Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Apostolic Rule: Disciples

The teaching of holy apostle Paul…

Insist that people stop teaching strange doctrines and taking notice of myths and endless geneologies; these things are only likely to raise irrelevant doubts instead of furthering the designs of God which are revealed in faith.
1 Timothy 1:3b-4

The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith. There are some people who have gone off the straight course and taken a path that leads to empty speculation.
1 Timothy 1:5-6

Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15

Fight like a good soldier with faith and a good conscience for your weapons. Some people have put conscience aside and wrecked their faith in consequence.
1 Timothy 1:18b-19

There should be prayers offered for everyone—petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving—and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right and will please God our Savior: He wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times there will be some who will desert the faith and choose to listen to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils; and the cause of this is the lies told by hypocrites whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:1-2

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself spiritually. Physical exercises are useful enough, but the usefulness of spirituality is unlimited, since it holds out the reward of life here and now, and of the future life as well.
1 Timothy 4:7-8

The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers.
1 Timothy 4:10

Be an example to all the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith, and your purity. Make use of the time by reading to the people, preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 4:12-13

Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
1 Timothy 4:16

Anyone who does not look after his own relations, especially if they are living with him, has rejected the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8

Never make yourself an accomplice in anybody else’s sin. Keep yourself pure.
1 Timothy 5:22b

Anyone who teaches anything different and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit, with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another, and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making money.
1 Timothy 6:3-5

We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. As long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation. They get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils, and there are some who pursuing it have wandered away from the faith.
1 Timothy 6:7-10a

Aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle.
1 Timothy 6:11

Warn those who are rich in this world’s goods that they are not to look down on other people and not to set their hopes on money which is untrustworthy, but on God who out of His riches gives us all we need for our happiness. Tell them that they are to do good and be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share.
1 Timothy 6:17-18

Have nothing to do with the pointless philosophical discussions and antagonistic beliefs of the “knowledge” which is no knowledge at all.
1 Timothy 6:20

God’s gift is not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

You are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:8a

God has saved us and called us to be holy, not because of anything we ourselves have done, but for His own purpose and by His own grace.
2 Timothy 1:9

Keep as your pattern the sound teaching, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been trusted to look after something precious. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Timothy 1:13-14

Accept the strength that comes from the grace of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1

You have heard everything. Hand it on to reliable people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2

Put up with your share of difficulties like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3

Remember the Good News: Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
2 Timothy 2:8

If we have died with Him, then we shall live with Him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with Him.
If we disown Him, then He will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but He is always Faithful, for He cannot disown
His own self.
2 Timothy 2:11b-13

There is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening.
2 Timothy 2:14

Have nothing to do with pointless philosophical discussions. They only lead further and further away from the true religion. Talk of this kind corrodes like gangrene.
2 Timothy 2:16-17

God’s solid foundation stone is still in position, and this is the inscription on it: “The Lord knows those who are His own,” and “All who call on the Name of the Lord must avoid sin.”
2 Timothy 2:19

Instead of giving in to your impulses, fasten your attention on holiness, faith, love, and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with pure minds.
2 Timothy 2:22

Avoid futile and silly speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels. A servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved.
2 Timothy 2:23-26

You may be quite sure that in the last days there are going to be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and grasping, boastful, arrogant, and rude, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, heartless and unappeasable. They will be slanderers, profligates, savages, and enemies of everything that is good. They will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Have nothing to do with people like that.
2 Timothy 3:1-5

Anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked.
2 Timothy 3:12

You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true. Remember who your teachers were.
2 Timothy 3:14

All Scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy.
2 Timothy 3:16

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be Judge of the living and the dead, in the name of his Appearing and of his Kingdom: Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience. Do all with patience and the intention of teaching. Be careful always to choose the right course. Be brave under trials. Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work in thoroughgoing service.
2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5

Bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion, and give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised long ago by God, who does not lie.
Titus 1:1b-2

Have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition.
Titus 1:9a

To all who are pure themselves, everything is pure; but to those who have been corrupted and lack faith, nothing can be pure.
Titus 1:15

Preach the behavior which goes with healthy doctrine.
Titus 2:1

In everything you do, make yourself an example of working for good.
Titus 2:7

When you are teaching be an example in your sincerity and earnestness, and in keeping all that you say so wholesome that nobody can make objections to it.
Titus 2:8

There must be no petty thieving. Show complete honesty at all times.
Titus 2:10a

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race, and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everthing that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions. We must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world while we are waiting for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be His very own and would have no ambition except to do good.
Titus 2:11-14

Be ready to do good at every opportunity.
Titus 3:1b

Be courteous and polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient, and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries.
Titus 3:2b-3a

If a man disputes what you teach, then after a first and a second warning, have no more to do with him.
Titus 3:10

Faith will give rise to a sense of fellowship that will show you all the good things that we are able to do for Christ.
Philemon 1:6

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Dysangelion

Whether such a word exists or not, it is a logical possibility from a Greek point of view. For example, we say évkolo, ‘easy’, and dýskolo, ‘difficult’. Since there is the evangélion, ‘good news’, there must be the dysangélion, ‘bad news.’ Logically, such a word can exist, but worse, the reality, or unreality, behind such a concept can also exist, and it does.

αρχη του ευαγγελιου ιησου χριστου υιου του θεου…
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,
the Son of God…

Mark 1:1


This first verse of the gospel according to Mark has always been one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. Every time I hear it, my spirit jumps like the unborn John the Baptist jumped in his mother’s womb when he heard the voice of the mother of his Lord greeting his mother. And whenever I read it, I think I feel what Walt Whitman must have felt as he describes in his poem,

BEGINNING my studies, the first step pleas'd me so much,
The mere fact, consciousness--these forms--the power of motion,
The least insect or animal--the senses--eyesight--love;
The first step, I say, aw'd me and pleas'd me so much,
I have hardly gone, and hardly wish'd to go, any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time, to sing it in extatic songs.


For Uncle Walt, the great Book of God (the World God made) startled and awed him as much as the little Book of God (the Word God speaks) startles and awes me, and stops me in my tracks, stops everything in me, brings ‘me’ to a complete halt, so I can take ‘Him’ in, who passes and speaks to me His name as He hides me ‘in the cleft of the Rock’ who is Jesus. He passes and speaks His name,

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
Exodus 34:6-7

Mercy, mercy, mercy is God’s response to us who chant unto Him, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ but to men whose God is the world instead of whose world is God have another heritage, one that they have chosen for themselves, since they refused to let God choose for them their path, and let Him bring them to His land of promise. Instead, they wander, sometimes for generations, in circles in spiritual wasteland, afraid to follow the Word of their Lord into the abode of joy. They send out scouts to reconnoiter that land, and when they return, they believe only those who say, ‘the men that we saw there make us look like grasshoppers,’ and so ‘they refuse a land of delight’ and stay huddled together in small clutches of madness and anger like dwarves in a stable.

Among the Desert Fathers is a story where someone came to an abba and told him that so-and-so has abandoned the spiritual path and taken the road back to the world. The abba’s response is, ‘Don’t marvel that one has taken the road to the world, but that one has abandoned it.’

So it is, that one day, coming upon an article at a blog of a retired judge in upstate New York, I found the story of a fifth generation Baptist minister abandoning the spiritual life and taking the road back to the world. Actually, it is a fait accompli. He took that road back, and he’s even written a book about it, Towards The Light: A Fifth-Generation Baptist Minister’s Journey from Religion to Reason. It was reading about him and his book that put into my mind the neologism dysangelion, ‘bad news,’ for what else is this man peddling, but the bad news, and not ‘about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,’ but about—himself? So what else is new? Without knowing it, in his own way he is following the same logic as that of many modern Christian authors, writing books that promote not Christ, but themselves.

Reading the short article online, one by one all the same, stale arguments against religion, attacking it in legitimate and illegitimate ways, crossed my mind, but of course nothing really against Christ Himself. What could this man, or anyone say? Jesus has not left the door open to him or to any man to be able to attack Him. He is Who He is. ‘Of all men You are the most handsome; Your lips are moist with grace, for God has blessed You forever’ (Psalm 45). As C.S. Lewis put it, speaking of Christ, He is either a madman, or the Son of God: there is no alternative.

So we live in a world where free will exists and in political systems, most of us, that allow freedom of thought and expression, and so what used to be ‘in the closet’ and just whispered behind our backs, can now be done and said openly, the ‘bad news’ has gone public among us, wreaking havoc and terror among the pious servants of God. Well, no, not exactly, but if people want to be like wanton prostitutes lifting their skirts and exposing their shame, then we let them. God is not mocked, and neither are we.

A mad dog


A seminarian wrote,

I remember listening to a debate in my apologetics class regarding good works. One classmate made the point that Mother Teresa never did anything good because she did not have a regenerated heart. This is a controversial statement for two reasons. The second is that most people assume that she was a Christian because of her works, though that is debatable based on her writings and what she professed.

To be sure, this debate was taking place in a Calvinist (I would like to say evangelical, but I no longer know what this term means to others besides myself) seminary, where they will be very careful to reiterate that we are never saved by works (which by the way, all Christians believe, even Roman Catholics), but the conclusion that they came to, that it is doubtful that Mother Teresa was a Christian, is incredible.

Mother Teresa is someone whom I know fairly well, from reading about her work among the poorest of the poor (including among us who are not so poor), and her testimonies as well as what others have written about her. I know a fellow Christian when I see one. How can anyone doubt that she was a Christian? Well, I suppose the same people would doubt that a Roman pope could be a Christian… but my point is, that we are wasting our time and efforts to no avail, and in fact endangering our own souls, to judge others like this. In our effort to discern what is the correct doctrine of salvation or whatever, by our shallow judgments we trample the work of Christ in His saints, when they do not fit our presumptuous dogmatic schemes. Lord, have mercy!

Just call me a mad dog barking at a dumb wall that will not fall down no matter how hard I bark, but bark I must just the same. There are people trapped behind that wall, separated from the simple Truth who is Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of our souls, who also is knocking on the doors in that wall, seemingly to no avail.

Like the merchants of Gadara, they fear the Man who sent their livestock careening to their deaths down the cliffs by the Galilean lake. They care little about the man whose life was straightened by the Master's words, nor that he who ran naked and gashed himself is now in his right mind and clothed. They hear the Man knocking whose teachings they say they glorify and guard against the wrong-minded, and they themselves do not open the door. He might cast their livestock, their investment, into the lake too, and then they would have nothing, be nothing, except (if they still wanted it) to be His disciples. He might tell them, as He told the Gerasene demoniac, that He didn't want him to follow Him, but rather to go and tell others what had been done for him. And that's just not good enough for them. They want to sit on thrones to the Master's right and left. But can they drink the cup that He has drunk? Or will they, like the one ‘enthroned’ on the cross to His left, say, "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
(Luke 23:39)

Exclusive, and Inclusive

These two writings of the modern Church Father Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča, should be read and appreciated together. I have reposted these many times before, but some things just cannot be heard enough. Truth is truth, but our ears and minds fall asleep between feedings of this heavenly food…

Exclusive

The primitive Church was very puritanic concerning the Christian spirit. She was not particular as to the vessels in which to pour the new wine, but she was extremely particular as to the wine itself. She borrowed the vessels in Judæa, Alexandria, Athens, Rome, but she never borrowed wine. The Christian spirit and the pagan spirit were just like two opposite poles, like white and black, or day and night. The Church was conscious of it, and jealously watchful that no drop of any foreign spirit should be mixed with the precious spirit of the New Gospel. There existed no thought of compromise, and no idea of inclusiveness whatever regarding the spirit. The terrific conflict of Christianity and Paganism through centuries sprang from the irreconcilability of two different spirits. Were the Church as inclusive as to the spirit as she was to forms, doctrines, customs and worships, conflicts never would arise—but then neither would Christianity arise.

The modern Church is particular as to its institutions, but not particular at all as to its spirit. The Roman Emperors never would persecute the modern Church, for they would easily recognise their own spirit included in her. Nor would the Pharaohs from Egypt persecute modern Christianity. Nor would Areopagus or Akropolis be puzzled so much had St Paul preached to them the modern European Christianity with its complicated spirit of all kinds of compromises with Heaven and Hell, compromise with the State, Plutocracy, Nationalism, Imperialism, Conquest, War, Diplomacy, Secular Philosophy, Secular Science, Agnostic Parliaments, Tribal Chauvinism, Education, Officialism, Bureaucracy, etc., etc. All these things have their own spirit, and every such spirit is partly or wholly included in the spirit of the Church, i.e. of modern Christianity. None of the Christian Churches of our time makes an exception as to this inclusiveness of all kinds of spirits. Even Protestantism, which claims the simplicity of its Christian ritual and administration, represents a lamentable mosaic of spirits gathered from all the pagan corners of secular Europe and mixed up with the Christian wine in the same barrel.

The Church of the East excommunicated thousands of those who crossed themselves with two fingers instead of using three fingers. The Church of the West burnt thousands of those who did not recognise the papal organisation of the Church as the only ark of salvation. Yet there is rarely to be found in the Church annals an excommunication on the ground of chauvinism or brutal egoism. No one of the world conquerors—neither Napoleon nor Kaiser William—have been excommunicated by the Church. It signifies an extreme decadence of the Church. And this decadence penetrates and dominates our own time. Speaking on the reunion of the Churches the peoples of the East are anxious to know, not whether the Church of the West has preserved the unmixed Christian spirit in its integrity, but whether this Church still keeps Filioque as a dogma, and whether she has ikons, and whether she allows eggs and milk in Lent. And the people of the West are anxious to know whether the Eastern Church has a screen quite different from their own screen at the altar, and whether she has been always tenaciously exclusive in teaching, worship and organisation. Who of us and of you asks about the integrity of the Christian spirit? If St Paul were amongst us he would ridicule our controversies on Filioque and all the trifles concerning Church organisation and the external expressions of Christianity. He would ask: What happened with the spirit he preached? What happened with this spirit which excommunicated de facto the Jewish narrow Patriotism and the Roman Imperialism? Have we still this exclusive spirit which moved the world effecting the greatest revolution in History? I am sure he would have to repeat with good reasons to every Church and to everyone of us: ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’

Well, we must come again to this source of Christian strength and greatness, which is Christ’s spirit. A new revival, yea, regeneration of Christianity, could be possible only in a united Christian Church; and the union of the Church is possible only upon the ground of the primitive Church, which was inclusive in teaching, worship and organisation, but exclusive in spirit. On the day when we all exclude from ourselves the Jewish and Greek and Roman spirit, and retain only the pure Christian spirit, we shall be at once ready to include each other’s Church into one body, into one Christianity. We must be clear about it, and we must confess that the divisions of the church are due to the invasion of a foreign spirit, an unclean spirit, into the Church. When the Church cleanses herself from this foreign unclean spirit she will be victorious over herself, and from this victory to the ultimate victory of Christianity over our planet will be a very short distance.

Inclusive

Judaism was destined for the people of Israel only. The Christian Church was destined for the people of Israel too, but not for them only. She included Greeks as well.

The Greek polytheism of Olympus was destined for the Hellenic race only. The Christian Church was destined for the Hellenic race too, but not for it only. She included Indians as well.

Buddha’s wisdom was offered to the monks and vegetarians. Monks and vegetarians the Christian Church included in her lap, but also married and social people too.

Pythagoras founded a religious society of intellectual aristocrats. The Christian Church from the beginning included intellectual aristocrats side by side with the ignorant and unlettered.

The Persian prophet, Zoroaster, recruited soldiers of the god of light among the best men to fight against the god of darkness. His religious institution was like a military barracks. The Christian Church included both the best and the worst, the righteous and the sinners, the healthy and the sick. It was a barracks and a hospital at the same time. It was an institution both for spiritual fighting and spiritual healing.

The Chinese sage, Confucius, preached a wonderful ethical pragmatism, and the profound thinker, Lao Tse, preached an all-embracing spiritualism. Christian wisdom included both of them, opening Heaven for the first and showing the dramatic importance of the physical world for the second.

Islam—yes, Islam—had in some sense a Christian ambition: to win the whole world. The difference was: Islam wished world-conquest; the Church, the world’s salvation. Islam intended to subdue all men and bring them before God as His servants: The Church intended to educate all men, to purify and elevate them, and to bring them before God as His children.

And all others: star-worshippers, and fire, and wood, and water, and stone, and animal-worshippers had a touching sense of the immediate divine presence in nature. The Church came not to extinguish this sense but to explain and to subordinate it; to put God in the place of demons and hope instead of fear.

The Church came not to destroy, but to purify, to aid and to assimilate. The destination of the Church was neither national nor racial, but cosmic. No exclusive power was ever destined to be a world-power.

The ultimate failure of Islam to become a world-power lies in its exclusiveness. It was with religion as with politics. Every exclusive policy is foredoomed to failure: the German as well as the Turkish and the Napoleonic.

The policy of the Church was designed by her Divine Founder: “He that is not against us is for us.” Well, there is no human race on earth wholly against Christ and wholly unprepared to receive Him. The wisdom of the Christian missionaries therefore is to see first in what ways Providence has prepared a soil for Christian seed; to see which of the Christian elements a race, or a religion, already possesses, and how to utilise these elements and weld them into Christianity. All that, in order to make Christianity grow organically, instead of pushing it mechanically.

In conclusion let me repeat again: the wisdom of the Church has been inclusive.

Inclusive was the wisdom of her Founder, inclusive the wisdom of her organisation and of her destination. Exclusiveness was the very sickness and weakness of the Church. That is why we in the East in the time of sickness of the Church looked neither towards Peter, nor Paul, nor John, but towards the Holy Wisdom, the all-healing and all-illuminating. For Aghia Sophia in Constantinople, the temple dedicated to Christ the Eternal, includes in itself the sanctuaries of Peter, Paul and John; moreover, it is supported even by some pillars of Diana’s temple from Ephesus and has many other things, in style or material, which belonged to the Paganism of old. Indeed, Aghia Sophia has room and heart even for Islam. The Mohamedans have been praising it as the best of their sanctuaries!

Look to the Holy Wisdom! Look beyond Peter, and Paul, and John—through them and still beyond them! Every Church has her prophet, her apostle, her angel. Look now over them all to the very top of the pyramid, where all the lines meet!

Either Christianity is one, or there is no Christianity.
Either the Church is universal, or there is no Church.

Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča

And to the Republic

Affirming that America, that is, these United States, are a Christian nation, an opinion I can only hold because of the overwhelming evidence (for better or for worse) in support of it, and noting nonetheless that none of the multitude of Christian sects, nor the Church, have been established as a state church, and since in these modern times a significant proportion of the citizens espouses no institutionalized religion, it seems reasonable to me that Government should get out of the marriage business.

Without denying that the basic unit of human society is the family, and of the Church the Christian family, as an Orthodox Christian I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that nothing the Government can do has anything to add to or take away from it, when it confines itself to its proper sphere, the maintenance of law and order among free, equal, and fraternal citizens, which can, and in this day should, include the regulation of households, of which families are a significant subset.

By ‘families’ I mean to say, biologically related households, not to the prejudice of households which are also families consisting of biologically unrelated people. By ‘marriage’ I mean the traditional marriage between man and woman, not to the prejudice of the unions of same sex couples who may also call their partnership ‘marriage’, nor to distinguish as different the households that are maintained by each. It is in society’s best interests that its basic unit, the household (or family), be safeguarded and maintained.

To that end, Government, as instituted the servant of the people and their guardian, should deploy its authority to make firm the bases of society, the households, regulating by license all householders to assure the safety and liberty of the citizen, from conception till death, yes, from cradle to grave making sure that no one is being denied what belongs to all, yet within the bounds of reason with respect to the maturity of each. Parents and guardians have authority by nature over offspring. This to be respected.

That the Government, again I speak only of these United States (which have their own traditions and constitutions), should foster, maintain, and regulate the basic unit of society by universal licensing, establishing households (or families) as legal entities, removes all social controversy, confines the deliberations of the various religious bodies regarding marriage and the family to those under their jurisdiction, and restores the right of essential privacy in relationships between adult citizens.

The movement for ‘marriage equality’ has brought it about that ‘gay’ and lesbian couples can now legally marry and raise families if they so choose. Some of these couples are Christians belonging to sects whose theology of marriage includes same-sex unions. That the Government has extended ‘marriage’ to all was and is not within its authority. Rather it should retreat from this usurpation and confine itself to establishing and maintaining what is for the good of society without prejudice to any.

The Government should ‘marry’ no one. That is an office belonging to the Church, and to religious bodies, whether Christian or not. Instead, for legal purposes and for equitable taxation, it should register and hold to standards domestic partnerships consisting of two householders, as well as recognizing as households any that may consist of only one adult member. Two unmarried siblings could live together and maintain a household, or two unwed parents of children, however they have become single.

We have a responsibility to rebuild society out of the rubbish heap that it has become through the depredations of consumer addiction and fantasy mongering. Leaving well enough alone will work only in those places in America where society still exists, primarily in rural and small town settings, but even there the creeping disease of anti-social attitudes can be found. We have to include as many people of good will as possible and, in the end, all in the restoration of society in America, one nation, under God.

Indivisible, yes, and especially this: with liberty and justice for all.

Jesus, Taker of Souls

Jesus, you are the taker of souls,
you are the secret thief of souls.
Under cover of night you steal your daughter
from pirates who curse and strike the air.

Jesus, you are the holy piper
and every soul who hears you
throws away his living and runs after you
leaving his winding-sheet in the road.

Jesus, you are the all-loved man.
Masked in darkness, you draw out the soul
of a dying man from its lifelong home.
Though he is terrified he surrenders.

Jesus, you are the taker of souls
for every soul that hears your name
immediately tries to give away his life
so he can be free to join your Company.

Jesus, you are the teacher who sings to souls.
A shock went through the body human
And all men in their souls looked wildly
for the light that suddenly shined on them.

Jesus, you are the all-loved man
for every one who thinks he runs from you
leaps into your arms and he who chases you
tries to hold a bundle but drops it in the path.

Alana Roberts
the latest from her blog

When the time comes

Homelessness. The phenomenon is growing. It wasn’t out in the open at first, although of course it was, we just didn’t notice it, because we don’t usually look under bridges or in the deep bush of unoccupied wastelands. What we did notice at first, and for many years now in the big cities, was this other phenomenon: on the side of every road where drivers must stop, for a stop sign or traffic light, a man would be standing holding up a piece of cardboard on which was scrawled ‘Anything helps. God bless!’ or something to that effect.

Half a century ago, when I was a child, beggars were scarce, even in a big city like Chicago. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any. In my young adulthood, I emigrated to Canada, to Edmonton, a big city in Alberta. There I saw my first beggars, Native Americans (Indians) panhandling for small change on downtown streets. Most of them looked terrible, most were alcoholics and unemployed, refugees in reverse from where they came from on the reserves, and they often slept on out-of-the-way sidewalks and in neglected doorways.

I can’t remember giving these beggars anything, but then, in those days, I barely had anything to give. Instead, I had always followed a pattern that I had seen in my own family: help your neighbor in need, when you can, with whatever you have, but don’t drop money into a beggar’s hat just because he looks poor. It was a pattern that I later realized was part of God’s plan: He sends people to you, and you know it, because what they need is exactly what you know you can give. No need to go out of one’s way to look for beggars to help.

Sometimes these people were homeless. My mother took in some boy prostitutes during a severe cold spell one winter in Joliet, Illinois, where she was living. I think it was my younger brother who discovered them. They were street kids, homeless, trying to keep warm and sleeping in railroad box cars. They supported themselves by servicing affluent homosexual men who would drive down from Chicago for ‘safe sex’ with boys. My mother knew what they did and didn’t judge them. For a few days, they could live as kids again, warm and well-fed.

But the beggars of today, those street corner bandits. Yes, some of them behave as bandits, though most just stoically stand there looking somewhat pathetic. I don’t doubt that they need help, but it isn’t the kind of help they’re asking for. The guilty public, those who silence their consciences for other sins they are committing, roll their car windows down and throw a handful of inconvenient small change, a dollar bill or two, into their hand, and then quickly speed off, barely hearing the ‘Thanks and God bless!’ croaked out as their receipt.

This phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions, but as long as it was just bodies guarding street corners, people have put up with it. The other phenomenon, the homelessness though, is one that cannot be as easily ignored. Why? Because the homeless, whether by choice or circumstances, aren’t camping out in remote, abandoned locations anymore. They are camping out where we can see them, where we work, go shopping, even where we live. The number of new camps is visually staggering, and the authorities’ response is scant.

Yes, local civil authorities are taking measures to respond to this phenomenon, but because we are no longer a society but just aggregates of individuals who depend on others to take responsibility and solve our problems, the response is ineffectual. Homeless shelters often in unused public buildings, legal campgrounds where there shouldn’t be any, dropouts from society being moved about like gaming pieces, all because there is in reality no society. What’s the proof of that? Societies have both the will and the power to defend themselves.

Defend themselves from what? From anything that breaks them down, anything that creates disorder on the scale that we now see it all around us. An aggregate of individuals, each putting themselves first, is not a society. It is a human population which has reverted to the state of nature, to what used to be called ‘the noble savage.’ Savages we are, but noble? Far from it. ‘Every man for himself’ is the recipe for the social ills we now find ourselves in, unemployment, poverty, and now, epidemic homelessness. Before we can solve these problems, we must become a society.

Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz, ‘the common good before one’s own good,’ a German expression capitalized by the National Socialists and which became Hitler’s basic stance on the subordination of the economy to the national interest, is both a rational and a Christian concept essential to the maintenance of human society. We have to stop thinking emotionally. We have to step out and act. We have to ask, ‘What does good?’ instead of ‘What feels good?’ We have to look at our stock pile of ideas, and put the ones that produce what we want to work.

This is where, it appears to me, society is heading. What? Didn’t I just claim that we are not a society but an aggregate of egoists? Well, yes, I did, but now I have to speak less precisely. Society is starting to wake up to the fact that we have handed over our authority to political elites, to oligarchies. Next, we must realize that this happened because we abandoned our commitment to social responsibility, because we preferred being baby-sat instead of being grown-up. As long as our needs were being met, automatically, we needn’t do anything more.

This is, of course, nonsense, again, as we are finding out. We are just around the corner from some massive changes. Homelessness is a squalor we have discovered we can no longer afford, beggary a blight that we can no longer support. There are better ways to live, not just for the homeless and those found begging at intersections, but for ourselves as well. The ills that plague society, such as it is, have actually killed society, and we just didn’t notice. Now, there’s nothing we can do but bring it back alive. Let’s be ready to move when the time comes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Beatitude

I am happy, and I want to be, but it’s not something I have to talk myself into, like some silly optimist. Happiness doesn’t come easily, because it can’t depend on what’s happening around us, and it isn’t achieved by merely ignoring the evils in the world near or far. No, it doesn’t come easily if we think it comes from anywhere outside ourselves.

Happiness is something built into us by our Creator, it’s a gift He has bestowed on every creature, it’s an inner light which He appointed for us to be able to see our way, even when things get very, very dark. That sin which clings so closely that we fall to thinking is part of us, that we sometimes blame God for, makes us unhappy, at odds with everything.

Some people even canonize the state of being unhappy so that they can feel pious about it. It becomes a proof of their fidelity to God and to His Word. Sin in them confuses ‘blessed are they that mourn’ with a personal cult of unhappiness that they seek to impose on others around them. We all have experienced this. We call it ‘guilt tripping.’

In His sermon on the mount, our Lord begins by revealing to us the true human nature with which we were created. We call these sayings ‘beatitudes’ and sometimes confuse them with a regimen of ideal behavior which we feel the Lord is asking of us. The contrary is true. He is telling us of the gifts He bestowed on us when He created us happy.

Yes, happy—μακαριος, makários, ‘happy’—the blessed state in which we were created. He begins, ‘How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.’ Can anyone make themselves, by trial and error, ‘poor in spirit’? Is the Lord asking this of us? Or is He telling us, ‘Return to Me, and I will return to you. Be what I made you. Be happy’?

The same is true of the other beatitudes, even the next one which seems impossible to us, ‘How happy are those who mourn: they shall be comforted.’ If He created us to be happy, how can He be telling us that when we are happy, we will mourn? What will we mourn for, and how are we to mourn? Ironically, this saying’s solution is, the question is the answer.

We are being called, we are being tugged at, by the Lord to be happy, to return to the state of being in which we were created. At that moment when at His loving command each of us emerges from nothing, He is with us, He is the first person we see as our eyes open, His being becomes our being, we receive our sight and see the world through His eyes, we are happy.

‘How happy are the meek: they shall inherit the earth.’ And why not? The whole earth and all the wonders that it contains are given to us, who are His earthly image. We hear these words, again, as a conditional statement and, indeed, in a sense they are. We will inherit the earth means we have inherited it only when we return to our nature, meekness.

Read the rest of these sayings of Jesus, and hear them not as conditions to be met that are foreign to us, but as the conditions intrinsic to human nature, to which Christ is calling us to return. The difference is subtle between us making ourselves good against our nature, and yielding to the good that is our nature. The first is a work of man, the second a work of God.

How happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
How happy are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
How happy are the pure in heart: they shall see God.
How happy are the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
How happy are those persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.
How happy are you when people abuse you, and persecute you, and speak all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for great shall be your reward in the heavens: this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.

‘Rejoice and be glad’ is a word not spoken by our Lord as spiritual decorum, but in spirit and truth. He really expects this of us, and He knows that we know there’s no way to ‘rejoice and be glad,’ except by being what He made us. The apostle Paul chimes in his assent, ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. I repeat, what I want is your happiness.’

Can it really be impossible for us to be happy? We make it seem so hard. We always find fault with the world, our neighbors, and ourselves. Can it be that we are just not looking where we’ve been told to look? And if we only looked there, looked within where Christ says ‘the kingdom of the heavens’ is, even where He is, might we then be happy?

I am happy, and I want to be, but it’s not something I have to talk myself into. I already believe it’s all true: Christ risen from the dead has remade the universe, reversed the curse of death, and is here in this room with me at this very moment. Yes, and with you too who have stumbled upon me in my cave. Let’s forget ourselves, then, and remember Him. Let’s be happy.

Yes, all it takes is a ‘be’ attitude.

Without uttering a word

‘The Holy Spirit compelled me,’ is what she is reported to have said. A woman, a stenographer in the United States House of Representatives, grabbed the microphone and began a rant against—I am not quite sure what it was she was against, except perhaps the Masons, a group she mentioned by name, accusing the nation’s founding fathers of belonging to this organization. There are Christians who will see this as an act of bravery and defiance, and others who will regard it with embarrassment and shame.

This is clearly not how Christ and the holy apostles operate. People can study the Bible their entire lives and miss the point of the good news of Jesus Christ completely, and some of them, having swallowed the Holy Ghost feathers and all, lay the blame for their bad behavior at His feet.

Such incidents just remind me of what scripture itself says, that God’s foundation stone is still in place, having been laid by the only One who could ever lay it, and on it have been built, are being built, and shall yet be built as long as the age endures, countless lives of quiet martyrdom.

Martyrdom. This is not what many think, seduced by self, assuming what does not belong to them, making themselves anointed warriors in the cause of God, to lash out blindly and then cringe to receive the blow the world may offer. It usually knows better. The world is not dumb.

To follow the Lord Jesus, to study His every move, every word, as written in the holy and divine scriptures, to join the apostles in imitating Him, to follow His commandments which are better than the laws of Moses, because they conquer the only enemy, that which lives within.

The world is sustained by the invisible Three. The Son does what He sees the Father doing. The siblings of the King of Israel, having been joined to the Father by more than flesh, continue His work, doing even greater works, for their heavenly older Brother has gone on ahead to ready the Place.

Martyrdom is to die daily with Christ, to rise from every fall, to love without limit, to suffer wrongs and not insist on rights, to bring the good news of freedom from bondage, of joy from sorrow, of mercy the spring of justice, of light over darkness. Martyrdom is to live in beauty which is holy.

We cannot know what compels people to act as they do. They may tell us one thing, but it may be another, something even hidden from themselves. One thing, though, is certain. The Holy Spirit is never the cause of confusion. He reunites tongues split by man’s greed at Babel, and offering no resistance to evils, undoes them by His presence without uttering a word.

Religions and non-religions

There seems to be a very definite pattern in the development of false, man-made religions spooked up by false, man-ordained prophets. Some survive and become denominations. Others die out because their prophets just didn’t know when to stop.

Jim Jones of ‘People’s Temple’ is one recent example, whose cult came to a tragic ending in Guyana.

Whether we recognize them as valid religions or not, even in the non-Christian faiths — Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, native American spirituality — we can sense that there is real truth there, even if only partial, and that what constitutes these faiths is not something that was ‘religiously engineered’ but, instead, the deposit of a gradual realisation by a culture of what, and even Who, the Truth is. This is why all ‘real religions’ anticipate the revelation of Jesus Christ the God-Man, and can be ‘old testaments’ leading into the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Since the Church started in the Hebrew world, the Hebrew religion became the first of these ‘old testaments’ and was canonized by the Church. But as the Word of God Jesus Christ goes forth to meet all cultures, lands and times, the Evangelion can be built on the supple and expectant spiritual traditions, or religions, of almost all people, to greater or lesser degrees.

In the case of Islam, this cannot be done, because it is a man-made religion borrowing selectively from the real religion of Judaism and from the faith of Christ, willfully changing what it has borrowed, sometimes inverting it, so that all that remains are just names and words, while the Truth content is discarded. The same can be said of some of the new religions invented in the United States, and for exactly the same reasons.

I testify, that I can witness to a Hindu, for example, whose religion I am very familiar with, and show how the myths that are taken as true by them really are true and in fact are made fully comprehensible only when one meets Christ in them. How is this possible? Because Christ is, was, and will be, that is, always was, the Truth that underlay their myths, those stories awaiting His literal coming and their meeting Him in space and time to be fulfilled.

Yes, Jesus Christ ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever,’ can be found even when well-hidden in the real religions. As for those that are not real religions, but mere human constructs for the subjugation and conquest and annihilation of human souls, Nicolaitans, these have no meeting with Christ in this or any world, except when they are flung forever into the fiery lake.

The witness of the Church to people under subjection to Islam and modern cultic religions, for example, must be undertaken in a similar way as the witness to atheists, and to all people who are religionless to begin with.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress, ‘the definition of a Pagan [is] a man so travelling that if all goes well he arrives at Mother Kirk’s chair [at the Church] and is carried over this gorge [the sin of the world]…’

Cultists are not Christians, and Muslims are not pagans, by creedal criteria. They are subjects of a form of pseudo-religious nihilism, of anti-humanism. Their conversion is only possible, I think, by meeting the Lord in person (in the person of His servants) and not by reference to their religious heritage, for they have none.

This is probably true, even universally, precisely because ‘religious’ conversion is not a matter of exchanging one set of ideas or beliefs for another, but of meeting the Lord in person, and this usually happens by meeting one of His true servants. Could this be what He is telling us here?

The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.
Luke 10:16

For no other reason

Commandments.

A new wife willingly submits to her husband in all things as to her lord, and he lays down his life for her in all things, loving her as he loves himself. These are commandments, but why do they do them?
For no other reason, but love.

A son patiently listens to his old father’s advice, given unasked again and again, and continues to abide by his old mother’s household rules, fussy though they seem. This is commandment, but why does he fulfill it?
For no other reason, but love.

I have heard of people—indeed, I have seen them and known them—who go about performing their acts of righteousness without a hint of joy, carrying their burdens as if they were heavy, and bullying others, even trying to impose their unhappy fate on them.

Then, I have met people who, pretending to be amicable and full of joy beneath masks of boastfulness, flaunt their freedom from commandments, and solicit our approval of their immorality by the nice way they greet and treat us.

One day, I was helping a young married couple move out of their old place to a new townhouse just around the corner. Just as we were loading the last few items into my van, another red vehicle almost identical to mine pulled up in the spot next to us.

A dad who looked about my age hopped out of the driver’s seat, followed by a young couple from the other side, and after a mutual greeting between us, they explained they were moving into the townhouse right next door.

After propping the house door open, the kids started carrying small items in. I assumed this was another young couple, ‘twenty-somethings,’ moving in with the assistance of one of their dads, not an uncommon situation. I’ve done things like this.

The dad waxed very loquacious with me and the mom of the young couple I was helping. ‘Yeah, I’ve had five kids, and done this moving thing a lot. This is my daughter, one of the five. She’s twenty-three and all ready to live on her own.’

‘Oh, she’s moving in by herself?’ we asked. ‘Well, yeah, but I’m sure her boyfriend will be spending most of his time here,’ responded the dad with a little laugh and a mischievous look on his face. Ah, so he knew, he even expected, this. He approved.

This is not going to be a rant about young men and women sleeping together and making love before they are married. This way of ‘courtship’ is now almost universal, even in the case of church-going young adults. It’d be embarrassing to be a twenty-six year old virgin.

Modern churches, like modern society, being accustomed to a ‘cart before the horse‘ mentality—that’s what the automobile age has brought us—little preach or teach biblical morality, or if they do, they practice ‘safe sex’ with their members: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ It’s better for all concerned.

‘Cart before the horse’ mentality? Yes.

Communion before (or without) confessing the faith: the means to unity, not the fruit of it.

The ‘Christmas season,’ not the twelve days starting with Christmas and ending with Epiphany, the culmination and satisfaction of the forty days of fasting leading up to it, but the two months starting practically with Hallowe’en: the means to happiness, but not happiness, or even joy, itself.

Living together, with all that it implies, as a sort of ‘practice run’—though not a dry run—of the idea of marriage: Like the offer of a ‘no strings attached’ trial of a confidently good product such as the Oreck vacuum cleaner.

‘No strings attached’ means you can return it with no loss to you, not exactly the same as a ‘money back guarantee,’ but in either case, the offer is simply not unconditional or free.

Virginity is a gift that a man brings a woman, and a woman brings a man. It’s a gift that can only be offered once. There’s no taking it back, either. Why is it we’re not troubled by these uncomfortable words? For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.’ (Ephesians 5:31) Don’t we ever wonder what this means?

Back to the dad helping his daughter move into her new place, with her boyfriend’s help. Friendly people, comfortable to be around, affable. Commandments? What are they? What do you say? They’re things that God (whoever or whatever that is) wants us to do or to refrain from doing? Oh, I see, you mean the ‘thou shalt not’s.’ Give me a break. We’re not five year olds!

Commandments.

The positive ones are like invitations from an impossibly wealthy Benefactor to perform a simple task, so that He can reward you.

The negative ones are like lines that you must not, at all costs, cross. It’s the same Benefactor, but now He’s warning you of imminent disaster.

Think of the lines painted on millions of miles of automobile roads all over the planet. Have you ever noticed that no one, but no one, and especially during rush hour, just drives his car meandering all over the highway in total disregard of the lines? What would happen if he did is too terrible to imagine. We have all witnessed terrifying things on the road, a car veers out of its lane—the driver distracted, drunk, or even having a heart attack or stroke—and in no time at all an often fatal pile up of fast-moving vehicles takes place.

If only we could see that the lines we’re commanded not to cross are like that.

Every action has its consequences, yet because we no longer really believe in ‘cause and effect’ we are like drivers who play hop-scotch on highways during rush hour, dodging in and out of traffic to get where they want to be faster than anyone else. We believe in luck, if we believe in anything. Yet, even luck runs out in the end, for everyone who relies on it.

Why do we follow the commandments? Is it to ‘gain heaven,’ or earn our way into a respectable family? Are our good deeds like bargaining chips which we’ll be able to bring to the table of eternity? Can they pile up like the ‘excess merits of the saints’?

No, as holy prophet Isaiah sings,

Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the One who built you wed you,
and as the Bridegroom
rejoices in His Bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.

Isaiah 62:5 Jerusalem Bible

Someone loves us like that, and we in turn have no desire anymore but to return that love.

Commandments? They are our joy, we fulfill them, we follow them because we follow Him who is our Joy, and all for no other reason, but love.

I run the way of Your commandments,
since You have set me free.

Psalm 119:32 JB

Trails

When making for a destination through unknown or uncharted terrain, one tries to find the right trail, but in the process, one discovers that not all trails lead somewhere. Many are dead ends, or slowly dissipate until they are not trails at all. After much trial and error, if one is persistent and brave, and honest enough to admit mistakes, one arrives at the desired destination. Otherwise, one may arrive somewhere, but it is not where one was going, and out of fatigue and resignation, just accept it.

What is true of something as simple as a hike through the woods to reach a hidden waterfall or a mountain top, is just as true of greater, more momentous, endeavors. What I want to apply it to is the evolution of human, and humane, society, a hike that all of mankind worldwide has been taking for about seven thousand years, starting from many locations but gradually merging until we find that most of us are now hiking side-by-side, having abandoned alternate trails, sometimes without good cause.

What I mean when I say ‘without good cause’ is that along the way, the native intuitions that have guided us down the right trails, themselves the result of ‘survival of the fittest’ selection, from time to time are overridden by voices of dissent hailing from impatient, dissatisfied minds, that want to stand out, to make a statement, to divert us from the trails that we collectively chose by our intuitions. We listen to them, abandon the right trails, and get off course. We can sense this, but are afraid to turn back.

And turn back we must, if we sense that we have chosen a wrong trail, one that is not going to get us to our destination. Sometimes that wrong trail just dead ends, and we are forced willy-nilly to turn back, our blind guides suddenly absent. Sometimes the trail gets narrower and narrower and we can see that soon it will be no trail at all. This is where the blind guides will use any excuse or ruse to get us to keep groping down that decline. This is also where we have to regain our self-confidence, and turn back.

Turn back to where? If we can retrace our steps, to that place on our original trail where we took the cut. It has turned out to not be a short cut after all, and we have to be honest and admit it, and then go back to the last good trail and give it another try. It brought us to a very good place once. Maybe if we kept on it, we’d be able to reach our destination, which is a very, very good place. This is where we as a race and as a world are right now. We’ve taken the wrong trail and we’re winding up nowhere we want to be.

Politically, we have bought into the premise that democracy is the best form of government that can ever exist, applicable to all levels and scales of society. Monarchy, not the ceremonial kind that we see in about two dozen countries today, but what might be called autocratic monarchy, exists almost nowhere, and where it does exist, it is in attenuated form, and it is non-Christian. Such an autocratic monarchy, not according to Christ who is the True King, is incapable of being the Champion of the people.

For that is what a true monarch is: the Champion, Lord, and Lover of his people, one who is raised from among them, not by wealth or social status, but by wisdom, by courage, by purity of life, by obedience, and by love. The motto of some Scandinavian and Greek kings was ‘The people’s love, my strength,’ but that was an inversion. It should be ‘The people’s strength, my love.’ In other words, the love of the king for his people is their strength, the safeguard of their liberties, as the British Crown still claims.

And of course, to the best of her ability, Her Majesty the Queen at least represents the guardian of the liberties of the British people, but only as an icon of what Parliament decides. Though she was anointed and crowned in conformity with true monarchy, the British ‘constitution’ does not allow her to vocalize anything of a political nature. Her coronation oath can only be symbolic. Still, the British monarchy has most of its elements intact, if only as formulary, and is the only surviving relic of Christian monarchy.

We’ve been going down some wrong trails these past three hundred years, but it has taken this long for us to see where exactly they have been leading us. The dissolute and decadent monarchies that existed when the ‘enlightenment’ began to change our political and social course were in need of correction. They were themselves wanderings off the right trail, but the corrective was to return to the right trail, not to take another trail completely. We still have Christ the King who makes all men kings the right way.

Christianity still has a voice. Christ is still speaking to us. No one can secure our ‘life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’ better than He whose divine teaching is in the heart of everyone, waiting to be discovered, none better than He who suffered and rose again to establish not only earthly kingdoms but the Kingdom of the Heavens as well. Christ demonstrates what true kingship is, as King of a nation, as king of a family, and as every authority that reigns through love between the great and the small households.

Dark ages don’t always seem dark to the people who live in them, or, dark ages don’t seem dark to those whose abuse of power makes them what they are, but we have been living for some time in a very dark age, an age that has been an interruption of the age of Light, the age of Christ. Thank God we are running out of trail to follow. Maybe at last we’ll turn back and rejoin the right trail, the one that really has no end except the Beginning of all things, the City made without hands. Let’s all at least make a start.

Trapped in a world without love

Once, when I was still working (I am now retired) I was talking to a young man in India, whom I then visited on FaceBook to get a picture of him. I find it hard to talk to people by phone whom I’ve never seen. Young, twenty-something, typical, educated, urbane, full of interests, full of life, like many young men I’ve known, like I was at that age, like another young man who worked with me at my office, and was just past being a twenty-something, having already hit the pavement on the rough road of life—a broken, irreconcilable ten year marriage, now only a part of his personal history. Yes, trapped in a world without love.

It is a story I see repeated every day. Not one, but several of my younger friends have hit the pavement the same way. Divorce is the unwanted blessing of a world dedicated to making self-idolatry the state religion of unsaved humanity.

Unsaved? Well, it happens to the ‘saved’ as well as to the unsaved, it respects no persons, no creeds, it generously shares itself out among all, and even, no, especially, triumphs in those who call themselves Christians even as they are buying its bill of goods. It’s mostly men that I know, whether young or old, whose wives dump them, for career usually, but sometimes for other men, and occasionally for no apparent reason at all. If I had more women friends, I’d probably see the same pattern there, faithful wives inexplicably jettisoned by men too wrapped up in themselves to cool their jets. People throwing each other away, to pursue personal mirages big as the sky.

What is true is that everyone is born wanting. What is it we’re born wanting? As our lives unfold, there seems to be an endless parade of desires passing through our hearts and minds. Some we pursue briefly, others at length, some find apparent fulfillment, others we give up on as impossible. Either we find out in time that it was not what we really wanted and gladly give up, or we give in to the realisation that no matter what we do, we’ll never get him, or her, or it. Our desire proves to be unfulfillable, yet it simply doesn’t disappear: Hope, or desperation, transfers it to another object. We are born wanting, but until we find out what or whom it is we’re born wanting, we only obsess.

I look at a young married, or maybe unmarried, couple as they pass me on the street, or as they stop to attend to their baby in its stroller, or in the playground as they watch their kids on the swings or slide. I ponder, do they know what is in store for them down the road? Is all this happiness going to dissipate like morning mist evaporated by the hot sun? Invariably, I utter a prayer, ‘Preserve them, Lord!’ knowing that the world that they and their children must face with greater and more invasive intensity will never give them up to joy without a struggle. It will do all it can to divert them from joy, to crumple the possibility of it and throw it away before their eyes, offering them what? Resignation.

All that happens to us, good and bad, happens on the basis of faith, whether we have it or lack it, whether in full measure or minutely. It is faith that makes the difference in every situation, stripping every event that we encounter of an absolute value. Nothing is good or bad anymore, intrinsically. It is good or bad according to the faith that we have. What can appear to us as a good, as a blessing, can hide from us for many years the reality that what it is based on is simply nothing, that all was appearance, illusion. Hence, the oriental doctrine of maya. It surprises and confuses us when a friendship or a marriage that we thought unshakable comes tumbling down. We are dazed.

What did I do to deserve this? This is not what I bargained for. I followed all the rules (or if I am religious, I followed all the commandments), so why did this happen to me? We have wandered so far from the truth of our being, building with the brick of desire, mere mud mixed with straw that we worked so hard to gather, and not for ourselves, but for others, and this is what they do to us? Well, how can they not? No, they did nothing that we did not do to ourselves first by that wandering from the truth of our being. What truth of our being? That asking takes us deeper than we want to go, teaches more than we want to know, and so we avoid it. Still, the truth is there. We were born wanting.

Trapped in a world without love, when we realise this, where do we turn? To what or to whom? Nothing worth having is worth having well, that is, is worth anything unless we can share it. But whom can we share it with? This question has driven many to suicide. Not seeing the Invisible—how can they? Without faith they are blind—and trusting the visible, entrusting themselves wholeheartedly to images of desire, they miss the Beloved as He walks by, Who is no image, Who is not what but Whom they were born wanting. These are not thoughts that can be shared with anyone, not doctrines that can be taught to anyone. The Wanted awaits the wanting. Faith unsprings the trap that ensnares us.

I think back to my young friends. Some of them already broken, some hoping to be broken no more. Youth wanting to escape the trap walking right into it. Life freely beckons as we walk unknowingly onto its battlefield of justice, unaware that we either fall in battle slain by our own desires, or stand alone alive in possession of a kingdom but none with whom to share it. Why? Because we look and look again, but do not see. Listen and listen again, but do not hear. The chariot driver of our souls whispers to us, and we pause, then take aim, and pursue still the objects of desire, but He alone is Lord.

We sleep. Then we awake. Alone with Him, walking the long beach and leaving shallow prints on its glistening sands. He tells us the truth of all things. He tells us who we are, why we lived, why we died, how it is there is nobody here but us. ‘From before the beginning, Beloved, you were Mine, and I am yours.’ Hidden, always hidden, yet walking beside us, everything in His hands. Everything. The world vanishes. Trapped in a world without love? What world?

There always was only one, one world, one time, one being, one life, one heart, one love: Yes, only one joy. We were born wanting.
The Wanted awaits us. Faith unsprings the trap.
Faith, faith, and more faith.
Only faith has eyes.

Friendship


A kindly turn of speech multiplies a man's friends,
and a courteous way of speaking invites many a friendly reply.

Let your acquaintances be many,
but your advisors one in a thousand.

If you want to make a friend, take him on trial,
and be in no hurry to trust him;
for one kind of friend is only so when it suits him
but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
Another kind of friend will fall out with you
and to your dismay will make your quarrel public,
and a third kind of friend will share your table,
but not stand by you in your day of trouble:
when you are doing well he will be your second self,
ordering your servants about;
but if ever you are brought low he will turn against you
and will hide himself from you.

Keep well clear of your enemies,
and be wary of your friends.

A faithful friend is a sure shelter,
whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.
A faithful friend is something beyond price,
there is no measuring his worth.
A faithful friend is the elixir of life,
and those who fear the Lord will find one.
Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends,
for as a man is, so is his friend.

Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17 Jerusalem Bible

Prick an eye and you will draw a tear,
prick a heart and you will bring its feelings to light.
Throw stones at birds and you scare them away,
revile a friend and you break up friendship.

If you have drawn your sword on a friend,
do not despair; there is a way back.
If you have opened your mouth against your friend,
do not worry; there is hope for reconciliation;
but insult, arrogance, betrayal of secrets, and the stab in the back—
in these cases, any friend will run away.

Ecclesiasticus 22:19-22 Jerusalem Bible

Monday, August 22, 2016

Catch them alive

Then Jesus said to Simon,
“Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Luke 5:10-11 NIV


…from now on you will catch men.

In the Greek original, this is:

απο του νυν ανθρωπους εση ζωγρων
Apó tou nín anthrópous ési zogrón.

We are all called by Jesus, just as the fishermen disciples were, all called by Jesus to be fishers of men. There aren't two churches, the church of the catchers of the fish, and the church of those who watch the catch from shore.

Even though the disciples had already accepted the call of Jesus, they still had lives to live, they had to support their families and continue their trade, fishing for a living. That represents the first stage of the call—they followed Jesus, but then they still had lives to live, responsibilities in the world. Jesus came to the lakeside and saw them, His disciples, washing their nets and putting them away for the day (since the best fishing was at night, near the shore, on the Sea of Galilee). They had toiled all night but caught nothing.

Jesus had come to find them there, and because there were already crowds following Him around to hear the Word of God, He stepped into Peter's boat, and had Peter put out a little from the shore, so He could teach without being mobbed. After teaching awhile, the Master (for that is what Peter calls Him, proving he already was following the call) told him to put the boat out to deeper water and pay out the nets for a catch.

What? Pay out the nets in deep water, in the daytime? Peter knew better. He was a ‘professional.’ He tells Jesus that this is not ‘conventional wisdom,’ but still he said, “but if You say so, I will pay out the nets.” (Luke 5:5 JB) And that is what Peter did.

What happened? Peter, the fisherman, got the ‘blessing’ of probably the biggest catch of fish he had ever had in his life! He even had to call his companions in the other boat to come help, pull the catch in… and it nearly sank both boats!

Peter's reaction? He fell at the knees of Jesus, saying “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) When faced with the wonder-working power of God, the abundance even in the material world that is the Lord's to give as He chooses, mere mortal man comes face to face with his utter sinfulness, and begs the Lord to depart from such a creature as himself.

Jesus Christ's response? “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 5:10) The Lord is now calling Peter, and us, to the next stage of discipleship.

He wants us. He has to tell us up front, “Don't be afraid!” And why is this? Because now it really is the unknown that we're heading for, Jesus really is going to take us ‘where no man has gone before.’ No man, except Him, and with Him, us.

“Catch them alive.”

Zogréo,
‘to catch alive’ as in the sense of catching an animal for the zoo, or better yet, for the ark. What catches my attention is this irony—that when the disciples caught fish, they took an animal which was alive (in the water) and killed it (took it out of the water) so they could eat it. That's what a fisherman does. No judgment intended. We have to eat to live, and God has given us everything.

But what the Lord said in making His disciples ‘fishers of men’ gave them the job of ‘taking alive’ the men whom He would be sending them. As fishers of men, we take an animal which was spiritually dead (out of the water) and in catching it make it alive (in the water and Spirit) so it can feed on God. This is another example of the Great Reversal (as C. S. Lewis calls it), the rolling backwards of death itself, the resurrection unto Life eternal.

Have I lost you by my wordy explanation?
Sorry, if I have.
Just go back to the top and read the Bible passage again.
The Lord has commissioned us to “catch them alive.”
That's really all I want to say anyway.
And that's really all I want to do.
Glory to God!

Things human, and things Divine

There is a persistent problem in encounters between two kinds of religions. Those that are based on reliable historical testimony, and those which depend on fabrications based on, but not consistent with, historical testimony. In the first group are to be placed: Most varieties of Judaism and Christianity. In the second group: Islam and Mormonism, and a host of insignificant cults derived primarily from all four religions.

Scholars continue to study the historical sources of Judaic and Christian scriptures, because they have left a physical trail. Scholars study Islamic scriptures only within the closed context of these scriptures themselves, since historical and fictional elements are intermixed. No serious scholars study the Mormon scriptures, which are acknowledged by all impartial authorities to be entirely fabricated.

There can never be serious dialog between the members of the first group of religions and the second, because it always resolves itself into accusations of lying on both sides: The first group asserts that the scriptures of the second group are fabrications; the second group asserts that those of the first group have been corrupted and are therefore inadequate. In plain language, the other group is lying.

Between Judaism and Christianity, something similar happens in such encounters, because these two religions are essentially the same, yet different, based on a single fact asserted by Christians but denied by Jews: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His historicity is rarely doubted by Jews, only the content of the historic record challenged. On the Christian side, nothing can be asserted against Judaism, except its denial of Christ.

This is why we think, 'They must be joking' at best, when we encounter the pronouncements of the ayatollahs and other Islamic teachers, or hear about Muslim beliefs about Jesus, for example. We are here meeting a fabrication of something we consider fundamentally true and incontestable. The boldness of the Muslim (and Mormon) assertions is designed to unnerve and destabilise us.

But God is God, and though we mock each other, He cannot be mocked. Aside from all religions true or false, He is; and all those who have had experience of Him, whether Christian or not, know more about Him than the belief systems of all religions combined. Only those who have had this experience are in a position to distinguish 'the stale from the fresh' in things human, and things Divine.