Thursday, December 31, 2015

The light of Yahweh

Today is the seventh day of Christmas. To the world, that means, it is not Christmas anymore. It’s over. If it lingers past the the only Christmas day it knows, it’s because people have not had the time or energy to take it down and put it away for another year. Or perhaps, the idea of ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ is not entirely dead, but remains as a cultural or economic vestige, depending on how it is maintained.

Even for the average Christian, it’s not really Christmas anymore. He may know it is technically still the Christmas ‘season,’ and he may attend an extra religious service here and there. If he is a Catholic or an Orthodox, and unusually pious, he may follow the lectionary readings at home, prolonging his appreciation of the meaning of Christmas. Then, he moves on. Life, even religious life, returns to normal.

But what is the meaning of Christmas that literate and pious Christians seek to experience, at least once a liturgical year? And for those believers in Christ who know no such thing as liturgy, who fly by the seat of their bible breaches, hanging on the words of their favorite preachers, what does it mean that God became incarnate, was born of a virgin, laid in a manger, and attended by sages, shepherds and angels?

Everyone knows the story, even those who know nothing else about that Baby. What is the meaning of Christmas to the Japanese who celebrate it with a late night Christmas cake? Or to the Indonesians who add decorative antlers or bells to their burkhas, as they shop at malls where Christmas music is piped in, and where they can take their kids to see Santa? Or closer to home, to those who’d rather not believe?

I wonder what those who’d rather not believe what they see before their eyes for two months leading to this final week of December, what meaning does Christmas have for them? Because you see, it does have a meaning, it must have. There is no escape from it, outside of taking very deliberate steps to hide oneself from its effects. For them, the meaning of Christmas must be all they hate and try to avoid.

But back to the rest of us, Christian and non-Christian believers in something and somebody. What is the meaning of Christmas? To those outside Christianity, Jesus might be a great philosopher or brilliant rabbi but no messiah, his birth an exaggeration of what such a prodigy should expect. To those of a pluralistic mind, his birth might be an example of an incarnation of a god, an avatar, nothing more extraordinary than that.

These avatars are many. Their devotees believe that when the world descends into a very dark age, and miscreants rule in place of righteous kings, a god will descend to earth in human form, but always still a god, his manhood only an appearance. The meaning of such a divine descent is exactly and only a visitation, its purpose to fix what’s broken, and then to subtly withdraw to the spiritual sky, till next time.

The odd thing, as I reflect on the Christians that I’ve known in my life and studied about in history, is that Christian believers mostly seem to hold views about the meaning of the Incarnation (and now I must capitalize it as a proper, a very proper noun) very similar to the two described above. Whatever creed they formally profess, they believe either that He is a great Sage, or that He is some kind of Avatar of God.

Many are willing to call Him ‘Son of God’ and even ‘Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,’ and subscribe doctrinally to all kinds of ideas that if probed deeply enough they’d confess as nonsense, because what they do with the faith or dogma they profess reveals what they really think His Incarnation means, something between a scolding and a suggestion to be a better person for a reward.

Others are willing to push their limits a little further, study, pray, and practice more the tenets of their religion, which they say comes from Jesus Christ. They even seek Him daily, try to get to know Him better, try to find out ‘what would Jesus do’ and then try to do it. The meaning of the Incarnation for them means, something between being good and doing good, because He came, He conquered, He left.

The gods of polytheists may have avatars who visit mankind once or twice, now and then, to teach mankind, cleanse the earth of evil, set things right, but that’s all just mythology, those gods don’t really exist, and that’s why it doesn’t quite work. The world, and humanity, is just as much in bad shape as ever. The same may be true of the Incarnation of the real God, Jehovah, but at least He’s really there.

The meaning of Christmas must be the meaning of the Incarnation. The meaning of the Incarnation must be, in spite of whatever the Christian religion does with it, that God did not send a moral teacher or an avatar of Himself on a charity call, but that He infiltrated our entire race in Jesus the Second Adam, uniting His Divine Nature to our human nature, not temporarily, but permanently and eternally.

What else can it mean, then, to say that in Christ’s Incarnation, God became man, so that man can become God? There was no ‘can’ in God’s becoming man, because His will is always to do His will, He ‘became,’ but also He ‘becomes,’ He ‘is becoming,’ and so it is only our will in not wanting what He wills that allows us to say man ‘can become’ instead of man ‘becomes,’ and man ‘is becoming,’ yet this is true.

The gospel tells no lies, does not trick us into religious faith, does not hold out to us empty promises, or build ‘pie in the sky’ palaces to comfort us for having to suffer so much and for so long. The gospel tells us the truth, ‘He came to His own domain and His own people did not accept Him. But to all who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God’ (John 1:11-12). Now, read it in the present tense.

Why? Because Christ is with us. He is here and now with us. He is in our midst. He is among us. He always was, is, and will be. He tells us, ‘I am with you till the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20). This is not what a moral teacher says. This is not what an avatar does. The Ascension (and disappearance) of Christ does not, cannot, mean absence. It inaugurates a real presence, real because universal and permanent.

God becomes man, enters into our DNA chain, shares our gene pool. We now all have Divine DNA, all our genes now carry Divine potency. Just as the Baptism of Christ in the waters of the Jordan has made all water, everywhere, holy, so has His Incarnation in the human race made the whole of humanity a holy Being. Now, the Divine counsel, ‘Be holy, for I am holy,’ is heard within us, cycling in our blood.

This is the meaning of the Incarnation. It is not religion, for the barrier that protected God from the people, and the people from God, has disappeared. It was the veil of the Temple that was sundered when Christ died on the Cross. The meaning of the Incarnation is the revelation that Paradise is ever-present, that mankind in Christ now reigns with Him on the Throne of the Holy Trinity, as They have decreed,
‘Your ancestors will be replaced by sons 
whom you will make lords of the whole world’
(Psalm 45:16).

‘O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh’
(Isaiah 2:5).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Back to the Greek

One Saturday morning a few years back (I keep Saturday morning as shabbat, my quiet time), when most people might be sitting down to have lunch, I was still in breakfast mode, so I made myself a light breakfast and, as usual, grabbed a book off my shelf at random to read while I ate. It happened to be my old college book, New Testament Greek for Beginners, by Machen. I will show the other books I am about to describe in this post, but this old text book has an unremarkable blue-green cloth cover, not worth showing. And besides, I am not recommending this book to anyone; the others I am. (Be sure to click on the book images for larger views, especially the sample pages of the Greek NT.)

Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy
As I perused the book, at once I was hit with the reason why I never learned New Testament Greek, that is, koiné, in college. It was boring! Stock memorization of word forms we would never use. It was being discouraged from reading Greek out loud by the professor's very reticence about pronouncing it himself. Isolated words and maybe a phrase or two were ventured to be spoken in the learning process but to actually speak koiné Greek as if it were a living language—unheard of!

Nearly twenty years after my first encounter with the Greek New Testament in this academic environment, I encountered it again in—of all places—the Church! At the age of 37 my pilgrimage to Orthodoxy came to an end—I was home.

Home, where the Word of God that I had come to love more than anything else was also loved in a way that I could relate to. Better yet, I was finally in a place where the original language of the scriptures was not an academic exercise, but rather the medium of the exercise of both worship and study.

Greek Bible, I Aghía Graphí
Greek, I was delighted to discover, is not a dead language, not even the koiné (which I now learned was pronounced kee-NEE with the accent on the final syllable). What's more, all those syllables which seemed so unnatural-sounding and impossible to say out loud in the college classes, well, they weren't pronounced that way at all. The people with whom I started going to church were speaking it fluently all the time in the services and in bible studies; it literally rolled off their tongues, and after not even a year, it was rolling off my tongue too.

Greek New Testament
(Alexandrian Version)
Greek is a language that has somehow managed to keep growing, yet keeping all its parts intact. The everyday Greek of the household is a different dialect, but the scriptural Greek is pronounced the same way and has been, from the time of Christ and the holy apostles. When we read the New Testament writings aloud, we are actually hearing what the writers wrote as they spoke it. As a collector of Greek coins of the Roman emperors, I found out this was indeed true. When the emperors' Latin names were written in Greek letters on the coins of the Greek-speaking provinces, they were spelled phonetically, showing that koiné Greek was pronounced approximately the same as Greek is today.

Gospel according to St John, Nestle-Aland edition
Where I am going with this ramble is to encourage anyone who can, to learn to read and understand the New Testament in the original language. (Yes, I am what one can call an ‘original languages Bible man.’) From my experience, I think that learning New Testament Greek from grammar books is backward and prevents one from picking up and internalising the language—which is the only reason for learning it at all—so that we can read and understand without translating what the Word of God actually says.

Majority Text Interlinear
You can get an entire Greek Bible, called Η Αγια Γραφη, í Aghía Graphí, the one with the black cover, and the Old Testament part will be the actual Septuagint translated by the Greek-speaking Jews of Egypt two centuries or more before Christ. But it's really best to start, and even maybe stay, with the New Testament. There is an excellent edition of the Alexandrian New Testament (Nestle-Aland edition) that also includes a dictionary, the one usually published in a flexible red plastic cover.
Gospel according to St John, Majority Text edition
The Majority Text Interlinear by Thomas Nelson is the other Greek New Testament I have used, and though some like it because it has all its ‘helps’ right there on the same page, I still prefer the Alexandrian text.

If you must have a grammar book, the very best and easiest to use and understand is Learn New Testament Greek by Rev. John Dobson. He minimizes grammarian complication and makes you go straight to the scriptures where you belong. He still uses the non-Greek pronunciation of Erasmus and the academics, but that doesn't keep you from learning much and quickly from his book. He also does the same thing with Old Testament Hebrew. The man is a genius and a great lover of God's Word, and finally we have some grammar books that make you learn to speak what you read.

Now, where to find the correct pronunciation? That's the question.

Best thing to do is to simply find a local Greek Orthodox church (one that still uses Greek in the services, some do not) and start attending some of the services. No one will pressure you to join or anything like that. You just tell them why you're there, and they'll not only understand but they'll admire and approve of your aim. This is the best way, unless of course you have a Greek friend like Romanós who is all fired up to read Greek with you at the coffeehouse. If you can't find a Greek church and have no Greek friends nearby, you can still find videos of Greek services on YouTube, and there are also audio versions of the Greek New Testament on CD—be sure the version you get is the koiné dialect version, not modern Greek; both exist.

Ah yes, and last but not least, there is my unfinished, but still useful, Greek New Testament blog with audio clips of the writings of St John, and also the letter to the Hebrews, read aloud, slowly and (hopefully) clearly enough for you to follow the text, once you've learned to read the Greek letters. Click HERE to go to Η Καινή Διαθήκη, and listen to some Greek New Testament!
Η Καινή Διαθήκη

Monday, December 28, 2015

The challenge of our time

This year, it has been difficult to separate the cost of discipleship in my personal life from my concern over worldly events. My world is one of peace and safety, where life is not a struggle for survival, unless that struggle is spiritual—fighting the enemy within. And I cannot tell if I am abandoning my inner post, slackening my interior vigilance, when I think, speak, write, or act on the events that, whether near or far, are threats to the outside world.

This year I have expressed my mind on the issue of the Israel Palestine conflict. I have done the same on the issue of marriage equality, though that unavoidably splintered into discussion, observation, and testimony about what marriage is, what stability and normalization of same-sex partnered families can do for those living that way, and for society in general, and what the Church might do, has the power to do, to deal with it, not hide from it.

The slaughter of the innocents weighed heavily with me all year as well, and I occasionally cried out, mixing my sobs with the general din rising from the combatants. Our Christianity cannot prevent those not-yet-Christians around us from aborting their unwanted babies. It never could. Even under the Christian Emperors all they could do was call it a sin and punish those caught after the fact. Laws don’t save babies, but they can abet killing them.

The worst for me this year was to witness the wanton destruction going on the Near East, with the new ‘caliphate’ plunging the area into deep darkness, destruction, and death, and being happy about it, pretending that Allah is their commander who will give them victory. Like the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the current reign of terror in Iraq and Syria, and its spill-over into other countries, is directly the fault of my country and its Western allies.

I have had to quiet down now, because the political atmosphere in America has become so critical and crucial to our national survival, and the presidential hopefuls’ discussions have sorted out the really important issues from the frills and promises, as well as winnowing the candidates, that it is beyond me to opine anything. I still believe that education(al reform) will protect America and save our Republic, but now there is the other menace.

Militant Islam. I can’t call it anything else. Since the whole thing started, I have experienced the whole range of emotions and passed through almost every opinion I could have of Islam and of Muslims. I want to respect my Muslim neighbors, and I do, because I believe they are just as harmless as I am. But those others, the ones who say they believe in Allah and commit such horrible acts, they also are Muslims. The world needs to be saved from these.

I am just as opposed to militant Christianity. I am even more opposed to militant Orthodoxy, because that is the faith I hold to, the faith I try to practice, and the community I love, and so I know and I feel it more deeply and personally when Orthodox Christians commit aggression of any kind. Like the soldiers of the ‘caliphate’ they too begin by oppressing and terrorizing their own, and then when confident carry their ‘holy war’ to those outside.

The spiritual poverty of this ‘Christian country’ and its mostly admittedly post-Christian European allies is what has produced the weak, wishful thinking and soft-soap response to the menace of militant Islam. The spiritual poverty is signaled by lack of faith in God and the Holy Bible because that is our hereditary religion. Other cultures and religions can be spiritually poor by neglecting and marginalizing their heritage, or spiritually endowed by faith.

‘How long has this been happening?’ Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, ‘Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.’ ‘What do you mean, If I can?’ Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if a person believes.’ Jesus is here not qualifying that ‘belief.’ He’s not saying, ‘believe in Me’ or ‘believe in God’ or even ‘believe in yourself.’ Ultimately, however, it is belief in the power of Good.

And we as Christians know who, not what, that Good is, and so it is we who should be first to refute the lies, trample underfoot the fantasies that have been told us since day one of this undeclared world war three, ‘Islam is a religion of peace.’ Here, the word of the holy prophet rings true, ‘O my people, oppressed by a lad, ruled by women. O my people, your rulers mislead you and destroy the road you walk on’ (Isaiah 3:12 Jerusalem Bible).

Now, people of unknown or no religious faith step up to the plate in several countries. Among the presidential hopefuls, the Trump is bullying his way to the American presidency, proving perhaps the pundits wrong who say that only the uneducated and naturally stupid support him. I wonder, how many of these sophisticated, worldly-wise are themselves ‘in the closet’ idiots like the rest of us untutored rabble who used to be duped by their duplicity.

What actually inspired me to these thoughts was reading about the Chinese response to the menace of militant Islam. Though very few Chinese are Christians, their traditional culture, surging forward across the centuries and vaulting over the wall of their theoretical communism, certainly has tutored them well in what faith is, and what is worth preserving. The following passage impressed me, and so with it let me conclude my thoughts. The source is linked below.

‘To the average Chinese, serious Muslims still live in the Stone Age, possess no desirable culture, live unenviable lifestyles, lack innovation or personal meaning, and represent a desire to enforce this completely “useless” approach on everyone else through militaristic and terroristic domination. In comparison with the diversity, depth and beauty of the Chinese Tradition, Islam pales as a shadow of human intellectual and civilizational potential. And so, to the Chinese, it is not a question of “religious extremism” but a conflict of different forms of cultural expansionism and imperialism. It is a war of “haves and have nots,” and in this manner, it is perceived as “us vs. them.” No even-handed, compassionate middle ground is possible when one side [militant Islam] has declared war.

‘Thus, the Chinese overwhelmingly see any foreign journalistic position lobbying for the legitimacy of an aggressive Islamic culture as support for the enemies of China, as evidenced by the incredibly negative response that this reporting has received on the Chinese Internet. Ridiculous? No, but rather, historically informed and relatively unbiased—they are not trying to force history to read differently than it actually does by ignoring the fact that the worst perpetrators of genocide, discrimination against women, suppression of disagreeing religions, and wars of imperialistic expansion in Asia have primarily been Islamic. The Chinese haven’t forgotten the wars with Arab Muslims in the 8th Century, or all the wars afterwards, which ate away at its boarders, saw friendly neighbor nations crumble, swaths of territory depopulated, men over 12 killed or castrated, women forced into “marriage” after the murder of their families, and children forcibly circumcised and declared Muslim against their wills.

‘The Chinese, plugged into five thousand years of culture and able to see past Western liberal assumptions, understand that the challenge of our time is the ideological war against Islam, both in its “extremist” and “cultural” forms. And thus, they expel all of its politically correct allies….’

by Will Boyd,
at his weblog Guanxi Master

Thursday, December 24, 2015

King of Glory now

‘Sorry! No room at THIS inn!’
Once again we’re almost to the day when Google, following the lead of indifference or political correctness, avoids any mention of the Person responsible for the ‘happy holidays’ they like to throw at us. The anniversary of the birth of almost anyone else, however insignificant or outside the mainstream, but beloved by the Google elite, can find a berth in that know-it-all inn, their names or images cleverly interspersed among, or forming, the six characters of their logo. Anyone else, but not Jesus.

It amazes me how a mere Infant can so terrorize one group of people while others look on in awe. Truly, whether biblically literate or not, the first group so fears the ‘wrath of the Lamb’ that they can’t bear the mention even of His Name, let alone His Title—Christ. I cannot count how many times in the last few days was my ‘Merry Christmas!’ responded to with a ‘Happy holidays!’ from faces whose forceful (and pitiful) lack of happiness made absolutely certain that I stood corrected for my obscenity.

You see, I live in a place where the name of Jesus Christ is regarded not only as an impropriety, but an obscenity—except, of course, when political correctness demands that people swallow their superiority and patronize the ignorant rabble that believe in ‘that Man,’ and count me one of them. Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or weep. Laugh that they could be so blind to the Christ who is wandering, infinite gifts in hand, among them, or weep that He wanders, homeless and ‘rejected of men.’

It would be easy to chalk these up to being just more examples of the ‘culture war’ that has enveloped my neighborhood along with Western civilization, but it is not really a confrontation between the secular and the Christian. No, it is much deeper. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics have all returned my ‘Merry Christmas.’ It’s not about religion. The confrontation is between the literate and the illiterate, between those who want to understand, and those who don’t. Religion is just a scapegoat.

The Man whose birth Christians celebrate on the twenty-fifth of December, whether or not He is regarded as a good man, a prophet, the Son of God, God Himself, or even whether He actually ever existed at all, He has had an impact on the human world, even on the individual, believer or non-believer. The very years we number, we count from His supposed birth, that day when He was born, unknown, unnoticed, even unwelcome. So, nothing has changed. Google’s inn still has no room.

It’s not a Christmas carol, but a hymn that comes to me in this time which marks the moment of His extreme need, when within His holy Mother’s womb He squirmed and kicked to be set free, yet was given no place to lay His head. This hymn might sound threatening to those people imprisoned in their correctnesses, but it is a great comfort because of the tenderness of the God who was, who is, and who is to come, who holds out infinite love and welcome, even to those who despise and reject Him.

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came,
Faithfully He bore it, spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death He passed.

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone Him; there let Him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true;
Crown Him as your captain in temptation’s hour;
Let His will enfold you in its light and power.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With His Father’s glory, o’er the earth to reign;
All the wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of glory now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

As for me

As for me, my spirit is all humble devotion to the Cross: the Cross which so greatly offends the unbelievers, but is salvation and eternal life to us. Where is your wise man now, or your subtle debater? Where are the fine words of our so-called intellectuals? Under the Divine dispensation, Jesus Christ our God was conceived by Mary of the seed of David and the Spirit of God; He was born, and He submitted to baptism, so that by His Passion He might sanctify water.

Mary's virginity was hidden from the prince of this world; so was her child-bearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God.

How then were they made known to the world?
Up in the heavens a star gleamed out, more brilliant than all the rest; no words could describe its lustre, and the strangeness of it left men bewildered. The other stars and the sun and moon gathered round it in chorus, but this star outshone them all. Great was the ensuing perplexity; where could this newcomer have come from, so unlike its fellows?

Everywhere magic crumbled away before it; the spells of sorcery were all broken, and superstition received its death-blow. The age-old empire of evil was overthrown, for God was now appearing in human form to bring in a new order, even life without end. Now that which had been perfected in the Divine counsels began its work; and all creation was thrown into a ferment over this plan for the utter destruction of death.

Ignatios of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sol Invictus

Sol Invictus, ‘the unconquered Sun,’ was a Greco-Roman deity popular especially in the later Empire, beginning with the era of the military emperors, particularly among the soldiers.
A syncretistic deity, connected to the observable phenomena of nature, his cult was a conscious replication in the human world of the sun’s movement through the heavens. His feast day, the 25th of December, relating to the winter solstice, celebrated the turning point from the shortest day, longest night, towards the lengthening of days, the time of increasing light. He was a favorite god of the emperors themselves, including Constantine, who exchanged his worship for that of the true and living God.

It’s amazing, how similar the truth can be to our not quite correct guesses about it. Among the episodes of man’s search for God, we are not surprised to find how universal is the attraction of man for the sun and how frequently the solar disk has become the object of our veneration in place of the Divine Being. From ancient Egypt’s first stab at monotheism, the pharaoh Ikhnaton’s cult of Aton, the sun, with which he tried to overthrow the worship of Amon-Re and the pantheon, to the solar cults of ancient Peru, and China, Greece and India. Even among the pagans of today, the sun worshippers who bathe practically naked in its light on the beaches without giving theology a thought, he reigns.

The ancient Church immediately incorporated feast days of the Christ into its calendar, imitating the biblical festivals of Judaism which it early discarded, and emulating in some respects the pagan feasts it was replacing. In the law codes of the first Christian emperors are edicts allowing the observance of the old pagan holidays as to the festivities while banning the religious offerings to the false gods that were the reason for them. This they did, the laws explicitly state (Code of Justinian, Book 1, Title 11, Paragraph 4), ‘so as not to eliminate occasions of joy and revelry for the people.’ Even in those days, politicians, Christian though they might be, knew better than to suppress all at once what little fun the common folk enjoyed.

The commemoration of the birth of the Christ, of Jesus of Nazareth, was celebrated by the early Church on the same day as was His epiphany, the manifestation of Himself to the world at His baptism in the waters of the Jordan River by holy prophet and forerunner John, that is, on the 6th of January. Only later, after the Church had been incorporated into the Empire’s plans for world domination, was the commemoration of the actual birth, the incarnation, of the Christ separated from that of His epiphany.

The date chosen for this separate commemoration?
In step with their program of supplanting the native paganism throughout the Empire with Christianity as the national cult, the feast day of Sol Invictus, the unconquered Sun, was chosen. After all, wasn’t the coming of Jesus Christ the turning point in human history, just as the winter solstice was the turning point in nature, from the time of growing gloom to increasing light? It all made sense to the ancient mind; it still does, even to us today, when we think.

So much for the history of the feast day we are about to celebrate—yes, still celebrated in the Church for twelve days, not one—which we call ‘the Nativity of Christ,’ revealing in the name a somewhat better reason for it than does the common English expression ‘Christmas,’ which has taken on other meanings for the world. Yet there is more to this connexion between Christian beliefs and the pre-Christian speculations about the sun in relation to God, to the Divine Nature.

In the ethos of the ancient Church, there is this notion of God’s revelation of Himself being accomplished only through the Divine Logos, through His Word. We would never have been able to have any real contact with the Being—Yod-he-vav-he, Yahweh in Hebrew, Ho Ôn, ‘the Being,’ in Greek—had He not sent forth His Word into our midst. That Word was recognized as being Jesus Christ, as He is announced in the first chapter of the holy gospel according to John.

This notion was translated into an attitude that the Word of God, the self-revelation of God, was available in two books—the greater book, and the smaller book. What were these two ‘books’? The greater book was the book of nature. The smaller book was the written scriptures, the Holy Bible. The greater book was called ‘greater’ because it was greater, larger. It was God’s nature revealed, written very, very large, in His physical poem, the heavens and the earth.

The smaller book was called ‘smaller’ because we could ‘hold it in our hands’ as the apostle writes. It was God’s nature revealed in human language, a human literature taken up to become the vehicle of God’s most sure and complete revelation of Himself, everything that He wants us to know about ourselves and Him in one handy, little volume, and in a dialect—human speech—that we could understand. Hence, the two books, one Truth revealed in both, never in opposition to each other.

That being true, it follows that what is written small for us in the Bible is also written large for us—if we are wise—in the greater book of the heavens and the earth. This is where the wisdom of the Church in supplanting Sol Invictus with the truly ‘unconquered Son’ enters. In English and other Germanic languages we are favored to have a similarity in the sound of two words, ‘sun’ and ‘son’, that is not present in most other tongues. Sometimes this confusion works well, other times not.

Herein is found one of the most excellent examples of the wisdom of God imparted to the Church in the idea of the book of nature and the book of scripture revealing Him and confirming each other. The Holy Triad, the Trinity, a doctrine much misunderstood and maligned by those who want to believe in a single Divine Being, is revealed in the Bible but not all in one place and never by name. In the book of Nature, however, we have been given a sign that is both simple and unique. It is the sun.

The sun is one thing, it is one being. Yet there never was a sun without light, but light is not the sun. There never was light without heat, and heat is neither the sun nor is it light. Though the sun is the source of both light and heat, and there never was the sun without either, in the same way light and heat could not be without the sun. Moreover light, though it is one thing, has two ‘natures’. It exists both as waves of pure energy, and as photons, particles like matter.

Do you see where ancient man in knowing that the sun had some wisdom to offer about the Divine Nature was not entirely wrong? But the mystic key was missing until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we could hear from His lips, see with our eyes and touch with our hands, His holy, otherwise hidden, Divine Nature.

Just as there was never a time that the sun existed without light or heat, so never was there a time that there existed the Father without Son or Spirit. Just as light and heat are not the sun, in the same way the Son and the Spirit are not the Father. Just as the sun is their source, so is the Father Their Source. Just as light exists as waves and photons but is one thing, so does the Son exist as divine and human but is one Person. Just as the sun, light and heat are one, so are the Father, Son and Spirit only One. The sun in physical nature reveals the Triune God of Divine Nature. The greater book and the smaller book agree.

Sol Invictus
, the unconquered Sun, was yet another form of that ‘unknown God’ to whom the altar was raised in the agora of ancient Athens, and we are not surprised when we discover that the God of nature is the God who created nature, and the God of scripture is the ‘Poet of heaven and earth,’ and that they are not two different Gods, but One and the Same. C. S. Lewis writes,

God sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again, and by his death, has somehow given new life to men.
(Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 3)

What Lewis has tapped is the deepest well that was ever drilled by God for man, proving that preparation was made for us to know Him long before any man had become fully conscious, had become fully human, had been changed from soil to soul by the inbreathed life of the living God.

The waters from that wondrous well
That made my eyes to see
And made my mind to ever show
My greatest friend to me.

— from Greatest Friend, by Mike Heron, Incredible String Band

Sunday, December 13, 2015

At His great mercy

I was surprised to find my original post At His great mercy republished at Aunt Melanie's blog Desert Dimension [no longer available online], and very thankful for her insightful ‘notes’ which I want to share…

At His great mercy

I have said that doctrines don't matter at all when it comes right down to the salvation of the human race, giving some the impression that I have given up all notion of correct belief. This is not the case, otherwise I would not be an Orthodox Christian.

Of course, it is better to be correct than incorrect, and yes, the correct answers are to be found in scripture, but that is exactly where sectarians and makers of religions go to bolster their mistaken ideologies. If we are of the ancient faith, for us the orthodoxy of the historic Christian Church will keep us from wandering into lands from which there may be no return. I am not suggesting that doctrine doesn't matter, in spite of my use of rather strong language and what appear to be categorical imperatives. No, I am not speaking out of both corners of my mouth either. It's just that doctrinal belief or misbelief can in fact affect our relationship to God and our ultimate destiny with Him or without Him, and yet, His mercy can cover all offenses and in fact does, even taking to Himself those whose ideas about Him are either non-existent or very mistaken.

Our God is greater than anything we can say about Him, even greater than anything the Bible says about Him, and how can He not be? He is the author of all, and having written the only story that there is, He can direct its course, and ours, beyond anything we can do. Yes, we can be damned and separated from Him for ever, but only from our side. From His side, we are never out of His sight.

This is a very strange story He has written, our God, and we see neither the beginning nor the ending as we now are, mere characters on a page. But when the Lamb's book of life is finally open, we will find out whose names were written there from before the foundation of the world, and we will have cause to wonder at His great mercy, both to the saved, and to the lost.

Aunt Melanie's Notes

If God is greater than anything we can say about Him, then what would be the opposite of that inability or impossibility? I think it would be fundamentalism in the worst sense of the word: meaning emphasis on just one or very few doctrinal points, and strictness regarding congregational inclusion based on those points. Not only does this affect one’s relationship with God, but with those who are different or who are yet unsaved. It means to reduce the Church to an elitist cult, and to damn those who are different and to regard with suspicion those who come seeking and knocking at the door. And if those doctrinal points are not entirely correct, if the cultural and devotional practices take the place of doctrine, then what should serve as enrichment decays into contamination of truth. Not only can such people not say or know everything there is to say and know about God, but even what is known is not said accurately or is cast with the unknowable or is denied access.

Why is truth so threatening to some people? Perhaps, because this is indeed the only story—and not their reductions or embellishments of it which would put them in the place of supreme author. Perhaps, they prefer to separate themselves if not from God, then from other people who would require them to teach and love, to forgive and uplift, and to include as equal to or better than themselves. If they can limit, confine, restrict, and control content and access, then they do not need to be at God’s great mercy. They have a system and it will support them. They are the authorities of their own system, and they rule.

What does that do to the rest of us? To those of us who inquire, who knock on the door and want in, or perhaps who want out? What happens to those of us who are forced out? Perhaps like Nicodemus, we must go to Christ in the night and ask our questions. Perhaps like St. John the Baptist, we must tell the truth and face the consequences. Perhaps like the Virgin Mary, we must keep all these things in our heart. With God’s great mercy, there are probably different ways of management—at different times and places and according to each individual’s capacity and situation.

To be at God’s great mercy is not a bad place to be—although it may not be how we imagined religion to be, or even the way it should be. Perhaps mercy is the only way it should be, within and without the walls of any church. To arrive at a total recognition of the need for that mercy—well, maybe we should thank the elitists who banished us to this great God.

If we dare

It’s a funny thing, but in the last few years it has become clearer than ever to me that the doctrinal issues really don’t matter at all. It doesn’t even really matter what we believe about the nature of Christ. What matters is that we believe He is the Savior of the world, and that He is the Truth, the Way and the Life. How can a man be the Truth? I don’t know, but He is. Before you decide to stone me, try to hear what it is I am saying, and not jump to conclusions.

That the Truth is a Man, and not a doctrine, fits in so well with God’s very nature.

Notice, in the Old Testament there is no doctrine at all except, ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods but Me.’ Nothing else. How simple! And look what happened. The rabbis turned that into a vast theological system.

And into that system comes a man who is Who He is, who does not argue, who does not teach doctrine. Do you ever hear Jesus teaching doctrine? or religion? No, He just speaks the Truth, and that Truth is Himself, that He is sent by the Father to do His will, and to speak what the Father tells Him to speak. Nothing else.

And look what the fathers have done to that. We have had councils and even wars over questions that not Christ, not the apostles, were ever concerned about. We have disputes over the oneness of God, and about the Trinity not being written up in the bible. Of course it’s not written up! It doesn’t have to be!

That the Divine Nature is a triad is not a doctrine to be believed
what good does it do if we believe it, what evil if we don’t?
It is a reality to be lived, to be lived, really and truly, the pattern of all being: three are one, not two, not one, but three.
It’s just how things are.

Jesus came to demonstrate that and to invite us to join in that threesome by sending us the Holy Spirit who incorporates us into the Body of God, making us ‘one of the Family.’ It is so awesome!
How petty we are to nitpick each other and tear each other’s flesh over trifles!

I have no problem with Orthodoxy and with its Christological dogma, because I really believe it is an expression in human thinking of the livable reality that I have just been describing, otherwise I would not be an Orthodox Christian.

And even though the Orthodox Church is responsible for a lot of the turmoil in the early Church, defining what’s what and who’s who, and even though it has canons and rules and jurisdictions and squabbles enough to tear the heads off many chickens, the Orthodox life is really quite simple, just as simple as the life of any Christian of any denomination or lack of one.

As simple as the life of any lover and disciple of Jesus.
I know, because I have met them there, as everywhere,
and I hope I am one of them.

I have declared many times, not to contradict, but simply to state a fact about myself: I am not an ecumenist. Ecumenism is for those who think the Church is divided and so they take pains to reunite it. But if we know it as one, we just live in that knowledge.

That is, if we dare.

Letting Him in

Christian faith, and the Christian faith—not exactly the same thing, almost not the same thing at all, sometimes even mutually exclusive. Languages with definite articles—Germanic, Romance, Greek, for example—that have words like ‘the’, can use them to draw subtle distinctions between otherwise almost identical terms. I’m not sure how other languages make these distinctions, but I’m sure they do. But Christian faith, and the Christian faith—these each have their own meaning, and to have one is not always to have the other. A contradiction in terms? Maybe, or maybe as matters become profound, human language just fails us.

The Christian faith. Most people know what this means. It’s the Christian religion, of course. It’s a body of doctrinal belief, and patterns of moral, social and ceremonial behavior that arise from it. It can be further broken down into denominations. It can be studied from the inside or the outside. It can be experienced as a moral, social and ceremonial environment. It can be examined, and accepted or rejected philosophically. It can give those who ‘believe’ in it a sense of stability and security in life, and assurance of a ‘happy ending’ in death. Most of all, it provides a framework for daily living that, if followed, works. That’s the Christian faith.

Christian faith. This sounds nearly the same, but when we say or think the words most of us, if we think about them, know that they mean something at least a little different. If we are Christians, we will just assume that we ‘have’ Christian faith, often without asking ourselves what this means. Some of us may ask ourselves, and answer in the same breath, that it’s ‘just going to church, following the golden rule, and reading the Bible and Christian books.’ If we are not Christians, ‘Christian faith’ will be meaningless at worst, or a mere abstraction at best. We just don’t care. For both believers and unbelievers, Christian faith can just be a ‘given’—you either have it or you don’t.

Both terms pivot on the word ‘faith’ which has a different value in each. In ‘the Christian faith,’ it is more of a thing. In ‘Christian faith,’ it is more of a person. In the first, it is another name for intellectual agreement with a system. In the second, it is another name for a proactive relationship with a person. Of course we understand that the system is ‘religion’ and the person is ‘God,’ but the first condition is not necessarily paired with the second: You can belong to the Christian faith without necessarily having Christian faith. The same is true institutionally: A church claiming to be Christian may in fact know nothing of Christ, even though it’s covered with His name.

Faith in the one is assent to a proposition. In the other it is ascent to a disposition. What do I mean by this? Somebody proposes an idea, and you assent to it, or reject it. You are doing the work. You are making the choice. Somebody is disposed to love you, to vouchsafe you goodness itself, and is drawing you upwards, gradually and graciously, in an ascent to Himself. He does the work. He makes the choice. The Christian faith is a kind of deus ex machina that can make the drama of our day to day life endurable. Christian faith is having a dialog with the Writer of our day to day life, in which we join with Him in writing the script, knowing that He wants us.

The feast of the Nativity of Christ lies ahead. The Christian faith will express itself directly in celebrating it religiously, and indirectly by participating in the economic and social phenomena of the Christmas season. Christian faith will express itself in welcoming once again, and in a special way, the ‘Lord before all ages coming to us as a new-born babe.’ What special way? It is the offering, the giving back to Him all that has been given to us in trust, for that is the real meaning of faith—trust. It is the finding Him again born as a man, or a woman, or a child, in our daily life, as the ones who are placed in our path. It is opening to Him, in them, our doors. It is letting Him in.

Η Παρθένος σήμερον, τον προαιώνιον Λόγον, 
εν Σπηλαίω ερχεται, αποτεκειν απορρήτως. 
Χόρευε η οικουμένη ακουτισθεισα, 
δόξασον μετα Αγγέλων και των Ποιμένων, 
βουληθέντα εποφθηναι, 
παιδίον νέον, τον προ αιώνων Θεόν.

The Virgin today, to the Word before all worlds,
comes into the Cave, to give birth, to the unapproachable Being.
Dance, all the universe, in hearing of this,
glorify with angels and shepherds
Him who was willing to manifest Himself
as a new-born babe, the God before the ages.

Romanos the Melodist
Kontakia of the Nativity

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The beginning, of everything

Christmas, at least in the West, is primarily and preeminently the children’s holiday. This is not a bad thing, and it developed naturally from the Nativity story itself—a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for there was no room at the inn, and three kings bringing gifts, and the star, and the angels. If there must be myths, let them all be like this. But what if this is not just a myth, but history?

The children’s holiday, overlaid by generations of customs and lauded in story and song, told and retold, sung season after season, acted and reenacted, turning children into grownups, and changing grown men and women back into babes. Yes, we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we become like ‘one of these,’ says Christ pointing to the toddler in His lap who would later grow up to be the bishop-martyr Ignatios of Antioch. And then, there’s the magic of gifts.

Yes, the magic. Was it ordained so, because it was the magi, initiates into the sacred mysteries and wisemen, kings in metaphor if not in power, that migrated with the star to lay their treasures before the Throne of straw whereon lay the King of Ages? Blessed are the children for whom this holiday still shines bright in the night of this world, inciting them to faith, hope, and love, not enticing them with lust for toys which pass away.

Yet, toys are not themselves an evil, but a great good, if they raise children step by step in their gradual ascent to maturity, learning to be then what they play now. A great secret is, that the child within us who have made that journey is still, and always will be, alive—that is, if we continue to believe. Believe in what? Believe in Santa? Or Christ? Well, yes… and yes. To believe in the first is the beginning of belief in the Second.

Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas: all these personages in the various cultures represent the magic of believing for children. They were not ready-made by marketing managers of the toy industry. They evolved over time, each gathering Christmas traditions which, again, need not divert us from ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ any more than we let them. It’s thinly disguised humbug to disenchant children with historical lectures about ‘the real Saint Nicholas.’

For what is it we’re after? What do we yearn for? Is it a man-pleasing orthodoxy that squelches the seeds of childlike faith, not trusting the heavenly Father to lead His children? (Not ours, mind you—we are only guardians, and then, their brothers and sisters, co-heirs of salvation.) If we are loving and gentle, He can work wonders through us. Isn’t it, shouldn’t it be, not what but Whom we yearn for? And if this is true, then…

We find ourselves engulfed in the light of the Nativity of the Son of God, in the company of the myriads of angels and the saints gathered for the Festival, all of us as joyful and as merry as we could ever wish, and as carefree and happy as the children we find ourselves to be, our arms laden with gifts we thought we were bringing to the Christ Child, but which we now know were His gifts to us, and best of all, we realise at last that we are now Home, and that we never need leave again.

And this is not the end, but the beginning, of everything we have always wanted and hoped for.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Before all nations

The shame of Islam is jihad undertaken as aggressive warfare to subdue non-Muslim peoples by the sword. Whenever this is pointed out, the Crusades are cited as the Christian equivalent, but history amply proves that the Crusades were not jihad. They were at best defensive and offensive warfare waged to recover lands that Islam had conquered, and at worst, a political mechanism masterminded by the Church of those days to redirect the aggressive energies of the unregenerate. If Europeans could not be persuaded by the Church to stop killing each other, at least let them kill and plunder outside the boundaries of the Christian world. This observation is the key, however, to the shame of Christianity.

The shame of Christianity is harder to name—colonialism, imperialism, chauvinism, what can it be called, as it includes at least these three? The shame consists in saying ‘yes’ to what Jesus commands, but then going and doing the opposite, or at least nothing. The shame of Christianity is that having access to the full knowledge and blessing of God, it plays with its privileges, hides behind its worldly accomplishments, encrusts itself with riches and power, and plunders the unsaved world it was established by Christ to redeem. ‘The white man’s burden’ was once a convenient claim to mask its subversion of the gospel, but today, abandoning that pretension, under the new name of humanism, it continues to rape the planet.

Wait! There are good Christians who do follow Christ, who do what He commands, and who really do hunger and thirst after righteousness. I agree. The same can be said of Muslims. There are those who do not hold to a jihad that is aggression against others, who live and work for the peace that they say Islam is all about. But Islamic jihad exists, even thrives, at this moment in history, as an effect of a prior cause, the wanton neglect of the gospel precepts by the rich and powerful of this world, who are without doubt the overlords of Christendom, but who have abused their trust, and denied the Lord who says, ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45).

This is not a diatribe against anyone, Muslim or Christian. It is not a defense of Islamic jihad or an attack on Christian worldliness. It is a plea to those who have been given the power to ‘become the sons and daughters of God’ (John 1:13) by the very Incarnation of the Word and Son of God that we are about to celebrate. That Incarnation was an historical event. The Divine Nature entered into human nature by becoming one of Their own creatures, a man, a complete and perfect man. But the Incarnation didn’t stop there. It not only was, but it is. It is, it is still happening whenever we let it, whenever we do not, like Herod, try to ‘nip it in the bud,’ try to prevent its birth by slaughtering its innocents.

We say we believe, not only in Jesus Christ’s first coming, born as a babe in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but also in His coming again. The Western Church remembers this in its current season of Advent, believing ‘He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.’ So we Christians of all stripes believe in a universal threefold radiance—He was, He is, He is to come—and dogmatize the One God as a Triad of three Divine Persons. But with all these advantages we have over the world, for all this Light that has dawned on us who once walked in darkness—what has been done by us who have been given power to become the sons and daughters of God?

To remember the Incarnation, not as an historical event but as an invasion of time by Eternity, to celebrate it not by a carefully balanced exchange of gifts, but by the unreserved giving of ourselves to the One who was born and laid in a manger, so that He may offer us to His heavenly Father, to be transfigured as He was on the holy mount Tabor. To observe not by watching only, but by participation in, the Divine Incarnation ‘who was, who is, and who is to come’ (Revelation 1:8), not only on the days appointed, but on the Day which, once begun in us, is without end. Yes, to remember, to know, and to practice what we believe to be true, that between the first and second comings of our Lord, there is nobody here but us.

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah 61:10-11

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The answers, sir

Ain’t quite this way…
Someone asked,

Do any of you Christians believe that God may not be as just and kind as we think he might be, and as a result, Satan was trying to stop him only because he was trying to preserve the equality, not to destroy it? So therefore, God is evil or merely neglective, yet still is not good, and Satan is actually not the entity of evil. Because up until now, I thought God is who we need to follow day and night, and Satan needs to be rejected, though that may just be some figurative language and biased perspective hiding what is right?

This question was posed by (I assume from the context) an adolescent non-Christian, someone who is just entering chronological adulthood and was not raised as a Christian. He has been exposed nonetheless to the views of his predominantly Christianised social environment to be able to pose his question at all. This is how I would answer him.

The language of spiritual warfare, that is, God versus satan, comes from the mythological vocabulary of the Bible and other religious scriptures. What one must first of all understand is, that scriptures, no matter how holy or infallible their adherents claim them to be, are mythological constructs, human literature that conveys truth through allegory, metaphor, and sometimes misinterpretation of factual events. The truth conveyed by them resides primarily in the human soul. Scriptures only reflect it.

Regarding Christianity and Christian beliefs, there are two broad categories or versions. There is the children’s version of Christianity, and there is the adult version. The children’s version of Christianity is what you are taught in Christian Sunday School as a child, and then, unfortunately in many churches, it is the same thing that is preached and taught ‘upstairs’ in the Sunday worship and the various ‘adult’ education classes, seminars, and even retreats. Churches—that is, their leaders—need to be needed, and so they perpetuate the children’s version of Christianity at all age levels.

This children’s version of Christianity is not what Christ was teaching about when He says, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3), nor when He says, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’ (Luke 18:16). What Christ is here commending is what we would call being ‘childlike’ having the kind of trust, absolute trust, that a child has in its parents. The apostle Paul confirms this, writing to the Corinthians, ‘You are not to be childish in your outlook. You can be babies as far as wickedness is concerned, but mentally you must be adult’ (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Then, there is the adult version of Christianity, something that not every adult Christian has. This is not something that is ordinarily dispensed formally in the churches, but something that one acquires by experience, by trying to actually live one’s life as a follower, not just a believer, in Jesus. The adult version of Christianity is the practical theology that cannot be learned at seminary, but which scholastic theology grows out of. The adult version of Christianity is what James, the brother of Jesus, is describing when He writes, ‘Your faith is put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results, so that you will become fully developed, complete, with nothing missing’ (James 1:3-4).

Returning to the question posed, whether or not the one we call ‘God’ really is good—‘just and kind’ is how the question was phrased—and whether or not satan’s role as we usually understand it might not be based on a misunderstanding, we must consider first what is meant by ‘preserve the equality, not to destroy it.’ Equality between what or whom? God and satan? all beings created and Uncreated? Good and evil? The very notion of equality that is the everyday understanding of most people amounts to nothing more than ‘I’m as good as you,’ or in more proper terms, a concept of civic and social equality, an idea which is out of place everywhere except in constitutional terms. Other than there, or in the realm of physical or mathematical propositions, equality is meaningless.

The questioner’s final consideration, whether the decision to follow God or satan might not be only ‘figurative language’ or a ‘biased perspective hiding what is right’ needs to be addressed in two separate ways. First, ‘figurative language’ must be metaphor, or mythological language. Viewed ‘from the outside,’ all our decisions and actions are metaphors and mythology for what is really happening ‘on the inside.’ No one can see that, or know that, except ourselves. As for following God rather than satan being a ‘biased perspective hiding what is right,’ is a self-contradiction, because all human beings have a conscience, a supernatural implant, a ‘thought adjuster’ which ‘tells’ them what is right.

That native, in-born conscience may be modified by social expectations and structures, sometimes to the point that the original ‘right’ is forgotten, being submerged by what one is ‘told’ by external authorities is ‘right,’ yet it is still there, and it is universally the same. The Ten Commandments are just one example of the content of the human conscience being expressed externally in language, but it doesn’t need human language or logic to define or discover it. The categories of good and evil, metaphorically raised to God and satan, are further expressions of it, as are all religions and ethical systems.

The heart of the matter of the question, even before asking which we should choose to follow, God or satan, is whether or not God is good. This is an ancient question, posed thousands of years before it was asked today, and in every generation. There is no easy answer to it. The children’s version of Christianity or of any religion is, of course, God is good. God is whatever ‘good’ means. We have defined it, defined Him, for ourselves. But this is an unwise, half-baked definition. It is not based on experience, at least not on objective experience. If we take into consideration all that happens on earth, and acknowledge that God knows all about it, even that He wills it, then we cannot say that God is good without broadening our idea of what ‘good’ means.

Braver and wiser souls than inhabit the halls of Sunday School Christianity—that is, the saints, those who really do know God ‘as He is’—are unafraid to confess that God is good, but that His goodness exceeds our rational understanding. Their ‘I don’t know, but I trust’ is all they can offer to encourage us to join them in pursuit of the truth ‘on the road to find out,’ never doubting God’s goodness because they ‘know’ that evil is swallowed up by good, just as death is swallowed up by life. But no one who does not dare to enter upon this road can approach such ‘knowledge’ that causes doubt to be swallowed up by faith.

Questions can be asked on this or any topic, but it is in following the Truth that we come to know it is He, not it, that is the answer to every question, and the closer we follow Him the less we ask, because ‘the questions are the answers, sir.’

Monday, December 7, 2015

At home with God

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children
and the hearts of children to their fathers…

Malachi 4:6
A new age of political incorrectness has dawned on America and probably on the world as well. We see it surfacing in American pre-presidential election politics. We see it in the rise of the extreme right in the European Union. We see it in the avalanche of anti-humanistic, political movements in Africa and the Near East that justify themselves by revised religious fundamentalism.

Not all political incorrectnesses are equal, however, and not all are beneficial. All three of the examples mentioned are, in fact, heavily weighted in favor of social, civic, and religious repression and tyranny. They are the destructive vanguard of a new social order, also politically incorrect, that is gradually manifesting itself, but which, in contrast to them, is ultimately beneficial.

These destructive movements must clear the way, invalidate the current cultural maelstrom that has the world in its grip not only by argument and debate, but by brute force. At this very moment innocents by the hundreds, sometimes by thousands, are paying with their lives for being in the path of this destruction. Nature follows its course, as usual, and mercilessly, when it must right itself.

Though we can find favorite causes for this current ‘world spring’ in political, social, economic or religious malfeasance, there is no single cause. The suffering and chaos going on in the Near East is the result of century old Western imperialist triumphalism, but that is not its only cause. The West carved up the entire earth a century ago, and other corners of it seem happy enough.

Or are they? And it is not just ‘the West,’ meaning the seven or eight most powerful nation states and empires politically speaking, and it is not just their economic exploitation of the world that has brought on this ongoing cataclysm. Their pseudo-scientific dissection and reassembly of human nature as well as of nature itself has provoked a reaction that can no longer be restrained by reason.

And why not? Because reason itself has fallen victim to the West’s anti-human and anti-natural hubris. What is called reasonable is anything but what it claims to be. It has been emptied of its power to revive and positively transform. This counterfeit reason is not worth the paper it’s printed on. No one is really saying anything, and so no one is listening. It’s time to wipe the slate clean, to start over.

No fear! We are not anything like near the end of the world. The last third of the last century was dominated by a fundamentalist Christian mindset that linked the establishment of the State of Israel in the Holy Land with the proximity of the prophesied Armageddon battle, the end of the world, and the Day of Judgment. This century Islamists have pushed real buttons to arrive at the same end.

But it’s not going to happen that way. It cannot. Why? Because there is a God whose will cannot be bent, who does not act in accord with the expectations of either good or bad men, whose love is vaster than any goodwill we own and, hence, cannot be subjected to what we think is right. The myths of Divine wrath, like Babel’s fall and the universal Flood, are true, but too terrible to describe as mere fact.

Get ready, brothers, not to receive a universal caliphate, a ‘one world government,’ or a pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation ‘rapture.’ Let’s settle our minds to accept that a new world is coming, but not until we are ready to really let the old world go. This is no different than what is expected of us as Christians, as followers of Jesus. We cannot be born again until we let our old man be put to death.

Political correctness has given birth to what is its mortal enemy, which will soon overwhelm it, turning it into an almost unbelievable racial memory. People will not be able to understand how we could have tolerated such a dark age for so long, and they will wonder at how quickly the entire structure collapsed, and they will be glad to have at last found freedom, and finally feel comfortable and at home with God.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How much religion is enough

No more pathetic cry from the God of all to us the people whom He created and loves can be found than what is written in the book of the prophet Micah,

My people, what have I done to you,
how have I been a burden to you?
Answer Me.
I brought you out of the land of Egypt,
I rescued you from the house of slavery…

It’s true, these words are spoken to the children of Israel, yet what is Israel but the whole of humanity in miniature? What is the land of Egypt and the house of slavery but the bondage to which we are all condemned when we forget who Joseph son of Jacob was, and therefore who we are?

Even when we are aware that He who comes to free us from our passions has broken the bonds of Hades and trampled death underfoot, we wander like the blind, and refusing to enter the land of promise, vex ourselves with religious questions, and try to place the blame on God for our condition.

We ask,

With what gift shall I come into Yahweh’s presence
and bow down before God on high?
Shall I come with holocausts,
with calves one year old?
Will He be pleased with rams by the thousand,
with libations of oil in torrents?
Must I give my first-born for what I have done wrong?

We raise up religion and make God responsible for it, just as the ancient Hebrews did, for which God plagued them not with punishments—that’s what they say He did, but He did not—but with prophets who proclaimed in their hearing, as they still do in ours, that which dissolves religion and demonstrates that God wants none of it.

What is good has been explained to you, O man.
This is what Yahweh asks of you:
Only this, to act justly,
to love tenderly,
and to walk humbly with your God.

What do words like this have to do with religion, even with divine worship? We find ourselves repelled by the simplicity of God’s lovingkindness and His generous mercy, and we persist in telling ourselves and each other what we think He asks of us, even when He appears in Person to qualify the prophets.

If we study the words of Jesus, we must begin by acknowledging that whatever else might be true about God, He is at least what Jesus is, that is, if we believe what Jesus tells us about Himself, and which is supported by His works, which are exactly the same works that God Himself performs.

If you know Me, you know My Father too.
From this moment you know Him and have seen Him.
To have seen me is to have seen the Father.

Whoever believes in Me
believes not in Me
but in the One who sent Me,
and whoever sees Me,
sees the One who sent Me.

The Son can do nothing by Himself.
He can do only what He sees the Father doing:
and whatever the Father does, the Son does too.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows Him everything He does Himself.

If I am not doing My Father’s work,
there is no need to believe Me,
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in Me,
at least believe in the work I do.
Then you will know for sure
that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father.

Incredibly, it seems, from His words, that Jesus tells us that to believe in what God actually does is more important even than believing in God. That seems an impossible proposition, but if you believe in what Jesus shows us of the Divine Nature through His acts on earth, you must believe the same of God.

Since God has not been obscure or coy with us, but bypassing all our evasions, revealed Himself, His nature, yes, even His will, first through the prophets, then through Jesus, it’s a wonder how Christianity, the community of those who accept Jesus Christ, can have evolved into a religious edifice.

Yes, Christ founded the Church. He established it, that is, He established us in our saving faith, against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail, and His holy apostles in turn handed over to us the same, yet look what we have made of it. Look at what we take pride in, the same as did the Pharisees of old.

Jesus has nothing harsh or controversial to say about religion. He encourages faithfulness, and so to the Jews He recommends that they follow God by faithfully fulfilling their religion’s commands. Yet, He wants them to go beyond it. He wants the same of us. Religion’s best use is to spur us on to greater love.

We know this too from the holy apostles, if we read what they wrote,

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.

I wonder how much of what we call our ‘Christian religion’ is the result of what the apostle calls ‘going off the straight course and taking a path that leads to empty speculation.’ I think the answer is to be found in following Christ and the apostles first. Then we’ll see if that makes us religious, or something else.

It’s not impossible to imagine a religionless Christianity. Why not? Because in the holy gospels we encounter a religionless Jesus, and in the Holy apostles we see exactly how much religion is enough,

Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.