Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 10

Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 10

32. It was indeed indispensable that He who is by nature the Creator of the being of all things should Himself, through grace, accomplish their deification, and in this way reveal Himself to be not only the author of being but also the giver of eternal well-being. Every creature is totally ignorant both of its own essential being and of that of every other created thing; in consequence no created thing has by nature foreknowledge of anything that will come into existence. Only God has such foreknowledge, and He transcends created things. For He knows what He is in His essence and He knows of the existence of everything made by Him before it comes into being; and it is His purpose to endow created things through grace with a knowledge both of their own essential being and of that of other things; for He will reveal to them the inner principles of their creation, pre-existent in a unified manner within Himself.

We don’t know God. We don’t truly know each other. And often, we do not even know ourselves. We can’t follow Polonius’ maxim, “To thine own self be true,” because we do not know our deepest self or how to be true to it. Before we can be deified, before we can be one with God, we have to be healed. We no longer know what it means to be a human being and we cannot know ourselves or be one with others until we have our true humanity restored. Jesus, in part, became man to restore to us our humanity. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important that Jesus was fully human in every way except sin. He became the faithful man we could not be.


Thirsting for God 15 – Liturgy

Posted: January 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 15 – Liturgy

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

One of the things that quickly struck me as I gave Christianity another and deeper look was the anachronism of worship in the Southern Baptist context to which I turned. It’s not uniquely Baptist, of course. It’s shared throughout the non-liturgical denominations and non-denominations. There’s nothing inherently wrong or evil in that worship style. Rather, the voice in the back of my head almost immediately complained that nobody in any culture in the ancient world would have ever considered that to be worship. I spent years trying to decide if that fact really mattered and trying to see if I could uncover even the slightest shred of historical basis for that modern worship style.

After living embedded in a non-liturgical worship context for a decade and a half, I’ve reached the conclusion that it does matter. Even in that period of time, I’ve seen the act and method of worship change, though subtly. It’s obvious to me how subject to whim and preference it is and how, as a result, it shifts with the wind of culture and preference.

And I never found any historical connection whatsoever. Mostly I found overtly anachronistic views which demonstrated little knowledge, for instance, of how an ancient Roman household was structured and ordered or even how worship was ordered in the Jewish synagogues within which the Apostles first preached.

Matthew has an interesting statement at the outset of this chapter. I would like to share it in full.

As someone who all my adult life was intimately involved in leading the worship experience, I know something about modern Protestant worship. What the Protestant is looking for, and what pastors and worship leaders are hoping to provide, is a worship experience that is “meaningful.” What does “meaningful” mean? First, the music needs to inspire people to feel love and devotion for God, and allow them the opportunity to express those feelings. Secondly, the sermon needs to give them something fresh and meaty to ponder — something that will inspire the congregation to follow God.

If I’m sitting in the pews, my goal is “to get something out of this” — to find godly joy and inspiration. What do I need in order for that to happen? Just what the leaders are trying to give me — good music and a good sermon.

It took me a long time to understand the above and, as a result, I sometimes had a hard time understanding some of the comments people made. Orthodox worship, by contrast, has not changed in any of its central details in some 1600 years and, just as importantly, its present form is consistent with earlier recorded forms. It’s basically the same worship fleshed out. (You can even still see the influence of first century Jewish temple and synagogue worship.) Matthew makes another excellent point.

When the primary goal of a worshiper is to gain inspiration, ritual worship may seem pointless. But when his objective is to give obedient reverence, ritual worship is the only type of worship that makes any sense. …

The Orthodox Christian worships in an environment where God Himself directs the acts of worship; the Protestant, on the other hand, must hope that God can somehow inspire people to create meaningful acts of worship. …

[In Orthodox worship] the service is always good, the worship is right, and whether I get inspired or not is entirely up to me.

In other words, the central object of worship is God. I’m sure that’s at least part of the reason that the only worship God has ever directly ordained has been liturgical, ritual worship. He knows we need to take the focus off ourselves and we need help in order to do so. Which leads us to Matthew’s final realization in this chapter.

I finally came to realize that when I was a Protestant, I judged the quality of worship by what it did for me, not what it did to exalt God.

And that pretty much sums it up.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 9

Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 9

31. According to the wise, we cannot use our intelligence to think about God at the same time as we experience Him, or have an intellection of Him while we are perceiving Him directly. By ‘think about God’ I mean speculate about Him on the basis of an analogy between Him and created beings. By ‘perceiving Him directly’ I mean experiencing divine or supernatural realities through participation. By ‘an intellection of Him’ I mean the simple and unitary knowledge of God which is derived from created beings. What we have said is confirmed by the fact that, in general, our experience of a thing puts a stop to our thinking about it, and our direct perception of it supersedes our intellection of it. By ‘experience’ I mean spiritual knowledge actualized on a level that transcends all thought; and by  ‘direct perception’ I mean a supra-intellective participation in what is known. Perhaps this is what St Paul mystically teaches when he says, ‘As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for speaking in tongues, this will cease; as for knowledge, it too will vanish’ (1 Cor. 13:8); for he is clearly referring here to the knowledge gained by the intelligence through thought and intellection.

I think St. Maximos has a warning for many of us in this text. It’s not that it’s wrong to think about God. St. Maximos himself is doing so. Nevertheless, when we think about or consider anything, we of necessity hold it apart from us for examination. Our ultimate goal and purpose is not to think rightly about God, but to know him through experience. Now, if we think wrongly about God, if we hold an image of God in our minds that is unlike God, that will also interfere with our ability to truly know God. So somehow we have to manage both until we reach the point when we know God so well, we no longer need to think about him.


Thirsting for God 14 – The Eucharist

Posted: January 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

I have 29 posts in my Eucharist category, so this is not an unfamiliar topic for me. I have too much of an interest in history and a penchant for tracing beliefs, so it didn’t take me long to turn up the inconsistencies in many Protestant views on the Eucharist, particularly the essentially Zwinglian teaching with which Matthew was most familiar.

The Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist can be expressed in relatively few words. Matthew uses good ones.

By an unfathomable act of God, the Eucharist is bread and wine, and at the same time it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Eucharist is one of the great and central Mysteries of the Church. And it is truly mysterion and beyond rational explanation. From the earliest days of Christianity, it has been the central rite of our worship. In fact, from the earliest times we see those who denied the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of our Lord not among the Churches, but among the heretics. The docetists and the gnostics are first and second century examples, but the thread continues. In fact, it’s not until Zwingli in the 16th century that we see groups even vaguely within the context of mainstream, creedal Christianity who claim that the bread and wine merely represent Christ or are a memorial to him. The central puzzle to me is not why Zwingli invented his particular teachings. With the turning of modernism, Zwingli and his teachings fit like a glove. It’s just odd to me that so few check their history today when it is widely available and easy to access.

Matthew covers the basics well in this chapter, even though most of what he covers was old hat to me long before I even noticed modern Orthodoxy. There is, however, one line that really stood out to me in this chapter.

Jesus understands that we all need Him — not just a memory of Him.

That’s really the crux of the matter. A mere memorial is both pointless and useless. It’s little wonder so many Zwinglian Protestants celebrate the “Lord’s Supper” no more than quarterly. Really, what’s the point in having their version of it more often?


Weekend Update 01-15-2011

Posted: January 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 01-15-2011

President Obama’s speech at the memorial for the victims of the Arizona tragedy was deeply moving. If you haven’t listened to it, please take the time to do so. Or, if you prefer to read the text, it’s available online here.

Jon Stewart’s reflections on the Arizona shootings were, in many ways, similar to my own. If you haven’t seen the segment, I recommend taking a few moments to watch it.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

I don’t normally enjoy or listen to any of the news channel commentators on either the right or the left. (I don’t actually spend much time watching any news on TV.) However, this statement by Keith Olbermann in the wake of the Arizona shooting is good. He’s something of a blowhard, in my opinion, but he makes a good point here.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Bob Hebert’s editorial on the complete inattention given to the poor is a good one. Of course, that’s relatively normal. The poor tend to be invisible because they are not interesting or powerful. I’ve been poor with a family in this nation and I’ve never forgotten what it was like. Of course, if we were actually a “Christian nation” that wouldn’t be the case, but well….

I like this flowchart on how to find food at the supermarket.

USA Today has a story about a service dog for a woman with severe celiac disease. The dog is trained to sniff out even very small amounts of gluten. Celiac disease is serious business regardless of the severity of overt symptoms. It can quietly damage your body and slowly kill you even when you don’t experience severe acute symptoms. A lot of people still think of the symptoms of celiac disease largely in terms of the GI tract. But as an autoimmune disease, it can actually manifest in a host of different ways. Recent research is even demonstrating the ways some of the auto-antigens that can be created by the disease attack the central nervous system directly. I suppose I’m glad, though, that my acute symptoms are not and never have been as severe as those of the woman in the article. It would make it more obvious when you’ve been exposed to gluten, but I would rather live with the occasional uncertainty and ambiguity, I think.

It’s sad when Harry Reid is a better rhetorician than you are on a given topic and you’re the sitting President. Harry Reid is known for a number of things, but his ability as a speaker is not one of them. Reid, of course, is also right. But that requires a basic ability to do math and deal with facts, something sadly lacking in our society today.

In this column (which I read in the print edition of our paper), Scott Burns has some good points. I’ll point out that, like a number of blog posts LaVonne Neff has done on health care and retirement, you’ll only grasp the points if you are willing to let facts be facts and work with the math as it is. Unfortunately, it seems that most of our population believes in magic. As something of a student of history, I do believe Mr. Burns is making a category mistake when it comes to the estate tax. Why? Because it’s primary purpose has never been to raise revenue. Of course, it does raise revenue and if we were to eliminate it altogether, we would have to compensate for that revenue somehow, but that’s not fundamentally why we have it. Historically, as our country was being founded, those who were doing so were aware of the problems created by the tremendous concentration of wealth and power in the hereditary fortunes of a relatively few families. They saw that as anathema to a well-functioning democracy and free-market system. The true purpose of the estate tax was to reduce the estate over the course of generations, returning it to the society that had nurtured and allowed the fortune to be created in the first place. Your children and grandchildren would be able to live comfortably  off the estate, but if they did nothing to increase it, it would eventually go away. They did not want to create a class of hereditary, idle rich. Even the wealthy needed to be productive and work to increase what they had inherited. We moved away from that to some extent in the latter part of the 19th century which saw the rise of the Railroad Barons, but the idea was fully restored in the Progressive movement (flowing from both the Republican and Democrat sides of the aisle at that time). The wealth concentrated in the top percent and especially in the top tenth of a percent through much of the 20th century was at a relatively low level. By contrast, I believe it’s now something like 28% of the wealth. As an individual, you can agree or disagree with that societal goal, but the discussion should be centered around the actual purpose of the tax. In that particular instance, it should not be viewed as a simple revenue source. That’s secondary, not primary. The rest of his point is true and it’s also why we can’t possibly balance the massive deficit overnight. It’s going to require a mixture of tax increases (and I’m not ideologically opposed to a discussion of any of the traditional means of raising revenue, including tariffs where politically appropriate), spending cuts and reforms (and defense needs to be on the table as does the continued reform of Medicare through enhancing the health care act and — for instance — allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs like all other health insurance companies do), and taking actions designed to expand our overall economy (the larger the economy is, the proportionally greater the revenue is — always a factor in both spending and tax decisions). Defense and Medicare are the main two areas of spending that need to be handled and are in the most crisis. Contrary to propaganda. social security is still in comparatively decent shape. The rest of the budget? Sure, we should find savings where we can, but it’s relatively small compared to the big three (and interest on the debt, of course). The savings we could find anywhere else are more symbolic than substantive. They just don’t make a dent in the problem.

A short hilarious comedy bit on the ridiculous line about global warming we seem to hear frequently.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-F8EO3qOVk&feature=player_embedded

The right-wing fringe of the Republican Party has been in the process of becoming its base for a good number of years now. That’s so true that positions like this one of Sen. Mike Lee (R UT) on child labor laws aren’t even surprising anymore. The Republican Party retains enough support, though, that it’s hard for me to discern if my fellow citizens are simply too busy to pay attention or if they actually support these increasingly common positions. What do you do when you see the lunatic fringe becoming mainstream?


Thirsting for God 13 – Not Just for Grown-ups!

Posted: January 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 13 – Not Just for Grown-ups!

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

In the last section of his book, The Way of Love, Matthew takes some of the issues and questions that are most controversial to those raised and formed within a particular sort of Protestantism and spends an entire chapter exploring each one in turn. Although I’ve really only been a Christian within those circles, I wasn’t particularly shaped by it during my childhood formation, so none of the particular beliefs he covers have ever been the bugaboos for me that they seem to be for many. I had “tried on” the beliefs when they were presented to me as I normally do, but most of the ones he covers, when I compared them to the Holy Scriptures within what I could learn of their historical context, had long since collapsed. Unless you buy into the idea that the Church went off-track shortly after (or even before) the Apostles died and we can now somehow reconstruct the “real” faith two thousand years later, the Protestant versions of the beliefs he covers in these chapters have no substance.

In this first chapter of this section, he works through the issue of infant baptism. I’ve covered my thoughts on infant baptism elsewhere, most notably in my post, Rebaptized?, so I didn’t find much that was surprising to me in this chapter. I noticed one thing Matthew confesses was normal for him was to excerpt particular snippets of Scripture. For instance, he would normally read the first part of Acts 2:38 and stop reading.

Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.’

Then he would make an assertion I’ve heard a lot. Babies can’t repent so babies can’t be baptized. (I would also add that babies don’t need to repent, but some strands of Protestantism would disagree with me.) Of course, the above is not actually what St. Peter said at the conclusion of that first proclamation of the euvangelion after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what he actually says in full with Matthew’s italics added for emphasis.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Matthew then illustrates his point with the encounter by Peter and John of believers in Samaria who had been baptized but who had not received the Holy Spirit. They rectify it because the lives of these believers could not be complete until the whole process was complete. Matthew then points out that the argument usually hinges on the wrong question.

Thus the real issue that must be discussed, when it comes to infants, is not, “Can babies repent?” Rather, it is, “Can the Spirit of God dwell within infants?”

That’s not the way I phrased it myself in the past, but I like it. Of course, my answer to the correct question has always been an emphatic yes. If I can relate to and love an infant, and be loved in return, how much more can God do the same?

Later in the chapter, Matthew raises an interesting question I had never considered in precisely those terms.

But there is another important reason why God would take up residence in the lives of these infants. You see, unless He does, the child will never have the real opportunity to decide for himself whether or not he will follow God. Why do I say that? Well, if the Holy Spirit does not take up residence in the infant, guess who will. Does Satan give those whom he afflicts a free choice? Hardly. No, the only one who would ever allow a child to have free choice when it comes to following or rejecting Christ is Christ Himself.

Yes, every child will have to grow up at some point and will have to decide for themselves whether or not to follow Christ. In fact, it’s a decision each of us must make again and again over the course of our lives. The Orthodox try to give their children every advantage on that day through baptism, the seal of the Holy Spirit, communion, and by surrounding the child with the life of the Church. That strikes me as the wiser approach. I’ll add that the Orthodox Baptismal Rite still includes an exorcism and spitting on the devil to reject him. For those interested, this is the Greek baptismal rite. (There are slight variations from one country to another. For instance, I’ve heard an Arabic rite and after the seal of the Holy Spirit with the sign of the Cross in oil (on head, mouth, hands, feet, etc.) during Chrismation, everyone present cries out, “Seal!”) Normally the baptism is done within the context of a Divine Liturgy, from what I understand, and the one baptized is then also communed.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 8

Posted: January 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 8

29. The intelligence recognizes two kinds of knowledge of divine realities. The first is relative, because it is confined to the intelligence and its intellections, and does not entail any real perception, through actual experience, of what is known. In our present life we are governed by this kind of knowledge. The second is true and authentic knowledge. Through experience alone and through grace it brings about, by means of participation and without the help of the intelligence and its intellections, a total and active perception of what is known. It is through this second kind of knowledge that, when we come into our inheritance, we receive supernatural and ever-activated deification. The relative knowledge that resides in the intelligence and its intellections is said to stimulate our longing for the real knowledge attained by participation. This real knowledge, which through experience and participation brings about a perception of what is known, supersedes the knowledge that resides in the intelligence and the intellections.

This text can be a little tricky to untangle, but if I understand it properly it divides knowledge into two realms. One is intellectual and confined to the workings of our own mind. This knowledge is relative because it has no basis in the perception of actual experience. Authentic knowledge is gained by the actual experience of God through the energies of his grace and participation with him. The relative knowledge of our own intellect can spur our desire for true and authentic knowledge, but that’s the limit of its reach. I think I can be guilty of confusing the former knowledge with the latter and it makes me wonder just how widespread that confusion might be.


Thirsting for God 12 – The Light and the Path

Posted: January 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 12 – The Light and the Path

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

This chapter of the book reflects more on Matthew’s path toward realizing both the anachronistic nature of the idea that something had to be written down to be a teaching or instruction from God and the idea that reliance on a text alone could ever produce anything but unending fragmentation and division. A lot of his thoughts in this chapter would probably be more meaningful to someone with a history more like his, but I did find the idea around which the chapter revolved intriguing.

Matthew turns to the Psalter and Psalm 119:105 (Psalm 118:105 in the LXX).

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.

In the Orthodox understanding, the Holy Scriptures are the light which illuminate the path, but they are not the path itself. The path is our life in Christ according to the way (or Holy Tradition) of the Church. If you try to focus on the lamp instead of the path, if you try to make that which is intended to provide illumination the center of your attention, you’ll be blinded instead of guided.

So, although both are critical elements of the journey, Orthodox Christians sharply differentiate between the light that shines above the path (the Scriptures) and the path itself (Apostolic Tradition). For the path by itself cannot show us its destination, or give us reason to walk it. Nor can the light that illumines the way provide the solid earth on which we may confidently tread. Both are required, and both are the gifts of God. So for Orthodox Christians, the Bible and Tradition are dear friends, not enemies!

Ultimately, of course, the Word or Logos is the eternal Son. The Son is both our illumination and our way or path, and we find the way through union with Christ. But the path of union is within the pillar and ground of truth, the Church, described as the actual body of Christ. (If you don’t recognize my references, Paul wrote both those descriptions of the Church in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.) I had never considered the difference between a light and a path in quite that way before.

When Matthew stopped trying to place the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church in opposition to each other, he saw that things with which he had struggled, like infant baptism, actually fit easily into the context of both. That’s one example he uses because it’s a fairly widespread issue today (though I’ve never really understood why it is an issue at all), but the same thing is true of a number of places where people try to set the Holy Scriptures against the Church. Many of the disputes are constructed and artificial, and that’s probably why they crumbled before the whirlpool of deconstruction within which I live.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 7

Posted: January 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 7

25.  Christ is by nature both God and man. In an ineffable and supernatural manner we participate by grace in Him as God, while He in His incomprehensible love for men shares as man in our lot for our sake by making Himself one with us with a form like ours. The saints foresaw Him mystically in the Spirit and were taught that the glory to be revealed in Christ in the future because of His virtue must be preceded by the sufferings which He would endure for the sake of virtue (cf. 1 Pet. 1:11).

I wanted to include this text because it’s another way of expressing the heart of Christian faith. God became man that man might become God, as Athanasius wrote. (Essentially God became ‘enfleshed’ so that we might become ‘en-Godded’ is the sense of his statement.) A lot of Christians talk about what it takes to be ‘saved‘ without ever realizing that they hold sometimes very different definitions of salvation. As a result, they are really talking right past each other. Ultimately, the only way I think I could summarize salvation would be as union with Christ. But as with any summary, it’s prone to be misunderstood. Among other things, I mean a union as real, as tangible, and as bodily as his union with us.


Thirsting for God 11 – Just Jesus and Me

Posted: January 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 11 – Just Jesus and Me

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

I intuitively grasp this section of Matthew’s book, but I find it hard to translate into words. Let’s start with some basic elements of our common human nature. We want to direct and control our lives and the world around us. The extent of the drive and the way in which it manifests vary hugely, but in one way or another it is common to us all. In pursuit of that goal, we often try to keep our options open and choose the path that appears most changeable, even though we’ve objectively proven that those paths and choices in reality simply produce more stress and tend to lead to undesirable outcomes. We actually function best (and tend to be happiest) when things are settled and when we know what to expect with some certainty. In our effort to shape the world around us, and in the ways we are influenced by those around us who are themselves doing the same thing, we develop particular interpretive grids. We believe that someone said something or that a particular idea can be found in a text, but it’s really our own thoughts read back into whatever we heard or read. We also lie to ourselves in a wide variety of ways. We minimize our actions while maximizing the actions of others. We project onto others. We deny a truth about ourselves that we cannot, for whatever reason, face. And in the process, we not only shape our interpretation of everything around us, we even shape and reinterpret our memories. We all do this. It’s so automatic it’s often like breathing to us. We aren’t even aware that it is happening.

Many of the “theological” thoughts I’ve posted here are ones I’ve long held. As I mentioned I turned to the early writings of the Church pretty early in my quest to understand this thing called Christianity and this God-man, Jesus of Nazareth. And those writings are permeated with many of the things I’ve shared. But five or ten years ago, I never would have expressed some of these ideas publicly because I was hard-pressed to find confirmation of them in any tradition of Christianity. I knew my own interpretations were as suspect as any other and though I thought my thoughts were confirmed in the writings of the ancient church, the truth is those cultures are as separated from me by language, time, and culture as the texts of Scripture.  I was as likely to misinterpret the Fathers as I was the Holy Scriptures. And I was just trying to understand this faith. I’ve never been the sort of person who, at least in these sorts of matters, wanted to convince people. And I was leery of even unintentionally leading people in the wrong direction.

That was the immediate source of relief and freedom I found when I first stumbled across and began exploring Orthodoxy.  A Christian tradition not only confirmed many of my thoughts and beliefs, but it could credibly trace that line of interpretation back to the very people in the ancient world I had been reading. That’s why I now feel free to share those thoughts publicly. I’m still not particularly interested in trying to convince anyone. Instead I write because it helps me work through things. I also can’t not write, whether I publish something or not. That’s always been true. So I’ve seen this blog as a good place to work through some things. If you’re reading and you disagree with something, that’s fine. I would ask that you consider why you disagree and from what source that disagreement arises. If your answer begins with either “That’s what the Bible says!” or (more honestly) “I believe that’s what the Bible says,” that’s fine. Just recognize, whether I express it or not, the question running through my head will be, “OK. Why do you believe that’s what it says?”

I say that to discuss the thought that lies at the core of this part of the book. By and large, Protestants want to determine how they worship God. It’s like trying to flip positions between the Creator and the Created. I don’t think most even realize how strange it is for the worshiper to tell the object of their worship how they are going to go about the act of worship. When you try to reduce the practice of your faith to your own preferences and make your own decisions about proper worship, when you try to make it just between you and God, it inevitably becomes just you. I’m deeply aware of the way that works. It’s a path of delusion.

Matthew tries to express that thought in a variety of ways.

You see, I at last understood that despite all the sincerity I had poured into my worship during the years I was a Protestant, God, out of His love for me, could not fully reveal Himself in the worship I offered him.

Why?

After all, God could not have been on the “throne of my life” when I was the one directing how He and I would relate to each other. When I picked the time, the place, and the method of worship, who was in charge — God or me? If God had accepted such worship, He would have been establishing me in my self-centeredness. That He would not do.

I don’t see any possible way for those in the Protestant tradition to ever be one with each other, much less one with God, as long as one of their central sacred tenets is that each individual person gets to choose how they want to worship God. But I also don’t see any way for Protestantism to ever be anything different. That’s pretty close to its core. If you look at the history of Protestantism, you see a steady and pretty much continuous progression along those lines. Protestantism today is very little like the Protestantism of five hundred or even two hundred years ago, but the continuous thread of the focus on individual interpretation and belief and even practice is pretty much continuous over these past few centuries.

Curiously, I heard a podcast recently that shed new light on that process for me. We’ve all heard the phrase, I’m sure, “outside the Church there is no salvation,” and the endless debates and discussions surrounding it. This podcast offered a perspective I had never considered, but which rings true to me, especially as it has bounced around my head a while. I’m not actually a huge fan of the Faith & Philosophy podcast, but I listen to it because it’s not long or overly frequent and there are sometimes gems like this podcast.