Catching Up on Things I’ve Missed

I just read a wonderful Bible story that I had never read before. It is an Old Testament story that is referenced twenty-eight times in the New Testament, from Matthew all the way through to the Revelation. It is a picture of the Father’s only Son who find a Bride – a Bride who becomes part of the Father’s household. It is about prayer, worship, healing and spiritual warfare. It is about so much more.

The story is found in the book of Tobit. It has been read by Christians throughout the ages. Most Christians considered it a part of Holy Scripture for 1500 years. At the time of the Reformation, certain influential Protestant leaders decided that the Old Testament books that had originally been written in Greek rather than Hebrew should be set to one side. Not thrown out of the Bible, but clumped together at the end of the Old Testament. Calvin and Luther did not consider then canonical, but Luther’s Great Bible of 1539 and the Geneva Bible of 1560 included them, as did the King James Version.  In fact, every Protestant Bible included them into the 19th century.

Why, then, have they fallen into disuse by Protestants? Even those whose did not consider them canonical considered them “profitable to read,” as Luther put it – profitable enough that they printed and bound them together with the rest of Scripture. (Luther also considered Hebrews, James, Jude and the Revelation to be New Testament deuterocanonicals – of less value than the rest – but did not exclude them from his translation in the end.)

They originally fell into disuse in the late 18th century, so that when there was a paper shortage in the United States in the early 19th century, they were not printed in many Bibles. It is much later that the idea that they were Roman Catholic books and therefore unworthy of Protestant consideration crept in. That being said, the Anglicans have continued to use them as worthy reading and some are included the Lectionary to be read in services. But for many Protestants, there has been an assumption that the 66 books now contained in most Bibles is the way it has always been.

Despite my best intentions, I have not read all of these deuterocanonical Old Testament books. (“Deuterocanonical” means second canon, a term which could equally be applied to New Testament books that had a harder time of getting into the canon in the first place and were considered doubtful even by some Reformers, as noted above.) Despite their use in the New Testament by Jesus and the Apostles, I’ve not given them due attention.

As a result, for 47 years I missed out on the wonderful story of Tobit and Anna, Tobias and Sarah, Raguel and Edna, and Raphael. I think I may go read it again.

The Heresy of Exceptionalism

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an article/newsletter by David Barton. Normally I am loath to read anything by Barton (the self-proclaimed “renowned historian” without even an undergraduate history degree or any clue about historical methodology), but since this had to do with Texas politics and particularly the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, I thought it might be worthwhile to give it a look. Barton’s contention is that Speaker Joe Straus isn’t really a conservative and not much of a Republican. Fair enough.

But what really caught my eye was an attack Barton made on one of Straus’ allies. After commenting on a piece of pro-life legislation that State Affairs Committee Chariman Burt Solomons prevented from reaching the floor of the House, he says, “Incidentally, as a reflection of Solomons’ philosophy, he had previously even objected to teaching that America is a blessed and unique nation – i.e., American Exceptionalism…” There’s no indication as to whether Solomons currently objects to this teaching, and the comment is a bit of the cheap ad hominem that is sadly found pervasively in conservative circles.

In my youth I imbibed heavily from the trough of American Exceptionalism and have held to it explicitly or implicitly for most of my life.  As a result, I have done the only logical thing: I have repented.

America has been a blessed and unique nation, but recognising this is not adhering to American Exceptionalism. Many nations have been blessed and all nations are unique, but this is not what David Barton believes. American Exceptionalism is the teaching that the United States is special above all other nations – that God has blessed America and likes America more than the others.

American Exceptionalism has been used as an exemption from the law of nations. The attitude is that international law may apply to the rest of you but it doesn’t apply to us, because we’re special and we don’t have to play by everyone else’s rules.  We will tell you what you can and can’t do in your country, but don’t you dare tell us. In fact, international law so doesn’t apply that we can violate the sovereignty of other countries and have done so with impunity. All countries are sovereign, but some countries are more sovereign that others. The sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests.

This doctrine of American Exceptionalism is not something new. One hundred and seventy years ago it was called Manifest Destiny (though the term is often used for the period between 1812-1860, it was coined in 1839 and only came into common use around 1845). It was used to justify the expansion of the United States at whatever cost. The biggest acquisition was 42% of Mexico as a result of the Mexican War, which started as a dispute over the territory between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers in South Texas. This is a bit like taking an area twice the size of France as the result of a dispute about an area the size of, for example, Alsace-Lorraine. This area now contains over 16% of the US population, so it could be argued that we eventually needed the lebensraum.

It was also the justification to gain control of much of the central part of the continent that had been purchased from a European power which claimed it by right of conquest.*  Most of the inhabitants were completely unaware they had been conquered. When they objected to their lands being taken by white folks, the US Army brought this to their attention. They were, after all, savages, so it was okay to kill them. Having no concept of private property, they also had no property rights, so it was only right that it should be taken over and controlled by folks who understood their God-given right to plat and deed every inch land. Now it must be said that out of the goodness of their heart, the American government did reserve some of the Indians’ own land for them, force them to live there, and shoot them if they objected.

The most extraordinary thing about this American Exceptionalism is that it is generally agreed to have its roots in a thesis (it is often called a sermon, but we have no record of it ever being spoken to a gathering of people in church or otherwise) by John Winthrop, written aboard the Arbella on the way to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. The thesis was called “A Model of Christian Charity”. It is best known for the phrase “city upon a hill” which appears near the end.  I reiterate that this is an extraordinary thing, because there is nothing in Winthrop’s thesis that supports the idea of Exceptionalism or Manifest Destiny. If you doubt me, you need to read it. I welcome you to challenge my understanding of it.

“A Model of Christian Charity” is explicitly an exhortation of how the Massachusetts Bay colonists should behave toward one another. This is based upon their religious covenant to each other. Winthrop does say that what they are doing is extraordinary – not in founding a nation that would stretch from sea to shining sea, because they did not see themselves as founding a country nor did they have any concept of the size of North America. They saw what they were doing as extraordinary, so that living by the Golden Rule was going to be essential. The avoidance of usury was going to be essential. Being knitted together as the body of Christ was going to be essential while they struggled to hang on to an existence on the shores of New England.

I have outlined (barely) some of the practical results of Exceptionalism. I have demonstrated, if only enough to encourage you to read the original document (David Barton would be proud), that the connection with the Puritans and the “city on a hill” is non-existent. But none of that relates to the most important aspect of all and the reason I have titled this essay as I have. None of this is the reason I have repented.

Exceptionalism is a heresy. The more one tries to support it with a religious foundation, the more heretical is becomes.

Americans are not God’s chosen people. The Church is God’s chosen people. The Church includes some Americans. Americans do not even make up the largest fraction of national representation in the Church. (That would be the Chinese. Current estimates indicate that there are likely more Christians in China than there are people in the United States.) When St Peter said, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” he was referring to the Church.

In that oft-used phrase, John Winthrop refers to Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” The “you” to whom Jesus is referring are His disciples – those who are hearing and following His teaching – the Church. Winthrop was referring to his fellow Puritan settlers as Christians living out the Gospel, not to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or a democratic Republic, which would have been the furthest things from his imagination.

With all due respect to Ronald Reagan, who co-opted Winthrop’s phrase in his Farewell Address, as well as by his own admission having use it all his political life, the city on a hill is not prosperity nor is it freedom. No, if we go back to the Original Document and Original Intent (I hope David Barton would be pleased), the city is the light of Christ. Inasmuch as it refers to freedom, we would have to cross-reference to John 8:38, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

Has the United States been blessed? Certainly. Has the US as a nation done some good things? Of course. Has this blessing been because we have somehow fulfilled Winthrop’s vision for Massachusetts Bay? Absolutely not. It has been by the grace and mercy of God, despite some very terrible shortcomings as individuals and as a nation. How dare we say, “Our fathers expanded and built the United States this way and look at how God has blessed us – surely this is evidence of our righteousness!”

Everyone knows the bit of Winthrop’s thesis that says, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” The important bit follows: “So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake.”

As Christians we are the light on a hill. It is we who have a responsibility to live out the Gospel. Not because of what John Winthrop wrote and a connection we feel to the Puritan fathers, however tenuous that may be. Not because we are Americans. Because we are Christians. We have a responsibility to live charitably toward one another. Again, if you want to know the characteristics of the city on a hill as outlined by Winthrop, as true and biblical today for all believers, read the whole thing.

God does not love America more because some of the first white settlers of an area that eventually became a colony and eventually broke away from England were good Christian folk. (And just for the record, we have no covenantal connection to those good Christian folk of Massachusetts Bay, so we are not reaping what they have sown. But that’s an article for another time.) Nor does He love us more because a lot of people that were involved in the American Revolution and the Constitutional Convention were Christians and even those who weren’t occasionally used Christian shop talk.  Nor does he love us more because we are a democratic Republic that has tried to spread our form of government around the world, whether other people wanted it or not.

I’m blessed to be an American, but that does not make me special to God, nor did it make the generations of my forefathers going back to colonial times any more special to God. Nations rise and nations fall. The United States hasn’t been around all that long and it won’t be here forever. God operates on a completely different time scale.

The exceptional thing is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, whether we were blessed to be born in America, Europe, Africa, Asia or anywhere else. As the Church, we are God’s special people and unique nation. That is the Gospel.

*Technically, it was purchased from a country (France) which acquired it in a treaty from another country (Spain) which had acquired it in a treaty from the first country (France), which had laid claim by conquest.

Why I’m Giving Up My American Citizenship

This might have been a better post for the Fourth of July, but most readers were probably out watching the fireworks and wouldn’t have seen it. So perhaps it is better to write it and post it today.

Yes, it’s true. Soon I will no longer be an American citizen.  Don’t worry, I won’t be a British citizen either. I’m giving up both citizenships. But then again, so are you. Whichever one you have. The reason is very simple. I’ll be dead and so will you. Heaven doesn’t take passports. Hell doesn’t either for that matter. (And if you are one of my atheist friends who doesn’t believe in either and thinks you will just cease to exist, annihilation brings loss of citizenship, too. But I’m going to continue in a Christian perspective…)

I say soon, because this life is but a moment, whether you live one year or one hundred. Kerry Livgren described us as dust in the wind. Moses, in Psalm 90, says were are like grass that grows up in the morning and in the evening whithers away.

Even in that moment, it will have mattered very little. If there was pride to be had in American citizenship, I think I could have it. I could sound like St Paul in Philippians 3:5 describing his Jewishness. I am of the stock of the United States, of the state of Texas, an American of the Americans; concerning the law a Strict Constructionist; concerning zeal, persecuting the liberals; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, a law-abiding citizen. I can trace my lineage in North America to before the American Revolution several times over.

If God has so chosen, I may be an American for another 46 years, maybe even a bit longer. I’m going to be stateless for eternity. In between is the Judgement Seat of Christ. As far as I know, the relative zeal of my flag waving will not be mentioned. My committment to national sovereignty probably won’t be challenged. There may not even be a query about whether I supported and defended the Constitution. Now I don’t know all the questions that Jesus is going to ask me or you, so you may dismiss this as pure speculation. However, I believe there is a practice exam with the correct answers in Matthew 25.

For as long as I’m an American and living inside the United States, I will participate in civic activities, including voting in elections for those candidates I think will best preserve the good things about the United States for future generations of blown dust and whithering grass. After all, living in the US provides one of the best opportunities for a life of relative ease and safety and modern conveniences. And liberty and justice for all, of course.

Now as I understand it, this life of relative ease and safety and modern convenience is a scare commodity and can’t be spread too thin, or people start to suffer. Well, not suffer, exactly, but their quantum of relative ease and modern convenience could be marginally reduced. Therefore if anyone is going to be allowed come along and enjoy it (along with that liberty and justice for all, of course), they need to prove that they will be net contributors, and we’ve set up rules to make sure that’s the case.

People who arrive with needs will only be a drain on the whole system of relative ease and modern convenience (though not necessarily on liberty and justice for all, but that’s secondary, really). So as it has been explained to me by those with minds greater and sharper than my own, it is my civic duty to keep them out. An example of drain is having to print things in other languages. (I’m guessing this causes massive demands on both the ink and paper industries, with a domino effect on the rest of the economy.) A country needs to have everyone speak and write one language. Otherwise we end up like Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK. Where would we be then? Even if some people get in who have needs, but I’m sure Jesus is going to understand if we insisted that they learn English first.

Real Americans don’t like socialism. Except for Social Security. Even the most conservative Republicans will not touch the socialist/ponzi scheme that is Social Security. It is possible that those who come here to drain the system will end up getting a Social Security number, working forty quarters, paying in, and drawing benefits. Benefits that are for American citizens who worked forty quarters and paid in. There’s no actual legislation pending that would give the drainers a chance to do this, but all good Americans are upset that it could happen, and I’m sure Jesus understands that.

Social Security is one thing, but health care is another. While we tolerate providing minimal health care to the poorest of the poor, people who arrive with needs have been known to receive health care this way. Once again, they are putting a drain on the relative ease of those born here or invited here because they are net contributors.  Jesus understands this.

I hope so, because after I give up my American citizenship, I will have to answer for how I used it. No, there won’t be questions on the flag, sovereignty and the Constitution, but there is an awful lot covered on that practice exam in Matthew 25.

In sermons, my father often quotes a couplet from his childhood for which the source is unknown, but the sentiment entirely biblical:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last

What’s done for Christ?

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.

Standing before Christ, it may be possible to plead that while being personally supportive of those in need, volunteering at the soup kitchen, putting change in the poor box at church, and sending a check to the charity of your choice (those people who look after other people for a living so as not to interfere with your relative ease and convenience), as a voting member of the State, your civic duty was to look after the relative ease and modern convenience of your former fellow citizens and keep others away from liberty and justice for all, at the point of a gun or the barbed wire of a fence if necessary.

You go ahead and try that approach. I’ll have enough on my plate that I won’t have a chance to look over, give you that Sarah Palin wink and say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

The Underrated Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation.  In one sense, it is more important than Christmas. It is the real feast of Incarnation. It celebrates the moment Very God of Very God confines Himself to the womb of the most holy Mother of God.  It is the reason her veneration is so vital to Orthodoxy – using not just her womb, but her ovum, her chromosomes, her DNA, God became Man.Yet it is the most under-celebrated feast of the year.

If Pascha originally began a fast-free period until after Pentecost (since reduced to a week thanks to the ascendency of ascetism within the Church) and Christmas has a two-week feast, surely Annunciation should fall somewhere in between. Unfortunately, the hierarchs of the Church have been entirely unified in not consulting me about these matters.

I find it odd that one of the developments in the Eastern Church has been to turn the Wednesday and Friday fast given to us by the Holy Apostles into a year with more fasting than non-fasting days. This year there are 213 fasting days and 152 non-fasting days. Nearly 60% of the year is spent fasting. In case you are wondering, I’m not counting fish days or cheesefare days as non-fasting. If it doesn’t involve killing and eating something that walks and breathes air, it’s a fasting day.

Invariably this includes the Annunciation.

When compared to the feasts of the Church the constrast is even starker. Other than the twelve days of Christmas and the Bright Week of Pascha, the feast days are one-day affairs. Of these, the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross, is also a fast day. So we fast even on feast days.

We need to be having Annunciation parties. We need to perkiest, most joyful music. Well, as perky as we get with eighth century tones. But that’s another matter altogether.

I Want to Go to Heaven, but I’m Not Going to Stay There

Last night I finished N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. When I was writing the blog entry Joe Klein, Rick Warren, and Heaven I came across a review of the book and it piqued my curiosity. Based on my reading of Wright, I realised that I had fallen into the same misconception as Joe Klein.

Both Klein and I were writing from the presumption that dying and going to heaven (or not) is for eternity. It’s not that the New Testament teaches this, but only that it has become presumed in much of Western Christianity, from which I built my theology and Klein has used as his straw man. Wright demonstrates that the New Testament is much more concerned with the Resurrection. He emphasises the centrality of Jesus’ Resurrection (having long been one of the most vocal scholars  in the battle against liberalism and the mythologising of Gospel)  and clarifies how death is simply the way station on the on the road to our own resurrections.

As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t entirely agree with Wright’s view of the saints in heaven, but it is closer than most Protestant perspectives. He is mostly concerned with distinguishing his view from the Roman Church. At times he refers to ideas that have been preserved in Orthodoxy and lost in the West.

In the last part of the book, Wright explains how he sees this theology of the Resurrection as it affects the role of the Church today. While Wright eschews the liberalism of the Social Gospel, as an American Christian, I have not had the same view as Wright regarding the role of the State, particularly in the welfare of the individual or in the intervention with business or the free market in effecting social justice. Unlike some Amazon (and other online retailer) reviewers, I don’t think that this makes Wright a neo-Marxist or neo-socialist. Rather, I think those reviews substantiate Wright’s view that conservative Christians in the US have tied conservative theology and conservative economics so closely together that to challenge any assumption of the latter is to lose any credentials as a proponent of the former.

I think it is good that Bishop of Durham and highest ranking evangelical in the Church of England has challenged some of the presumptions of evangelical American Christianity. Most Americans get very defensive about any challenge to anything American, especially by Europeans. This may be because most European challenges to most things American are based in nonsense rather than good theology. Tom Wright is not talking nonsense. This is not wishy-washy Emerging Church neo-liberal evangelicalism.

This is a book which focuses first on personal and cosmic eschatology. It is not a pop-theology revelation of The Revelation. It is a look at what the New Testament and the early Church viewed as the hope for the Christian, the essence of the Gospel. Wright’s view is that if we are hoping for life after death we are too short-sighted. We have to re-focus on life after life after death and this will change the way we look at ourselves and our place in the world.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Every chapter in it is almost worth the entire price. It is so good that I have ordered copies of it for a couple of friends. Even though I haven’t ordered a copy for you, you need to go out and get it anyway.

Open Font, Open Heresy

I went to a baptism today. Actually it was a triple baptism.

Being an Anglican rite, certain things are optional. For example, none of the parents were Anglican. I know that at least some of the godparents were not Anglican either. (My best guess is that none of them are.) I know that the parents of two of the children are not married. (My best guess is that the others weren’t either.)

Now here is what I don’t get. Even in the wishy-washy (or rather, the wishier-washier) alternative to the Common Worship text, the parents have to turn to Christ, repent of their sin, and renounce evil. If they are living in fornication when they walk into the Church and when they walk out, with no intention of changing that arrangement, how is it that the church allows them to go through the motions?

The church cannot know the secrets of the heart, but they can easily know the openness of cohabitation. The C of E substitutes social occasions for sacraments. Having the baby “done” is an excuse to have a party. Actually when I saw the godfather of one of the children with a diamond ear stud and his shirt undone to show off his bling, I knew this was going to be what could only  be called an ex-chav-aganza.

Is it any surprise that if the sacrament of baptism has lost its sacredness, the rest soon follow? You end up with things like women pretending to be priests (or even bishops) or the proported marriage of a man and a man.

Summer Reading Progress

It is only two weeks into the summer holidays and I have finished half of my reading list.

Thanks to a mention by Elizabeth over a year and a half ago, I finally read The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andrepoulos. I recommend it highly. It is very readable.

The anecdotal and historical parts of the book only take up the first 42 pages. The rest of it focused on the general needs for signs and symbols, the idea of the sign of the Cross as a prayer in and of itself, and some speculative ideas – in particular, juxtaposing the spiritual power of the sign with New Age ideas.

I finished Bernard Cornwell’s The Pale Horseman in the wee hours of this morning. It is the second of four books in his Saxon Stories series, set in the reign of Alfred the Great. It was a situation where I could hardly stay awake, but I couldn’t put it down. Even though Cornwell shows Alfred (and Christianity generally) in a not-so-favourable light, and downplays his contribution to literature and law, it is clear at this point why Alfred is called “the Great”.

Cornwell always tells a great story with interesting characters. As with the Starbuck Chronicles set nearly 1000 years later during the War Between the States, his principle characters are fictional but play a key roles in otherwise historical battles. For those unfamiliar with the period, he provides a helpful historical note at the end of each book to help the reader distinguish the fact from the fiction.

The history of this period is fascinating enough that I’m added a couple of books to my reading list,
Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources and The Anglo-Saxons edited by Campbell, John and Wormald.

The Bible isn’t Biblical

A link from the WordPress dashboard took me to one of the many post-Christian, de-conversion blogs. I didn’t realise that’s where I was heading when I clicked on the link, but I find it interesting to understand better the loss of faith. Most of the people I deal with daily are of the never-had-faith type.

I think we all go through the dark night of the soul. Different people deal with it in different ways. Unlike well-meaning commenters on these blogs, I have no interest in Bible proof-texting them back to faith. In fact, I find most of these well-meaning attempts using an approach that has been directly rejected by the de-converting or de-converted.

I certainly haven’t seen lots of these blogs, so I don’t presume that the crisis of faith comes to each person in the same way. However, the ones I have seen seem to have a similar background. I have see ex-Catholics mostly describing their disaffection with things that’s aren’t actually Catholic dogma. However, most of the deconversion seems to be from Evangelicalism. The former evangelicals are sometimes pastors or other sorts of leaders. They are well-versed in the Scriptures.

Herein seems to lie the problem. They find internal inconsistencies – or have long been aware of what appear to be internal inconsistencies – in the Scriptures and finally admit that in their Protestant paradigm if the Bible fails everything fails. This exposes a weakness, not in Christianity, but in that Protestant paradigm.

The further a group eschews the Holy Tradition the more it has to adopt a sola scriptura approach. This means that the Word of God is exactly what the text says and the key to the Truth is in finding exactly what the text says. God specifically spoke certain words in Hebrew or Greek and we have to find out exactly which words He used.

Then He put them all together in One Big Book. Now it’s like a giant jigsaw and the work of the biblical scholar is to fit all of the pieces together so that there is a single internal consistency. That’s not to say that there is any consistency in the scholars – otherwise we wouldn’t have the vast discrepancies in commentaries, surveys, handbooks, and other reference materials that span the Protestant theological gamut.

The only problem is the the One Big Book view of the Bible isn’t biblical. The closest thing to a collective reference is Jesus’ reference to the Law and the Prophets. This does not refer to the whole Old Testament, as He makes no reference to the Writings (Ketuvim). References in different biblical sources to “the Word of God” do not somehow look ahead to 66 writings eventually recognised as canonical by Protestants, the 74 recognised by Rome, or even the 77 recognised by Orthodoxy.

Long before I was Orthodox, I realised that using verses like Proverbs 30:5-6 or Revelation 22:18-19 to refer to the unified Bible was completely non-contextual. That would somehow suppose that the Church did not have the full Truth before an agreement was reached over time about even the New Testament canon.

This does not mean that the Bible isn’t inspired by God. The Church, being led by the Holy Spirit, recognised those writings which have been specially inspired by the Holy Spirit. But this is why I don’t have a problem with Protestant Bibles. They may lack 11 writings used by Jesus and the early Church, but what they have is inspired.

As a quick aside. . . It’s not that the Protestant Bible has lacked these writings for a long time. Stories vary slightly as to when they were commonly removed – from just after the American Revolution to the 1820’s – but it seems to be universally agreed that the reason was to save printing costs. Because Protestants refer to them as the Apocrypha, put them in a separate group and sadly, as they were not read often, no one seemed to miss them. It is only post-Revolutionary homegrown American denominations and their progeny that completely rejected them.

But back to my point. . . Once you remove the One Big Book view, it doesn’t matter that there are different ways of saying things, or even times when the individual books say different things. Each book is a way of God telling us things, but God is bigger than all the writings.

The Heresy of Modern Marriage

As part of the RE curriculum, I teach about Christian views of marriage and family. Because the textbook – and the course, for that matter – is rooted in liberalism. It’s not called that, of course. It’s called modernity.

To balance out – or attempt to bump off – traditional views of marriage roles, they chuck the entire corpus of the New Testament aside in favour a non-contextual use of Galatians 3:28. Of course it is not within the purview of the syllabus to query how St Paul can intend to throw away everything he has said about the family with the use of one sentence in one of his letters in which he is not even discussing the subject.

But at the end of the day, that the best shot the “modern” view of the family has – a family with no head and no authority structure, no priorities and no defined roles. But even then, the theological ramifications are emmense. Modernist usually don’t have a lot of time for ramifications. Anything that stands in the way of fleeting selfish happiness is quickly pushed aside.

The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. The former is a lesser reality which shadows the greater reality. After all, the marriage of husband and wife is temporary, bound only by this mortal realm. The headship of Christ over the Church is eternal, transcending this realm. To deny the shadow is to deny the greater reality. It is to reject the headship of Christ. It is to reject the Church.

Just as a priest in the church is an icon of Christ, so is the headship of the husband in the marriage. Honour paid to the icon is honour paid to the reality behind the icon. To desecrate the icon is to desecrate Christ.

That’s why the husband’s headship isn’t dependent upon whether he is good enough or worthy enough.  The sacrament of the Eucharist is not valid based upon the worthiness of the priest who prays the epiclesis. Neither is the sacrament of marriage valid based upon the worthiness of the husband as icon of Christ.

In the Orthodox Church we view marriage as salvific. Heresies don’t save. To have a heretical view of marriage is to challenge salvation itself. The Orthodox Church sees marriage as martyrdom. Modernist don’t have a lot of time for martyrdom.

Someone recently told me that I would be much happier if I would stop living in the past and embrace modernity. To embrace so-called modernity is to embrace heresy, to embrace death. It is to reject Christ.

Happiest of Feasts

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw
him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Today is one of the greatest Feasts of the Church. So great, in fact, that I don’t understand why Lent isn’t completely suspended for a day. This is the feast of the Incarnation. Sure it comes to fruition in the Nativity, but this is the day we celebrate that God came to Earth. Today we grapple with the mystery of kenosis. Today the very God of very God, the eternal and incomprehensible chooses the Virgin’s womb for a Temple wherein to dwell.

The incorporeal become corporeal. The Word becomes flesh to dwell among us.

In the midst of all the Easter TV programmes challenging all of the orthodoxies of the Faith, cries of critics and doubters, it is a good thing to rejoice. I also feel sad, because they cannot share the joy. They spend their time trying to dig up ways to prove that Jesus wasn’t really the Jesus of the Gospels. He must be anyone other than who He was, His life told to us by eyewitnesses and faithful transmitted to us by the Holy Evangelists and from them by our Holy Fathers who have gone before us. There must be conspiracies and power plays, intrigue and underhanded dealings. And all of it must be because they knew the story wasn’t true. It was made up much later. Tiresome and sad.

So let us rejoice in the love of God shown to us in the Incarnation. Let us rejoice in so great a salvation.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy
is His name.
And His mercy
is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered
the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from
their thrones,
And exalted
the lowly.
He has filled
the hungry with good things,
And
the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of
His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.

Observing the Day

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Romans 14:5-6

Today is the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas, unless you are in the Western Church (or just culturally attached to a country historically a part of the Western Church), in which case it is Easter. Even though we are Orthodox, we have been celebrating Easter. This is not because I’m not particularly a big fan of St Gregory and his hesychasm. Rather it is because one unnamed child is in a Catholic school with Catholic (or at least Catholic-influenced) friends, plus Western cultural and Western Christian grandparents with chocolate and cards and presents, Easter fetes, Easter egg hunts – you get the picture. Explaining that we don’t actually celebrate Pascha for more than another month has pretty much fallen on deaf ears. I don’t want to deny that I put this down to bad Ortho-parenting as much as anything.

I’m sure that as we get closer to Pascha, the kids will get reasonably excited again, especially if we come up with more chocolate and gifts.

It seems to go entirely against the teaching of St Paul in Romans that the observance of days is one of the key issues separating parts of the Orthodox from each other (New Calendarists versus Old Calendarists) as well as a sticking point separating the Orthodox and Catholics (though there are a number of others of greater or lesser significance). I know there are much more theologically astute and devotionally pure adherants on both sides who could explain the deep importance of this and it congruence with the Epistle to the Romans. (I don’t think any of them visit this blog, so I doubt there will be any explaining in the comments – though they are welcome.) After all, as Orthodox, we interpret Scripture as a part of the Tradition of the Church. I also know that the dating of Pascha was one of the earliest and most divisive issues in the Church.

So Happy Easter to all of my Western friends, while we Orthodox do a little more omphaloskepsis in honour of St Gregory.

Eating Like Humans

You probably don’t have to worry about your children eating like animals. Mine sometimes get into role play as dogs or cats (when they aren’t superheroes or cartoon characters) and they have to be encouraged not to take this too far at the dinner table.

When we went out for my birthday dinner last weekend, the woman and I realised how well behaved our kids were. We sat near a family that trashed their dining area and at one point the woman got a splash of soup or some such on the face. When they left the restaurant, we were embarrassed seeing the cleaning crew come in and scrape everything away.

Many families eat like animals and don’t even realise it. Their children may be even better behaved than mine. Nonetheless, they lack the distinction that makes us different from all other creatures at mealtimes. They don’t bless their food. Fr Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory points this out in For the Life of the World. It is not just the essence of the sacramental life, it is the essence of human life. I don’t need to preach to the Orthodox choir that we are, after all, first homo adorans and only as a result homo sapiens.

I have sometimes been embarrassed around visiting unbelievers and not blessed the food. Either that, or I can have a tendency to rattle it off like an auctioneer. I didn’t want to impose my religion on them. Predictably, I had it all backwards. What I should be offering them is an opportunity to experience their own humanity. Religion is either a compartment of life that can be sealed off when inconvenient, or it is the very nature of who we are and to deny it is to make us not just less than who we are, but other than what we are.

By not blessing, we turn the food into an affirmation of materialism with the inherent value of cardboard. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we no longer deny a heavenly gift to our guests. If we would deprive them of this, then we cannot say we love them, regardless of how closely we may be related to them.

Even in restaurants, sitting amongst strangers, if we bless our food, we bless them. This is not because we make a show openly. This would be the Protestant idea that value is only derived from knowledge. By blessing the food, we make Christ present in and at our meal. Who is not blessed by proximity to Christ? Even by these small actions, we fulfill our essential mission to bring Christ to a hungry world starved of the love of God.

Hitting the Wall

I am ever amused by KJV-only folks. This position leads to some interesting exegesis.

Fr Pat Reardon sent a link to part of a sermon on YouTube that explains what’s wrong with other translations – and the Germans, as well.

How Much Do Have When You Hold A Grudge?

On Forgiveness Sunday, I thought it appropriate to relate something from a lesson this week. My Year 8s are learning about some of the parables of Jesus. This week we were looking at the parable of the unforgiving servant.

With my first couple of groups I decided to translate the 10,000 talents owed by the first servant with the 100 denarii owed to him by the second. I didn’t it on the fly without any regard for accuracy, so I just used a pound of gold for a talent and an ounce of silver for a denarius. I guessed the price of gold at about £600/ounce and silver at £10 an ounce.

Since that yields a result of £72,000,000 for the first debt and £1000 for the second, I thought that made the point well enough. The kids got the idea.

With my last group on Friday, I decided to be a bit more accurate. I found that gold was trading at £482 per ounce. That’s £5784 per troy pound. Only a talent is a lot more than a pound. I didn’t realise that estimations vary greatly, so I just went with the first conversion I found online. This is happening live in a classroom after all. By this conversion, a talent is equal to 91 troy pounds (rounding down the decimal places). That’s £526,344 per talent or a debt of £5,263,440,000. This is based on a talent being roughly equal to 34kg. Some estimates for the equivalent range as high as 60kg.

A denarius did not contain an ounce of silver. Because it was an actual coin of which there are existing examples, rather than a variable weight, it is much easier to calculate. A denarius contained 1/10 of a troy ounce of silver. The price of silver is current soaring at about $20 an ounce (my £10 an ounce guess was pretty good!), so a denarius contains about $2 or £1 of silver. Thus, 100 denarii is the equivalent of about £100.

Or if we calculate it based on the denarius as the daily wage of an unskilled labourer, we can compare it to the minimum wage. This is currently £5.52/hour in the UK. Multiply this by 8 hours and you get £44.16 a day. Multiply this by 100 and the second man’s debt is the equivalent of £4,416. The difference between £100 and £4,416 is insignificant when compared to £5.26 billion. (Or as much as £9.29 billion [$18.58 billion] for 60kg talents!)

How inconsequential and trivial are the offenses against us? Do we make them seem like they matter? Do we hold a grudge? If we do, we have not compared them to the forgiveness of God.

Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

Is unforgiveness really worth it?

Jews Mad At the Pope, Because They Don’t Want To Be Saved (Unless It is on Their Own Terms)

The Pope has changed the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Last year, when he re-authorised the Tridentine Mass, he included the 1962 prayer. Jewish organisations like the Anti-Defamation League got all upset. The ADL said it was “a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations, after 40 years of progress between the Church and the Jewish people.”

A theological setback? The Jewish ADL is pronouncing upon Catholic theology? Isn’t that just a little presumptuous? Not only is it a “theological setback”, but it apparently has some sort of affect on the religious life of Catholics. Do the ADL think that Catholic religious life takes one bit of notice of one liturgical prayer on one day of the year? It seems to me they are grasping for a reason to get offended.

The Pope has changed the prayer, but it isn’t good enough. The ADL says the changes are only “cosmetic revisions”.

The problem is that both prayers are essentially for God to have mercy upon the Jews and save them. Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations sums it up:

It is a disappointment. While I appreciate that the text avoids any derogatory language towards the Jews, it is regrettable that the prayer explicitly aspires for Jews to accept the Christian faith, as opposed to the text in the current universal liturgy that prays for the salvation of the Jews in general terms.

All I can hope for is that, through further dialogue, the full implications of the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of the eternity of the Divine Covenant with the Jewish people might lead to a deeper understanding of the value of Torah as the vehicle of salvation for the Jewish people.

The only problem is that if the Catholic Church recognises the value of the Torah “as a vehicle of salvation” it denies the Faith. Plain and simple. I’m sorry if that’s a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. There is no salvation outside of Christ. “He came to His own and His own did not received Him.” I’d say a prayer for mercy is about the kindess thing the Catholic Church could do.

I’ve put both versions of the prayer below the fold.

It would seem the Jewish lobbying organisations aren’t worried about Orthodox Christian-Jewish relations. Or maybe they can’t be bothered to go through the pages of our Good Friday liturgy. If the ADL and Rabbi Rosen want some theology, perhaps they should look there. I’ve also put some of that below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Beginning to Follow Church Tradition

When the Pope celebrated mass yesterday, he was the first leader of the Roman Church since Vatican II to turn away from the congregation and toward God. He used the ancient altar in the Sistine Chapel – the one set against the wall – and not a modern mobile altar that would allow him to face the people.

In the post-Vatican II era, the mass has been focused on communicating to the congregation, rather than in representing the congregation in the offering made to God. The priest faces away from the people because he is leading them to the presence of God. There are times when he turns around, but the focus is always to the altar. Orthodoxy has never lost this tradition in the Divine Liturgy.

St Basil the Great

Born just after the First Council of Nicea in 325 and reposing two years before the First Council of Constantinople in 381 (otherwise known as the First and Second Ecumenical Councils), one man is more responsible than any other for the key changes to the Creed ratified at the latter. Our father among the saints Basil of Caesarea – Basil the Great – helped us understand the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.

Not one to use a few words when 206 will do (at least in an English translation), in a sentence he summarises the nature of the Holy Spirit:

We are compelled to advance in our conceptions to the highest, and to think of an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of Its good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by Its inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature unapproachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air.

What does this mean for us?

So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives it, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.

In other words, we can have as much of the Holy Spirit as we can handle.

Multi-tasking

His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things things their being and sustains them in it. Just as the sun is not defiled by the contact of its rays with earthly objects, but rather enlightens and purifies them, so He Who made the sun is not defiled by being made known in a body, but rather the body is cleansed and quickened by His indwelling, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”

St Athanasius, On the Incarnation §17

Remember That You Were Strangers

Once again, I’ve been found using “Mike Huckabee theocracy theocrat” as a search string. It is always hard to tell if this is used by someone who thinks any Christian values in civil government is the equivalent of theocracy, or whether it is someone who can use it in the more specific sense of a particular set of views within Christian theology.

Since the former is really a straw man argument, it is pointless to argue with it. However, I am pretty sure that Huckabee would not fit within the usual bounds of the theocratic view, which is used as a synonym for – or close relative to – theonomy or Reconstructionism. That is not to say that he hasn’t been influenced by it – or even that he doesn’t have books by R J Rushdoony on his bookshelf, but he has not come across as a theonomist.

That being said, he does take the most theonomic view when it comes to the hot-hot-hot-button issue of immigration. It is one of the few policy areas where the other Republicans can “fault” him. After all, Tancredo and Hunter helped build the wall in California. Guiliani is protesting as much as he can that he didn’t run a sanctuary city and Romney that he didn’t hire undocumented aliens to work for him. Huckabee just keeps explaining over and over why he chose the policy about in-state tuition in Arkansas.

In my view, Huckabee is the only one approaching a biblical view on immigration. I don’t think he has one or supports one, but he comes the closest. I think he put the bar too high on the in-state tuition. I think a child of an undocumented adult who is domiciled in the state, has always lived in the State, and has no personal connection to any other jurisdiction should automatically get in-state tuition, whether or not they achieve a level of academic excellence not required of other children in the state. “One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.” (Exodus 12:49)

The treatment of aliens in the Old Testament, both legally and spirirtually, is a matter of God’s keen interest. They are not to be oppressed. “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the LORD, and it be sin to you.” (Deut. 24:14-15)

Just like the Israelites, we should remember that we were and are aliens. We were alienated from God, yet Christ died for us and gave us citizenship in heaven. And now that we have that citizenship, we have become strangers and aliens in this world.

One blogger criticised Huckbee as ridiculing the religious views of his opponents because they disagreed with his policy toward immigrants in Arkansas. Well, I’m not going to ridicule anyone; I’m just going to say they are wrong. There is no place in the heart of the believer for Nativism. It is a tenet of that form of idolatry known as American Civil Religion.

It is a patriotism that fails to acknowledge that every founding father was a stranger and an alien. They showed up in a place that didn’t belong to them without being invited, and in many cases stole the land from the previous inhabitants, driving them out with a combination of conventional and biological warfare. Native Americans were not even legally recognised as people until 1879 and did not have the full rights of citizenship until 1924.

The current influx of strangers in the land may have an impact on the current culture, but not nearly as much as the previous culture was impacted and nearly obliterated. How conveniently that is forgotten.

God doesn’t forget. He hears the cry of the oppressed and answers them. Those who fail to recognise this will have a lot to answer for.

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Who Instead of How

Mike’s got ’em worried. One of the searches that turned up my blog for someone was “huckabee (theocrat OR theocracy OR theoc. . . ” – it cuts off after 40 characters. After all, nobody wants a theocrat, unless he worships their theos. Everybody has one, even if they think they are a-theos. They are usually autotheist.

As a former Baptist pastor, it’s not surprising that Huckabee’s view of evolution is of interest to that handful of Americans who find it a convincing theory. I’m usually not one to embed YouTube videos, but I’ve added this one: