Who Am I?

Mary 3 – Virgin Birth

Posted: January 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 3 – Virgin Birth

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Take a moment to read the text above again. It often seems to me that many Christians have become so familiar with it, they miss its impact. There are a number of points to note. First, the angel, a messenger of God and presumably speaking with God’s voice, calls Mary highly favored and blessed among women. Later, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth calls Mary (and the fruit of her womb) blessed. Mary, also under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even prophesies that all generations (except many modern Protestants, apparently) will call her blessed.


Without having sex with a man, the angel tells Mary she will conceive a child through the power of the Highest and that child will be called the Son of God. This is central to Christian belief. Jesus was not just a special human being used by God. We believe him to be the Dabar Yahweh, the Word of God, made flesh. His eternal, divine nature is joined to a fully human, mortal nature through the agency and with the active cooperation of Mary.

Make no mistake, there is no evidence in Scripture or any other source that Mary was merely a vessel and that any such vessel would have sufficed. There is no evidence or indication that a ‘plan B‘ existed. Mary’s consent and cooperation with God were essential. There is a strong thread of ancient theology which calls Mary the new Eve. As her son, Jesus, is typologically compared to the first Adam, so Mary’s ‘yes’ to God is seen as healing Eve’s ‘no’ to God. ‘Eve’, of course, means life or life-giver as ‘Adam’ means man or mankind. Through her ‘yes’ to God, Mary consents to give life to he who as the new Adam joins the nature of God to the nature of man, defeats death on our behalf, and gives true and lasting life to humanity.

And her ‘yes’ required a courage that should be clearer after my previous post on honor-shame cultures. Mary certainly recognized that she would be perceived as having engaged in adulterous sex and she knew the shame and dishonor that she and her family would experience. She knew she could be killed, but trusted in God nonetheless.

And Joseph was also courageous and faithful. The text tells us that he was righteous, but I think most miss the true import of that phrase. Being named ‘tsadiq’ or righteous in his honor-shame culture was a big deal. He was counted among the ‘tsadiqim’ and much honor accrued from that. Having a betrothed become pregnant was shaming enough, when he was instructed to marry her anyway, that meant giving up his standing as ‘tsadiq’ and assuming a name of shame instead. But Joseph was faithful to God first. He counted God’s honor as more important than his own. It’s important to understand that about Joseph.

I recognize there are many today who choose not to belief in the virgin birth, but who do still call themselves Christian. All I can say is that those who have done so have redefined Christianity to an extent that their version of Christianity is discontinuous from any historical or traditional strand of Christian belief. There are many ways people do that today, and it’s one of the reasons modern ‘Christianity’ is so confusing. There are thousands upon thousands of sects which, if you dig even a little below the surface, hold outright contradictory beliefs, but which all still call themselves Christian in some sense. If you do not believe in the virgin birth, but you do believe that Jesus was in some sense the divine Son of God (and if you don’t at least believe that, then it’s hard to see how your belief can still be labeled ‘Christian’), then of necessity you must believe that Jesus was a normal human male child who at some point after conception was in some sense divinized. That’s actually one of the ancient heresies reborn in slightly different clothes.

However, this is a dogma on which most Christians agree. It’s even incorporated in the Nicene Creed, with which I think I’ll close this post. Hopefully I’ve provided some food for thought.

I believe in one God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.

And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; of His kingdom there shall be no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets.

In one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;

I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins;

I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.


Weekend Update 01-07-2012

Posted: January 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 01-07-2012

Nobody Understands Debt. Or perhaps at least some of the experts and politicians he references do understand debt and their use of the faulty family budget metaphor is a deliberate disinformation propaganda campaign. How do you tell ignorance from deliberate manipulation?

This is not a game. Unfortunately, to an awful lot of right-wing politicians and pundits, it appears to be nothing but a big game. But then, I’ve been told I don’t suffer fools easily.

The Decline of the Public Good. Robert Reich nails it on this one. Although I hadn’t been able to articulate my objections, I think this is also a big part of the reason I’ve rejected the tangled web of toll roads built in our area. I could afford them, I suppose, but I would rather be inconvenienced bu using only public roads than buy into the tiered system of privilege they represent.

Read this post by Fr. Ernesto. It captures perfectly so much I’ve tried to say about violence. Killing another is never more than the lesser evil. We must never forget it is still evil and it damages the one who must kill as well.

We’ve actually reached the point as a society where we simply assume that the politicians who lead our country will lie. So I’m not particularly surprised at the latest salvo from Romney.

Americans throw out 40% of the food we buy? Wow.

The two part video below are from a guy who does massive Christmas lights displays and allows people to control them over the web. Moreover, he does it as a fundraiser for celiac disease research. I believe he said that over the years, people have donated around $50,000. That’s pretty cool!

It’s a pathetic response by Santorum to the mother of a child cancer survivor. It illustrates the complete moral bankruptcy of the GOP, even supposedly devout Catholics like Santorum. (I’ll also note that in his opposition to universal health care, he has positioned himself against the comprehensive — and specific on this issue — pro-life teaching of his Church. Hmmm. I wonder what his position on the death penalty is? I point that out because you frequently hear how Democratic Catholics are “bad Catholics” for their political views, but you never seem to hear the same about Republican Catholics who also hold, promote, and vote for political positions that are contrary to the pro-life position of the Catholic Church. Pro-life, at least in the Catholic sense, is not a synonym for anti-abortion. It’s much broader than that.)


Saturday Evening Blog Post – December Edition

Posted: January 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Misc | 1 Comment »

In this month’s edition of the Saturday Evening Blog Post, hosted by Elizabeth Esther, I shared my post Spanking Kids. It’s actually a post that essentially captures comments I made on one of EE’s post that I wanted to preserve with just a bit of additional commentary.

Mary 2 – Honor-Shame Culture

Posted: January 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Mary 2 – Honor-Shame Culture

Before I delve into the individual posts on Mary I have planned, I think it’s necessary to discuss some of the elements of an honor-shame culture. Most human cultures throughout history (and essentially all cultures in the ancient world) have been honor-shame cultures. However, those cultures are essentially alien to most of us shaped within modern Western cultures. Our cultures are mostly what sociologists call guilt cultures. Obviously there’s no way I can go into the topic in depth in a blog post, but it’s necessary to grasp some of the basics.

We have plenty of examples of modern honor-shame cultures — though some of them may be in a slow process of shifting at least partially to a guilt culture under the influence of Western cultural products. Most Far Eastern cultures, such as those in Japan, China, and Korea, remain honor-shame cultures. Many Latin America cultures are honor-shame cultures. Arabic culture is an honor-shame culture. The list goes on. So how do honor-shame and guilt cultures differ?

Though it’s an over-simplification, there’s a rubric that provides a good place to start. Let’s say there’s cultural expectation or standard of behavior which can be violated. It could be anything, but it’s something your culture holds is wrong. Tension arises in any such situation when the belief I hold about my behavior differs from the belief of the group about my behavior. That tension is resolved differently by guilt and honor-shame cultures.

If I believe I didn’t do it and others believe I did it, in a guilt culture I protest my innocence and fight the accusation. In an honor-shame culture, I am shamed and dishonored by their belief.

If I believe I did it and others believe I didn’t do it, in a guilt culture I am expected to feel guilty anyway. In an honor-shame culture, I am not shamed since others do not know.

These are not conscious processes through which we work. Culture doesn’t operate at the conscious level. Rather, it shapes the way we perceive reality and our automatic reactions to those perceptions. A guilt culture is more internalized and individualistic. An honor-shame culture is more externalized and group-oriented. It tends to be familial rather than individual. That’s why, for instance, ‘face‘ (a concept difficult for us Westerners to grasp) is such a central element in Chinese and Japanese culture.

Honor-shame culture tends to also lead to disproportionate rather than proportionate reaction. We see that today, for example, in cultures where relatives of a woman perceived as engaging in sexually immoral acts (again, remember the shame comes from the group perception of the truth of the accusation, not its actual truth) feel they must kill her to regain their familial honor. When you read the Mosaic law through that lens, you see that many of its provisions (other than those dealing with sacrificial/worship practices and ritual purity) are designed to temper disproportionate reactions and make them more proportionate.

It’s not really possible to change our cultural lens. The best we can do is recognize that it exists and try to consciously think through the way a different lens would have shaped behavior.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 4

Posted: January 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 4

9. ‘No man has ever hated his own flesh’, says the Apostle (Eph. 5:29), but he disciplines it and makes it his servant (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27), allowing it nothing but food and clothing (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8), and then only what is necessary for life. In this way a man loves his flesh dispassionately and nourishes it and cares for it as a servant of divine things, supplying it only with what meets its basic needs.

If self-love as described the day before yesterday is a passion that opens the door for all passions, then this describes a dispassionate love for ourselves. Of course, I don’t live that way and I’m not sure I know many people who do. If there’s a spectrum, then I’m pretty sure I fall closer to the self-love St. Maximos described in the prior texts rather than the dispassionate love he describes above.

Mary 1 – Theotokos and Mater Dei

Posted: January 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 1 – Theotokos and Mater Dei

Elizabeth Esther recently published a post on Mary and a fairly lively discussion ensued in the comments. I contributed several comments and the discussion has been bouncing around my head ever since. I’ve decided to develop those thoughts into a blog series. If you pose a question and my response to it is in a later post, I’ll probably just say that rather than try to summarize my future post in a comment.

I’m not a sociologist, though I tend to read at least some papers and books in that field. I’m not a historian, though I’ve had a deep interest in history for seemingly my entire life. I’m not a theologian or a bible scholar, though I tend to read quite a few of both. I’m not Roman Catholic, though I attended a Roman Catholic school for several years and have a number of Catholic relatives (including my mother, though I had been ‘out of the house’ for some years before she converted). I’m not Orthodox, though I’ve read and listened to many Orthodox past and present. If you are in any of those groups and at any point in this series feel I’ve misstated or misrepresented something, please say so. I do the best I can to speak accurately and truthfully, but I can and do sometimes misunderstand or misinterpret things I’ve read or heard.

I am basically Protestant, but I don’t think that term means what most people seem to think it means. I think it means that in matters of faith, I ultimately decide what I choose to believe or not believe is true. That’s not something I can turn on or off. I’ve been doing it my whole life, whether or not the things I believed at the time were Hindu, Christian, or something else. Of course, most Protestants don’t actually decide for themselves what to believe or not believe. Instead they accept their beliefs on authority from someone who has previously asserted that right to choose and has chosen to believe differently than the traditional Christian Churches. (That latter category is pretty much limited to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and what we call Oriental Orthodox.) Nevertheless, even if most people don’t personally employ that core Protestant ethos, the right to decide for yourself what Scriptures mean and what Christianity is lies pretty much at the core of Protestantism. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I find myself largely in agreement with the Eastern Orthodox on virtually everything that matters, but I arrived at that point in a distinctly Protestant manner.

I want to open this series with a reflection on two of the most common titles for Mary.  I wrote one in Greek and the other in Latin for a reason. While both are used in the Eastern and Western traditions, the former is more common in the East and the latter in the West.

Theotokos translates as God-bearer or Birth-giver of God. This name emphasizes that he who was conceived in Mary was God before the ages. It has a post-Nicea emphasis. Arius, of course, held that Jesus was not God, but a created being. Others had held that Jesus was born an ordinary human being who at some point (most often his Baptism) had become divinized. No, the Church responded, and emphasized that the child conceived in Mary was indeed true God of true God. And this has remained the emphasis in the East, whose liturgies were largely fixed in that era. It’s an important point, but it’s not the only one that must be made.

Mater Dei translates as Mother of God, and is the most common name for Mary in the West, though Birth-giver or God-bearer is also used (as Mother of God is used to a lesser extent in the East). The theological flavor of this name is different. It emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. As with all of us, he not only had a mother, he required a mother. His mother breastfed him, wiped his butt, taught him to speak, cared for him, loved him, and nurtured him. This name for Mary has a post-Chalcedon feel to it. Jesus was not just true God; he was true man as well.

Both of those emphases are important. We need both names for Mary in our devotion. Within them, we find our creeds.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 3

Posted: January 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 3

As I was diving back into St. Maximos’ Centuries on Love, I discovered that between the second and third posts on the third century, I had somehow jumped from his texts on love to a different collection of his theological texts. So I’m going to wind the clock back and pick up where I actually left off in the third century.

7. Overeating and gluttony cause licentiousness. Avarice and self-esteem cause one to hate one’s neighbor. Self-love, the mother of vices, is the cause of all these things.

8. Self-love is an impassioned, mindless love for one’s body. Its opposite is love and self-control. A man dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions.

I thought it was important to keep these two texts together. Self-love in these texts describes an impassioned love of self. Remember, in this context, the passions are those things that rule us and which we suffer. I think a key description is as the opposite of self-control. Self-love in this sense, then, is the precondition that opens the door for all the passions.

Gluten Free Tamales

Posted: January 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

This Christmas season, I decided I really wanted tamales. I hadn’t had good tamales since my diagnosis and it’s one of the foods we’ve traditionally had at some point during Christmas most years. However, the first few places I called or emailed replied that they couldn’t ensure their tamales were gluten free as they were made on the same surfaces and with some of the same equipment as their flour tortillas. I was frustrated and decided to search online specifically for gluten free tamales. I was trying to locate a local place, but ran across two different mail order companies which did specify that their tamales were gluten free. Both looked pretty decent, so I decided to get some from both places and compare them.

The first place is The Tamale Company (located in Dallas). I ordered a variety of flavors from them. So far we’ve tried the ancho chili pork and the black bean and both were quite good. I didn’t use the boil in bag approach. Instead I steamed them out of the bag as I’ve normally done. I still have the beef and the chicken tomatillo to try, though, so I may give their ‘boil in bag’ technique a shot.

The second place is Texas Tamale Company (located in Houston). I ordered their beef and pork options. We’ve had the beef and they were yummy. I expect the same will be true for the pork.

Both shipped their tamales in a styrofoam container inside a box with, I believe, packets of dry ice (the dry ice had evaporated by the time they arrived). The tamales arrived in excellent condition. Honestly, both brands were quite good. I would be hard pressed to pick one over the other. If you want good gluten free tamales, and don’t want to make them yourself, I don’t hesitate to recommend either company.