Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Whom the Master seeks

For to despise the present age,
not to love transitory things,
unreservedly to stretch out the mind in humility
to God and our neighbor,
to preserve patience against offered insults
and, with patience guarded,
to repel the pain of malice from the heart,
to give one's property to the poor,
not to covet that of others,
to esteem the friend in God,
on God's account
to love even those who are hostile,
to mourn at the affliction of a neighbor,
not to exult in the death of one who is an enemy,

This is the new creature
whom the Master of the nations seeks
with watchful eye amid the other disciples, saying,
‘If, then, any be in Christ a new creature, 
the old things are passed away. 
Behold all things are made new.’

Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome

What can it mean to ‘despise the present age’
if only not to worship it and be hardened by its accomplishments?
What can it mean to ‘not love transitory things’
if only not to rely on any beauty other than the Divine Nature?
What can it mean to ‘unreservedly stretch out the mind in humility’
if only not to crush ourselves with the heavy weight of self-protecting walls built against saying ‘yes’ to God and our neighbor?
What can it mean to ‘preserve patience’
and to ‘repel the pain of malice’
if only not to abandon being hung on the Cross with Christ
who promises paradise even to thieves?
What can it mean to ‘give one’s property to the poor’
and ‘not to covet that of others’
if only not to hoard as our own
that which has been provided in abundance to us and to all?
What can it mean to ‘esteem the friend in God’
if only not to hate one's enemies, not to laugh at the pains of others, and not to rejoice at the death of anyone?

Yes, He knows who are His among those who profess to be His disciples, even those who are His without professing, and that is why He does not give Himself to all men, because He knows them, but secretly bestows Himself on those and only those who earnestly seek Him by obedience to His word.

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John 14:23

Going back

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back the soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when doing arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,
Book I, Chapter 5, ‘We Have Cause to Be Uneasy’


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

Skeptic

Many people who don’t know me well, those who just see me as one watches someone on television and can identify him visually and knows a few details based on chance encounters, might be surprised if I told them that I am primarily a skeptic. They would say, ‘But you’re a man of faith, aren’t you? Writing on religious topics, trying to encourage people to be positive, and so on? How can you be a skeptic?’

Well, sorry, but that’s what I am, as anyone who has lived with me or knows me well can tell you. Skepticism is, to my way of thinking, the only way to process information and experience. One should have a healthy skepticism when confronted by any claim on one’s life, philosophical, scientific, political. For example, my healthy skepticism affects my attitude about medical professionals and procedures.

Luckily, I am basically a healthy person. I didn’t start regular visits to a physician, nor did I have one, until I turned sixty. At that point I began to have annual medical checkups. When I actually did have some health issues—a painful right ankle and foot from doing heavy shop labor in my sixties after having been a desk-seated manager for a quarter of a century—and went to a podiatrist, he couldn’t really help me.

First of all, he examined my feet and told me what I already knew—I am somewhat flat-footed. He told me something I didn’t know—I have ‘rust’ on the tops of my feet—which apparently he didn’t think worth fixing. He noticed my feet were very dry and crusty and recommended I use a lotion on them—something I already knew but had neglected to do—and that a couple of my toenails had a fungus.

I learned from him that to manage fungus’d toenails one can use a Dremel with special grinding bits to keep them short. My painful right foot? Well, that was difficult. After a good deal of questioning me that seemed to go nowhere—and he wasn’t willing to write me a note that said I shouldn’t be standing on concrete for eight to ten hours a day and carrying heavy metal—he prescribed custom in-soles.

To the tune of about five hundred dollars. These would have to be inserted in whatever shoes I was wearing—not sandals, of course!—and by compensating for my flat feet, should improve my walking. As for the painful foot, well, we’d have to wait and see. Reluctantly and skeptically, but without letting on that I was doubtful, I paid out the money and soon he was making paper-maché molds of both my feet.

The day the in-soles arrived and I started using them, I talked myself into believing that the pain in my ankle and foot was being relieved. Why? Because the skeptical part of me was ready to tell me, ‘You dope! You fell for it, hook, line, and sinker!’ In reality, the expensive in-soles made it feel like I was walking on tennis balls, so that took my attention off the fact that the foot was still in pain.

Thank God, I was able to retire a year early, because I was sure if I didn’t, I’d be entering retirement as a functional cripple. When I was living at home, I didn’t wear the shoes with the in-soles anymore. Both my feet regained a sense of their natural shape—who cares if that’s flat—and I predicted that, given that I mixed standing activities with sitting or lying down, my foot would heal. It did, in four months.

That vindicated my gut feeling that something I had for my entire life—flat feet—couldn’t have caused the painful foot, but that a natural weakness in that limb was aggravated and never allowed to recover after constant over-use. There have been one or two other incidents in the medical category that taxed my patience and exercised my skepticism, but many more when it comes to observing other people.

I think you get the idea. My skepticism extends in all directions. Yes, even in the realm of matters of religion. Though I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, I am skeptical of some of its historic claims. There is no skepticism in me on matters of Christology—who Christ is—or of practical theology—how I ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’—nor about the Bible—it’s the Church’s book, human and divine.

But there are plenty of things that come out of the clergy and people of the Greek Church that I am skeptical of. Remember, a skeptic can change, and I’m perfectly willing to change my mind, as long as there are compelling reasons to do so. I’m skeptical of persistent, peripheral teachings such as the toll house myth. I’m skeptical of the good done by myrrh-flowing icons, but not necessarily of the icons themselves.

What I’m skeptical of at any given moment is whatever is pressing its claims on me at that moment. Being skeptical doesn’t make me belligerent, but sometimes it does. It depends. Does the claim being asserted or the demand being made make me have to do what I don’t want to do, or believe what I don’t want to believe? I fight. If it’s just people trying to prove they’re smarter than me, I just smile.

What I’m skeptical about right now, and have been for decades, is the ethical and intellectual superiority of the class of people who have got college degrees and like to see lots of ‘letters after their names.’ I was never a real hippie, just a poser, in my youth, but one hippie cult figure I admired, Stephen Gaskin, had a saying I subscribe to (with reservations)—‘The longer you stay in school, the dumber you get.’

Now, I have a college education, and I missed getting my degree and the right to have B.A. after my names because of my youthful skepticism over the purpose of higher education. I saw around me achievers who worked very hard so they could be successful and looked up to in worldly terms. Me, I despised that attitude and, just short of completing my education, left school to join a commune.

Mistake—and I’m the first to admit it, but not because my moral outlook was wrong, just misdirected. Higher education, no matter how conducted, can still benefit one who utilizes it properly. My idea to get education and then to snub my nose at prestige and privilege by re-entering the working class to enlighten them was very, very dumb. Perhaps Stephen Gaskin was right: I stayed in school too long.

Back to the present, I find myself living in a society where the prestige and privilege of college graduates is no longer enough for them. When they’re not patronizing the working class with promises of corporate or government programs—bread and circuses—they are despising them by their ruthless displays of superiority, and despite their fewer numbers, always finding ways to control the plebs.

Take the upcoming British referendum whether or not to stay in the European Union. The elite, predictably, want it to be a ‘Remain’ vote, and anyone who disagrees with them is assumed to be of the unenlightened masses, ‘it is idiotic to put such a complex question in such a simplistic yes/no format to the mass of people who are incapable of understanding the economic and commercial implications.’

Incapable? Well, I am skeptical that ‘the mass of people … are incapable of understanding the economic and commercial implications.’ They know very well what membership in the EU has cost them. The fishing industry, for example, in Great Britain, is all but destroyed, the EU even paying British fisherman to change jobs and burn their boats. Why? So that they can sell the British their own fish!

Coming home to the American scene, the elite here are throwing their weeny weight with all their might against the incredible hulk of Donald the Trump, the guy who has it all to such a degree that he doesn’t need their support or heed their barks. His surname fits him well. The real America (the one that is still great, and knows it) is going to call their bluff with this trump card. We’re tired of you, politicians.

Yes, I am skeptical of politicians. In the Oregon primary, I am registered as a Republican, and I will not tell anyone who I voted for in the primary or in the actual elections to office that were on the same ballot, but I will tell you, I voted for not a single career politician—just for citizens in ordinary professions. I am skeptical, indeed, when I see the results of so-called higher education taking charge of the reins.

Finally, I am skeptical of people who do not know their place. Of people who try to appear as one thing but are actually another. I was shocked when a scholarly book I had heard about, written by a British author, turned out to have very shabby scholarship, insufficient references and credits—where did he get his information?—I had expected better of the British. They don’t take short cuts. They do the job right.

Well, maybe not in his case. That makes me skeptical once again on a different level of higher education. It now seems to focus not on making better people, but better images, better actors, teaching people to be what they’re not in pursuit of their desires, people to whom all morality is relative, and who will stop at nothing, no matter how indecent, or even how criminal, to get what they want, especially power.

Yes, I’m a skeptic, but now back to the real world where I can put my skepticism to good use and stop talking about it. I just wanted to warn anyone who comes too close. Not that I’d infect you with my skeptical attitude. I’d assume if you came as close as that, you must be a skeptic already. After all, ‘birds of a feather…’ Maybe I’ll go to Wikipedia and make sure that I really am a skeptic, let’s see… Skepticism

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dorothy and other bright lights

The following is the third and final installment of a seminarian’s observations after completing his second year at Princeton. For the time being, he will remain anonymous.

I’ve been living with an elderly widow named Dorothy for three semesters and now she has moved to a retirement home. Her health and mental condition have seriously declined in the last year and a half. In some ways, I feel like I’ve learned more from caring for her than in my classes, though perhaps this isn’t true. I have definitely had to learn a lot of patience. Some days I would have to answer the same question at intervals of less than five minutes, over and over again. You can’t be angry because a person with dementia cannot help not remembering, yet it can be very taxing. It is also like being with a child who can be surprised at discovering new things. If nothing else, one learns to be grateful for many of the things we take for granted. I have also learned that I tend to prefer sharing the struggles of life that ordinary people face over those of the highly privileged elite. I’d rather hear Dorothy complain about her arthritis than students complain about their professors (myself included).

I had one class with a visiting professor from Ghana. It was refreshing to hear his insights and read what he assigned. He was one example of an academic who hasn't been swept up into the ether. It wasn’t so much the content of his course, but his overall demeanor. He was more interested in us students and what God is doing in the world than his own career or what he was publishing next or how he could prove that so-and-so is wrong. He is one of the few that actually could make a difference in the academy. If only they had more professors like him.

I also met a student who grew up in PCUSA but was recently considering leaving. She attributed this to the influence of evangelicals on campus who act as though God is present and available to us and making a difference in the world today. She contrasted this her PCUSA background, which, in her mind, only asks for Holy Spirit when they serve the bread and the cup. She finds the passion and belief in a God here and now attractive, but is turned off by a lot of evangelical ‘subcultural weirdness.’

As with last year, native African and African American students are the exception to the rule of mediocrity among students. They, like other evangelicals, act as though God is real and wonder why our Seminary education has so little to do with Him. I’ve heard more than one say things like, ‘I used to like theology…and then I came here.’ They are also more interested in the spread of the gospel than their own careers. This is refreshing, but unfortunately many racial barriers still remain. I’m still the only white guy going to First Baptist of Princeton, but they are also still, in my opinion, the most Spirit-filled church in town that I have attended. Like the professor mentioned above, they just have an attitude and outlook that has a Jesus ring to it.

Being a rather verbose person, I cannot say all the things I would like to here. Overall, though, I think I have it pretty good. My complaints about the academy need to be taken in light of the greatness of God. He has provided for all of my needs, bringing me here and carrying me through. He is using people like you to aid in the process. When you pray for me, it does make a significant difference. So I am confident that He will continue to provide for me in the future. The sky is not falling. God is in control. I'm likely getting a decent education. God is preparing me for what is here, and what is ahead.

Memorial Day

Shipwrecked on a desert isle, such is the plight of the average modern man. Of course, included in this modern man is modern woman and, to some degree, modern child. Shipwrecked often though within the family, or the family though together still shipwrecked on that lonely isle, lonely though that isle is crowded with others just as lonely and shipwrecked.

An immensely popular television series, Gilligan’s Island, which debuted in 1964 and ran for three or so seasons, centered on the adventures of a group of people of mixed backgrounds who had embarked together on a pleasure cruise. A storm whipped up and got their boat into uncharted waters where it ran aground on a desert isle, where they had to rough it.

It’s curious to me that it debuted in 1964. That was the year after the assassination of President Kennedy, an event that seemed to herald the end of America’s innocence, the more so the more years have intervened. I remember thinking as a thirteen year old kid, ‘I can’t imagine the world getting any older than 1964.’ Starting with the following year, my life and the world around me seemed to be turning into a science fiction movie, getting stranger and stranger.

Along with a few others I know, I had the same odd feeling that ‘the world can’t get any older’ as we approached the end of the twentieth century. My wife, driven to anxiety by the paranoid things she heard while watching ‘Christian’ television, insisted I buy clapboard cupboards and stockpile food and water and even oil lamps, since she was convinced the infrastructure was going to collapse on the last night of the year nineteen hundred and ninety-nine.

And there we sat, oblivious to the end of the world, as the clock ticked toward midnight. Where were we? Sitting together at a table in the parish hall, where families were enjoying a traditional New Year’s Eve party. The Greek dancing was the best we’d ever seen, especially when mothers and daughters took to the dance floor and improvised beautifully to their ancient, traditional music. If the infrastructure, or the world, was about to end, no one seemed to give it a thought.

‘Here,’ I thought to myself, ‘is the meaning of life, and the reason for civilization,’ as I watched the subtle dancers, ordinary women, mothers and daughters, their bodies chastely but artistically balancing and describing in their movements the whole history of their race. These were not people shipwrecked on any desert isle, to bring back the metaphor, but people who were so convinced of their unbreakable continuity with their ancestors, they could dance on their graves.

Why am I having these thoughts? Finally, after many years, Memorial Day is finally, on its legalized Monday observance, falling on its original date, the thirtieth of May. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. Now that America’s innocence was over, convenience, not faith, could move mountains.

And what did we do with our convenient three day weekend? Even when I was a child, and my family stilled lived within a short distance from our ancestors’ graves, I scarcely remember us visiting them more than once or twice, and I don’t believe it was on this weekend. Quickly people forgot, if they ever knew, that Memorial Day came out of the Civil War to honor its victims. As a very young child, I used to visit an old man who himself was a child during that war, and remembered it.

What I feel now, remembering on this day not my Civil War ancestors as I haven’t any, but the two generations gone before me in my own family in this country, is a kind of sadness, a kind of loneliness. I can’t go to grandma and grandpa’s graves and tidy them and bring flowers, in faraway Illinois. Nor can I visit my mother’s grave in that state of my birth, nor my father’s in distant, alien Florida where he lived in retirement, and died. Not one of our ancestors lies buried anywhere near.

The remembrance of them is faint, a patchwork of dreams on a pillow where I sometimes lay my head when the loneliness becomes more than I can bear. I will just lie there, listening to a recording of Chopin’s nocturnes, remembering the sunlight filtering through lace curtains in my grandmother’s tiny dining room, where I was seated with her having a light lunch. Afterwards she would let me run loose or ride the bench swing in her garden, as she tended her roses.

Our ancestors are alive, yes, in the paradise of God, but also in us, in our living bodies, not only in our memories. We are them, we are the substance of their hopes, the living buds and flowers of the ageless tree whose roots they are, cradled in the dark earth, still drinking in the cool moisture and sending it up to nurture us who still see the sun. They cannot but be faithful to us, though we forget them. Heedless but for our own advantage or pleasure, we took ship and leave of them.

And our ships have been wrecked, and for a very long time now, we have been living on our desert isles, but unlike Gilligan and the crew and passengers on the S. S. Minnow, who make the best of their exile while they want to be rescued, we haven’t given ‘rescue’ a thought for years, even decades. The isle we’re on affords the best this world has to offer, so who cares if we’re shipwrecked here? If we’re lonely, alone in the midst of this crowd, who cares, we’re happy, aren’t we?

Modern life on a continent shaped by extreme mobility has cast many if not most of us adrift in a sea of strangers, and we now must find even family wherever we can, adopting fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, children and grandchildren from the ranks of other strangers, castaways like ourselves. This isn’t absolutely bad, but an expedient, and if nothing else, it forces us to be Christian toward our neighbors, making the whole world one big family, and yet, we are alone.

With a loneliness that can only be dissolved by touching our ancestors, remembering them, even talking to them, forgiving them if we feel they have mistreated us, asking their forgiveness if we have knowingly neglected them, honoring them, if we cannot come near their graves with tokens of love, with moments of reflection, taking pause with them, hearing their words spoken to us while they were alive on earth, and sensing their silent presence in us in our heartbeat and breath.

After the rush toward our projects and pleasures has exhausted us, but before we too are ready to slumber, to sleep our last sleep, even if we have eluded rescue and still pine (when we come to our senses) for our loneliness under the stars, let’s remember why we are here, who it was that cared enough for us to give us part, or even all, of their lives, and who continue invisibly from above and below to protect, to provide for, and to nurture us. Yes, for today is Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

And that is enough

The following is the second installment of a seminarian’s observations after completing his second year at Princeton. For the time being, he will remain anonymous.

Hopefully this rather bleak picture demonstrates my frustration adequately. It is also the relief that contrasts with some of the good things I have learned.

For one, my disenchantment with theology has made room for my re-enchantment with God. Foremost has been a rediscovery of the centrality of what I learned in my childhood in the midst of the academy's attempts to displace it. Nearly all that I’ve needed to know, I learned in Sunday School as a child—‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,’ ‘What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus’—or straight out of the Bible—‘Christ died for our sins,’ ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ etc. It’s not so much that I forgot these things, but have come to understand them and their significance more deeply.

When Jesus is central, all else falls into place. When we forget this, we lose our sense of place in the universe. At best, we replace God with our ideas about Him. And then it becomes a matter of who has the best theory. People become intoxicated with their own ideas. They listen in order to speak, not to learn. They learn, not to grow, but rather to be learned, or at least perceived that way. They grow, not to be fruitful and have something to offer that nourishes and betters others, but to grow great and influential, to gain credit and rapport. A full life here is a full wallet and a lengthy CV; a cache of accolades and collegiate connections; full life is being high on the totem pole and high on the hog.

When Jesus is central I become a lover of life, receptive to the daily joy and sorrow that is human existence, just happy and thankful to be alive with God. Full life becomes a moment by moment receptivity and thankfulness—God received and discovered through every aspect of life: mundane, exceptional, joyful, sorrowful, dull, exciting, rainy, sunny, alone, with others, among supporters or opponents.

Of course, I do not live this every moment, but I want to. I have tasted and seen. I’ve discovered that there is no situation in which God is not already available and working. So I can thank God for my life even here when I don't like it. Being in and among this group is a gift from Him. The struggle of being here is a gift from Him. They are gifts because through them I learn that life is not a game I have to win. It is not something for me to master. It is simply a gift for me to receive and respond to, the arena for me to give and grow in. I will never be a Master of Divinity, whatever awards institutions grant. But I can always be a learner, a lover, and hopefully, a friend of Divinity. And that is enough.

This is my re-enchantment.

Years ago I was learning theology in Calvin’s Institutes. Now I find God waiting for me in Calvin and Hobbes. This is not to pit one against the other, only to say that God, and ideas about God, are not the same. Plenty of profound ideas about God are out there, and I enjoy reading them (or some of them). But God is not limited to the realm of ideas, however good they may be. All things are held together in Christ. I find their significance by tracing them back to their Source. That is how I find my own significance. Another year here is not a big deal because God somehow breaks through the garbage and teaches me regardless of the curriculum offered here. He has His own curriculum.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Stand in the rain

The following is the first installment of a seminarian’s observations after completing his second year at Princeton. He will remain anonymous, but he is a god-brother of mine of the next generation, whom I got to know when he was attending the Antiochian church I belong to. We struck it off immediately as souls that have sojourned very similar paths, and I find his spiritual perception and personal theology a close match to mine. He has taken the step that I was unable to take when I was his age, because I was already committed to raising my family, and which in hindsight, was very wise for me not to take. This is what he has to say about the academic culture at Princeton. For those who know and understand the massive difference between Right and Left social and political views, it will be obvious which this seminary speaks for. I wonder if it is much the same in other institutions supposedly established to train people for service in the Church.

Last year’s disappointment with academic culture and institutionalism only deepened this year. Of course, there are the pressures to perform, but it is not merely pressure that aggravates me. Challenges are opportunities and I tend to rise to the occasion under pressure. The problem for me here is that the drive to perform shapes students in a way that is deleterious to personal discipleship and the church broadly.

Regardless of intent, the main product of this institution is—not to put too fine a point on it—egotism; both individual and corporate. They want you to focus on making yourself something that others will see, or doing some work others will see—making an impression so that both the institution and you can look great. The science of theology somehow justifies this attitude because God is not primarily interested in transforming people's hearts, but in ‘the bottom line,’ which is basically making the world a better place by making it safe and comfortable for the marginalized, i.e., making the world politically correct.

Now I am in support of advocating for the voiceless, and I am under no pretense that Orthodox, or Catholic, or evangelicals’ motives in ministry are without alloy; they certainly are not. And we certainly can do more to support the lowly and take a stand against injustice. But in the teaching proffered here, the category of ‘the heart’ is conspicuously absent.

‘Evil’ is a matter of ‘systems’ and ‘corporate ideologies,’ not personal attitudes or private actions. It is only measured in social terms (people feeling excluded or judged). Hence, making someone else uncomfortable or guilty is seen as evil. Of course, this is radically inconsistent, depending on each person's racial, sexual, or gender ‘identity,’ let alone biology.

My point is not so much the inconsistency, but the byproduct of this, which is that egotism has no check. It has no check for the sinner, the sinned against, or the advocates of either. Outcomes are gained in purely worldly ways. The way to overcome the powers of evil is by greater power, not humility and weakness.

Modeling Christ means helping the weak, not by becoming weak, but by gaining influence and strength in order to overpower strong. They are deadlocked in a battle against institutionalized injustice while reinforcing institutionalized pride—cutting out the bad fruit while watering and fertilizing the bad tree.

Perhaps this assessment is the work of my own pride. ‘Seeing through’ things can lend itself to smugness and vanity. Like I said before, we are mixed. I suppose awareness is one step toward recovery and perhaps you can keep me in prayer on this point. I’ve learned from the psalmists to be honest, however, even if I’m wrong. I cannot be corrected if I am not honest about how I see the world.

So I must continue.

As might be expected, this institution offers the student a ticket to success. If I take it, if I just play the game, I could have a place among the elite; I could be a mover and shaker; I could make a real difference—or so they would have me believe.

Is the cost of discipleship merely the cost of higher education? Is it merely the same as everyone else who is trying to get to the top?

Although riding this train might place me among the wise, I can’t help but think I would also be among those who are eventually shamed by the foolish.

Has Christian history not been repeated cycles of this?

From the Jesus movement in the first century overcoming Rome, to Pentecostalism overcoming the global south, the weak defeat the strong, the uneducated confound the scholars, the poor bless the rich. If such is the case, should I not choose to be a fool?

Perhaps some can enter the system and overturn it, but I am not among them. I am not an academic. Academics are ‘experts,’ meaning those who are known to have gained a certain level of objectivity in their particular, narrow discipline. This ‘objectivity’ is only gained through a certain detachment from the object of study, which for theology is God. That is the crux of the issue for me. I am not convinced that alienation from God is the way to go about knowing Him ‘objectively.’

It seems rather silly to think that one only knows about rain by observing it from indoors, or that
standing in the rain colors ones objectivity any more than staying indoors. Since all things are bound together in Christ, I would argue that it is only through engagement—not detachment—that we can truly know God or anything else.

You have to stand in the rain to know it.

The reigning epistemology in the west seems more ‘endarkened’ than enlightened. It also explains (for me) why the academic culture is the way it is. Since knowledge is obtained primarily through detached examination, and not a gift received through seeking fellowship with the Creator, it smothers love, and becomes a fertile seedbed for pride. I know because I figured it out, because I worked hard for it. Anthropo-centrism rules the day.

Of course, nobody here is saying to pull the plug on God. It is surreptitious. That’s also what makes it so insidious—God talk still goes on all the while. Knowing God and theorizing about God become synonymous. As long as we give God a few nods while remaining historically conscious and responsible, and say that our work is in service to the church, we must be glorifying Him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Love has to return

Taking charge of our own evolution. Without actually stating it in plain language, this is what the philosophy of the ‘modern’ world is. This ‘philosophy’—and I must put the word in quote marks to alert the reader to my disassociation of it with what I believe philosophy really is—this philosophy has infected every aspect of life, producing a theory of society which in the end will end society, and possibly the human race. To take charge of our own evolution is tantamount to committing suicide.

It’s quite common for moderns to assume that if one is a Christian, then one is hopelessly stupid, bigoted, backward, and given to fundamentalist fantasies and other lost causes. We are all assumed to almost believe in a flat earth, since we believe in other such nonsense like literal six-day creation of the universe by a tribal god, and we can be relied upon to oppose every progressive thought or achievement or legislation to better mankind. It doesn’t help that there are Christians who fit their stereotypes.

I am a Christian. I also believe in a Creator whom I identify as God. I’m a Church member. I believe that the universe is probably as old as scientists say, and that it has become what it now is probably by evolving over time—yes, evolution, at least cosmic, but quite possibly biological as well, seems to be how the Creator God fashions time and space and whatever else is ‘out there.’ I don’t waste my time trying to prove the inerrancy of the Bible as a scientific or social history book. Life itself is its proof.

The God I believe in is not the same god that the atheist doesn’t believe in. The Church I belong to is not the same christianity that the anti-religionist likes to bash and ridicule. The Faith I confess is not the same faith that the end-times prophet or the wild-eyed street preacher pushes, or the diamond-studded evangigolo promises as ‘this is your day.’ No, I believe in, I trust, the God of whom the Bible is written icon, the Church that’s always existed in one piece, and the only Faith that people will die for.

Enough said, these three things exist, and you know where to find them. I don’t tie them as bait or as reward to anything I am about to say, and one doesn’t have to be a Christian or even a believer in God to see, know, and understand this: Nobody alive today has seen or lived in a world where evolution, and God, are honored and followed exclusively, universally, and without question—except for the members of peripheral communal societies whose intention is to do exactly that, to the best of their ability.

Tradition, a word that usually provokes either of two responses, neither of them exactly correct—either you are roused by a usually subliminal indignation, or you are filled with a vague feeling of sweetness and sentimentality. The modern person hates tradition, even when he has been raised in an environment where ‘tradition’ is a component, hence the two either/or responses. This is nobody’s fault, because we’re generations deep in our preoccupation with the philosophy of the ‘modern’ world.

We have to go back before the age of revolutions, even the almost innocent ones (or maybe not so innocent), to a time that most of us regard as the dark ages, although the historical ‘Dark Ages’ (just a Western construct) begin with the fall of Rome and end sometime about five centuries later. What we have been conditioned to call the dark ages is any time or place where our modern civil rights are or were non-existent. There was slavery, inequality of the sexes, superstitious religion, and poverty.

For many moderns, the time we’re living in now are actually nothing better than the dark ages in milder form. For them, we still are suffering from the aforementioned blights, and with regards to three of the four, I agree with them. I oppose slavery, though I am aware that it exists today even more prolifically than in any past age. I oppose superstitious religion, but that is a matter I can do nothing about for anyone but myself. As for poverty, well, that’s an ambiguous state. It can be good or bad; it depends.

What I find outrageous, is that the very people who promote and insist on the truth and primacy and importance of evolutionary theory are the first to oppose it when it doesn’t confirm their prejudices. They believe in evolution but are not willing to let it take its course. They want to take charge of it, be its director. They want to be—in my language the being I call—God. They’ve been doing this even before Darwin gave evolutionary theory its vocabulary. They’ve been taking charge of our evolution.

Or, so they think, because even the many false starts and wrong turns in just one area of evolution, human society, that they’ve taken (many of which are still in process, so we can’t see what their outcome will be) are actually still part of evolution, that mindless, almost eternal thrust forward, onward, and upward, which is from a Christian’s point of view—my own—actually the guiding and providential hand of the Creator and not (forgive me, for calling it) mindless, bringing us, the human race, to Him.

Making themselves enemies of Tradition, which they consider blind, backward, and stifling, thinking themselves superior to it, they have outwitted themselves. Why? Because Tradition is the visible and tangible and practical face of human evolution. It is what has guaranteed that we have survived as a species to this very moment. It is the continuous cutting off of false starts and the discovery of new paths for our emergence as—the living images of God on earth, and possibly, in the universe.

I see. I’ve just made the modern man’s (or woman’s) head spin. How can tradition, which has always been anti-progressive, be viewed as something good for humanity? And the traditionalist, the same head spinning, only in the opposite direction. What do patriotic and religious ceremonies and family holiday get-togethers have to do with becoming (gulp!) the living images of ‘you know Who’? Well, it’s like I said, ‘Nobody alive today has seen or lived in a world where…’ not even me, but we have history.

Let’s start with the one of the four blights of the dark ages which I was unable, with the modernist, to classify as a bad thing—inequality of the sexes. What most people mean when they use this term is that men and women are treated differently in society. They might be doing the same work, but men will be paid more than a woman for doing the same job. Certain professions are open to men only, but not to women. In the recent past, men could vote, and women couldn’t, or do any number of other things.

Well, the modern world has been doing its best to change all this. You’d be stared down or shouted down, if you were to say that many if not all of these changes were actually working against evolution. If you objected to the changes because they were against tradition, well, you might be hissed at, but then ignored and marginalized as a pedantic, old fool. But the relationship between the sexes that we have inherited and is now being discarded is part of our racial evolution and is necessary for our survival.

That relationship can’t be defined as a relationship between equals. Equality between man and woman is not analogous to equality between man and man, which is a relationship of the outer world. The man woman relationship is a meeting of outer world (man) and inner world (woman), where each gender reigns in its own sphere. Man builds and guards the outer world, woman the inner. Man prepares the world for it to be inhabited. Woman provides the inhabitants. She ensures the survival of the race.

The old saying of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’ should have been saved for this moment in human history, where the degradation by transformation of woman has deprived her of her role as the guardian of the survival of the race. The baby thrown out simply dies. There is no next generation now or ever. The equality of the sexes that is promoted by the modern world turns men into women and women into men, but men cannot be mothers, nor women fathers, except in exceptional circumstances.

We all know what some of those exceptional circumstances are. Families lose one parent or the other, and so a father has to be a mother to his kids as best he can. Or a dad dies or abandons the family, and so the mother must be the father too. We have already seen the effects of the latter situation, which is far more common, in every western society. Single parent families are usually headed by women, and the lack of a father’s presence in the lives of children of both genders usually has very negative effects.

Tradition is the source of practices and attitudes which have survived because they worked to ensure the survival of the species, but because it is another name of evolution, it is necessarily going to be in flux. Some things that we did as humans in the past worked for us, but don’t work now. These have to be discarded, but they are not discarded by fiat of revolutions. Evolution takes time, and so Tradition takes time too. Change for the better happens slowly, not cataclysmically, otherwise—catastrophe.

It will not be easy to get back to the main road of our human evolution. By taking charge of our own evolution we’ve drifted so far from that road that it’s almost invisible to us. Fortunately, evolution still works even when we are trying to hi-jack it. Nature always finds a way to correct itself, when agents anti-natural, such as humans under the mystique of false divinity, attempt to divert it from its path. The saying, ‘Love will find a way,’ is another way of expressing the same truth. We’ll get back, at least some of us.

Because the sad truth, the very sad truth is, that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to return to the path of Tradition, the more dangerous, the more costly in human lives. Our whole social experience has to be re-imaged, and it may already be out of our capacity to return, short of another kind of cataclysm—one that we don’t cause in our impatience for radical change, but one which Nature herself will supply. We don’t need to be end-times fundamentalists to prophesy this. Perhaps, it’s not too late.

These thoughts, I am writing as a Christian, and so I am already assured in principle of the survival of the race. I know from the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and from the example of the universal Church throughout the ages, that what we Orthodox call the ‘Holy Tradition,’ when fully and intentionally accepted, produces a human world in which ‘all things are possible,’ but that this world has not appeared yet. It’s enough to know that it hasn’t, but that it can, when we want it badly enough.

We ourselves are the reason why, no other explanation is necessary. All discussion about human rights and social responsibilities, all the schemes by which we attempt to short-circuit the operation of evolution, to take short cuts by hiding the only possible road (because we abhor it) and carving out for ourselves alternate roads, are simply wasting precious time. Families need to be founded. Fathers need to work, beget and raise children. Mothers need to bear, nourish and teach them. Love has to return to the world.

Monday, May 23, 2016

To be a human being

Thinking about rules, and about unity. We are Orthodox Christians. The world, if it hears of us, thinks that we must be loaded with rules. My Catholic friends jokingly console me when I am about to enter Holy Week because they know our services are very long, and that I’m probably fasting. These imagined sufferings, they think, are due to our super abundance of rules. We still fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

We raised our family of four sons mostly in the Greek Orthodox Church. Our oldest spent his lonely ‘only son’ years anything but lonely as he was ‘all our eggs in one basket.’ We were Episcopalians, then, but high church, meaning, more Catholic than the pope. That was a more rule-laden religion than the Orthodoxy we encountered and joined, along with his three younger brothers, when he was fourteen.

Bottom line is, our family lived according to the rules. We never for a moment considered that there might be another possibility. Rules were the human expression of God’s orderly universe, scaled down to our minuscule size, given to us so that we could live together in love, peace, fairness, and freedom. We knew that ultimately the rules came from God, but that humans were the middlemen all the way.

Knowing that the rules we lived by were mostly man-made didn’t startle us. The God we believed in, though responsible for supernatural miracles as recounted in scripture, we nonetheless knew, mostly communicated His will to us through each other. We could tell, without thinking about it much, which rules were from God and unalterable, and which were from us and therefore changeable.

Οικονομία, oikonomía (ee-koh-no-MEE-a), a word with many meanings—the law or management of a household or family; also, God’s plan of salvation—for us had the special meaning of our ability to bend, break or even suspend a rule, if there were sufficient grounds to do so. In other words, our right to loop hole a law, though it had better be defensible. Again in other words, a right to be exercised responsibly.

Yes, our family lived, and still lives, according to the rules. Our sons knew without us telling them that we expected them to live according to the rules we taught them. They knew when they broke them, even when they broke them defiantly, that the rules weren’t going away any time soon. Now that they are adults, I know without them telling me, that they expect me to keep living according to the rules.

This is where unity comes in. As children they saw that we as parents were subject to the same rules. In starting them out as citizens with us of the Kingdom of God, we did not give them the ‘freedom’ to accept or reject the rules. We simply imposed them. As they grew up they realized that the Orthodox Church was a community, even a nation, that they belonged to, because they followed the rules.

There was a certain stability in that, which they could not only sense, but build upon. Along their way to adulthood some were obedient, some rebelled, but both ended up in the same place. Sometimes obedience can breed a kind of mindless conformity, so I was always glad to see some rebellion in them. I myself am rebellious. Rebellion for the sake of righteousness has its place even within the Church.

Both ended up in the same place, I said, without qualifying it. What place was that? The Kingdom of God, as we mature we realize, despite what we think are boundaries hedged about by rules, is actually limitless. No matter in what direction or how far you try to run, once you have lived there and eaten its food, you can never leave it because you can never find the boundaries. It is not a flat earth universe.

Again, this is where unity comes in. What we experienced, and still do, in the microcosm of humanity called Orthodoxy, is a unity that is essentially indivisible. It is its unity which makes its members human. You can be divided from it, yes, but then you are no longer human. The rules are the oikonomía that inaugurates and preserves our humanity and our unity. Without them, we are only irrational animals.

There is no such thing as a single man. In the scripture we read, ‘It is not good for man to be alone,’ and then we find that a helpmate is found for him, not from any species other than his own. Just as there can be no God that is mathematically one, there can be no man in utter solitude, no true individual. The nature of existence itself posits plurality in unity, an essential unity that is personalized by—the rules.

Now, modern society is at its existential nadir, its lowest point, a hair’s breadth from de-resolution. Why? Because it has rejected the rules in pursuit of what it calls ‘freedom.’ Rejecting the rules for the sake of this freedom has the result of destroying the essential unity of society and encouraging isolation and addiction among its members. Then, a different set of rules and a different kind of unity are imposed.

The rules we have inherited over the course of human civilization, God-given from the beginning, are the laws inherent in our human nature, initiating and preserving that unity which makes us humans. They are what define humanity itself; without them there is no humanity. They are imposed on us by human nature, itself the vehicle of God’s revelation, and not by humans acting alone or in concert.

The unity we have because of the rules gives us true freedom, freedom from fear, because by them we know ourselves, we know who the man or woman is we meet in the street, even without knowing their names. We know that they are us, that we are them, that we are each other, now free to be ourselves because we are in relationship, free to do good, and to be good, because we know what good is.

The unity that society has been imposing on us as it has been dividing us with promises and deliveries of false freedom, the ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ of the continentalists, is a fabricated unity. It stands on nothing in our nature, and it is our human nature—if we are still human—that forces us to fight it, and fight it for our survival. That fight, we find, is for the rules, and for the unity, that was ours from the start.

Nothing can be added to them, nor should be. We know the rules are true because there are so few of them, do not require being written out, or ratified by parliaments, or enforced by uncrowned kings. Following them, if we must fight to do so, we defend not only our liberty, but our humanity, and our unity is not something that we or anyone impose on us. We cannot be anything other than united.

Modern society, and we are surrounded by it, may be at its existential nadir, but we who live together according to the rules constitute a true humanity, practice a true humanism, and by the rule of ‘survival of the fittest’ cannot but predominate over its existential collapse. Unity among us is not severed along religiously denominational lines, because the rules that make us human are universal, common to all.

They don’t need anyone, least of all me, to teach them. They are simply there just as you and I are there. It’s up to us to follow them, and keep alive what it means to be a human being.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, there was a God, the only One actually, who had created a world and peopled it with beings just like Himself, only in miniature. His original idea was that the world that He had created should, through these miniatures, experience and even participate in the Being that He was. Although there was only One of Him, and always had been only One, His Being could not but be shared out equally and eternally among at least Three.

Why was this? Because Being itself is none other than Love, which is both a force, that is, a Spirit, and a source, that is, a Father, but there is more. Love cannot exist, either inside of time where we live, or outside of it (whatever that means) without an object, that is, a Son, a Someone who is both an exact reflexion of the Father, who reflects back that equal and eternal Love with which the Father loved Him, and also Himself a source, as true image of the Father.

Among at least Three, that much we know, and yet innumerably One, what theologians articulated as ‘One in essence, but Three in persons’ or something like that, this is what had been handed down after many generations, people who were so sure of the formula that they forgot its meaning. Beings just like Himself, only in miniature, this God created the same way He created everything, from His angle in the blink of an eye, from ours, evolving over countless æons.

Now, this God became one of His creatures, not just any kind, but the kind that were made as exact miniatures of Himself, the kind that He designed for this purpose: that when the world looked upon him, ‘in the image of God He created him,’ seeing them, ‘male and female he created them,’ the world would see and know them as God, and willingly obey and serve them. This kind of creature, designed and intended for this purpose, also had perfect freedom, as God has.

Most of us already know the rest of the story. Many of us think it is just a fairy tale, which is why I began telling it as a ‘once upon a time’ story. Some ask themselves, ‘If God was so smart, so perfect and all-knowing, why would he have created things like us, which were bound to fail? Perfect images of his nature? Right! Give us free will like he has, but no power to really use it. Any time we try, we dig ourselves an even deeper hole. If there is a God, we don’t want him!’

Back to our story, this is what happened. The equal and eternal Son only begotten of the equal and eternal Father, His exact reflexion and true image, did from eternity what He saw His Father doing. The result was the world we now see, ranging in likeness to its Creator from little to great, those of great likeness the beings just like Himself, only in miniature, what we call the race of Adam. Their likeness extended even to reason, will, love, and eternity, all of them free.

The freedom of the One God in Three divine Persons operates as it should within uncreated, eternal Being. However, in created being, even though eternal, a change took place. Those miniatures of God, created for the universe to worship, to love, and to obey, doubted the Love who had brought them into being. Having been given everything into their hands, they still doubted, and the freedom for which they were made was corrupted and changed into its opposite, slavery.

At this point, yes, and once upon a time, and very quickly too, the Son who had created the world and the miniatures of Themselves, Father, Son, and Spirit, entered the world. The Spirit somehow completed the semination of a virgin womb, and He that was eternally Son without a mother, was born one of His own creatures, the Uncreated and the created uniting in one man, whose nature it was both not to sin and not to die, whose freedom was incorruptible as was His body.

This is where ‘once upon a time’ no longer functions to describe what happened next, because eternity had now invaded time and subdued it, just as incorruption had vanquished corruption and soon, Life would be seen to trample death. The Son, both source and original of the Godlike miniatures, had arrived, like the original, to make invisible God visible, to reign over His creation, to receive the worship due only to the Unearthly, Divine Triad, Themselves the One God.

There could have been no other outcome. It was foreseen by Father, Son, and Spirit from before the beginning. In order for Love to become truly incarnate, embodied, in Their image and likeness, He must suffer every humiliation from conception, to birth, to death, to entombment. He must recapitulate every step He had taken in eternity, in time, on earth. Then, maybe, the beings just like Himself, only in miniature, now indissolubly wed to Him, might take their place.

Wed to Him? What can that mean? but that the Bridegroom of the universe, having been laid to rest, incorruptibly finished His work of creation. Majestic and triumphant the wounds from which gushed anew the Blood that had made so fertile the earth, that once it bore such fruit as bedazzled the angels—the first Adam, the first Eve—the second Adam came forth from the tomb as a Bridegroom exits the bridal chamber, His Bride no longer hidden, not in, but at His side.

Now it begins. No more a tale of ‘once upon a time’ that can be dismissed as a pious fantasy. No more a story told in the past tense, ‘for the world of the past is gone.’ There He stands among us whom He has remade. There the One in Three He stands, the open Door which none can close, now Paradise in male and female form, rekindling the Fire once brought down to earth, His story no longer captured in the telling, but taking captives now, presenting us as tribute to the Father.

The story was finished two thousand years ago, but we hadn’t noticed, finished, but not completed.

Not long to wait, O universe, not long, for they that sleep are about to awake, and the glory of the Lord is soon to shine upon you.


No waiting

As mankind comes to the threshold of the most amazing scientific accomplishments, his cruelty and self-destructive behavior escalates as well. We cannot be trusted, in our natural state, with our own 'perfections', which are not perfections at all but only more liabilities.

No matter where I look, there is no hope, no love, no wisdom, no accomplishment, no perfection outside of Christ, only death, death, death. They say we are escapists to have faith in the only-loving God, and that salvation is a mercenary incentive, that if God were loving and good, He would accept us all as we are, perfect and imperfect.
Do they really know what they are saying?

Only human perfection could be that incredibly stupid, not to know that heaven, or hell, is in our pockets, depending on which we have put there.

This is one of those moments for me where with Isaiah I want to cry out, 'Oh that You would tear the heavens open and come down…'
but I must confess that I cannot.

Isaiah could cry out because the Christ had yet to appear.
As for me, He is standing outside my door daily, knocking to be let in.

Always, and already, here. No waiting.
No one in the line ahead of me, only the old man.

Why can't he just get tired of waiting and leave the line.
Then, I would be next.
And the One at the wicket would not put up a sign,
'Next window please.'

What we are capable of

Everything that Jesus does is absolutely extraordinary. Whether or not He is God or the Son of God, the question pales into insignificance if we let ourselves look at Him and what He does with eyes unclouded by our mortality and unexpectation. It’s as if he appears on the stage of history to show mankind what we are actually capable of, what we can really accomplish, what we can be. We always want to say ‘No’ when someone expects something of us that we don’t believe we can do, be, or give, and that is almost everything. We live our lives as individuals and as nations in a constant state of fear and failure, in a state of perpetual negation. And so, we create a different world than the one that God creates for us. He gives us everything, and we take nothing from His hands, instead stealing only what is forbidden.

In His most extreme moment, Jesus, an innocent man crucified between two criminals, as He is going to meet death, cries out to God, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’ This is not the kind of thing we expect a man on death row to think, let alone say. He has nothing more to gain or lose, yet He says this. Who is He asking God to forgive, and who is He to ask? Is He asking that the two thieves that are dying with Him be forgiven? Or the Roman soldiers who stripped and beat Him, nailed Him to the cross, and cast lots for His robe? Or the government officials, prefects and kings, who judged Him? Or the crowd that called for His execution ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ in exchange for the release of a known criminal? Or the religious leaders and the righteous who could not endure His words and deeds?

We don’t dare stand with the Pharisee who challenged Him when He told the paralytic ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ yet inwardly we are just as critical, just as negative, ‘Who can forgive sins but God?’ and so in our own day-to-day lives we execrate Him and call Him a liar by our thoughts and behaviors. We don’t really believe in forgiveness, His or anyone’s, except ritually, going to confession with our pittances of misdemeanors while we treat not only our neighbor, but the whole world, with contempt. If we listen to the words of the Gospel at all, ‘Which is easier, to say to this man, your sins are forgiven, or, take up your mat and walk?’ we hear them as tinseled words to decorate our vanity, and call it ‘piety.’ We never ask ourselves, ‘Who is He asking God to forgive?’ or even, ‘Who is He to ask?’ We know both answers.

But everything that Jesus does is absolutely extraordinary, everything He says. In everything He shows us what we are capable of. He is not God appearing as a human just to show off His miraculous powers. He is a man appearing as God to show us what we are made to be. He is not a figment of our imagination that we haul out on Sabbaths and festal days, to be put away, or even trashed, when our celebrations are over, like pagan, or rock-star, idols. We don’t really believe in the Creation story or in Adam and Eve, neither do we know, nor do we want to know, that Adam is mankind, created by God to be God on earth, and so Jesus, whom we call the ‘second Adam,’ is equally dismissed as just another story. He comes, He says, to make all things new. All things, even us. Renewed in the Image, of ourselves.

Our real selves, not what we have fashioned. What God made us, not what we pretend ourselves to be. Everything that Jesus does He does to show us what we are capable of. We really can heal the sick, give sight to the blind, preach the good news (that is, give hope to) the poor, even raise the dead. Our prayer can move mountains. Our forgiveness can transform the world. We can bring salvation to the earth. ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12). Yes, we can even walk on water. We can exceed the myth. We can go beyond the saying, ‘God became man, so that man could become God,’ by actually manifesting, experiencing, living what the words are saying, and that is Truth.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday evening prayer

O Lord, the Heavenly King,
the Comforter,
the Spirit of Truth:
Have compassion and mercy on me,
Thy sinful servant!

Absolve me, who am unworthy.
Forgive all the sins I have committed this day
both in my humanity and my inhumanity,
behaving worse than beasts in sins voluntary and involuntary,
known and unknown, from my youth,
from evil suggestions, haste and despondency.

If I have sworn by Thy name
or blasphemed it in thought;
if I have reproached anyone or become angered by something;
or slandered or saddened anyone in my anger;
or have lied, or slept unnecessarily;
or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him;
or have saddened my brother or quarreled with him;
or have judged someone;
or have allowed myself to become haughty, proud or angry;
or, when standing in prayer, my mind has been shaken
by the wickedness of this world;
or have entertained depraved thoughts;
or have over-eaten, over-drunk or laughed mindlessly;
or have had evil thoughts
or seen the beauty of someone
and been wounded by it in my heart;
or have spoken inappropriately;
or have laughed at my brother’s sins
when my own transgressions are countless;
or have been indifferent to prayer;
or have done any other evil that I can not remember—
for I have done all this and more:

Have mercy, O Master, my Creator, on me,
Thy despondent and unworthy servant!

Absolve, remit and forgive me, in Thy goodness
and love for mankind that I, who am prodigal, sinful and wretched,
may lie down in peace and find sleep and rest.

May I worship, hymn and praise Thy most honorable name,
with the Father and His only-begotten Son,
now and ever and unto ages of ages.

Amen.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A conspiracy of love

Conspiracy theory, a nice way of saying that anyone or anything that opposes my philosophy of the world, be it scientific, political, or religious, must be participating in a massive cover-up, perpetuating a great lie, and since there are so many, their efforts must be coordinated by some hidden power.

Another new book on the topic of the flat earth has been written. Wading through the hundreds of comments in a flat earth forum trying to answer someone’s question, ‘If the earth is flat, why has no one ever seen the edge?’ I am bewildered at the ingenuity shown in defense of the indefensible.

Everything from pseudo-scientific explanations like, ‘Near the edges the atmospheric pressure drops to zero and it’s so cold and dark, you can’t get near it,’ to the politically conspiratorial, ‘The edges are patrolled by armed guards from NASA preventing anyone from going to the edge and looking over it.’

The same mind set is at work to prove that the current savagery going on in the Near East, in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, even the ravages of ISIS, the neo-caliphate, are actually the result of a conspiracy by the United States to destabilize the region, and to keep Arabs fighting each other, so as to secure Israel.

Sometimes I think there is a conspiracy against me too. Why is it that after working very hard all my life, raising a family of four sons, paying my taxes, going to church regularly and even tithing in the days when I had the money, I am not wealthy and blessed with a happy retirement in the home I built?

If I believed in ‘the prosperity gospel’ I would be a very bitter man today. I could say to God, ‘Look! All these years I’ve done this and that for You, followed your rules, kept myself uncontaminated by the world and even come to the aid of orphans and widows like the Bible says, and what have I got?’

In this case, there must be a conspiracy. Was it imps, evil spirits, the devil and his angels, that cheated me out of my rightful inheritance? That’s one conspiracy theory. Or was it God? If it was, then that’s the biggest conspiracy against me there ever could be! Better not go there. Ah! I know, it was the Jews!

That’s the one group, human and tangible enough that we needn’t blame supernatural beings, that we can blame and even sometimes feel all the more ‘Christian’ for doing so. It must be the worldwide Jewish conspiracy that has robbed me of the life I think I deserve. After all, they crucified Christ.

The writer of the biblical Epistle of James, no one less than the very brother of Jesus, cuts through the illogical logjam of every conspiracy theory. ‘You want something and you haven’t got it… You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy… Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it.’

He goes on to say that when we do pray for something and don’t get it, it’s because we haven’t prayed properly, that we’ve prayed for something to indulge our own desires. ‘Sounds like he’s lock, stock and barrel involved in the worldwide Jewish conspiracy, using circular arguments. He was a Jew, wasn’t he?’

People will stop at nothing to blame others for what they lack. I’m not sure what flat-earthers are lacking that makes them hang on to a theory thrown out as irrational by Egyptians and Greeks thousands of years ago, maybe common sense. As for the rest of us, why do we kick against the goad?

An ox goad was a stick with a pointed iron tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the ox to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the ox would rebel and kick out at the goad, and the point would be driven even further into its flesh. The more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered.

Yes, maybe conspiracy theory is correct. Maybe we are, after all, just human oxen, born to work for what we can never own, being fed and watered and stabled by masters who just use us for their own ends. Maybe that’s why we never really get what we want, even when we pray for it (if we’re religious).

Or maybe the truth is, the universe doesn’t revolve around us as the flat-earthers believe. Maybe we are all just part of a very gigantic picture, maybe the huge hologram some scientists say the universe is, and maybe what we call our happiness is not something we can impress on or extract from the world.

Maybe we are born, live, and die in this holographic universe as characters in a very long and involved drama, one in which the actors start out as mere fictions in the Author’s mind, but by shouldering our burdens, playing our part in the story, we end up being not actors but real people in a real universe.

Somewhere else. Yes, I know, that’s what they’re always telling us, ‘Work hard, boy, and you’ll find, one day you’ll have a job like mine, a job like mine, a job like mine’ croons Cat Stevens, once again affirming the Truth hidden in metaphor by his crypto-Orthodox tripling of the essential line in his songs.

‘But I know, for sure, nobody should be that poor,’ he continues, crying out against that conspiracy secretly woven as a spider’s web to catch its unwary prey. Perhaps it is a conspiracy, after all, but maybe it’s this kind of conspiracy. Someone working in collusion behind the scenes to bring us out of misery.

‘He tore the net, and we escaped,’ croons another bard and singer, this time the unknown psalmist, maybe David himself, but who knows, he didn’t sign this one. ‘He tore the net and we escaped; our help is in the name of Yahweh, who made heaven and earth.’ If there was ever a conspiracy, this is it.

They are looking for a way to save us, not hamper, hurt, or destroy us. They made us, it’s true, for Themselves and for Their purposes, Father, Son, and Spirit, and we do have to suffer, even work a little, and They give us only what we need right now. But if this is a conspiracy, it’s a conspiracy of love.

No one ever conspired so constantly, worked so unweariedly, prepared us so patiently, and loved us so lavishly as this holy cabal, hidden before us in plain sight, even fleshed out as the Jew we groundlessly fear the most, Jesus of Nazareth, who is one with the unearthly Triad. If there is a conspiracy, it is He.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

That one is you

The Orthodox fathers use the sun as an analogy to the Holy and Divine Triad. The sun itself is the Heavenly Father. The light of the sun is the Divine Word and Son of God. The heat of the sun is the Holy Spirit.

No one can see the sun, except by the light, which enters our eyes and shows it to us. We have no other way to be in contact with the sun or even know for sure that it is there, but for the light (and the heat). If you approached the sun to touch it, you would be incinerated long before you reached it. The Father, thus, is ever intangible and unreachable to us, in His essence.

The light of the sun, though, both shows us what the sun looks like and tells us that it is there. ‘Who sees Me sees the Father,’ says Jesus, the Son and Word of God. In Jesus the Father is both visible and reachable. We make our prayers known to the Father through the Son. Moreover, light itself has two natures. It is both particles (photons) and waves (pure energy), and in the same way, Jesus the Son of God is both human and Divine. Yes, and He is the Phos ek Photós, ‘Light from Light.’

The heat of the sun would be evidence, even to a blind man, that the sun, or at least some source of heat, is out there, because he can feel its effect on him. In a similar way, even if a man is spiritually blind, he can still feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit falling on him, telling him that there is a Father in heaven, yet he can still move out of that sunlight and into the shadows. It is his choice.

There was never a sun without light and heat, yet the light is not the sun, nor is the heat the sun; each is distinct, yet inseparable from the source. In the same way, the Orthodox fathers teach that the Father is the source and principle of the Godhead, of the Divine Nature. The Son (only one of Him) is begotten eternally from the Father as light emanates eternally from the sun. As heat proceeds from the sun by means of the light that emanates from it, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, but by means of the Son of God, who said, ‘I will ask the Father and He will send you another Advocate.’

Co-eternal, consubstantial—these are words that seem overpowering and mystery-laden, making the Holy Triad seem to be unthinkable and unexperienceable by man. But the Orthodox fathers show us that the mystery is not that God should be three yet one, but that we could have ever imagined a God who is only one.

The unity of the Divine Nature, ‘Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is One’, is not diminished by His being a Triad. His Oneness is so One without second, so beyond numerical oneness, that even His triadic nature does not take away from it.

God is changeless, and yet He is One. God is changeless, and yet He is love. There can be no love except ‘between’ and no pure love, impartial and selfless love, except between ‘three.’ Hence, the Divine Nature says, ‘Let us make man in Our image.’

No one has ever seen God, only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has made Him known and shown Him to us, being Himself God and yet not the Father. And the Holy Spirit, that third member of the One God in Triad, is our own membership in that Society of Persons which we call the Holy Trinity. Through Him, through the Spirit, we take our places at the banquet of the Divine Nature, becoming by genuine adoption what Christ is by nature, sons and daughters of the Most-High.

Théosis (divinization) is what we were made for, sotiría (salvation) is the process of our transfiguration.

Christ ‘was, is, and is to come.’
We were saved, are being saved, and are to be saved, that is, to be one with the Divine and Holy Triad, as Christ prays, ‘that they may be One, even as You, Father, and I are One.’

See the Orthodox ikon of the Holy Trinity, the original written by Andrei Rublev, posted above. There you will see the three ‘angels’ seated around a table, with one place left open for another.

That one is you.

One in essence and undivided

Be silent out of strength, powerful through prayer, untroubled by opposition because of irreversible certainty, and trusting of the Lord who giving us free choice yet protects, preserves and saves all who turn to Him. Yes, as Christ teaches, ‘Be as sheep among wolves,’ or in another place, ‘Be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.’ What all this is leading us to, ever so gently by the meek Lord Himself, is to make us understand that there really is no ‘us and them,’ that ‘what the Lord has joined together, let no man tear asunder.’ We think this phrase applies only to marriage, but then, what is marriage if not a special instance of this unity that underlies all our being? Marriage and the life of the Church are both examples of the life of the Holy Trinity, ‘one in essence and undivided.’

Christ prays the Father—not just in the gospel according to John, but throughout all time and in every place, unceasingly—‘that they all may be one, even as You and I are One.’ What He is doing is not asking the Father to bestow upon us something that is alien to our nature—our true and original nature, that is—but to open our eyes to see the Divine Image which we in fact are, the unbroken, undivided, Image of God, that which He became a human being to reveal to us. He says, ‘If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,’ but also to see Christ is to see Adam before the Fall. Everything that Jesus teaches us about ourselves leads us to only one conclusion: Our neighbor is our brother, is our other self, and no one hates himself, no one considers himself his enemy, but he loves him and seeks his good. This is where the words of Christ take us.

The human race is a single organism, ‘one in essence and undivided,’ as God sees us. How else can He love each of us as though we were His only creature? The universe's Divine Spouse loves His Bride and in the tunnel of time is perfecting her, preparing her for Himself, making her also Divine. Though the tunnel can pass through deep darkness, at its end is Light, and that Light can be reached by no other way than that which He has revealed to us—the Cross. Let's take up that Cross, brethren, because it's not heavy like His earthly cross was, nor are we mocked and despised on our way as He was, nor do we bear it, nor will we die on it, as He did, and does, for the sins of the world. No, my brethren. He has done the hard part, ours is the easy. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

And your neighbor as yourself.’

Desiderata

The current social experiment will end in cataclysm, because nature reasserts itself when it is restrained. We are what we are. Everyone has his or her place in the organism that is mankind.

It is not by abolishing nature, but by fulfilling it, that the race will continue, will prosper, and reach maturity. By acknowledging human nature, both sexes can live in harmony.

No human society has yet arisen where intelligence and justice, that is, conformity to nature, has fashioned the social constructs necessary to satisfy human nature, and establish freedom.

All societies, especially those which ignore the nature of man and of woman, devolve into slavery. Neither neo-medieval fundamentalism nor modern liberalism escape this condition.

Within Christianity, human nature is expounded in the Old Testament scriptures, and the perfect ordering of that nature is supplied in the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ.

History, especially Christian history, is a result of the misapplication or intentional denial of the precepts of Jesus Christ, taking notice of nature but not fulfilling it, abusing it instead.

This abuse has resulted in every social upheaval and revolution in the name of human rights, but none of these reactions have produced anything different, because the Gospel is rejected.

Human society has not been transformed by the Church under submission to its leaders. It has remained a victim of human nature mismanaged for gain, in spite of having the truth written down.

The test of any and all social movements and philosophy is, whether the individual is free thereby to be what he or she is by nature and at peace with all other members of the society.

Democracy without an educated, intelligent, and self-regulating populace is worse than personal dictatorship. True monarchy leads humanity to the level needed for true democracy.

In the end result, the maturity of humankind will be brought about by right application of the Gospel and acceptance of nature, a society where hierarchy is operating in universal monarchy.

That universal monarchy is the true form of what some propose as anarchy and others as democracy, and what is prophesied in the New Testament scriptures, ‘a nation of priests and kings.’

The masculine terms always include the feminine, a semantic equivalent of the mythic Eve hidden in Adam’s side, and so this nation is comprised of priestesses and queens as well.

Only in the true freedom of the Gospel does humankind enter into these—goodness, life, and peace. Must Christ return bodily before this is accomplished, or is His presence among us in each other enough?

Friday, May 13, 2016

As face looks upon Face

What is it that has caused the immense interior crowding in the souls of modern people—men, women, and children—that results in so many physical, emotional, psychological, and social disorders?

Disorders themselves being a dislocation of, a scrambling of, what we know is an orderly universe, one that exists on its own without our help, and is permeated by form, structure, and hierarchy.

The question seems complex and forebodes a complicated answer, but no, the answer is quite simple. It is caused by the fact that almost none of us in the modern world ever faces night and the stars.

That portion of the human population of the earth is now fifty per cent urban, living in cities. In the developed world the percentage is much higher, even as much as ninety per cent or more.

Not strangely, city dwellers focus their attentions on activity during the night and sleep only when they’ve exhausted every other possibility. Even if they look up at night they cannot see the stars.

A star here, a planet there, and of course the moon, is about all anyone can see even where I live, out here on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River in a secluded neighborhood of Portland.

I can’t even remember the last time I was out in the wilderness, or even in a rural area, and was able to see the night sky emblazoned with stars studding the milky road of our home galaxy.

Well, yes I can. It was forty years ago or more, when I worked as a hired man on a dairy farm in central Alberta. Before that, it was when I was at college in a small town, and lay in a farmer’s field.

Just as Christ Pantocrator in the dome of an Orthodox church somehow umbrellas us from the rain of human weakness, so does the canopy of stars in the night sky, unhindered by man-made lights.

The more we can find ourselves at home under those stars, the more we will find ourselves at home on this earth, in the world, in our bodies, our emotions, our souls, and with our neighbors.

To lie alone or with a friend in that sweet darkness, our eyes piercing to its uttermost depths the infinite universe, our minds melding with the stars, restores order in us, as face looks upon Face.