Sunday, January 31, 2016

Love

To the least promising of men He showed such love…

Zacchaeus the parvenu, the short, rich man everybody hated, the publican who’d made an ivory tower of his ill-gained wealth—this Zacchaeus was freed for good and all by a visit from Christ. All it took was a glance and a cheerful greeting, “Zacchaeus, hurry down! I’m eating at your house today.” Zacchaeus welcomed Him joyfully and vowed, “Listen, Lord, I’ll give…”

People expected nothing good from Zacchaeus, and so he expected nothing good from them. And all at once here was Somebody who loved him, who enjoyed sitting at table with him and showed confidence in him.

Feelings that seemed forever dried up began to flood his being, buoy him up, transport and convert him. Everyone else had pushed him deeper into his sterility. Everyone else had decided to put up with him as he was, hopelessly evil and avaricious.

But Jesus had hoped in him for all time.

Appearances never fooled Him. He knew that people try to look wicked as well as good, and that both kinds are equally piteous. We’ve become so evil because no one’s loved us or discovered the real us, because no one’s inspired us or wanted us to be better.

God loves those to whom He can give the most, those who expect most from Him, who are most open to Him, need Him most and rely on Him most for everything.

God alone knows what He expects of us, what response He’s looking for, and how many people’s destinies depend on ours.

“Simon, there’s something I want to tell you. Those who need little forgiveness feel little love, but those who need much forgiveness respond with great love.” Only God knows how to love. And only those who realize that they’ve been forgiven and loved thus are capable of loving thus themselves.

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Only those who have answered His love by returning and diffusing it will be invited to enter into it more deeply.

“My sheep know My voice and follow Me.” They won’t rest till they’ve done for another what God has done for them. With the same love and the same patience God showed, they’re going to help their neighbor discover in himself the new being God has awakened in them, the face He showed them so they could at last recognize and accept themselves.

They’re going to help someone find out that he, too, is capable of the perfect faithfulness, gratitude and love that were revealed to them, for Jesus didn’t say, “Love one another,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I wish these words were mine, but I have only made them mine by trying to live out what they say. The passages above are taken from Fr Louis Evely’s book That Man Is You (1966). I offer them to you, brethren, following the precept,

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The house built on rock

Decided to bring this one out of storage for a re-read.
Originally posted August 17, 2015.
The ‘Great and Holy Council of 2016’ is being prepared. Purposely I have not looked into it and know nothing about it, only the name, which I even had to research to make sure it was correct, and that it was really happening. I am not a seminary-trained theologian or a member of the ordained clergy, and what I am about to say is therefore at best my humble opinion, at worst maybe potential heresy. Until a great council is convened, many free thoughts remain free and their thinkers within the fold of Holy Church; afterwards, maybe not. Councils are convened as much to root out the unwanted as they are to plant anew what ‘the mind of the Church’ desires. That mind is also supposed to be at one with the mind of Christ, as it was at the first, ‘for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials’ (Acts 15:28). Unfortunately, history shows us that this is not always the case. The unity of the Church must remain either only a metaphor, or else, the church that holds itself to be ‘the only true’ must protect itself and God instead of following Christ.

Why the Council? My guess is, the Orthodox are thinking that they have been gradually growing apart from each other, as well as in relation to ‘the world,’ which cannot see us as a faith to be reckoned with, because visibly we seem fragmented and ineffectual. Myself, I feel that this apparent disunity is a symptom of our lack of heroic and decisive leadership, which produces a general confusion from the top down. In the 20th century we had such heroic, yes, even Christlike, leaders. The last of them are quickly dying off, and they seem to have few, if any, successors of like stature. Whatever they think the ‘Great and Holy Council of 2016’ will achieve, I hope (and yes, pray) that it will be commandeered not by political and religious interests, but by the Holy Spirit. How will we know the difference?

I have yet many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own authority. But He will speak whatever He hears, and He will tell you things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will receive from Me and will declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine. Therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and will declare it to you.
John 16:12-15

To call a Council at the threshold of the third millennium has to be the work, not of men, but of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic pope, John XXIII, prophetically inaugurated this work at the end of the second millennium. For those who were not yet alive, the last pope John was very much like the current pope Francis. They both have a way of living, speaking, and acting as if they were ordinary humans, not wearers of infallible authority. This behavior generates both hope and fear in members of their Church, and in the world generally. I have a hunch that, had pope John lived to see the Vatican Council to its conclusion (instead of presiding only at the first session), he would have been the last Roman pope, and the herald of the end of the Great Schism. The non-Roman observers he had invited would have been accepted for who they were—hierarchs and leaders of the universal Church—and the course of the Church, and of all of human history, would have been radically altered.

What do I hope for in a ‘Great and Holy Council’? Notice, I did not call it ‘the’ nor did I append a year. Why not? Because I do not know that this Council will be anything but a further estrangement between Christians, and the perpetuation of a ‘religious’ Christianity. I can only hope that it will be the final Council, the one that establishes for all time, not only the truth as Christ, but the way and the life as well. What I mean is, seeing as how we have verified beyond all shadow of a doubt who Jesus Christ is, we can begin to follow Him for real, not for religion. The Church must finally decide what she is, now that she knows who He is.

There is only one controversy to be decided. It is not about jurisdictions, nor about primacy. It is not about devotional practices, worship and the like, nor about morality, rules and regulations. It is about the life or death of the Church. We already have Christ’s promise that ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,’ and so we know the Church will survive, and not only survive but triumph, and continue till the Day of Christ’s return. The controversy is, is the Church a religious society dedicated to its own perpetuation, or is it the transfiguration of all of humankind by the promotion of life in Christ? We’ve been doing the first—by our own efforts ‘preserving and protecting’ the Church—for two thousand years. Isn’t it about time to ‘let God be God,’ to stand on His promise to preserve the Church till the end of time, while we follow Jesus, doing what He does, learning from Him, obeying Him?

Whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on rock. And everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them will be likened to a foolish man who built his house on sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it fell. And its fall was great.
Matthew 7:24-27

Let me put it another way. The Church has spent a great deal of effort, all through history, of creating structures real and theoretical, to tabernacle God, letting ‘Lord, have mercy’ replace being merciful, building a religious edifice that Christ Himself does not want. He did not come to start another religion, but to be the end of religion. Christ is not a religious reformer. He is the re-creation of the perfect Man. We call Him the ‘new’ or the ‘second Adam.’ His resurrection from the dead is an absolute novelty in the history, not only of the earth, but possibly of the universe. He didn’t rise from the dead and then die again, like Lazarus. Religion pales into absurdity and insignificance when we consider these facts, yet we make Christ’s teachings a metaphor instead of following them. Is this the Church that the ‘Great and Holy Council’ is going to secure for us and for humanity in the third ‘Christian’ millennium?

No, the Council shall alone be ‘great and holy’ that enthrones Christ, the King of kings of kings, not as a religious idol, but as the God who lives among us, healing our infirmities, curing us of blindness, raising us from the tombs of our sinful nature, preparing us by His holy commandments, making us in spirit and in truth (that is, in reality) a holy nation of priests and kings, extending the borders of the Church to encompass all of humanity, welcoming all to the life of transformation, expecting not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we have known it, dissolving division, slaying slander, abolishing the darkness of earthly ignorance and overturning the poverty of the knowledge of God, preaching and pursuing peace, inaugurating the wedding feast of heaven and earth.

How can the Council that is being planned be that one which transforms the human race, and history, in the way I have so inadequately described? By letting go, perhaps, of all concern for self-preservation, by abandoning exclusiveness, by seeing the Church not as a subset of humanity that intellectually accepts a body of religious doctrines, but as all humankind waiting for illumination, and, most of all, by returning to the word of Jesus, for that is the house built on rock.

Visibly escorted by the angelic hosts

There is absolutely no way to understand that 43,000 denominations EACH teaching a different ‘truth’ about God, can be considered as the same unity that exists in the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is united in essence and doctrine, in will and love. Jesus said, ‘He who has seen Me, has seen the Father’ (John 14.9). Forty-three thousand denominations do not share essence, doctrine, will, and often hatred and judgment rather than love for each other; each Church professing they ‘have’ the truth and others are the Church in name only.

As Orthodox Christians we take seriously Jesus Christ’s prayer for unity in essence and doctrine, will and love. This is why we do not share Communion with those outside the Church or who are divided from the Church. The Eucharist is the expression of our unity in Orthodoxy, but it is not a vehicle to achieve that unity. As Orthodox Christians, with communities on every continent on the face of the Earth, we are already united with people of all races in the Holy and Sacred Chalice during Divine Liturgy. The Orthodox Church has already conquered racism globally. We just have a bit more work to do locally in our individual willingness to embrace others in our Churches.

So my invitation to the city of Florence… Come to Church, be Orthodox, and we will enjoy the unity that Christ calls each of us in our heart.

— Fr Athanasios Haros

This is going to be short, (but not short enough), because I have a lot of chores to do today. I noticed an article by Fr Haros from which I excerpted the last part. He talks about the unity of the Church and points out that there are forty-three thousand denominations, each teaching their own version of Christianity, so they cannot be the Church.

I have great respect for Fr Haros and for all clergy within the Greek Orthodox Church, but I disagree with them when they imply that those who do not belong to the Orthodox Church are ‘outside the Church.’ He says the reason we deny Communion to those ‘outside the Church’ is because we take seriously Christ’s prayer to the Father for unity in essence and doctrine.

Christ’s prayer to the Father in John’s gospel is for unity of essence, yes, but nowhere does Christ Himself even speak of doctrine. He never says, ‘Indoctrinate one another, as I have indoctrinated you,’ but only ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.’ I am not denying the place of doctrine, only pointing out that it is not Christ’s priority, nor does He deny anyone access to Him who wants it.

When it comes to doctrine, I would say that the doctrines of Christology take priority, who Christ is and what He does for us, over every other. I would also say that a vast majority of Christians believe what is symbolized so concisely in the Nicene Creed. Those who claim to be Christians and deny the historicity of the Church in its various forms and the historic doctrinal faith, I agree, need to be enlightened.

But even they, for their mistaken ideologies and practices, cannot be denied to be members of Christ and the Church. It seems to me, the disunity in the Church derives not from what the majority of Christians believe about Christ’s identity and plan of salvation, but from disagreements that by and large stem from churchly matters, who do we listen to? who are we under? how do we do this or that?

The Orthodox Church holds the Church hostage by its over-protection of the Communion Cup. Christ does not need to be protected from the people either, which is the impression we often get from the manner in which sacramental theology is imparted to the laity. ‘No communion unless one is baptised and chrismated Orthodox and prepared under the guidance of their spiritual father.’ A nice formula, this.

The challenge for the Church of today is to discard the label ‘Orthodox’ if it means turning away Christians of other Nicene confessions: Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists at the very least, and probably Presbyterians, Brethren, and even some Baptists. The challenge is to not insist on uniformity in tradition and practice, laying burdens on others which we hardly satisfy ourselves.

The Church is the Church is the Church. It is the Communion of Love. Those who claim Christ are saved by Him because He saves even us in spite of our moral failings and, yes, even our doctrinal error, blindness and hypocrisy. The challenge for the Church is to be what it is, all human beings on earth, called to the life of salvation, in the process of being integrated with each other into a Body whose Head is Jesus.

Anything the Church does to excuse itself from this most extreme of all inclusivenesses gives the lie to that very Christ whom we say we take seriously when He asks His Father that we ‘all may be one’ as He and the Father are One. The challenge for the Church is not to ask other Christians to ‘come to Church, be Orthodox,’ but to demonstrate how Christ is among us, all of us, who believe in Jesus Christ.

Whatever ‘Church’ is willing to take the first step will be first to cross the Finish Line. The ‘God-protected City’ needs no walls, since Christ and the Theotokos are its salvation. ‘Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving trinity, lay aside all worldly cares,’ for if we take this seriously, ‘we will receive the King of all, visibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.’

Just the ‘facts’

When I was a boy I heard this classic argument between believers and non-believers. (What exactly they believed or didn’t believe, I’m not quite sure.)

They say that God worked miracles in the past, such as revealing the Burning Bush to Moses, punishing Egypt by Ten Plagues, parting the Red Sea at the Exodus of the Hebrews, writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, as well as trumpeting His Laws from smoke-shrouded Sinai. Those were some of the Old Testament miracles, and there were more. Then, in the New Testament, another succession of miracles, one group centering on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, His Birth of a Virgin, His Resurrection from the dead, and all the miracles He performed between, His disappearance in the Ascension, and then, another group centering on His followers, the miracles performed by them or for them, in the book of Acts, for example.

Some said, all the miracles were fabrications, myths. Some said, God did perform miracles in the past, but He did them only for as long as necessary to establish the Church, and He doesn’t do them now. Finally, there were those who said, God does miracles all the time, and we can, and should, expect Him to do them today, that miracles were not just for the establishment of true religion, but for all time.

As I was growing up, even to the present day, I passed through many stages of belief and doubt. As a boy growing up in Chicago surrounded by ethnic East European piety, I heard and accepted the Bible stories, with or without miracles, without asking any questions. I had what I call ‘the children’s version of Christianity.’ Education up through my college years left me still unquestioning. I still accepted the miraculous as intrinsically possible, but I had no interest in it. That is, until my mother was diagnosed as terminally ill when I was in high school. At that point, having watched a television evangelist with a healing ministry, I sent him a few dollars and asked him to pray for my mother to be healed. I meant, really healed. Of course, she wasn’t, and for the time being, I was finished with ‘miracles,’ but she did continue living, as a perpetual invalid, till I was married with children.

My thoughts are not about miracles, whether they happen or not, as I have nothing to add to what C. S. Lewis writes, systematically and convincingly, in his book Miracles. I am a Narnian (what else to call a follower of Lewis?) and I try to live (and believe) like one, even when the world says that I’m only imagining it all. But I do have some thoughts about the miraculous that tend, I hope, not to argument, but to reconciliation.

To continue the line of my own understanding, when I became an adult Christian, when I was ‘born again’ and had an experience of God, I latched on to the Jesus Freak creed, ‘God says it! I believe it! That settles it!’ Yes, for a few years I too literally believed that God created the world in six 24-hour days, made Adam out of clay and Eve out of his rib. I felt obligated to believe the miraculous in this way as a testimony of my salvation. I had seen that believing in nothing miraculous didn’t save anyone, so the opposite must be true. I think I had to go through this stage of false ‘blind faith’ to eventually arrive at real ‘blind faith,’ that is, unconditional trust in God to provide.

Ironically, however, it was that real blind faith which opened the possibility, through freedom, of rational doubt. Doubt in what? God? Christ? the Church? salvation? No, none of these, but the question cannot be answered, because ‘the questions are the answers.’

This is what I believe from my life experience. The world as it is today, and every day, is exactly what it was at every point in the historical timeline. God is no less present, working miracles, here and now than He was in the times and places reported in the Bible. Having said that, I have to also say, I doubt that most of the miracles recorded in the Bible happened in the way they are described, or in the way that we have come to believe in them. That goes for the Old Testament, certainly, and for the New Testament, perhaps in a different way, as well.

I began to ‘peel back’ the traditional beliefs labeling the miraculous, and as I did so, I asked myself, ‘Do I still believe in the God of the Bible?’ that is, in the living God of Israel, Yahweh?

I had long since understood the place of Divine myth in the account of the Creation, and the place of Divine folklore in the account of the Flood. Without doubting one iota of holy and divine Scripture, I laughed at those struggling to prove by pseudo-science and amateur archaeology that the Bible was to be accepted as true science and true history. In my own thought, I reconciled myself to the apparent disparity between science and religion by the fact/act dichotomy: Science is concerned with studying the ‘facts’ of God, what He makes (from Latin facere, to make). Theology is concerned with studying the ‘acts’ of God, what He does (from Latin agere, to do).

The Biblical accounts of the Creation of the world, the creation of Man and Woman, the Temptation of Eve, the universal Flood, the Tower of Babel, are full of the knowledge of the ‘acts’ of God. They are stories, or myths, that describe events and realities that could be explained in no other way, so briefly, iconically, and permanently. What they tell of includes material that is often studied by scientists and historians, but only incidentally, as frames of reference, giving us perspective vis-à-vis our daily life. In a similar way, the ‘facts’ of God, the physical universe that scientists study, includes material that is often studied by theologians and philosophers, but only incidentally, by way of analogy, showing us the incredible unity and rationality of all that is.

Scientists who are also philosophers recognize Design in the order of the universe. Theologians who are also historians recognize Deity in every event in the flow of time.

Back to the miracles reported in the Bible, and for that matter, all through human memory. One thing that differentiates miraculous ‘acts’ of God in the Bible from miracles in other religious contexts, is that the ‘Christian’ miracles always do small and close what God does large and far away (a concept taught by C. S. Lewis), and also, that they lead to something. They have no meaning as isolated events. I’m not sure that these ideas really touch upon what I am trying to get at.

Can Christian faith exist undiminished in the soul, if the miracles of the Bible are doubted as ‘facts’?

When it comes to everything in the Old Testament, my own faith continues undiminished, even were the existence of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt shown to be unhistorical. They say that even the existence of King David is not testified anywhere other than in the Bible, and, having heard this (and believing ‘on faith’ in his historicity), I still read and pray the Psalms with him as a historical person and one who is still alive. For me, the reality of the ‘acts’ of God revealed in the whole of the Old Testament would deliver me at least to the Jewish faith, were it not for knowing the Messiah, Jesus.

When it comes to everything in the New Testament, my own faith continues undiminished, even were all the reported miracles shown to be unhistorical—except one: the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. Well, of course, this one Miracle (or perhaps these three) is predicated on the ‘fact’ that there was a Jesus of Nazareth at all, even though He is reported almost nowhere else but in the Bible. Other ‘Christian’ miracles, such as the Virgin Birth, the Annunciation to Mary (both in the Bible) and the Dormition of Mary (her death, only in the Tradition), are useful constructs in teaching spiritual truths, revealing the ‘acts’ of God, but need not be subjected to investigation as if they were ‘facts.’

Going one step further, one can perhaps understand the ‘doubt’ of the Jews in Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah as an equal reaction to the ‘faith’ of the Christians expressed by what Jews, and anyone else but Christians, might consider myths or pious fabrications. I wonder what a religious ‘faith’ would look like that could accept Jesus for what He strictly says about Himself, what He declares to be the ‘facts’ about Himself. Who would we find, then, numbered among His flock, the Church?

I am the bread of life.
John 6: 35, 48
I am the light of the world.
John 8: 12, 9:5
Before Abraham was, I am.
John 8: 58
I am the door.
John 10:9
I am the good shepherd.
John 10:11
I am the resurrection and the life.
John 11:25
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
John 14:6
I am in the Father and the Father is in me.
John 14:11
I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
John 14:20
I am the true vine.
John 15:1
I am with you each and every day until the end of time.
Matthew 28:20

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A new beginning

Another rainy morning in Portlandia. The sun was supposed to rise a little after 7:30 and it’s already light outside as I start my day, but I doubt we will see the actual sun, unless it gives us a brief peek just before sunset as it often does, maybe with a splendid rainbow at the opposite east.

Usual Thursday breakfast. One pan-fried egg doused with ground pepper-corns, two slices of raisin bread toasted and marmaladen, a cup of Greek coffee brewed Balinese style, all finished off with a dollop of blueberry low-fat yogurt. And, best of all, an antique book to read.

In one of my posts I call myself an ancient man and write that ‘I read books.’ Well, this is true, and to take a look around my house you’ll find books tucked away in the most unlikely places—the laundry room, for instance, has a pine shelf bracketed to the wall with a hundred books.

But I’m not actually a book worm. At least, I don’t think so. I like a saying I heard in a film about the author C. S. Lewis, Shadowlands, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ I’ve pondered the saying and wondered if its corollary isn’t, for me, just as true, ‘I write to know I’m not alone.’

This morning, at breakfast, I settled down to read Volume IV ‘Chemistry’ from the set Science History of the Universe, a set of ten volumes published in 1909. I usually read from Volume I ‘Astronomy’, but I think Volume IV ‘Chemistry’ is my other favorite, though every volume startles.

As a child, very early I was attracted to technical toys, everything from maps, electric trains, model airplanes, every building set that was available, but especially chemistry and biology lab sets. I loved the Periodic Chart of the Elements both for its orderliness and the color coded blocks.

Order, systems of meaning, color, and the feel of things, textures, patterns, and a little later, all the complex but logical permutations of sounds made by the human voice—languages: These drew me and held my attention almost exclusively as an infant, a child, a teenager, and a grownup.

I hesitate to call myself an adult, because I don’t want to be called a liar by a good many people. But back to this morning’s reading. The thing I love about this set of ‘science-history’ books is that there is an absolute cut off at 1909, if not earlier. Reading them, you feel you’re living in 1910.

In the ‘Astronomy’ volume, they were still puzzled as to why the sun doesn’t burn out. They were trying to understand what the nebulas exactly were, since the universe consisted only of one galaxy, the Milky Way. They still believed there were canals on Mars and assumed extraterrestrials dug them.

In the ‘Chemistry’ volume, I read this morning the evolution of the Periodic Chart, all the phases it went through, before Mendeleyev finally came up with something close to what we have now. Even in 1909 it wasn’t quite what we have today, because science still didn’t know why it works.

I like these old books because they give us a ‘snap shot’ of another time which, when we read about it in a modern history book, can relay only hard facts, which in reality are almost nothing when compared to what people knew, understood, experienced, felt, and believed, and how it shaped their lives.

The titles of these old books also betray the charming naïveté of that pre-World War era, an innocence which I think was quite genuine, a transparent window into what constitutes unaffected humanity. Another ‘ancient’ author, but one whose works were read until the 1950’s, is Makrakis.

Apostolos Makrakis (1831-1905) was a charismatic Greek Orthodox lay theologian, preacher, ethicist and philosopher who was a leader of the ‘awakening movement’ in post-revolutionary Greece, and arguably one of the most important religious personalities of the 19th century.

He was an extremely prolific writer whose works were translated widely outside of Greece, however his vigorous religious movement eventually turned the Holy Synod against him, resulting in his being condemned and jailed several times. Could it be because he wrote books like this?

The Bible and the World, or God’s Great Book Studied in the Light of His Small Book; Triluminal Science, Surveying the Universe and Explaining Everything, Etc. A third book bound with these two in a single tome, yes, they’re in my library. Books may be dangerous, but their thought endures.

Where is all this thought, my thought, leading to? It’s very true I can have a one-track mind when I want to, and this is one of those times. My reading of an antique science book this morning makes me remember that human knowledge keeps growing, but not human wisdom, nor human happiness.

I think that I could turn back the clock and live in that pre-War world, even with its primitive science and the animated but honest guesswork that drove the learned and pious man and women of that age. Native intelligence, in children, was better nurtured and developed in those days.

We are, in fact, and in spite of all our technological advantages, living less humanly, yes, even less humanely, in a world of wage-slavery and gradual deculturization, inside the ruins of a civilization that reached its apex about a hundred years ago. We’re very close now to a new beginning.

Yes, a new beginning, not a collapse. Of course the collapse has been going on for quite some time, yet it hasn’t killed us. In fact, except for fringe philosophers and theologians who prophesy in unexpected and often unrecognized ways, we’ve all been looking the other way, hoping someone will fix everything, as long as it’s not us.

A new beginning is already seeded. The rain that falls from the Oregon skies is nothing compared to the rain, the hard rain, that is about to fall, a red rain that will restore everyone who goes out into it, stands under it. That rain is about to drench the seeded ground. A rich harvest is about to explode.

Teach your children, young brothers and sisters. I wish there had been someone to teach me when I was that three year old fascinated by the piano, that seven year old in love with science, that eleven year old struggling to learn other alphabets and languages. That high schooler pursuing math like a runner.

Our parents and teachers, themselves bare survivors of terrors we can hardly imagine, tried their best to soften our fall into the world, but instead only made that world harder by their neglect of what is real, what has meaning, what inspires every human soul from infancy to old age, for us, for themselves.

Now it’s your turn. I will not welcome you into ‘the world as it is’ because that is no world at all. I welcome you, and encourage you, saying, ‘the modern world is an interruption of the ancient world’ and it’s in your power to live in that ancient world and recreate it for your children, and your children’s children.

This is not about history per se. Ancient is not about what is over and gone. It is about human freedom and dignity. It is about the therapy of beauty. It is about the resurrection of true knowledge. It is about the love that alone purifies and heals. It is about books, and the Book, regaining the place assigned them.

Again I remind you, as I rehearse to myself each day, ‘Happy the man who reads aloud this prophecy, and happy those who listen to him, if they treasure all that it says, for the Time is close’ (Revelation 1:3). Yes, even the book just quoted. Read, read again, read aloud, to yourselves, to your children. Be a new beginning.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Run for your life




Psalms for the 24th Day
116 117 118 119:1-32

Reading the psalms,
reciting them and breathing them into me, 
fragrant as my bible is right now 
with the smell of basil 
from the feast day of the finding 
of the Holy Cross, 
there I found some ρηματα 
(rhímata, living words) 
that nourished my soul, 
reminders of my path.

(You alone, Lord, know my path.)

I have faith, even when I say,
‘I am completely crushed’.
Psalm 116:10

(Lord, You know what I mean when I recite this verse in prayer.
And at times, I do feel completely crushed,
yet there is no place I can be,
or feel myself to be,
where I do not have faith.)

Yahweh, I am Your servant,
Your servant, son of a pious mother,
You undo my fetters.
Psalm 116:15-16

(I can’t undo my fetters.
I can’t do anything to free myself from bondage, Father.
It is You alone who can free me,
because You alone have freed me.
You undo my fetters.)

I run the way of Your commandments,
since You have set me free.
Psalm 119:32

(In my distress I cried out to You,
‘Lord, why have You given me yet another day?’
Your answer was instant,
Your will to me was clear.
You said, ‘I have raised you again to life,
so that you can carry out My commandments.’
Nothing more, nothing more had to be said.
I heard Your voice, Lord, and I am satisfied.
I run the way of Your commandments, 
since You have set me free. 
Glory to You, O God, glory to You!)

Draw me in Your footsteps, let us run.
Song of Solomon 1:4

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A ramble on trust


What a great photograph! The infant being held above the baptismal font has a look of sheer terror—or is it only disbelief?—‘How can this be happening to me?’ as a very calm looking priest steadies himself to perform the famous Orthodox triple dunk. How I wish I had been ‘born Orthodox’ so I could’ve had that bracing shock of entry into the Kingdom of God instead of, as a Catholic infant, been merely poured on from a scallop shell while being comfortably ensconced in my godmother’s arms.

Or perhaps the baby’s already been dunked and that look on his face is pure wonder at the miracle of instantaneous new birth. Even without knowing that, ‘unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,’ this and every baby who has survived the symbolic drowning and then been slathered in virgin olive oil, cannot help but be thankful that the ordeal is over and that normal life can start up again. Do they ever wonder, ‘What did I do wrong to deserve this?’

Well, even after almost sixty-five years I still wonder about such things, and being able to articulate the wonder with my biblical vocabulary hasn’t made anything any clearer. Thank God that Holy Church has had two thousand years to work out every possible explanation known to man, and been generous enough to share it with anyone who would listen. Too bad, even knowing what is knowable, we’re no wiser than when we started out in diapers, yet some people insist on being dunked again.

Once when I was reading the Gospel of John aloud publicly in the forum—that is, Portland’s Pioneer Square: if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean—I was asked if I was reading the Qur’an by a passer-by. No fault of his, I was reading the Gospel in the original Greek, verse by verse, and then translating it, don’t ask me why. The enquirer stopped for my explanation and then took the opportunity to challenge me in my faith. ‘Do you believe that one must be baptized to be saved?’ he asked.

Well, that wasn’t hard to answer. Of course, the answer I gave him was, ‘No.’ That was his entrée into my personal testimony, and it turned out that he was a member of some kind of Christian fundamentalist cult. When he challenged me that the words I had just read, and quoted above, ‘unless a man is born again…’ were proof that I was wrong, I simply asked him if the thief who was crucified next to Christ was saved or not. He admitted that, according to Christ’s words, he was.

I asked him, politely, ‘Well, when was he baptized? He cannot have entered Paradise just on the words of Christ’s promise alone, can he?’ Well, this turn in the conversation was not part of the questioner’s script. He hadn’t been prepared for this. I mean, how can you win in a contest unless you know the strength of your opponent, and prepare for it? Life cannot be scripted, neither can salvation.

One night my eldest son Jacob visited me, and we had a nice evening of catching up on things. He is a Greek Orthodox seminary graduate and a profound theologian. He shared this with me. He used to teach high school level Sunday School at our local parish. Sometimes his students would get cheeky—Greeks can be very lively—and challenge him on this or that. He would tell the challenger, ‘Don’t trust anyone to be your teacher unless he has died and risen from the dead, not even me.’

There's a point at which, no matter what church or fellowship we belong to, or what doctrines or creeds we confess, or even what our opinions are and whom we agree or disagree with, we must go back and hear the plain words of Jesus, believe what we hear Him saying in the gospels, and try our best to carry out what He says. You may notice there is very little doctrinal stuff in His teaching, almost all of it is quite practical.

To get at the meaning of His parables and mysterious sayings is the prize reserved for those who are willing to follow His simple and obvious commands. If we only do this, we can't go wrong, can't be damned, no matter what anyone may say, whether we are baptized or not, confirmed or not, churched or not, even good or not—‘why do you call me good?’ says Jesus, ‘None is good but God alone,’ even though He is God. This is what is behind the saying of martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘only the obedient believe.’

Hence, what the Word of God says to us is always true,
‘You have One Teacher, the Messiah.’

Family

In the case of real toy soldiers or statues, if one came to life, it would obviously make no difference to the rest. They are all separate. But human beings are not. They look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well: and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Book IV, Chapter 5, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers”

Years ago, newly reborn as a Christian, when I read these words it were as though a dream too good to be true came true for me, it were as though some invisible threat were suddenly collapsed and trapped forever under a weight that could not be removed. The very core of my being, that I could not express without misunderstanding or instant criticism, was justified. What I suspected, what I wanted to be true, that God is a ‘family man’ and that He really created us to be too, and that ‘family’ was more than what I had experienced growing up, really was true.

Later on, when I had read the psalms enough to notice them and have my favorites, Psalm 133 had the same effect on me, and still does, every time I read it. Here was what humanity was made for. Here was what brother should mean to brother, what father should mean to son, and son to father, even what husband and wife should mean to one another.

How good, how delightful it is
for all to live together like brothers:
fine as oil on the head,
running down Aaron’s beard
to the collar of his robes;
copious as a Hermon dew
falling on the heights of Zion,
where Yahweh confers His blessing,
everlasting life.

This is what I was longing for when I ran away from home, on my own personal ‘road to find out,’ looking for this in a New Age hippie commune, where I was the only non-hippie there, and quickly ejected as some kind of antibody. They knew that despite appearances, I didn’t really want what they wanted. I wanted more than mere appearances. I wanted the reality. That was something they must’ve instinctively known was impossible for them, without Christ. So man’s curse turned for me into God’s blessing. God is a ‘family man’ for true, and He wanted me to be one too.

But family, like everything else that’s true, cannot be created by human effort alone, for man, fallen man, though starting out even with right intentions in mind and right actions in hand, will fail, will fall into the same old heresies of self-love, envy, pride and wrath. Only Christ can teach us what love is, and therewith provide in Himself the only true foundation for what we call, and long for, as ‘family.’

So it’s not surprising then when the mystery of division rears up even in the midst of ‘the best of families.’ It’s sad to me and distressing in the utmost to witness parents weighing and calculating their rights against their children to the penny, unwilling to continue to be the sheltering tent of love over them, not realising that they are the foundation on which their son or daughter builds their house, but ejecting them perforce with a spirit almost of competition or ‘survival of the fittest’ with which an animal in the wild might eject its offspring. I am embarrassed by it when I see it, almost embarrassed at being a human myself, even though this attitude is completely foreign to me.

Only the grace of God working in us can produce fruit for love, remake us in the divine image that was shattered by the fall when we ejected ourselves by knowingly breaking the only commandment given to us, consciously taking the only thing that was not permitted us. When we get what we want, denying what we need, it only crushes us lower, so that the things we want become more and more debased, and so that we can no longer hear our hearts crying out for love, and so our own love grows cold. Greed shrivels the soul. The fruitless fig tree withers under Christ’s curse. Was it really not at fault? Can God Himself be wrong to demand from us what He has given us in trust?

These ramblings I offer to the good Lord who called me in the depths of my being and said to me, “Do not be afraid, it is I” (John 6:20), asking Him to forgive my sins and negligences, and my betrayals of the love He has entrusted to me, and to other parents, and asking His mercy on us all.

Cleanse us, Father, from our iniquities and save us from ourselves, unite us to You and to each other in the bonds of love, knowing no debts and holding no accounts between us except to love one another, knowing that we are all worth more than money, and that we have been bought and paid for, by the blood of a Lamb without spot, Your only Son our Lord, Jesus Christ.

He can hold His head high

Psalms for the 23rd Day
110 111 112 113 114 115

PSALM 110
The Messiah: king and priest
Of David, psalm.

Yahweh’s oracle to You, my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
and I will make Your enemies a footstool for You.’

Yahweh will force all Your enemies
under the sway of Your sceptre in Zion.

Royal dignity was Yours
from the day You were born, on the holy mountains,
royal from the womb, from the dawn of Your earliest days.

Yahweh has sworn an oath which He will never retract,
‘You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.’

The Lord is at Your right hand.
When He grows angry He shatters kings,
He gives the nations their deserts.
Smashing their skulls,
He heaps the wide world with corpses.
Drinking from the stream as He goes,
He can hold His head high in victory.

I had a friend once, yes, he was my best friend in those years, with whom I read Greek and Hebrew, with whom I prayed daily, and with whom went forth two by two in indivisible witness. I also shared with him the praying of the Psalms on thirty day cycle, and the special place of the psalms prayed on the day of one’s birth. His birthday was the twenty-third day, and so opened with Psalm 110, quoted above.

His was a very martial soul, a militant, even belligerent one. He had achieved mastery in one of the martial arts and it was wonderful to see him practice them. I shared with him my belief that the psalms being prayed the day of one’s birth can be oracles of one’s nature. Perhaps this isn’t or can’t be for everyone, but for me, and maybe for him, this seemed to be true. I knew he relished the 110th psalm.

And I did as well, at the time, but maybe for other reasons, maybe because I loved my friend and saw how the energy in a psalm like this was what the Lord used to feed him with, otherwise a soul mighty but often defeated and demoralized in spite of his great gifts. All of us need some encouragement to help us find and express our true natures, what God created us to be. That’s why I try to encourage.

But I can see how the reader and the prayer of the Psalms, coming upon this 110th psalm might feel confused, especially the modern reader, particularly the Christian. There is a lot in the Old Testament that speaks of violence and attributes it to God. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is a terrible God—terrible, meaning, able and willing to inflict terror on those who oppose Him. Yet, He also shows mercy.

But only to those who repent and promise to follow Him and fulfill His commandments unswervingly, but who can do that? The pious Jew nearly breaks himself in two as he davens with unrestrained devotion in expiation of his sins, yet even he knows he must ultimately depend on the mercy of his terrible God. The Christian starts out believing he is unfit, unwell and incapable of any good without it.

Regardless of differing Messiology and Christology, the Jew and Christian both have to return to the God they find written up in the Old Testament and, depending on the theology they have accepted, meet either a reasonably or unreasonably angry God, who will save them, but only on the harshest terms. Here, though, the Christian believes in a Christ different from the Jew’s Messiah, as different as can be.

The Christ of the Christians, affirming the national God of Israel, Yahweh, whom we find ‘smashing their skulls… [heaping] the wide world with corpses, [and] drinking from the stream as He goes,’ also ‘can hold His head high in victory,’ though differently than the Jew imagines. Our Christ’s head was held high in victory when it was crowned with thorns, and He enthroned by being bound and nailed to the Cross.

A frightful victory, but no less terrible, actually, than that described in this prophetic 110th psalm ‘of David,’ the same ancient shepherd king who foresaw the other side of the same saving act of Yahweh and sang of it in the 22nd psalm. It’s difficult for us to read two psalms so outwardly different and equate them, just as it’s only by supernatural trust—faith—that we proclaim ‘Christ conquers’ from the Cross.

No wonder Marcion of Sinope, a contemporary of the earliest Church fathers, rejected the whole of the Hebrew canon of scriptures, seeing in Yahweh the Terrible a different God than the loving, heavenly Father taught and demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth. We all have read His words, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!’ (John 14:9). Hearing that, what are we to do with this 110th psalm?

‘Will the real God stand up,’ we want to say, that is, if we really want to know who He is at all, and at all costs, because the angry God of fundamentalist believers of all faiths just might be that real God. Even if we are Christians and have heard and accepted Christ’s word that to see Him, to see what He does and hear what He says in the holy gospels, is to see the Father, we are unsure because we don’t really trust.

Don’t really trust whom or what? We don’t really trust our consciences. We are afraid to appear presumptuous, so we let ourselves slip through the pews at the end of divine services and escape into the world we have made and in which we feel sufficiently buffered from the wrath of the angry God we have made up. That we have made up? Well, yes, because our consciences tell us of the real God.

Yet we don’t listen. We insist, without acknowledging it in so many words, that we are far better than the God we say we believe in, the one who gets angry at us for the slightest sin, and whom we must cajole back into favor, ours not His, by multiplying our expensive sacrifices and ceremonies. You know, the ones He says in the holy scriptures that He doesn’t really want, but we give Him anyway, just to be sure.

Our conscience tells us that if it would be wrong for one of us to eternally punish and torment another soul for infidelity, or even to be constantly angry at someone just because he is what he is, then if there is a God (and we cannot escape the fact that He is), that God would be at least as merciful as we think we are, that He would have some other plan for the redemption than the one we’ve somehow made up.

But by fear the voice of our conscience is silenced. The written word of God cancels out the unwritten Word who is actually behind it all, who lives in our conscience and who was always there, waiting for us to realize it. We take the written word of God, the holy scriptures, as the final authority, even though they are only the testimony of our ascent from primordial clay to eternal spirit, guided by the Spirit.

Looking again at the 110th psalm, having read and prayed it so many times, year after year, I have grown quite accustomed to it. When I first read it, it touched me, it taught me, differently than it does today. The Message was always there, as fully revealed to my emerging faith at each stage as I was capable of. Its truth in me keeps growing, as I keep growing in Christ, as He stands beside Me, to save me.

Now, I see vast vistas. I experience the height, length, and breadth of His mercy. I wonder at His incredible patience, longsuffering, and love which overturns kings, especially the false king of myself, so that He can install the true King in me, in my brothers and sisters, and finally, in the world. ‘Royal from the womb,’ His Father’s acclamation of the Son, yes, even that, He shares with those He crowns.

Yes, the King is coming to make His people kings. The eternal High-Priest is at our door, about to take us into the Holy of Holies, even Mount Zion where everyone is a firstborn child and citizen of heaven. The flash of Fire that flamed from Sinai’s bush without consuming is, the unwaning Light that radiates from the Tomb of Christ is, the Light that enlightens all men. Yes, and He can hold His head high in victory.’

In Christ is forgiveness

No, there's nothing we can find to picture this, nothing we can photograph or paint or draw or write poems and songs about, nothing we can fully describe, not even in the deepest and most heartfelt testimony. Still, we try.

One autumn day driving home from work, my heart crushed with sorrow over a broken friendship, I hadn't brought it to mind so intensely before, my soul's lamp was nearly extinguished, and I was very close to weeping, so sorry was I about it all.

And about my life, what a complete disaster, what a catalog of catastrophes and bad judgments, of failure to act when I should have, and of acting when I should have not, speaking up when I should have been silent, being silent when I ought to have shouted.

The thought of my mentor, 32 years my senior, telling me of the misfortunes that not just tainted his life, but ruined it, his reputation, his personal wealth, his family, all affected, and by things outside his control, a pious man whom others judged helpless.

Yes, ‘the victory, the victory is in the Blood.’ He used to tell me, while recounting, almost without intending to, and not complaining or blaming anyone except himself, how his life had turned out. Philip, the pentecostal, unwelcome in his own church.

I didn't see him do it, he would never have let me, but he told me how sometimes he would drive home crying, knowing how he had failed the Lord, failed himself, his son, his wife and daughters, all of whom he loved so much, even though he gave them all he had in him.

As I was close to tears, driving home, feeling sorry for my own failures, my own sins, wishing they could be lifted from me, I thought of him, and his life far worse than mine, and how he never ceased asking the Lord for forgiveness, even knowing it was granted.

I was on the point of crying, but something made me look up. Of course I was watching the road as any driver does, almost in a dream, reaching a destination without remembering the driving. I looked up. In front of me was an SUV with a wide, white sticker on the hatch.

In bold black letters on white, In Christ is forgiveness. That's all it said. There were almost no other stickers on that car, except for one of those crossed stoles that I first remember seeing years ago when they were pink and had something to do with AIDS victims.

Just four words plainly printed, black on white, In Christ is forgiveness. Something we all know, something I believe, yet to see it there on the car right in front of me was like Jesus Himself entering my inner conversation, overturning the sentence against me.

I noticed the license plate as well, 669 ZKR, the three letter root of the Hebrew word for ‘remember,’ zayin, kaf, resh, remember. When I came home I checked to see if there was a 69th verse in Zechariah chapter 6, but there wasn't. Numbers haunt me.

Nothing this side of heaven will ever heal some of our wounds, broken friendships, lost loves, missing children, childhood traumas, compromised marriage beds, untimely deaths. I feel I cannot live, sometimes, knowing what I have done wrong in my life, and I beg for mercy.

Sometimes with words, sometimes with deeds, sometimes by prayer, or reading the psalms, my usual comfort, that mercy comes to me, quiets the grief of my soul, opens my eyes to again see light where I thought all was blackness and idiocy. For that, I thank the Lord.

He knows. He knows us. He knows all about us. He knows what we are, why we are, what we have done or not done, and why. He has been through it with us all millions of times, walking beside us to steady our steps and keep us from falling into the pit where praise is no more.

Forgive your brother who has offended you seven times? ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,’ says Jesus (Matthew 18:22), who has forgiven and keeps forgiving us seven times to the infinite power, from before time was, until the Day He comes.

Yes, Lord, as we pray on the 19th day, ‘…at the presence of Yahweh, for He comes, He comes to judge the earth, to judge the world with justice and the nations with His truth’ (Psalm 96), we await Your grace and mercy, now in the time of this mortal life.

Grant it to us, Lord and God, who in Christ suffers all, walks in all, healing us of our diseases, giving us sight, and speech, raising us up to walk where our infirmities prevent us. Yes, Lord, grant us Your grace and mercy, for in Christ is forgiveness.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Simple

Just read your bible as if it were the only book in existence.
It's good for you.

Don't worry about being good.
Just keep talking to the God your eyes can't see.
Your heart will cover for you.

Smile like you've just inherited a million dollars,
and go out of your way to start giving it away.

When you go to church, remember that it's just another room.
Don't forget to go outside for some fresh air.

Finally, remember, exercise and sleep are good for you,
and when you shower, don't forget to wash the soles of your feet.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

You think this is some kind of simple, easy saying, but meaningless?
Keep your eyes on Jesus?


Overwhelmed?
Only if you think you're in control of your life,
that your personal decisions are of ultimate importance,
and that making a mistake is fatal.

Only one decision in life is of ultimate importance,
only one mistake that can be made is fatal.
And you have made the decision, have you not, to follow Jesus?
Can any other decision you are going to make in your life
and there will be many, too many to count—
can any other decision add to that, or take away from it?

All other decisions you have to make don't have to be made,
not now, not if you're not ready.
If there is something that needs a snap decision today,
to meet an external deadline, to satisfy another's expectations,
whatever it is, look at it squarely:
If you make the decision what do you gain,
if you put it off what do you lose?
If you make the decision, and it turns out to be the wrong one,
how does it hurt you, does it hurt you, really?


Are you taking to yourself the responsibility to make a decision
which is not really yours to make?


Nothing that truly pertains to you in reality can be measured,
compared or contrasted with anyone else
or anyone else's expectations of you.
Your decision to follow Jesus has removed you
from your own judgment and from the judgment of others.

As Francesco of Assisi cried out
as his father was dragging him before the authorities,
‘What has the justice of men to do with me? God is my only judge!’
To which the magistrate foolishly replied,
‘Unfortunately, he's not around to help us out!’

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Not on yourself,
not on how you're doing,
not on what people expect you to do, be or have,
not on decisions you or someone else makes you feel you must make,
not on what you have to do tomorrow,
not on what you did or didn't do yesterday,
not on your feeling of loneliness,
or your suspicion of not doing all you can,
not on what you should or shouldn't be feeling,
thinking or doing right now,
not even on how much or how little time you're giving to good works,
to pious exercise, to praying, to fellowshipping,
to reading and studying the word of God.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Go where He goes.
That's why I often end my letters with, ‘Go with God, beloved!’
That is, follow Him, watch His back, He's up there ahead, not far.
Fit your feet into the prints of His feet.
Run along behind Him.
Keep your eyes on Him.

Do what He does.
Does He read and study the Word?
Well, yes, sort of, because He is the Word.
So don't think about studying the Word… study it!
Well, when?
What's wrong with right now?
For how long?

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
What's He doing next?

Oh, He's going off alone, He's going to stand before His Father…
Wait for me, Master, I'm coming!
Take me with You!


So don't stop and wonder,
don't stop and ask yourself whether or not to pray.
Just pray!
If not now, when?
Does your heart skip a beat now and then?
Is it still beating?
What's it for?
Isn't it there at the core of your being, your inner metronome,
for the music that is you, for your prayer?


Don't think about Him and what you will say to Him,
just say it!

Talk to Him, now, while you're reading this!
There is no time when He is not listening.
Decisions flow out of the conversation
that you won't remember making,
because you and He made them Together.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.
What did you say you miss?

The days when mom and dad were always right?
Did someone offer you again the fruit from the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil?
Did some thief break in and steal some treasure
you thought you had hidden away?


Jesus knows that you are and will always be
the child of His Father,
that you are, as the Chinese say, ‘His heavenly younger brother.’

Following behind Him,
are you still carrying the burden of having to be right or wrong,
or to make sure who else is?


Following behind Jesus, learning of Him,
have you found that His yoke is not easy,
His burden not light?

How can you miss carefree days in the sun,
when you are following behind Him,
when you keep your eyes on Him
who has done, is doing, and will do everything for you?
Running behind Him,
can the days of knowing what to do be really over?
Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Where He goes, you go.
What He does, you do.

Don't be overwhelmed!
Rather, rest in the knowledge
that it is not what you know but Who you know
that matters,
not what you do but what He does in you
that makes you worthy.

Go with God, beloved!
You have been bought and paid for with more than money.
Go, and do likewise.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Making the world love us?

Not judging the non-Christian culture around them, letting their praxis be taken as their logo, uncompromising in matters that cannot be compromised, undemanding in matters indifferent, avoiding argumentation, promoting the bare love of God without comment, inviting to and helping those abandoned or helpless, intolerant of deliberate immorality, but pardoning and overlooking every human weakness and showing patience and forbearance with all—this is not just one way of being Christian, as if there were options—this is the way of the true Church, in whatever time, place or community it can be found.

A people who live love but do not preach it in words and proclamations, even so, that Church will only ever be attractive to those who are already part of her without knowing it. As for the rest of the culture, it will never find the true Church attractive, but will always find fault, always find reason to try to drive it out of the world. If Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, perfect Man (and to us true God) could not be found attractive by the culture, how can we poor copies of His nature do anything that will make us attractive to the culture of sin and death? For what else can that culture be, despite its false beauty, fame and fragrance?

The Book I Didn’t Write

A BOOK REVIEW

Many years ago, on Friday evenings, after working at our factory job all week, a friend and I used to stop at a Borders book store for a coffee, and sometimes have a bit of mindless fun perusing the ‘Christian’ and ‘inspirational’ books that were sold there. The sheer numbers of these books and their awe-inspiring titles simply blew us away. Sometimes we’d spend nearly twenty minutes just showing each other the new ones we hadn’t noticed before, and we gaped at them with dropped jaw and mesmerized eye like the two idiots that we were.

On one of our visits to the book store, overwhelmed as usual by these books that ‘have the gospel for sale,’ I remarked to my friend, ‘You know, I’m really bored to disgust by all these other books written by people who just have to get it out and show the world how they’re right about this, or how they’ve discovered that long lost truth that will change your life or help you enter a new world. I get the feeling I’m plummeting down an Alice’s rabbit hole lined with unending shelves of other books. Wouldn’t it be great to walk into a book store and find this title? The Book I Didn’t Write.’

Well, I have, in fact, a copy of that Book. In fact I have several copies in different editions. The one I’m showing here is my first and favorite, but there are others just as good. Even in all their different editions, they’re still the same one Book: The Book I Didn’t Write.

Now, as for the review. Here’s what some well-known commentators have said about this Book:

‘Turn it this way, turn it that way, everything is in it, keep your eye on it, grow old and aged over it, and from it do not stir, for you have no better portion than it.’
— Rabbi ben-Bag Bag (Pirke Avot, 5:29)

‘Read God’s Book continually: Nay, never let the sacred volume be out of your hand. Learn so that you may teach. Hold fast to the words of faith according to sound doctrine, so that you may be able thereby to exhort and refute the gainsayers.’
— Jerome (On the Duties of the Clergy)

‘Study first of all the Divine Scriptures. Study them, I say, for we require to study the divine writings deeply, lest we should speak of them faster than we think. And while you study these divine works with a believing and God-fearing intention, knock at that which is closed in them, and it shall be opened to you by the Porter, of Whom Jesus says, To him the Porter opens.’
— Origen
(Letter to Gregory Thaumaturgos)

‘The way in to the Holy Scriptures is low and humble, but inside the vault is high and veiled in mysteries.’
— Augustine of Hippo (Confessions, III, 5)

‘In the Holy Scriptures, Truth is to be looked for rather than fair phrases. All sacred scriptures should be read in the spirit in which they were written. In them, therefore, we should seek food for our souls rather than subtleties of speech, and we should as readily read simple and devout books as those that are lofty and profound. Do not be influenced by the importance of the writer, and whether his learning be great or small, but let the love of pure Truth draw you to read. Do not inquire, Who said this? but pay attention to what is said. Men pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.’
— Thomas à Kempis (On the Imitation of Christ, I, 5)

‘Everyone not ceaselessly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt.’
— Martin Luther
(Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation)

‘The Bible is God’s Word addressed quite personally to us, and the only way to know the truth of that is to start reading and using the Bible as though it were true. To approach it humbly and expectantly, to read it on your knees, to come to it as to a Word from God addressed with absolute appropriateness to yourself.’
— Richard Holloway (A New Heaven, p. 91)

Well, being the dyed-in-the-wool sheep in wolves' clothing that I am, I have a one track mind, a mind on its prey. I’m always on the prowl for, not what’s new, but for what makes new. What a blessing it would be if we could walk into a book store someday and find this Book alone on its shelves: The Book I Didn’t Write.

I humbly encourage all of you, my brothers, to throw away all your ‘other books’ (they will only make you miserable), and grab hold of The Book. Just say No, when the door-to-door peddlers come to the gates of your minds and wills, saying, ‘Come to us, for stolen waters are sweet.’ Just hit the little ‘delete’ button when you get an email advertisement from the purveyors of ‘Torah spades’ (do not make of the Torah a spade to dig with). And lastly, consign your Amazon Wishlists to that little waste basket in the lower corner of your Windows desktop.

‘All of it, my brothers! Throw it all away!
It will only make you miserable.’
— Francesco di Bernardone,
of Assisi



A POSTSCRIPT

In case anyone viewing the images of my first, my original ‘study Bible’ with all the tiny handwritten notes and the plastic file tabs (many of them cracked from age and use) on the edges, might think I am treating the Holy Bible with disrespect, let me assure you, it was the zeal of the beginner and ignorance seeking wisdom, that blinded me to the obvious. Back in the 1970’s it was a common practice with ‘Jesus Freaks,’ and still is among similar Christians today, to mark up their bibles like this. The bible pictured was actually my work book. It followed me everywhere, but especially to the work bench where I would be making furniture parts, and whenever I had a free moment, or on lunch breaks, would sit or stand and study it. 

Very early on, I bought a leather-bound Jerusalem Bible which was never marked up, and which I used in prayer, worship, and also study and witnessing. Even that copy wore out (but hasn't yet fallen apart) after thirty years, and finally, about ten years ago I found an exact replacement (used) and retired my ‘original black’ to the reliquary, to be read from only on special anniversaries. Both my old and my new ‘black’ Bibles are small hand-helds, and are fragrant from occasional anointings of myrrh and the laurel leaves and flowers that have fallen into their pages during the service of Holy Saturday. How something so small and dark can house so much and emit so much light! How gilt-edged, onion-skin pages can convey such incredible depth! And how what I can hold in my hand has carried me for so many years!

The flock that He guides

Of all Christian peoples the Orthodox must be most elastic, unfactious, malleable, and ready for the Lord we serve, who walks among us, who also leads, directs, instructs, commands, and calls. By our once and for all dying to our sinful natures, reflecting His once and for all sacrifice to purchase us for life, we have given Him the highest place, so that we may be found not only sitting, like Mary of Bethany, at His feet, but also, like her sister Martha, acknowledging the Lord of all by running to serve Him and all those He comes to seek and save.

All this we do not just because we believe the good news as an ancient tale, but because the man-coming of the Son of God, and His rising from the dead, lives and loves in us. His life He gives for us and to us, and so we give our lives for Him and to Him. Since He has exchanged His glory for our shame, neither do we fear to endure our shame for His glory, receiving blame and punishment from men without hitting back.

All this we are willing and able to do because He has given us His only, holy, and life-creating Spirit, who is not expunged by the swabs that wipe off the holy chrism that anoints our flesh, but who remains with us, imprinted and imbedded indelibly and inalienably in our bodies and souls, and eternally in our newly-created spirits.

Not just believing, but also knowing these things as certainties, brethren, let us live now the life of heaven on earth, welcoming all whom He sends to us from beyond the gates as brothers in whom our Lord lies sleeping, waiting to be awakened, and be satisfied to let only those who hate Him flee before Him. ‘For He is our God, and we are the people He pastures, the flock that He guides (Psalm 95).