not so much. But our perception of God defines our understanding of reality. If, for instance, Calvin accurately described God, then reality is very different than it would be if, for contrast, St. Gregory of Nyssa’s description is more correct. One of them could be right. They could both be wrong. But they cannot both be right. They offer divergent and often completely contradictory images of God. Athanasius and Anselm both wrote on the Incarnation and they do not say the same thing. God is the fundamental ground of reality and how we understand him is vitally important, not a secondary concern. To the extent we misapprehend God, we misapprehend reality.

While we do have some limited capacity to shape reality within the sphere of our personal power and will, to a large degree reality is simply what it is and lies beyond our ability to mold. And we certainly can’t change God just by imagining him to be a certain way. There is a name for that space between reality and our perception of it. It’s called delusion. Personally, I would prefer to be as free from delusion as I can be. I know I can’t do that on my own. Christianity proclaims that I don’t have to. The Word became flesh and gives us the grace, which is to say himself, to know God. Christianity tells us that, if we are willing, we can see reality as it is.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 23

Posted: November 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 23

65. Self-esteem is the replacing of a purpose which accords with God by another purpose which is contrary to the divine. For a man full of self-esteem pursues virtue not for God’s glory but for his own, and so purchases with his labors the worthless praise of men.

As a rule, the Fathers have little positive to say about self-esteem, which seems odd when compared to most of what we hear everywhere around us today. Of course, they would also consider the destructiveness that often flows from what we call a low self-esteem today an illness of the soul that needs to be healed. But the balm would not be to replace it with a high self-esteem, which carries its own destructive patterns. Rather, it seems to me that they would characterize the central problem as self-esteem itself. Whether that esteem is high or low, it is still focused on ourselves and that is the true problem.

We need to learn to esteem Christ and through him, learn to see the truth about ourselves. Both are very difficult things to do.


Rebaptized?

Posted: November 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Last week @writingjoy tweeted the following question.

Theology ? of day: What is baptism? If U R baptized very young & decades later awaken to genuine faith, should U B re-baptized?

In response to a question, she followed it up with the following explanation of genuine faith.

I mean more than acknowledging facts, actually loving God & living what those facts demand of a person.

I didn’t respond at the time since from my perspective it’s an extraordinarily complicated question in this day and age and I couldn’t think of anything vaguely meaningful I could say in 140 characters or less. But the question has been percolating in the back of my head ever since. Hopefully Joy won’t mind me using her tweet as the basis for a post on the topic. This won’t be a developed essay or theological analysis. I do, however, have a hodge podge of thoughts and reflections on the subject.

Most of my children and I have been baptized once, though the actual circumstances are a lot more complicated than that simple statement makes them seem. In my case, I was baptized at a young age (though old enough to remember my baptism) in a Baptist church. However, my formative experiences and movements into and decidedly away from Christianity were complex enough that I typically date my conversion (whatever you might take that to mean) to sometime in my early thirties when I found my identity actually being shaped as something like a Christian. It doesn’t mean that any prior encounter or experience of Christian faith was somehow inauthentic (or that my embrace and experience of other religions was inauthentic either), just that life is often more complicated than any simple formula can compass. Although, within the Baptist narrative, it would have been reasonable and acceptable to be rebaptized, I never embraced the idea that Baptism meant nothing more than getting wet.

My wife, however, had been baptized as an infant within the Roman Catholic Church and we had had my younger son baptized as an infant in a Lutheran Church. Both of them were rebaptized in our Baptist church, each at the appropriate time in that context. I don’t think that introduces any deep crisis or problem. While I wouldn’t say that such things make no difference, I also find that this strange Christian God I’ve found is relentlessly loving and willing that none should perish. He is working constantly for our salvation and especially in our deeply confused and confusing age, I don’t see such particulars posing any real problem.

Nevertheless, baptism matters and it matters deeply. One cannot read the New Testament without encountering that truth again and again. It does not represent a commitment or symbolize repentance (though if you are an adult, repentance is necessary and the forgiveness of sins is certainly part of what is accomplished). The Orthodox question in the Baptismal rite drives right to the heart of what is happening: Dost thou unite thyself unto Christ? In baptism, that is what we do and why, from the pages of the New Testament until the modern era, most Christians have baptized their infant children. Why would anyone deny their children union with Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit in this dangerous and perilous world?

There is also a conceit in saying that a child cannot be baptized (be Christian) that often goes unnoticed. After all, we can all relate to a baby. We can love a baby and the baby in turn can love and relate to us. So we can do something that God cannot? Are we perhaps saying that until a child can verbally express their thoughts, God cannot possibly relate to that child and that child cannot be filled with love for God? I’ve seen such faith and love especially in my youngest daughter. I cannot point to any time when she did not know God and love Jesus. We were in a Baptist church so her baptism was delayed, but there was no change when she could finally express her faith and love enough in words to satisfy the adults in the church. She was simply expressing what she had always known and lived. Was there any gain for her in a delayed baptism? I think not.

Of course, as the child grows and develops, that faith and love also need to grow and develop. Life is not static and so faith can never be static. I’ve been amazed at the core of faith and love my daughter has maintained now into her teenage years, but I also know that life is hard and I pray for her. We can grow in faith. We can also grow away from Christian faith and place that faith in different places.

And that begs the question of genuine faith. I am growing in faith or I am falling away. There is no standing still. As Molly Sabourin so eloquently put it, I was saved 2,000 years ago, I am in the process of being saved, and I pray that I will be saved. If the measure of my love for God is my love for my enemies (St. Silouan), then I’m not sure I love God very much at all. I want to love him, but love is a hard thing and I have to be healed so I can truly love. If we waited until we had genuine faith, until we were fully converted, until we were truly Christian, I’m not sure any of us would ever dare be baptized. That is not the measure. Baptism unites us with Christ so that one day we might become Christian.

When you perceive baptism through those lens, only a Baptism undertaken with deliberate deceit or a Baptism other than one in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, could be considered invalid. Have you been united to Christ? I’ve always understood Luther’s declaration, “I have been baptized!” In the end, what more can we say? Either Jesus is who we believe he is and we are united to him in Baptism, or he’s not and we just got wet somewhere along the way.


Reflections on Resurrection 9 – Burial

Posted: November 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 9 – Burial

I have gradually come to understand that our funeral practices reveal a great deal about our actual beliefs. I grew up deeply aware of death and experienced a variety of approaches to death. Personally, I believed that cremation was best and, looking back, I can see the influences that led to that belief.

From a scientific, secular perspective cremation makes a great deal of sense. It’s economical. Modern cremation is sterile. It avoids the problem of crowded cemeteries. And whatever you think does or doesn’t happen after death, the remnant of a lifeless body has no value and nothing to offer.

Cremation is also the funeral practice of the Hinduism of my youth. (I understand that burial is a common practice in some strands of Hinduism.) The soul quickly proceeds on its karmic journey after death and the remains should be purified by fire to break any remaining ties and then scattered on a sacred river. (All rivers are sacred in Hinduism, I believe.) The real you, however that may be conceived, has moved on and the rites aid that journey.

I was Christian for many years before I even began to understand that burial is the normative Christian funeral practice. In large part that’s because the strands of Christianity within which I move have lost their connection to the historic faith and burial or cremation are largely seen as a matter of personal preference with no intrinsic significance or meaning. I eventually came to understand, though, that burial was the normative practice specifically because of our Christian belief in resurrection. The body is treated reverentially and not deliberately destroyed because it is not a discarded shell. Rather, that body is our beloved and it is that body which will be resurrected.

Of course, resurrection is not a zombie-like resuscitation of a corpse. It is intrinsically an act of new creation. However, this act of recreation uses up the matter of our bodies and is continuous with them. Two of the key features of Jesus’ resurrected body are that the tomb was empty and that, though strangely different, he was still recognizably the same person. We are our bodies, though we are not merely our bodies. It is ultimately this body which will be resurrected and it should be treated accordingly.

That does not mean that God’s power of resurrection is limited in any way by the treatment of our bodies. It was not uncommon for pagans in the ancient world to threaten saints with the complete destruction of their bodies because they thought that would shake their confidence in resurrection. God can and will raise us regardless. Nevertheless, the way we treat the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord speaks volumes about what we actually believe about resurrection.

Christians also confess that the bodies of those among us who have reposed have been the temple of the Holy Spirit. They have been the abode of God. As such, they are no less holy ground than the ground before the burning bush or the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple. If we believe that is true, then we must treat the body as a holy object.

Funeral practices matter and I think much of the confusion in practice in modern Christianity flows from our confusion about God and about what it means to be a human being. As Christians, we have forgotten who we are.

I believe this post concludes my reflections on resurrection for now. I didn’t delve into the reasons a belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (which is the foundation for our own belief) is historically reasonable. For those interested in such things, N.T. Wright gave a lecture at Roanoke College summarizing his big book on the topic, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? I recommend it. It’s very well done.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 22

Posted: November 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 22

64.  The passion of pride arises from two kinds of ignorance, and when these two kinds of ignorance unite together they form a single confused state of mind. For a man is proud only if he is ignorant both of divine help and of human weakness. Therefore pride is a lack of knowledge both in the divine and in the human spheres. For the denial of two true premises results in a single false affirmation.

This truth flows directly from the text on the two sorts of confession. When we fail to confess by giving thanks for blessings we bind ourselves in ignorance of the divine help we receive. And when we do not learn to speak the truth about our weakness to ourselves and others (and, of course, God) we will think ourselves stronger than we are. And when that happens, we suffer the rule of pride over our lives.

Pride is a passion that very easily binds us in our modern American culture. We are collectively so wealthy that it is easy for us to be ignorant of the divine help and blessings we receive. Even when we profess a thanks of sorts, it tends to be tinged with a sense of entitlement. Our Holy Scriptures warn us at great length about the perils of wealth. Wealth deceives us into believing we are self-sufficient.

At the same time, our culture is such that weakness or sin is often perceived as strength instead. I’m still trying to understand that Christian word – sin. Fundamentally, it means to miss the mark. And that mark, of course, is Christ. When I look at Jesus, I understand also that the mark we miss is love. All sin is a failure to love fully and truly. But pure, unadulterated love is also a hard thing to grasp — and a dangerous thing as well. We can see what it brought Jesus. Moreover, we lie to ourselves about our love — or lack thereof — more than any other thing.

We need to confess truly to escape our bondage to ignorance and pride.


Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

Posted: November 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

I can’t discuss the Christian narrative of resurrection and new creation in our modern context without discussing heaven. It seems that far too many people today perceive the goal, the telos, the reward if you will of Christian faith as going to heaven when you die. Within this perspective, the present world and our physical bodies become nothing more than something which is passing away and which one day will be cast aside — discarded as at best useless and at worst refuse. It is a future reward that is not much concerned with our present reality.

But that begs the question, what is heaven? I’ve heard it described variously, but I understand it best as the spiritual dimension of reality in which God’s will is already done. But this spiritual realm cannot be seen as in some way separated or at a distance from our material realm. No, as the stories throughout scripture illustrate, that spiritual dimension is all around us. It’s often a matter of perception. Heaven and earth are overlapping and interlocking. There is presently a veil between them (for our salvation), but heaven is not best described as a place that we go.

Most importantly, heaven is not the culmination of all things or the eschaton. Rather, the culmination of the Christian narrative is a renewed creation with no veil between it and heaven and our ultimate home is the renewed physical realm, not the spiritual realm. We are material, embodied beings and our charge is and has always been to care for the physical world and offer it back to God as our eucharist or thanksgiving.

Christianity does not say a lot about what happens immediately after death. We know that to die is to be with Christ, which is far better. In John 14, Jesus talks about preparing temporary dwelling places for us. We know that we remain conscious and active and praying. We see in the stories of the saints up to the present day that they are able to manifest and are actively involved with us, but we also see in their relics that their material body has not yet been used up in resurrection as Jesus’ body in the tomb was.

I’m also not sure that speculation on such topics is ultimately useful. Our goal and our salvation is union with Christ. If we are able to remain focused on that — which is certainly a tall order — I have the sense that everything else will work itself out. I do still like Bishop Tom’s phrase, though. Christianity has little to say about life after death. It has a great deal to say about life after life after death.