Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 6

Posted: August 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 6

13.  Whether or not a nature endowed with intelligence and intellect is to exist eternally depends on the will of the Creator whose every creation is good; but whether such a nature is good or bad depends on its own will.

First, we are contingent beings. We have no natural immortality. Thus our existence is not part of our nature in the sense that it is something we control. When Christ broke the chains of death he did so for all humanity. However, our acts for good or ill do depend on our will. In that sense we form part of our nature.


Who Is My Neighbor?

Posted: August 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Who Is My Neighbor?

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

I can’t claim to have really followed the Chick-Fil-A debacle. I’m not the sort who pays a lot of attention to boycotts or their opposite. And, given that much of my family has celiac disease, we don’t really frequent any sort of fast food establishment. Nevertheless, I have a twitter account and I read quite a few blogs, so I naturally heard some of the back and forth. Throughout it all the expert in the Jewish law’s question to Jesus has been running through my mind. Clearly, from his earlier answer, the man understood that Jesus was teaching that we could only love God to the extent that we are willing to love our neighbor as ourselves. It wasn’t a love God first and then as a secondary command love others. Rather, it was one command intertwined and inseparable.

Almost everyone, Christian or not, has heard about Jesus’ parable in response. We even have “Good Samaritan” laws named after it. And over the years, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about that parable. Much of it has been good and highlighted important aspects about human interactions. But I think most of what I’ve heard over the years has missed one of the key aspects of the parable.

As a response to the lawyer’s question, the parable of the Good Samaritan reads to me like a sharp rebuke. Jesus is telling the lawyer that he’s asking the wrong question for the wrong reasons. When we ask, “Who is my neighbor?” we are all in truth asking who we don’t have to love. And we are doing so by trying to group people into categories. And in response to that question, Jesus tells a story of a man who encounters a stranger who needs him — a stranger who in other circumstances probably would have despised and avoided the Samaritan — and who without hesitation or condition meets the needs of that stranger.

Whenever we ask “Who is my neighbor?” we have already stepped away from the way of life onto the way of death. The question itself indicates we want the escape clause. We want to know who we are allowed to hate. Oh, we dress it up and rationalize it in all sorts of ways; some of them are even pretty convincing.

Jesus will have none of it, though.

So who are really trying to fool? Ourselves? Are we simply attempting to justify our refusal to follow Jesus, the one we often falsely call “Lord“?

This incident is just one of many, of course. We see it every time Christians other Muslims. (Has anyone ever gotten one of those fear-mongering emails about Muslims trying to turn America into an Islamic state under sharia law from anyone other than a Christian?) We see it when a white church refuses to allow the scheduled wedding of a black couple on its premises. And we see it in this most recent dust-up, which has never really been about fast food chicken nuggets and sandwiches.

Jesus tells us in the parable the question we should instead be asking:

Who will be my neighbor today?

Out of those I know, those I will meet, or the strangers whose paths will cross mine, who will need me today? Who can I serve? Who can I help, even if only by my presence and support? Who will I be given the opportunity to love today?

Because ultimately it’s not about groups. It’s not about categories. It’s not even about generic statements that we should somehow abstractly love everyone (though that’s better than abstractly hating them, I suppose). Instead it’s about loving the individual human beings, each beloved by God, who need our love today. And the moment we ask who we have to love and who we don’t, we’ve turned our backs on Jesus. It’s really as simple and as hard as that.

And please don’t misunderstand me. I understand how hard it is. There are individuals I struggle not to hate, much less love. And there are groups (like the modern nativistic, racist GOP element) I want to other as a group, to make into a group I’m excused from loving. Like everyone else, I want to love those who love me and hate those who hate me. Christianity is hard. If anyone ever told you it was easy, they lied. But in the long run, it’s much harder, or at least more destructive, to hate.

Richard Beck has a follow-up to an earlier post in which evidence seems to show that evangelicalism is actually structured to allowed people to perceive themselves as more loving when in reality, even on a self-assessment, according to specific criteria members of that group actually aren’t more loving at all.

Fred Rogers really had it right, I think. Won’t you be my neighbor?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w9xk4hUKoQ

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 5

Posted: August 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 5

7.  Divinity and divine realities are in some respects knowable  and in some respects unknowable. They are knowable in the contemplation of what appertains to God’s essence and unknowable as regards that essence itself.

This text touches on the distinction between what is also called the essence and energies of Gods. The actual essence of God is unknowable to us. We know God through his activities or energies. Those energies are no less God, but they are active as opposed to being. Every description we have of God at some level describes an activity of God, not the essence of God. In many ways, that’s also true of the way we know each other. We do not know the essence of another human being; we know them by their activities, by their words, and by association with them. It’s a concept that sounds esoteric, but is really so fundamental to our nature that it can be hard to accurately describe it in language.


Iron Cactus

Posted: August 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Iron Cactus

My wife and I recently decided to try Iron Cactus on a night out. They have a gluten free menu and neither of us had ever been there. As the warning at the bottom of the menu notes, they do use common fryer oil, which means the chips are not actually gluten free and neither is anything else deep fried. I confirmed that it was common oil with our server. That’s a common pitfall, so I was prepared for it. (I will note it makes me appreciate Maudie’s even more. They have sealed bags of gluten free tortilla chips they bring to your table still in the bag.)

Even with that caveat, they have some intriguing options not found at the typical Mexican restaurant. I had their Abuelita’s Meatloaf and it was quite good. It’s probably not a place we’ll go frequently, but the food and experience were both good. And I didn’t seem to have any reactions, so as long as you make your selections carefully, it’s possible for someone with celiac disease to eat safely.


Weekend Update 08-04-2012

Posted: August 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 08-04-2012

I’ve spent the past week working at our data center in Martinsburg, WV, so slim pickings this weekend.

For those who somehow believe America is “post-racist”: Black wedding rejected at a white church.

One Night in Paris. Depeche Mode. Exciter Tour (2001). The first concert to which I took my wife was a Depeche Mode concert. She didn’t understand why people were making an ‘X’ sign at us. (They were asking if I dealt ecstasy and the answer was no.) This was back in the 80s and OMD opened for them. At roughly 19:00 in the video is ‘Walking in my Shoes’. Long-time readers might recall the meaning that song holds for me. Also? Martin on electric and acoustic guitars the whole night; nary a synthesizer in sight. Anyway, enjoy!

Walking In My Shoes

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 4

Posted: August 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 4

6.  Some say that the created order has coexisted with God from eternity; but this is impossible. For how can things which are limited in every way coexist from eternity with Him who is altogether infinite? Or how are they really creations if they are coeternal with the Creator? This notion is drawn from the pagan Greek philosophers, who claim that God is in no way the creator of being but only of qualities. We, however, who know almighty God, say that He is the creator not only of qualities but also of the being of created things. If this is so, created things have not coexisted with God from eternity.

We are not eternal beings. There was a time when we did not exist. There was a time when all that was did not exist. The idea that we are somehow naturally eternal seeps into Christianity from various sources today, even. We see evidence of that in various ways, but not least in Christians who also claim belief in the transmigration of souls or reincarnation.


Parallels Between Calvinism and Islam

Posted: August 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’ve been reflecting recently on the deep influence Islam had on the Renaissance. Much of the West’s recovery of classical texts, it’s numbering system, and a significant portion of what became the scientific method flowed into the Renaissance from Islamic sources and influences. And as I reflected on those influences, it struck me that medieval Islam had a significant impact on the Protestant reformation and that influence is most evident in Calvinism.

Hopefully my point won’t be misunderstood. I’m well aware of John Calvin’s publicly expressed opinion on Islam. (At one point, I believe he called it one of the two horns of the antichrist with the other being the Roman Catholic Church.) I don’t mean direct, conscious influence. Rather, Islam had for centuries helped shape the culture within which Calvin was born and lived and which formed the lens through which he perceived the world, but it was not an overt influence.  Culture tends to operate below the conscious level and the forces which shape culture are many and varied. But when I look at the church Calvin founded, I see a number of strands influenced by Islam.

First, the Reformers in general and Calvin specifically, made “the book” the foundation and core of their faith in a way that had never been true in Christianity. Christians never traditionally saw themselves as people of the book. That’s actually a phrase from within Islam describing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Rather Christians had always been the people of the living Lord, the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. The Holy Scriptures, and the Gospels in particular, were always important in Christianity, but they were never at the center of our faith in the way Torah is in Judaism or the Qur’an in Islam.

And then I’m struck by Calvin’s fierce iconoclasm. Iconoclasm had risen within the Roman Empire in the eighth century and its rise at that point in time within Christianity is almost certainly connected to the influence of Islam on the emperor and other leading figures of the state. That led to a period of intense persecution that was ultimately ended only by the seventh ecumenical council condemning iconoclasm as heresy. That event is still celebrated today in the feast of the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” on the first Sunday of Great Lent and the matter was largely settled within Christianity until Calvin revived it. Again, as in the eighth century, the influence of Islam, even on a cultural or subconscious level, can be seen.

However, the most telling influence to me lies in the sort of God Calvin ultimately described. John Calvin emphasized the sovereign nature of God over creation. His belief in predestination accords more closely with the Islamic concept of preordainment than anything found within mainstream Christian tradition. For Calvin, as for Muslims, everything that happens has been preordained by God. And that everything is truly all-encompassing, covering good and evil alike. If an army pillages a town, that was ordained by God. If a drought leaves a country in famine, that was ordained by God. A hurricane striking a city inflicting death, loss, and pain was ordained by God. We can see Calvin’s influence today when Christians point to something horrible and describe it as an act of God. And that aspect of his theology shares much more in common with Islam than Christianity.

Of course, Calvinism is also different from Islam on many levels. My point is not that it’s simply some form of Christianized Islam. Rather, I see threads connecting elements within Calvinism (and spreading from there to a wide swath of Protestant Christianity) to the cultural influence medieval Islam had on the European culture that formed and shaped John Calvin. None of us ever stand in a vacuum free from outside influence and most of the time it’s even hard to see those forces that have shaped and formed us. And Calvinism along with the other Christian strands it in turn influenced, seems to have been shaped in part by Islam.