Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love 19

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

70. You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their characters – for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person.

We can always find a reason to hate. In fact, hatred is probably the easiest place for us to rest our heart. It’s sad that Christians in the US today are generally better known for who they hate than for who they love. It doesn’t really matter what justification we use — and we have little difficulty justifying hatred — when we hate instead of love, we are not ‘Christian‘ in any discernible way.

There is nothing ‘Christian’ about loving those who are like us or who do good to us and hating our enemies and those unlike us. We are only ‘Christian’ when we love our enemies, when we do good to those who want to hurt us, when we care for the least of these, and when we pray for those who wrong us.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 17

Posted: May 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

61.  ‘But I say to you,’ says the Lord, ‘love your enemies … do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you’ (Matt. 5:44). Why did He command this? To free you from hatred, irritation, anger and rancor, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love. And you cannot attain such love if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. For God loves all men equally and wishes them ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

I’ve come to realize over the years that not all Christians really believe that God loves all men equally and is ‘not willing that any should perish.’ I don’t mean they would necessarily come out and say that God doesn’t love everyone equally (though possibly some of them would). But when, for example, something like two-thirds of evangelical Christians in America believe that torture is sometimes justified, that says as much about the particular God they proclaim as it does about them.

I’m not claiming that I manage to love my enemies or those who hurt me. Most days I’ve done well if I can avoid actively wishing them harm. I’m certainly not free from irritation, anger and rancor. But I’m deeply aware that’s because I’ve not yet attained the love that Jesus showed us. I do try to find a way to pray for those who might have hurt me at least a little each day. I strive not to respond in anger. I strive to love. And I pray for mercy.


Evangelical Is Not Enough 10

Posted: February 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Evangelical Is Not Enough | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelical Is Not Enough 10

The tenth and final chapter of Thomas Howard’s book, Envoi, stresses that all Christians engaged in this discussion are, or should be allies, and not enemies. While some embrace modern Christian divisions and pluralism (unfortunately including my own SBC denomination as illustrated in a recent issue of the SBTC Texan), most Christians recognize the wrongness of the place in which we find ourselves. We know what the Holy Scriptures say about divisions, about love, and about communion, and we recognize that we’ve fallen so far that it’s hard to even tell how to begin to heal all that we have done. Howard suggests three things that must be accomplished if we are ever to return to something like what we should be as the Church.

First, Howard suggests we must return to the episcopate. “Pastors need pastors.” Having largely been a part of loosely association congregational churches, I sense a great deal of truth in that. As you study the history of the Church, you cannot help but be struck by the way the bishops held us together through their communion with each other. Oh, there were bad bishops. And there were times that the people (the laos) had to stand against and reject heretical bishops — even meeting in the fields rather than in the church. But those form the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time the bishops were the glue. St. Ignatius of Antioch’s vision of the fullness of the Church (it’s catholicity) centered on the bishop surrounded by his presbyters, deacons, and people largely held true for many centuries. Until we all begin to return to that vision, catholicity will certainly remain out of reach.

Second, Howard insists the Eucharist must return as the focal point for Christian worship. Again, I think he’s right. That has always been the center of Christian liturgy. Always, that is until recently when some turned the liturgy of the Word into the focal point. That was an error of enormous proportions and impact. It turned our worship into something like the synagogue worship of rabbinic Judaism or the mosques of Islam while simultaneously making it less than either.

And third, Howard suggests that a return to the Christian year would be beneficial. It would put us back on the same ground, telling and living the same story, redeeming time and making it present. And we would all be doing it together.

Howard’s book has been a good, easily read introduction to the deep history and practice of the Christian church. I have a hard time judging how well he speaks to his target audience of evangelicals. Even though I’ve lived among the evangelical tribe for years, I’m still often surprised by them. I suppose I am one since I can’t really say that I’m anything else, but I’m still often bemused.


The Didache 6 – Be Perfect

Posted: June 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect.

This line of the teaching haunts me. It echos Jesus in its call for us to live the way of love and by so doing to be perfect. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches (Matthew 5:43-48) that as we learn to love our enemies (and thus have no enemies) we will be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.

And again, a rich, young, devout man comes to Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22) seeking life. He has followed the way of Torah faithfully, yet recognizes that something is still lacking. Jesus’ answer begins with “If you want to be perfect …” Being perfect, then, is connected to receiving life and involves sacrificing to care for the poor as we follow Jesus.

James adds another layer (James 1:2-8) to the mix. If we’re going to be perfect, it seems we must have patience. And patience comes through trials and suffering. If our faith is never tested, it seems we would have difficulty becoming perfect. Some of the things we suffer, then, are for our salvation. I can look back on my life and see that pretty clearly at times.

There is a strain within Protestantism that holds that even if you never struggle to actively love your enemies, care for the poor, remain faithful through trials, or visibly ever change from the person you were into a person shaped and colored by Jesus of Nazareth, nevertheless you can somehow be “saved” if you give some sort of mental assent to some ideas about Jesus. It’s as though they believe the God who has freely allowed them to shape and form themselves into the person they desire to be will suddenly, after their death, magically change them into the person they should have been, but never tried or desired to be in life.

I have to confess, I don’t understand that perspective. I see a God who created us to be shaped and formed by the way of love, the way of life, the way of Jesus. But I also see a God who allows us to shape ourselves into whatever sort of creature we desire to be. And while I see much evidence that in our death and resurrection God will complete our transformation in ways we can hardly fathom or imagine in acts of new creation, I see no evidence that he will contravene our will and shape us into something other than what we desired to be in life. In the new creation we will become in truth and outward reality what we have desired to be in our heart.

For good or ill.


The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

Posted: June 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 4 – Have No Enemies

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.

The way of Jesus, the way of life, is the way of love. We should not find that surprising for as St. John tells us, “God is love.” Nevertheless, we do not want to love every other human being we meet. We believe we ought to be able to pick and choose whom to love. Some people, after all, are not worthy of our love. Is that not so?

No, the way of life is about perceiving reality and acting accordingly. We are to love even those who actively hate us because we perceive their reality as a beloved eikon of God and as our brother or sister.

I see dimly how this is true. Jesus had no enemies. Those who plotted his betrayal and death were not his enemies, though I’m sure they saw themselves as such. They were his brothers. The Romans who crucified him were not his enemies. He forgave them their actions done in ignorance. Judas was not his enemy. Jesus loved him.

Each time I read this part of the Didache these days, I am reminded of two posts by Father Stephen Freeman about a monk in the Holy Land who has no enemies, On the Edge of Heaven and A Single Monk. I invite you to read his posts. Father Stephen expresses what I would say better than I possibly could.

In the face of the God of love and those human beings who truly love, I can only exclaim, “Lord have mercy!” If we love those who hate us, we can have no enemies. Instead, we too often choose to live in delusion surrounded if not by perceived enemies then by those we keep at arm’s length because they might be our enemy. In fear, we push them away rather than embracing them.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


The Didache 3 – Fast for Those Who Persecute You

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 3 – Fast for Those Who Persecute You

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you.

What does it mean to love the other? We find the injunction to bless those who curse us, to pray for our enemies, to do good to those who intend us harm repeatedly in the Holy Scriptures. We see it lived out in the lives of the saints. But very often we do not do it. I know that, at best, I manage feeble, faltering steps in that direction.

Today, I want to reflect on the phrase I never really noticed before. My eyes, for some reason, tended to slide right over it.

fast for those who persecute you

I am developing some idea what it means to use my words and my body to bless the other. I’m slowly developing some understanding of what it means to pray. But how do you fast for another? How can our fast in our own bodies be offered up for the benefit of another human being? For surely this is what the saying means. I do understand that in the Holy Scriptures, fasting and prayer are often tied together. I have some grasp how to intercede for another through prayer. I’m less certain how I can intercede for another through fasting — how my fast can be for their good. And yet there seems to be some aspect of that here.

I don’t yet have an answer to this question. If you’re expecting answers in this series or from me in general, you probably have set yourself up for disappointment. I tend to always raise more questions than find pat answers. I even tend to find questions within such answers as I already have. But this question is important to me.

If I am going to live a lifelong fast, I would prefer it to have meaning.