Friday, October 24, 2008

The Mediator

On Sunday night I am leaving with my son John to visit my father who lives in retirement in Florida. We haven’t seen him in about twenty years, maybe a little less. This means I won’t be blogging for awhile. I have a lot on my heart that I wanted to express in this my last post of October, but I have found much of what I wanted to write in the fifth chapter of martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. If you, dear reader, find what I’ve quoted here at length compelling, then get yourself a copy of this book and read more. But if what is written below makes no sense to you at all, then just leave it alone, and go, pray and read the Bible; that’s the best of all possible reads anyway. But I send this post out as a testimony of my life in Christ, especially to my koumbáro, my synergós (co-laborer) in the Lord, who will understand it with me, and remember the kairós we have shared together in and through Christ, the Mediator. May these words strengthen you, my brother, and remind you of our many hours of work and prayer together, which have not come to their end yet. And to all the brethren, I add, go with Jesus.
At the very moment of their call, men find that they have already broken with all the natural ties of life. This is not their own doing, but His who calls them. For Christ has delivered them from immediacy with the world, and brought them into immediacy with Himself. We cannot follow Christ unless we are prepared to accept and affirm that breach as a fait accompli. It is no arbitrary choice on the disciple’s part, but Christ Himself, who compels him thus to break with his past.

We must face up to the truth that the call of Christ does set up a barrier between man and his natural life. But this barrier is no surly contempt for life, no legalistic piety, it is the life which is life indeed, the gospel, the person of Jesus Christ. By virtue of His incarnation He has come between man and his natural life. There can be no turning back, for Christ bars the way.

He stands between us and God, and for that very reason He stands between us and all other men and things. He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality.

The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion. All the time we thought we had enjoyed a direct relationship with men and things. This is what had hindered us from faith and obedience. Now we learn that in the most intimate relationships of life, in our kinship with father and mother, brothers and sisters, in married love, and in our duty to the community, direct relationships are impossible.

Between father and son, husband and wife, the individual and the nation, stands Christ the Mediator, whether they are able to recognize Him or not. We cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through Him, through His word, and through our following of Him. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves.

Wherever a group, be it large or small, prevents us from standing alone before Christ, wherever such a group raises a claim of immediacy it must be hated for the sake of Christ. For every immediacy, whether we realize it or not, means hatred of Christ, and this is especially true where such relationships claim the sanction of Christian principles.

For the Christian the only God-given realities are those he receives from Christ. What is not given us through the incarnate Son is not given us by God.

Anything I cannot thank God for, for the sake of Christ, I may not thank God for at all; to do so would be sin.

The path, too, to the ‘God-given reality’ of my fellow man or woman with whom I have to live leads through Christ, or it is a blind alley. We are separated from one another by an unbridgeable gulf of otherness and strangeness which resists all our attempts to overcome it by means of natural association or emotional or spiritual union. There is no way from one person to another. However loving and sympathetic we try to be, however sound our psychology, however frank and open our behaviour, we cannot penetrate the incognito of the other man, for there are no direct relationships, not even between soul and soul. Christ stands between us, and we can only get in touch with our neighbours through Him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbours, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship.

This breach with all our immediate relationships is inescapable. It may take the form of an external breach with family or nation; in that case we shall be called upon to bear visibly the reproach of Christ… Or it may be a hidden and a secret breach. But even then we must always be ready to come out into the open.

Though we all have to enter upon discipleship alone, we do not remain alone. If we take Him at His word and dare to become individuals, our reward is the fellowship of the Church. Here is a visible brotherhood to compensate a hundredfold for all we have lost. A hundredfold? Yes, for we now have everything through the Mediator, but with this proviso—‘with persecutions’. A hundredfold with persecutions—such is the grace which is granted to the Church which follows its Lord beneath the cross.

And they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus was going before them: and they were amazed; and they that followed were afraid. And He took again the Twelve, and began to tell them the things that were to happen to Him. (Mark 10:32)

As if to bring home to them how serious was his call, to show them how impossible it was to follow in their own strength, and to emphasize that adherence to Him means persecutions, Jesus goes on before to Jerusalem and to the cross, and they are filled with fear and amazement at the road He calls them to follow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The fifth seal

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Revelation 6:9-11

A British woman aid worker was shot dead in Afghanistan Monday [October 20] by Islamic extremists because she was a Christian. Two men rode up to Gayle Williams, 34, on a motor-cycle and one opened fire at close range, hitting her seven times in the head and legs. Ms Williams, from London, had been walking to work in an affluent suburb of the capital Kabul and was said to have died before the police reached the scene. The attack was seen by children going to school. She had only recently arrived in the city having fled Kandahar in the south after threats of violence against foreigners and would have been varying her route to work as a precaution. She was a volunteer with the British-registered Christian charity Serve Afghanistan, which works with the disabled. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying on its website: "Our people carried out this attack. The reason that we killed her was because she was spreading Christianity."

I found this report on the blog Lionheart. For the full post, click here, or you can search the internet for Gayle Williams and find many angles on her martyrdom.

In an Islamic country, it doesn't take much to die for Christ.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Greet everyone first

Thank you, Presbytera Candace, for sending me this simple but very true one liner from the Church fathers…

Let us then, bearing in mind all the things which have been said, show forth great love even towards our enemies; and let us ease away that ridiculous custom to which many of the more thoughtless give way, that is, waiting for those that meet them to address them first.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Του λιθου – The stone

Του λίθου σφραγισθέντος
υπό των Ιουδαίων,
και στρατιωτών φυλασσόντων το άχραντον σου σώμα,
ανέστης τριήμερος Σωτήρ,
δωρούμενος τω κοσμώ την ζωήν.
Δια τούτο αι δυνάμεις των ουρανών
εβόων σοι ζωοδότα.
Δόξα τη αναστάσει σου Χριστέ,
δόξα τη βασιλεία σου,
δόξα τη οικονομία σου,
μόνε φιλάνθρωπε.

Though the tomb was sealed by a stone
and soldiers guarded Your pure body,
You arose, O Savior, on the third day,
giving life to the world.
Therefore, O Giver of life,
the heavenly powers praise You.
Glory to Your resurrection, O Christ,
glory to Your kingdom,
glory to Your plan of redemption,
O only-loving God.

This is the apolytikion that is sung this Lord’s Day in the Orthodox Church; it is the first of the eight which are sung in rotation throughout the year, because Lord’s Day is a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ.

There is one problem with the English translation: The first line has been purposely mistranslated in an attempt to hide a feature of our “Christian” history. What line 1 really says is, “The stone being sealed by the Jews.

Everyone who sings this hymn in Greek with understanding knows what it really says, but as the Church in America is drifting away from Hellenism in an attempt to keep its increasingly nominal flock from running off to other amusements on the Lord’s Day and every day, it’s now experimenting with “new” translations of the ancient texts. The translation cited above, though, was made more than twenty years ago.

The Church and the Jews. This is the topic on my mind.

It all goes back a very, very long way with me personally. I’ve had a lifelong relationship with Judaism and Jews, starting with my “growing up Polish” in Chicago, where Jews are numerous. On my way back to the adult version of Christianity, I passed through a phase in which I was very much influenced by Judaism because of my Bible study. Even after I committed my life to Christ, I was still at the public library studying Old Testament commentary such as the Soncino Chumash, the Talmud, and other writings of rabbinical Judaism. To this day, I regularly include the reading of the Talmudic tractate Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) in my studies. The great Jewish Christian authority of the 19th century, Alfred Edersheim (pictured above), has always been one of my teachers. All this by way of explaining why I think, and feel, the way I do about the Jews and Israel.

This morning I had an experience that startled and informed me.
I happened to notice that there was a large coin show taking place at Lloyd Center, and so I went in to see what it was like. I collect ancient and foreign coins, and who knows, maybe I’d find a bargain there. (As it turns out, I didn’t.) One of the tables I stopped at had some interesting coins, and the woman standing behind it repeated a script I’d heard her say a couple of times to chaps ahead of me, “We have more items in boxes behind us, if you’re looking for something in particular.” I explained my collecting interests, but she told me that they didn’t carry anything like that, in an argumentative and defensive-sounding voice. I was taken aback but tried again, and she turned around and came back with a little box that was partly coins of France. When I started looking through the box from the front, she quickly pushed her finger into the middle of the box while saying, “I told you, the French coins start here,” again in a bossy tone of voice. Hardly what I would consider customer service etiquette. I tried to be even friendlier, smiled and tried to make small talk. I looked up and noticed what I suspected, and asked her, “You are Jewish, aren’t you?” A long pause followed, and I could feel a strange mixture of fear and insult coming at me from her face, before she hesitantly responded, “Yes, I am.” Foolishly, but still trying to break the ice, I said, “Well, shabbat shalom! We really shouldn’t be here today, should we?” After the words were out of my mouth, I could’ve kicked myself. Though her attitude didn’t change, I suddenly realised that she didn’t want to be identified as a Jew, and that my attempt to connect with her on that basis was a threat. She was a woman probably in her mid 60’s or even a little older, and I could see as I looked at her more closely, there was a lot of pain in her eyes. I quickly finished looking through the box of coins, gave it back to her, thanked her, and moved away. I don’t think I have ever experienced what it means to be a Jew in a Gentile world so strongly before. Something I knew instinctively, had read about, and even seen in films was now very real to me.

A lot of my “Jewish” memories kept surfacing as I pretended to look at items on other tables and finally left the show and returned to my car. I thought back to how Jews had reacted to our presence among them when Brock and I used to attend Ahavat Achim synagogue here in Portland. There was an edge of fear the first shabbat evening we turned up there, and I tried to put the rabbi at ease, telling him who we were and what was our purpose—we just wanted to pray and worship with them.

I thought of our rougher experience trying to join a Jewish online forum, and the kind of reactions we got from the members once they figured out we were Christians. Again, we never approached them in a condescending, aggressive way, or tried to proselytize them. We just wanted to join them in discussing the scriptures. Yet many of them practically stoned us. We didn’t blame them or retaliate. We knew somehow that the problem was way bigger than the two of us.

I was still thinking about whether I should go back tomorrow and try to make it up to that Jewish woman, openly apologize if need be, when I noticed it was time for vespers. Andrew was chanting, and so I drove him there and decided to stay and pray. After the service, the deacon came out (the presbyter was absent) and gave the “talk.” (At Aghia Trias Cathedral, the vespers service has been cut back to precisely 30 minutes, so the presbyter can lead a discussion on some relevant topic, or teach a class.) Father deacon passed out photocopies of the Protevangelion of Saint James, and proceeded to teach on the subject of the life of the virgin Mary, as contained in this non-canonical “scripture.” He also put in a lot of effort trying to demonstrate that this “gospel” of the infancy of Mary, the source of most of Orthodoxy’s traditions about her, was in ancient times more beloved of the Christian churches than the book of Revelation, and more important. He essentially said that it really should be in the New Testament, but the fathers (though they unanimously endorsed its truthfulness) decided not to include it, because the New Testament was supposed to include only books about Jesus and the apostles. I’d never heard that explanation before. I have studied the Bible constantly since I was about 22 years old, and have also studied the so-called New Testament apocrypha on many occasions throughout the years. Not only is it obvious to me that the Protevangelion is no genuine part of scripture, just from the style and the content (which is scarcely distinguishable from folk tales), but anyone who is familiar with Jewish laws, customs and history, knows that the legends contained in it are simply impossible. When the Church finally decides that historical truth really is important, perhaps things will change, but at the moment only the learned know these things, and few if any would publicly question these “traditions.” There’s no point.

The congregation at vespers consisted of eight people, two of them students from Multnomah Bible College. I listened to the deacon’s animated monologue—he does like to tell stories—while in my mind I kept turning over ideas that were coming to me about the Church and the Jews. I knew, for example, that many of the church fathers wrote and preached against the Jews in terms that would today be considered very anti-semitic. The hymns of the Church, coming out of that early period, I knew were filled with phrases that vilified and condemned the Jews for not believing in Christ, and even for delivering Him over to death. The hymn quoted at the beginning of this post is a mild example, and the English translation tries to cover this up. But it seemed obvious to me, the more I thought about it, that the Jews have been made the scapegoat of Christianity almost from the beginning. What must it be like to belong to a people few in number that the populace at large thinks are “Christ-slayers”? Yes, this term occurs in one of the hymns of Orthodox Holy Week. No wonder that the Jewish wife of one of our members (she converted in order to marry him, but is still Jewish inside) rarely comes to church with him at all. Years ago I saw her during Holy Week services, but rarely since. It can be, and must be, a very painful thing to hear that the people you grew up among and who your parents are, are just “bad,” for not becoming believers in Jesus.
The gospel according to John uses the term “the Jews” to mean, usually but not exclusively, what we would call “the authorities.” My guess is that this usage, combined with the belligerent animosity that developed between the Jews and the emerging Christians in the first two or three centuries, laid the foundation of an implicit anti-semitism in the Church through the writings of many of the fathers. The course of history shows what became of this unfortunate beginning. Despite official decrees not to molest the Jews, in practically every locale the Jews settled, they were molested, their rights and properties forfeit, their very lives circumscribed. It’s not my point to go into detail, but it’s obvious that the Church has not treated the Jews well. So, is it any wonder that I had the experience I described in the beginning of this post?

It really is a difficult thing to be a Jew, even now, even today. Just as it would only make it worse, were I to go back and try to “make it up” to that woman at the coin show, so there is also nothing that the Church can really do to “make it up” to the Jews of today, other than to treat them with the respect that our common destiny demands. God, our God and their God, has preserved them even after the destruction of the Temple (as Christ prophesied), and He has not abandoned them, as many think who believe in “replacement theology,” even though this concept originated in the early period. The Church has been grafted onto the olive tree of believing Israel. We have to be patient as we wait for the complete redemption to occur to see just who “believing Israel” really is, just as they have to wait to see just who "Moshiach" is.

If anyone has had the patience to actually read this long post, I thank you, and I ask that you pray for Romanós the sinner, who loves the Jews for the sake of Messiah.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nothing small, nothing great

A final excerpt from the biography of J. Hudson Taylor that I have just finished reading, an incident from the very last days of his life…

That afternoon a reception had been arranged to give all the missionaries in the city [Changsha, Hunan] an opportunity of meeting Taylor. It was cool and pleasant in the little garden on to which the sitting-room opened, and tea was served on the lawn, surrounded by trees and flowers. He sat in the midst of the guests for an hour or more, evidently enjoying the quiet, happy time, and after all had left one of the doctors remained with him for half an hour. Speaking of the privilege of bringing everything to God in prayer, Dr. Barrie said that he was sometimes hindered by the feeling that many things were too small, really, to pray about. Taylor's answer was that he didn't know anything about it—about such a distinction, probably. Then he added: "There is nothing small, and there is nothing great: only God is great, and we should trust Him fully."

What are you done with?

A new brother in Christ that I've connected with over the internet has a worthy blog Pilgrimage of the Heart which I've started visiting. This morning I found his latest post which is an invite for people to leave comments about what they're "done with." Click on the link above, read his post, and leave a comment. My comment is reproduced below. This is a chance for you to sound off and encourage all your fellow blogothetes with a testimony of what you're "done with."

Very good idea, but I'd have to scan my own blog posts and dish up a few dozen items to put in as my comment, as my entire blog is more or less dedicated to following Jesus, and how that affects your relationship to the institutional church (your own, and others), for better or for worse.

A summary response from me could be this:

I'm done with serving my church by doing the kind of busy work associated with programs and other forms of flock maintenance, and I want only to serve the Church by doing absolutely anything that Jesus asks of me, regardless of the consequences.

An extreme statement? Not really. What Jesus asks of all of us, both in the scriptures and in His daily talks with our consciences, is only to do that which He places before us, imitating Him, doing what we see Him doing. This is both hard and easy, complicated and simple, depending on how much of ourselves we factor in.

But if we take Jesus at His word, all will be well.

Following His call and doing what we see Him doing in the world (remember, He is still the most active Person alive in the world today, as He has always been) actually preserves and protects us from the worldly powers, because they quickly learn to identify us with the Master whom they reject, and they carefully segregate us as much as they can, just like the denizens of Gadara who begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood as quickly as possible, so they wouldn't lose any more pigs.

What are YOU done with?

Friday, October 17, 2008

My fourth front porch

This is a comment I left on Father Neo's blog, at his post The third place or the non-place.

Although I am not a Buddhist or Hindu, believing that the world is maya or illusion, and though I believe strongly in the "isness" of physical reality, of the world we live in and all the places in it, I believe even more strongly in the world of the mind, that it is not just myriads of intelligent nodes peppering physical reality, or effervescing like the spherules in a glass of bubble tea.

The world of mind is to me a "place" just as a thought or love is a “thing.” Out of this world commands dart forth to change and charge the physical realities around it. In our electronic age, I think, we have finally produced in the natural world counterparts of and extensions for the world of the mind, and one of them is the internet. Far more than the telegraph or the telephone were in bringing minds together that were physically great distances apart, the internet has really created a world where we can meet, a sort of waking dream world, where we can all be in the same dream, and remember it.

I have three “front porches" in the "real" world:

a stone patio before my front door, a pleasant breezeway patio between my home and the next up the hill, and then a wonderful, shady kiwi arbor in my garden, where I have spent many a pleasant hour… alone with the Lord. It seems, though I constructed my home and its surroundings for hospitality, in the "real" world, everyone I built it for is too busy to remain with me there awhile. This is the tragicomedy of our times, that we have been given, or sometimes give, so much to share with others, and yet few want to accept what we have to give.

Just as on eBay we can usually find a buyer and a good price for whatever we have to sell, so on the internet, we can usually run into spiritual comrades who, like some of us, are forced by circumstances to live in a social wasteland in the so-called "world of the real". Where we meet and converse and share may not be a “place” in the physical world, but it is a place just the same, a place in the world of mind. We would never have met them without it. Such is the internet, a front porch for those of us living at the close of the age.

One last thing, don’t construe the terminology I have been forced to use to explain my idea as indicating adherence to any particular philosophy of the mind or the spirit. I am not a Theosophist or a Christian Scientist or anything like that. I’m just trying to write about something for which I don’t have adequate vocabulary, just experience.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I just can't keep from drawing your attention to the good words of others that I share the blogosphere with. This morning I read a good, short post called Waiting On The Miracle, which I'd like to share with my friends. What I want to post of my own is my comment to the author, so you may want to read the post linked above before you continue with what I have to say on this bountiful topic. Here I go…

…I like what you’ve written in this post. Your reasoning is in a nutshell what C.S. Lewis discusses in depth and at length in his book, Miracles, which I like very much, and which some people I know like not at all. I’m sure you’ve read that book, but if not, I heartily recommend it to you.

The example of the boy wanting to kiss a girl being spared an awful experience by the miracle of turning aside to remove gum from his mouth, I think I’ve heard before. This is an example of a “good timing” miracle, what some of us consider an example of the proposition “there are no accidents.” I believe this proposition, again in Lewis’ idiom, by the extension that “it is all plan,” as he writes in his book Perelandra. Not that we as images of God do not have free will, but that God does in fact order things always for our benefit, though we are free to reject them. If He does so order things, then yes, “it is all plan,” but we can still resist.

People will judge a person, as a rule, from the starting point of whether they like him or not. The intensity of their like or dislike definitely affects their judgment. If I love a man, everything he does will meet my approval, even things that, if done by a man I hate, I would harshly condemn. That’s the natural man in me. It takes all that God can do to effect in me impartial judgment, whether of people, events, or ideas.

The same is true of our response to the report of miracles. If we love and want God, everything He does in our world will seem miraculous and providential. If we hate Him, then the opposite is true, everything is chaos, mindless and meaningless, and is headed for idiocy and annihilation. Most people fall between these two extremes. Indeed, most Christians seem to have a friendly interest or a friendly skepticism when confronted with the miraculous, precisely because they have a holy indifference to God Himself, and would rather just play piously.

When we can mean what we say in our prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” then we will see and know, and not just believe in, miracles.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I've just read a post by a brother in Christ which I'm sorry I didn't read earlier, but it comes exactly where it should be, on the heels of some of my other current reading, and I want to commend it to anyone who visits my humble blog. This brother writes like a Church father sometimes, and this is one of those times. I am quoting the finalè of his post, In the Cool of the Day, because it really is profound, and very patristic. But please, don't take my word for it. Click on the link above, and read the entire post yourself. You too will be blessed.

The Old Testament is all about man trying to cover himself with his own animal sacrifices.
But that is missing the point.
God has to do it.
He did do it once again.
He who walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, walked again in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And Ηe who was God in the Flesh became the only sacrifice that could make it all Good again.

"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men."
Romans 5:18 NIV
Now we walk covered in the skin of Christ.

In His image again.
Looking again like the Maker.
Good. Purposeful. Image restored.
In Christ.

Have you believed?
Quit pretending your leafy cover is good.
It does not purchase eternal life.

Doubt that God intended eternity for his creatures?
Look at how He built timelessness (by any of our comprehensions) into His universe.

Are you readied for that promised eternal Good?
I invite you to explore "faith".

The last book of the Bible takes us forward to a
new Eden.
To restored Good.
To eternity as it was intended.
To the very real presence of the One who first walked in the cool of the day to have companionship with His creatures.

Αξιος, αδελφε μου αγαπητε, αξιος!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stop Trying To Hit Me and HIT ME!

Here's a passage written by J. Hudson Taylor which reminded me of the dojo scene in The Matrix, where Morpheus tries to raise Neo's perception of reality by saying, Stop Trying To Hit Me and HIT ME!

I don't know that we are told anywhere in the Bible
to try to do anything.

'We must try to do the best we can,' is a very common expression; but I remember some years ago, after a remark of that kind, looking carefully through the New Testament to see under what circumstances the disciples were told to try to do anything.

I did not expect to find many instances, but I was surprised not to find any.
Then I went through the Old Testament, very carefully, and I could not find that the Lord had ever told Old Testament believers to try to do anything.
There were many commands that appeared impossible to obey, but they were all definite commands:
And I think we all need to set ourselves, not to try to obey our Lord as far as we can, but simply to obey Him.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments:
and his commandments are not grievous.
1 John 5:3 KJV

Lord of all, or not Lord at all

As I am coming almost to the end of my reading of the book J. Hudson Taylor, God's Man in China, by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, I came upon this remarkable passage, a quote from Hudson Taylor's own writings. I want to share this with all my friends, and I hope it touches them as it is touching me, to transform and renew our minds in Christ...

What did our Lord really mean by His command, "Preach the gospel to every creature"?
How are we going to treat the Lord Jesus Christ with reference to this command?
Shall we definitely drop the title Lord as applied to Him, and take the ground that we are quite willing to recognize Him as our Saviour, so far as the penalty of sin is concerned, but are not prepared to own ourselves 'bought with a price', or Him as having any claim to our unquestioning obedience?
Shall we say that we are our own masters, willing to yield something as His due, who bought us with His blood, provided He does not ask too much?
Our lives, our loved ones, our possessions are our own, not His; we will give Him what we think fit, and obey any of His requirements that do not demand too great a sacrifice?
To be taken to heaven by Jesus Christ we are more than willing, but we will not have this Man to reign over us?

The heart of every Christian will undoubtedly reject this proposition, so formulated; but have not countless lives in each generation been lived as though it were proper ground to take?
How few of the Lord's people have practically recognized the truth that Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all!
If we can judge God's Word as much or as little as we like, then we are Lords, and He is the indebted one, to be grateful for our dole and obliged by our compliance with His wishes.
If, on the other hand, He is Lord, let us treat Him as such.

'Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?'

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Great Divide

Right now I am really struggling with a lot of things, and many of them are covered in the 19th chapter of martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book, The Cost of Discipleship, entitled "The Great Divide." Here are some excerpts...

Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many be they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth forth not good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Not everyone who saith unto Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that Day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy name, and by Thy name cast out devils, and by Thy name do many mighty works?" And then will I profess unto them, "I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity."
(Matthew 7:13-23)

The Church of Jesus Christ cannot arbitrarily break off all contact with those who refuse His call. It is called to follow the Lord by promise and commandment. That must suffice. All judgment of others and separation from them must be left to Him who chose the Church according to His good purpose, and not for any merit or achievement of its own. The separation of Church and world is not effected by the Church itself, but by the Word of its calling.

A little band of men, the followers of Christ, are separated from the rest of the world. The disciples are few in number, and will always be few. This saying of Jesus forestalls all exaggerated hopes of success. Never let a disciple of Jesus pin his hopes on large numbers. "Few there be..." The rest of the world are many, and will always be many. But they are on the road to perdition. The only comfort the disciples have in the face of this prospect is the promise of life and eternal fellowship with Jesus.

The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one's way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.

To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.

To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, His enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way.

To believe the promise of Jesus that His followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way.

To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way.

The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way.

But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before, step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at Him who goes before, we are already straying from the path.

For He is Himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and He alone, is our journey's end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the straight gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road will increase our certainty.

The way which the Son of God trod on earth, and the way which we too must tread as citizens of two worlds on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way. The narrow way is bound to be right.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dreaming of Heaven

No matter where we go, in place or in time, across all cultures, we find that all human beings have one thing in common, without exception. We all have this idea that somehow, things are not as they should be, that there is something flawed about all we do, all we experience, in this world. There is always present this feeling of wanting to be home, but just when we think we’ve found home, it too turns out to be just another way station on the caravan of souls going… somewhere.

This idea, or feeling (because it seems to transcend mere thought and seems to issue from another part of our being, the heart maybe) can almost be described as what defines mankind and sets us off from other creatures. Though there are animals that build and organize, it seems that they always follow the same logic, and their creations never deviate very much from an instinctual standard. Could this idea of ours also be something of the same sort, an instinctual standard that is inseparably part of us, the very thing we were created to do?

In any case, we have this idea, but we cannot fulfill it. We are living in a world that is already perfect, yet somehow we find ourselves unable to be happy here. Some part of us keeps dreaming of heaven.

The one true American fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, in its film version exceeded the scope and content of the original children’s books, becoming in the process another heavily endowed myth of our dreaming of heaven.

Every religion and philosophy the world over has arisen out of mankind’s dreaming of heaven. It comes even before the discovery of God, and is probably what has pushed us into that search for Him. If there is a heaven, there must be a God. Does that make sense? Well, maybe not to all. Buddhism doesn’t need a God, but in some of its forms, it still wants, looks for, and promises heaven. It’s interesting that a similar experience can provoke at least two different responses.

Once there was a rich and cloistered prince who left the palace and walked through the world. He saw there four things that impressed him: a sick man, a poor man, a beggar and a corpse. All of these are things that he knew were intrinsically wrong, and the books about him say that “he was filled with infinite sorrow.” Ultimately, after much searching and thinking, this man came to the conclusion that none of this was real, and that escape was possible and necessary. This escape, though, was not dreaming of heaven. It was something more like not dreaming at all. Why was this? Because this man considered that what he experienced in the world was itself just a bad dream. He created a path of escape from dreaming. This man was Gautama, called the Buddha.

In another story, there was a poor man who left his workshop and walked through the world. He saw there the brokenness of people, experiencing the rigor and hardship of their lives, joined them in their alternating sorrows and joys, tasted with them the bitterness of their exile from home, their dreaming of heaven. He shared with them this strange, inescapable feeling that things were not right in the world. He was born into a religion that tried its best to give men a system of rules which, if they lived by them, promised to make their lives in this world right, so that they wouldn’t need to dream of heaven. This religion even had a God who gave the rules and tried His best to get the people to follow them. Though they had the rules, and the belief that following them would set the world right, they didn’t follow them just the same. They didn’t, but the poor man did, and by following and fulfilling the rules to the uttermost, he opened a path of escape from dreaming of heaven, by opening a path of entering into heaven. This man was Jesus, called the Christ.

We all have the same experience as these two men, as have all men in all ages and cultures. Every time we think we’ve found home, somewhere to be comfortable, where everything is “as it should be,” something or someone spoils it. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo, “It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me.” Morpheus in Greek mythology is the god of dreaming. Dreaming of heaven. The Wachowski brothers sure packed a lot of truth into that first film.

Here, if nowhere else, is the common experience that unites everyone, the knowledge that all is not well with us and with our world. Religions and philosophies offer answers and explanations, hoping to strengthen our dreaming of heaven to the point where maybe the dreaming will be enough for us, and sometimes just trying to get us to not dream at all. But where did the need to dream originate? Who told us that all is not well? And people dream only of things that they have seen and experienced somewhere, even though the dreaming sometimes distorts them beyond recognition.

The answer to all this, does it come from the prince turned enlightened one, or from the carpenter nailed to a tree?
To dream or not to dream, that is the question.
And if we must dream, who will wake us up?

The reward of virtue is to see Your face,
and on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Psalm 17:15 Jerusalem Bible

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A first point of entry

Examining the reasons why Buddhism supplanted Nestorian Christianity in early medieval Japan might give us some insight on how to evangelize the Japanese people today.

Buddhism in Japan is a very highly developed philosophical system, divided into many sects, but understanding some things about the two main ones, 天台宗 Tendai and

眞言 Shingon, can help us see into the Japanese mind.

Just as the overall influence of Christianity has lingered in the cultures of the Western world long after it has ceased to be the faith practiced by more than a minority of people, so also has the influence of the Japanese version of Buddhism cast its shadow over the Japanese people for many generations, even though relatively few Japanese can be said to actually practice it. The ritual aspects of Buddhism, as well as of 神道 Shinto, the native Japanese religion, affect most Japanese at least in the culture of the family.

Births and marriages are intertwined with Shinto rituals and regulations. Human mortality is addressed and ministered to by Buddhist monks and their rites.

When a child is born, its name is registered by the local Shinto shrine, and enrolled among “the living” and commemorated and prayed for, in general, with ceremonies. After the person lives his life and dies, his name is transferred to “the dead” and is commemorated as a “kami” or god. When a person moves, they can have their name added to the “list” at the Shinto shrine where they now live. People go to Shinto shrines to ask for help of the kami in their day to day lives, but only the “religious.”

Death, on the other hand, and what happens to the dead is actually the domain of the Buddhists, almost their specialty. This is their function for the “non-religious” Japanese. Those who actually do practice some form of Buddhism would find much more to do than just funeral rites. In an odd sort of way, practicing Buddhists in Japan can be compared to their Christian counterparts, people who go to church regularly and volunteer for various churchly activities. Again, these are both minorities in each culture. In conclusion, when a Japanese dies, he is often cremated and buried in a cemetary on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. What happens after that has some similarities to cemetary customs in any culture: graves are cared for, flowers and incense offered, people speak to the dead, etc., as if they could hear, and they are often resorted to when guidance is needed. “Just ask Mom.”

Back to Japanese Buddhism, it’s worth noting that it really is a different “religion” from other forms of Buddhism. Great emphasis is placed on the boddhisatva, that is, a being who has attained the status of an enlightened being (a buddha) but who has relinquished, at least temporarily, leaving the world of men and instead chooses to be “left behind” to help other mortals still struggling to break free. Both Tendai and Shingon forms of Buddhism emphasize that “anyone can become a buddha” and this idea is at the back of the Japanese mind, a noble principle of self-sacrifice, even self-immolation, for the sake of others. This pervasive legacy is a first point of entry for Jesus Christ. “…anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35) “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) “This has taught us love—that He gave up His life for us; and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) The contexts of this self-sacrifice may be different in Buddhism and in Christ, but the content is the same. In each case, one foregoes one’s personal well-being and safety, so that others can escape, like a man using his body to keep open a collapsed mine shaft entrance, so his work-mates can get out.

So far, a first point of entry for Christ into the Japanese mind has been identified. Where did this emphasis come from in Japanese Buddhism, that makes it so distinctive? Could it be one of the evidences of Christ which Nestorian Christianity bequeathed as a legacy to the Buddhist wave that overcame it?

More to follow.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A price too high to pay

“We are all brothers and sisters with one heavenly Father and on this beautiful planet, which we are all responsible for, there is room for everyone…”

This quote was posted on an Orthodox blog that I visit, and there followed a string of comments, in the main critical of Patriarch Bartholomaios of Constantinople. Following is my comment on the issue.
Take a look at the original blog post and string of comments here.

Although I am a Greek Orthodox, I am not sympathetic to the current Patriarch, but I also do not expect much from a man of the world such as he is. Yet, reading his address in its entirety, the quote under consideration, when put back in context, does not offend my Christian sensibilities.

Theologically it is incorrect, as was pointed out. In the context of human cooperation, and especially of hospitality, it is non-offensive. We can call people "brothers" even before they are saved because we have a hope for their salvation, yet we do not permit them the communion cup. There should never be, in our social exchanges with non-Christians, even a trace of triumphalism or "spiritual imperialism," neither of which are part of the commission of Christ "to make disciples of all nations." The patriarch's purpose in addressing the assembly was not to evangelize them, but to say that he would continue to offer to them the hand of friendship in (I would assume) whatever ways are not contrary to Christ, whose ambassador he is.

Ecumenical dialog with leaders of various non-Christian religions is, in my opinion, a waste of time and a temptation to dissimulation for the sake of some level of "unity" which is at best practical but not authentic. The patriarch has done enough damage by his published writings and various meetings in this regard to make many Orthodox Christians uncomfortable with his leadership, especially when he arrogates to himself such prerogatives as might an Eastern "pope."

We have no pope, and will not, and the patriarch of Constantinople can speak to the world for us only if he speaks truthfully. I have yet to see this patriarch go forth "to make disciples of all nations," as he could if he dared.

But that would mean martyrdom,
and for this patriarch, it's a price too high to pay.