31 October 2016

They maintain the fabric of the world

The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; only the one who has little business can become wise. How can one become wise who handles the plough, and who glories in the shaft of a goad, who drives oxen and is occupied with their work, and whose talk is about bulls?

He sets his heart on ploughing furrows, and he is careful about fodder for the heifers. So it is with every artisan and master artisan who labours by night as well as by day; those who cut the signets of seals, each is diligent in making a great variety; they set their heart on painting a lifelike image, and they are careful to finish their work. So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil, intent on his ironwork; the breath of the fire melts his flesh, and he struggles with the heat of the furnace; the sound of the hammer deafens his ears, and his eyes are on the pattern of the object. He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork, and he is careful to complete its decoration. So it is with is the potter sitting at his work and turning the wheel with his feet; he is always deeply concerned over his products, and he produces them in quantity. He moulds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart on finishing the glazing, and he takes care in firing the kiln. All these rely on their hands, and all are skilful in their own work. Without them no city can be inhabited, and wherever they live, they will not go hungry. Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people, nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly. They do not sit in the judge’s seat, nor do they understand the decisions of the courts; they cannot expound discipline or judgement, and they are not found among the rulers. But they maintain the fabric of the world, and their concern is for the exercise of their trade.

- Ben Sirach 38:24-38

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Philippians 2:1-4
Luke 14:12-14

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends nor thy brethren nor thy kinsmen nor thy neighbours who are rich; lest perhaps they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. 
Luke 14:12b-13

Many Orthodox Churches have lunch after the main liturgy on Sunday, this is a great boon since those who take communion have been fasting since midnight. At Holy Trinity in San Francisco it's a huge meal, cooked by volunteers. At St Raphael's in Asheville, it was a potluck every week of good, down-home cooking. It was most often the largest meal of the week for me - very helpful when I was earning minimum wage. Father Joseph told us one day that, in fact, it was not simply for breaking the communion fast: rather the meal after the liturgy, called Trapeza by some (really, that's the name of the dining room in a monastery), is intended to be more communion: a sacred breaking of bread as a community. The Sacrament is not for everyone, but the Table Fellowship is. It's the Agape Meal of the New Testament, itself a continuation (and evolution) of a Jewish tradition called a Chavurah, which may or may not be related to the hellenic practice of the Symposium (as described by Plato). I say "may or may not" because it could be a direct connection, or it could be just a thing common to Mediterranean culture. To this sacred meal the Early Christians added the rite of communion, but by the middle of the first century it was already being broken away from the meal function.

Most other traditions of Christianity have dropped this meal entirely which is sad: it was, really, a sacramental practice for the community. The meal itself is not "the Body of Christ" but it is the Body of Christ gathered around the table. It was a time of actual communion with the Body for those who could not share in the sacramental Communion at the Altar. As we used to say at St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, "The feasting continues..." Other traditions, (almost everyone) have the "Coffee Hour" which can be more or less food, more or less formal. At St Mary the Virgin Church in Manhattan, back in the 1980s, at least, it involved a full tea service with Church Ladies pouring into china cups and a gentleman named Charles, IIRC, selling glasses of sherry. I do miss sherry after Mass...

Other traditions have huge potlucks often: once a month or once a quarter. However I find the further away from "sacramental" you get the further away you get from sharing food in community. That's not always the case, although I think some communities are really rather sacramentally-minded without realizing it.

So, following Jesus command to not hold feasts for ourselves: let's fantasize about what would happen the next time your religious community holds some kind of official food function... and you bring all the homeless people you passed on the way. As well as those you passed on the way that didn't want to come to church, as such, but showed up about an hour later waiting for the meal part. Maybe you handed out little cards with the address and time - and a reminder it happens every month or every Sunday at the same time.

How blessed would everyone be?

(I find people are happy to feed the homeless as long as they're out of site. What about announcing your scheduled meal on the reader board outside? That's just really scary.)

30 October 2016

Yaya knows... she knows...

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

And therefore thou chastisest them that err, by little and little: and admonishest them, and speakest to them, concerning the things wherein they offend: that leaving their wickedness, they may believe in thee, O Lord.
Wisdom 12:1-2

Yayas see everything. Everything. One of the things I was taught in Orthodoxy was "if you miss a liturgy for a month, you have excommunicated yourself and must go to Confession." It makes logical sense. Once, I missed liturgy for three years. Then, feeling homesick, I was standing, one Sunday in the line to kiss the cross at the local greek Parish. The nice woman in front of me said "it's nice to see you back, why do you not take communion?" YaYas see everything, you understand.  And I told her I was sort of a "Lapsed Orthodox" just here for praying and she laughed.  As I kissed the Cross and Father Chris' hand YaYa said, "He says he's an exorthodox, Father. Tell him there's no such thing."  Father Chris called me later that week and said, "I expect to see you at the Chalice on Sunday." And I said, "What time is Confession?"  He said, "In time, when you're ready. Come to the Chalice."

Among some Orthodox there is a tendency to stay away from Communion because "I'm not good enough". There is, of course, little within the Church's teaching to back that up: when is anyone ever "good enough"? In fact, the whole point of Communion is to give us bread for the journey, strength for the road. That's why it's called Viaticum: "via" goes "cum" with, or "on the road with". Father Chris knew what the Church knows: healing comes from communion. It doesn't precede it. To have Christ on the road with you is a requirement, not a reward.

Our scripture readings make that clear. In the book of Wisdom, we see God holding off judgement and whispering advice in love to move away from sin. In Thessalonians, Paul knows he's got a church filled with sinners: he's praying for them to grow into the fullness of their vocation. (Wherefore also we pray always for you: That our God would make you worthy of his vocation and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness. II Thessalonians 1:11) That means they are not there yet. Paul is loving them forward into God's grace.

But most bigly (double plus bigly? we're going to need training in this new English) dig God's grace in the Gospel: Jesus coming to the household of Zaccheus before he converts, before he claims faith, before he repents - he just wanted to look a minute. And Jesus yells up, Zacheus, make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house. (Luke 19:5) Jesus brings him into Table Fellowship and because of that there are miracles. Some of my Orthodox friends would point out here that Jesus responded to Zaccheus desire to seem him by self-revelation yet notice: Jesus was surely on the way there already. Z only heard he was coming and so then climbed a tree. Jesus is always ready to respond because he's always there, like Yayas. We have a synergy here, in our salvation, but God is always the leader in our dance. All creation responds to God's prevenient Grace.

Some of my more-progressive, Protestant friends make of such texts arguments for Open Communion (for everyone, even the non-baptised). I'm not willing to toss out 2000 years of Christian tradition as if we finally figured it out now. That's simply Chronological Arrogance. Yet the point of our fellowship, of our embracing the stranger is to use that embrace to draw the stranger into sojourning with us, and from thence to full, Fellow-Citizen in the Kingdom. We can't do that if we want to wait until "them" is pure enough to become, at least, half-way like us. We need to go out and get 'em while they're not and draw them in by prayer, by love, and by hospitality, like Jesus or your Yaya.

29 October 2016

Propped Up and Breathing

...to live is Christ: and to die is gain...
 Philippians 1:21b

A few years ago I had a sleep-study done.  I can snore enough to wake the dead, see. And it was bothering my housemates and, in fact, it was bothering the people upstairs. So... I had a sleep study. Bill Cosby has an excellent description of his father's snoring. He says the whole house breathes in and out with his dad and every once in a while, there will be a pause... and the whole family is like gasping for breath.  Then Dad takes a breath and AHHHHH the whole family breathes again. So I kind of imagined that would be what it was like for me. Every once in awhile.  But no: evidently I was stopping my breath and nearly dying 80 times every hour. So I got a CPAP breathing machine to wear at night. 

A friend of mine telling me about his CPAP reported how it had changed his life and he wished he could take it to the office just to keep the extra oxygen flowing to his brain. Since I'm pedantic, I had to clear it up: that's not how a CPAP works. The machine just keeps you inflated, as it were. You have to keep breathing yourself! A CPAP is not a breathing machine, it's more like a prop to keep your lungs open. You still have to keep alive. To get more oxygen at work, Bro, just breathe more. You're awake... breathe.

This verse (along with Galatians 2:19-20) is the Mystery of the Faith as far as I can tell. St Paul wants to go be with Christ full time - but knows that his people, the Church, can't do very well with his departure just yet. So he notes: to stay here (to live) is Christ and to leave (die) is to get my "final reward".  Get that: to live, to be here, to keep doing the thing you're doing, is Christ. In other words: to keep going is to bear my Cross.  To be fully alive (to be fully living in and through Christ) is an ongoing process of self-death and being Christ.

The Scriptures speak of all creatures having the breath in them, yet God has Life, the real Life - not just breathing. So, it's totally possible to breathe your way through the world and die. Humans are designed to live the life of God. We are crafted in his image, we are made with a God-shaped gaps in our being and yet we want to (or I will, anyway)  do anything to avoid plugging into the real Power Source. We will make anything into a CPAP to help us not-stop breathing. It can be work, or money, or politics, or sex, or drugs, music, jogging, flying airplanes, whatever. Roller coasters and scary movies are good examples, too. We use it to "feel alive". We have to catch our breath and we have to feel the adrenaline rush or the endorphins. We can even make it into an addiction. Sex and "adult entertainment" can be made to get more and more twisted as we get more and more bored with the old stuff. So we need a stronger hit next time. But man, I feel alive. O mighty CPAP, just keeping us propped and feeling something.  

We never notice that we've stopped working, just sort of hovering at the edge of things, feeling the breath come and go. But hey, I'm only dying 80 times an hour.

God is life. If we stop pretending all that stuff is living... and just plug in, grok, God's right there.  Letting all that stuff go will not just "feel like dying". No: it is dying. It's dropping the puedo-life of this world completely in exchange for the real thing. 

28 October 2016

You Ain't from Round Here, is You?

Ephesians 2:19-22
Luke 6:12-16

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners...
Ephesians 2:19a

I move a lot. At fifty-plus, I've still never been in the same place for more than 4 Christmases. It's not like I don't try: but life in the lower-middle class (or upper lower-class, whatever) is lived from paycheck to paycheck. My last layoff left me stranded in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in America. My only defense was more mobility. That is one thing I can do. I've been doing it since I was born: never spending too much time in one place was a skill my mother learned from her father, the train-riding hobo. Mom and Dad were both in the Air Force: moving was a given.

Someone coming from outside to "here" for the first time or recently is a stranger. We've never met him before and he smells funny. Someone who has been around for a while - but ain't from here - is a sojourner. You can be a sojourner for a lot of time if you're in a small town. In a big city it won't take as long before you "become" a native. In and after college, I lived in NYC for 12 years, with 8 different addresses.  At the point when I had been in SF for the same amount of time (with 9 different addresses) I began to feel sort of like an SFer. SF, however, is very different than a small town in Alabama.  In the latter they will know - nearly forever - that you're not from there: you stay a Sojourner all your life. At your requiem, the old ladies will say, "He was nearly like one of us, weren't he?"  In SF, a new generation of newbies shows up every couple of years. You're the relative native in no time at all.

A friend of mine, who was an Episcopal Priest, once said he had gotten use to the idea there was no home for him in this world. I am with him on this - based only on my moving experience, although San Francisco and Asheville, NC, feel most like home to me. (If you ask me, yes, generally I feel rather sympathetic to refugees of any sort or condition.)

The Church, says St Paul, is rather more like San Francisco than that small town in Alabama. One might be a neophyte, still learning things, but from the mystery of Baptism, one already stands at the the One Table of our One Lord, Jesus, both God and Man, surrounded by Patriarchs, Prophets, and the Pious of all ages, especially the Most Blessed, Ever Glorious, and All Holy Virgin Mary. We are all in it, together.  We don't get to say, "You're not good enough because you came from some other place."  We don't get to say "you can't pray in that language" and we don't get to confuse our country - the "Holy" Mother or "Holy" Father Land - with the kingdom of God and thus make other countries into something less than our "holy" place.

The Apostles (today we remember, especially, St Simon and St Jude) came from one, tiny place and went all over the world. Wherever they went, they had to create/plant/bring Church with the Eucharist, the Apostolic succession and teaching. Whenever Christians came together at the table of the Lord, they were Home.

That is how it is for us - or it should be. We've got some growing up to do: when a headline reads "to understand our country, you must look at our church" and then spends pages of space discussing the political situation - with nothing about Jesus at all - you know you're in the wrong place. It can't be church married to the politics like that. It's just an arm of the state. Is outrage! And anyone who has visited such a place knows that the "natives" make all the strangers learn to be natives, not of the Kingdom of God but of that earthly "holy" mother, that sojourners must grow to pretend to be natives looking down on others, and people confuse working out their salvation with dressing up in folk costumes for the highest holy day of the year:  the annual Parish Food Festival.

In the world we are strangers to each other. In the Table Fellowship of God we are fellow-citizens: that makes us brothers and sisters to each other and, in the world, we are only Sojourners, now. We're just here, just passing through.

Come home. Time to leave the childish foolishness of the world behind and go to Church.

27 October 2016

Needed Armor in the Year of Mercy

Ephesians 6:10-20
Luke 13:31-35

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

The readings from Paul's letter to the Ephesians this week have seemed to confirm a lot of social norms. I hope my postings from the last couple of days have showed otherwise: God wants us to be like leaven, making little changes here and there, taking what is good, moving forward. Paul didn't want to overthrow all of the culture of Rome: yes there were some things wrong with it, but Paul didn't blame the Romans for that problem. In fact, over and over, the Apostles and the tradition of the Church seems to say mankind would have been ok, prepped for the Gospel "with the law written in our hearts", but for one thing: demons. There is no god, Zeus, but there is a demon that has made us imagine that deity. There is no goddess commanding sexual immorality as her worship, but there are evil spirits doing so.

To win all the Romans away from the demons, Paul and the other Fathers needed to baptize the culture - bringing into the Church what was godly - but also to liberate it from demonic immorality. To change the world, you must change hearts. Those hearts are not corrupted by self-abuse: demons do it. Paul really seems to believe if you change people's hearts, all this other stuff (which is not even fit to be named among the saints) will just stop. Model Christian charity in your relationships and soon, people will ask why your relationships are different. When people see their brother or sister in Christ is this person they have maltreated, they will stop treating them thus.

We wrestle not with flesh and blood, with the person, the icon of God standing in front of us, rather we approach them with mercy. Pope Francis has named this the Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Roman Catholic Church, but God's mercy is not limited to one year only, nor is it a special project needed only in the Catholic Church. We all need to be reminded of God's mercy. The person you see attacking you is not the source of the attack. We should not be moved into a defensive posture - Jesus is our armor and he has already won the battle! Rather we should be moved by pity for this person who is being spurred by the demons like a horse by a vicious rider. It matters not if the attack is from courts, various sexual errors, or being yelled by "radical atheists". The party in front of you is only a tool: not the source. Inside their soul is being killed too - just as yours is if you are moved by anger.

When we realize that the attack coming at us is not coming from this person here and now, but from demons who have deluded that person into saying or doing things, then we can be open to show God's mercy and win a new brother or sister from the demons. Attacking other humans is right out. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. It's the spiritual powers that we're fighting. These are not destroyed by logical argument or by yelling and screaming. You do not win fights with demons by posts on Facebook or angry tweet storms: but you can drive away a person God has given you to love. We need to woo our human brothers and sisters away from the demons. This may be by steps in a logical argument, or by emotions. Bishop Robert Barron says to show them the Beautiful parts of our faith and let them fall in love - we can get the teaching and morality later.  This is, I think, St Paul's teaching as well. 

Notice what we are given (in verses 13-17): truth (a title for Jesus), righteousness (a title for Jesus), peace (a title for Jesus). Then there is faith (which I would read as my trust in Jesus) and my salvation (in Greek, wholeness/healing - which is only by communion with Jesus) and the sword of the Spirit, the "Word of God" although here the Greek uses not "logos" but "rhema" meaning the teaching of God. What weapons we are given, mostly, are all Jesus and our faith and communion in him. It's not very martial at all unless you're a demon. For our defense in the world - where we wrestle not with flesh and blood - all we are given is Love himself. All to proclaim the Gospel to those around us.

This verse has been on my mind a lot lately and here it comes up in the daily lections for mass. Why, you might ask, has this verse been on my mind? This seems even more important to say as the election is looming up in front of us. Even the candidate of the "other side" is a human being created in God's image. How much more so his or her supporters who disagree with you on every side, who call you names, who even question your faith because of your political choices. At the end of the day, only the demons will profit from two persons, created in God's image, having a huge fight in person or on line. But if you bring that person into a healed communion with you, in Jesus' name, then you have gained a brother, and saved his soul and yours.


26 October 2016

Self Will is Wrong Will

Ephesians 6:1-9
Luke 13:22-30

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.
Ephesians 6:5

This is one of those hard places in the Church's tradition. In fact this whole chapter from Ephesians is - yesterday I totally ignored the obvious "Wives submit yourselves to your husbands" on purpose. I wanted to come to this verse where Paul, to modern eyes, says "there's nothing wrong with slavery" and that very point has been taken by both Abolitionists and slaveholders.

And they're both wrong.

Paul is talking to a small sect of specific persons - what you think? Maybe 30,000 in all the empire? This is not a revolution, yes. This is brewing one. As with marriage - in fact, as with most of Roman Culture he encounters - Paul is subverting it but not, yet, overthrowing it. He's making sacraments out of the whole thing so it can be changed.

Paul has come across a social custom - slavery - about which we can guess his attitude (see the entire epistle of Philemon) and he has this problem. The first Christian in a house may be slave or free, male or female, young or old. Paul wants the entire household to come into the Church but he knows if he sends someone back preaching revolution there's just going to be a lot of slammed doors. In fact, even after the whole family converts (see Philemon, again) revolution won't happen instantly. It takes a long while for Christians to grow into the fullness of the Kingdom and even then it will only be "as far as they can bear it" because individual humans can only get so far in this life. So: slow and steady wins the race.

Paul started this train of thought in Chapter 5, verse 21. "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." And then he begins to speak in culturally appropriate ways not as commands but as examples... Wives obey your husbands. Husbands reverence your wives, children obey your parents and respect your elders, parents don't abuse your children, and today's lines, slaves obey your masters and masters do the same to them (verse 9 - and also, again, 5:21). It's important to realize that, in Church, it could be the slave that was the priest - or even the Bishop. No matter who they are in the world, at the table of the Lord, they are all in it together.

Have you ever read CS Lewis' Space Trilogy? I'm thinking especially of of the third book, That Hideous Strength just now. There's a character, Mrs Ivy Maggs, who is a housemaid. At the beginning of the book, in fact, she's cleaning the house of the Heroine. As the plot develops (no spoilers), Mrs Maggs becomes quite important and, because of her developing Christian faith, the Heroine must learn that it is quite possible for a housemaid to also be one's equal, one's superior and, one's friend, and finally one's sister, all the while still being a housemaid.

Paul is walking the Church at Ephesus through this process. We only get one snapshot, but we see him doing the same thing in other places, other epistles. Paul is using if you will, Identity Sacramentalism: each person's cultural identity - slave, wife, children, etc - becomes a teaching sacrament aimed at the powerful. This is possible because, in Christ, each person is an icon of God. How do you paint the icon of God as a slave? How as a housemaid?

The question is how to apply it now, today? It's 100% true that mutual obedience is still the path of Christian virtue. Self-will leads only to one place...

We live in a world of "Demand Your Rights" and "Overthrow the Oppressors!" "Eat the Rich!" "Not in my backyard!" "We are the 99%!" Paul's solution to this problem is evangelism. As the Tao te Ching says, "Water flows to the lowest place and fills up the valley". By being the lowest we conquer. No protests, no revolutions, no overthrow. But subversion.

And self-will is not that. Decidedly not that.

25 October 2016

How to Make it all Rise.

Ephesians 5:21-33
Luke 13:18-21

The Kingdom of God is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.
Luke 13:21

I heard a preacher once get this horribly wrong. I knew he wasn't a baker as a result of hearing his take on this. He pointed out that in those days "leaven" wasn't powdered yeast like we buy in the store. It was a moist goop that you saved for ever because you might not be able to get more - and your family needed bread daily. So you needed leaven daily.  His theory was that this woman had used up all her yeast on these three measures of flour and the point of the parable was how extravagant God is. But any baker knows this is exactly what you do with traditional leaven - what we would call sourdough today: you pour it all in... you stir it up and you let it rise... then you take a pinch of the dough and set it aside as the leaven for tomorrow. (You don't use just a pinch of the old leaven to start a new loaf because all of the leaven needs to be "fed" as it is call, to keep it burping away. Once the whole loaf is active, then you set aside a cup or so for tomorrow)

That's what the Kingdom of God is like.

A little leaven is all it takes to "leaven the whole lump" as St Paul says in Galatians. Remember Jesus is talking to 12 guys on a dirty road one day, or, maybe, a couple hundred in a field one day and pops off with some version of "We're going to change everything". It went from 12 guys to billions and billions of people throughout history. In the first 300 years it took over essentially the known world. In the next 800 years, nearly everything. It went from being something know one ever heard of to being the thing everyone had to respond to - either yes or no.

I'm not here to debate the content of the truth: but rather to note it's like a little yeast. You're still free to say no...

But the bread is rising.

Once upon a time there was essentially only one Christian in all of the East - and he had to run away and hide in the Roman west: heretics had taken over and everyone was killing the orthodox Christians. The last one - Maximus the Confessor - by his death, saved the Catholic Faith in the east. All it takes is a little leaven. Ireland was converted entirely without bloodshed by faithful missionaries: a little leaven. St Raphael of Brooklyn travelled the width of the country (by train) several times, teaching the faithful and encouraging them to pray in their homes and keep the traditions. A little leaven.The Russian sea chaplains that visited the Russians in San Francisco and gave them the Sacraments created from their ships and created the Oldest Orthodox Community in the lower 48 - a Little Leaven. Benedict XVI made explicit the existing permission to use the traditional Latin Mass to the entire Catholic church and began a huge outreach that has even affected the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite with the "Reform of the Reform" - a little leaven. Mother St Teresa, Dorothy Day, Blessed Cardinal Newman. All just a little leaven.

One traditional prayer for the morning asks God to use me to bless each person I come in contact with throughout the day, "whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breath, or the life I live." We can be leaven in so many ways.

It only takes a little - and the whole lump will rise.

You, what are you doing? It only takes a little.

24 October 2016

Peppercorn Rent

Ephesians 4:32- 5:8
Luke 13:10-17

Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Ephesians 5:4

This is so very hard for me. Moving away from the secular world into the Christian one, one realizes how much of modern, secular culture is predicated on sexual content. We can make some obvious comment here about "adult" entertainment, freely available on the internet, if you wish. But that is only a symptom. It's all-pervasive hypersexualism.

Paul seems to indicate that it was present in Ephesus in the first century and that the Resurrected Christ called people out of that. How do we live into this new method of communication?

So, I find myself in conversations where I want to drop an F bomb, as the saying goes, and I have to stop. I catch myself nearly using a sexual innuendo or tossing out a sex-ladened joke, even one that is clean.

I watched a "Christian Comedian" the other day who - without using one bad word all night - carried on contrary to the Apostle's counsel for nearly two hours, with evangelicals laughing. When he grabbed on to some man's bicep and started to comment about how big it was I nearly lost it because come on... are we all so desirous to blend in that we don't care even if it's homoerotic humor? We can be just like you heathens... but we do it for Jesus. Paul says, "No, you don't." Paul wants all that humor and levity and coarseness and filthiness to be replaced with thanksgiving. Now, I confess I got no idea what means.

In the South we don't gossip: we offer prayer requests: "Samantha, I need you to pray for my friend Louis, bless his heart. His wife has been dating the butcher and Louis just found out. His kids are all still in the house and Louis has found out that all them are really the Butcher's too, and he's been loving on them for 15 years, the oldest one, and youngest one just last year. And, dear Jesus, you'd think he might have known something with all their red hair, but his Daddy's Momma had red hair so he thought was just in the family. So she done kicked him out of the house and the butcher's moved in and Louis is staying with my wife and me, Jesus help him. " And I can imagine St Paul's advice here would be applied with equal gusto, "Lord I thank you that she is so hot..." Of course all that is levity and silly talk. And I can't seem to help myself either.

I love the quote above - that swearing is just "peppercorn rent" to the devil who is really in charge. How do we move away?

But I'm working hard at getting the sex talk out: what's so frustrating is, being aware, how common it is, how many times you have to say "not going to say that" or "just going to ignore that". It happens at business meetings, on the bus, in church (both in the first and second person). I have a good friend who gets a seriously pained look on his face when it comes up at Church and I find myself taking comfort in his look, because at least one other person hears what I hear.

Can we step away from the sex talk? Or the use of irony and sarcasm? Can we stop the making fun of, and the verbal abuse of others at least in the first person? Can I?

23 October 2016

Who has the better parties?

Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-18
II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself...
Luke 18:11

We live in an age of self-disclosure and self-description or so we tell ourselves. The Pharisee was only describing himself. It would have been valid, don't you think, if he had left off only the part deprecating the poor publican. He was perfectly right to be proud of what he had done - he's not an extortioner, not unjust, doesn't commit sexual sins, he follows the rules, and even gives over and above the required donation, he tithes from everything. There - again, except for his deprecation of the other party - is a pretty awesome dude, no? He might even show up on Oprah these days, or at Joel Osteen's place. He could be part of any version of the Prosperity Gospel, no matter where it's preached (again, minus that beating up on the poor publican). Were he to run for office in our world, we might only have a campaign advisor tell him to stop with the negative ads. We like someone who can blow their own trumpet under the spotlight.

The Greek almost puts it in scare quotes: it says "he stood thus: moving toward himself, praying." Later (verse 13) using the same word for self (auton) the Publican is described as "striking the breast of himself."

Looking around my blog... noting how much of it is "moving to himself" instead of "striking the breast of himself" and, even, aware that if he was striking his breast on the blog it would just be showing off...

Thing is: the publican really was doing self-disclosure. Not our modern Self-Disclosure, but the real thing. He knew himself, he knew that he was the problem in the equation, not the solution. Apart from his political stance (you have to suck up to the Romans to get this job) we know nothing about him: for all we know he tithed, was sexually pure, did not extort money, and was quite just in his dealings with people. We know nothing else about him except that he's a tax collector. We learn most about our own biases (and the biases of Jesus' first century audience) when we judge the publican.

It was in knowing himself correctly - ie in relation to God and others - that he was saved. It was in right relationship, in humility before God and man, that this man went down from the Temple justified. I bet dinner parties were something at his house: friendly, warm, welcoming. Of course no one wanted to go because he voted for the wrong party and - worse - that party had won the election! (But we're gonna get them - and this guy too, damn him! Just wait and see...) so no one went to his house when he threw parties. But I bet he was a great host.

Now the other dude, I bet his parties were pretty awesome too, and maybe you'd covet an invite because all the right people would be there (and they voted for OUR SIDE and eventually we will win cuz God votes for us too)! But I bet he makes you wear bowties - and it's not even dress up fun, but he makes you wear them because that's what you do. You've got to know which fork to use on the starter. He will quiz you on what you had for lunch, because to be kosher you have to stay away from the other (Milk or Dairy) for X amount of time and if you don't follow the rules you can stay - of course! I invited you - but, you know, I can't feed you: we'd all be impure then. They were stage-perfect parties, but I bet no one had any fun.

It is in humility that we come into right relationship. Not because we need to beat ourselves up - there is a false humility too, wears well on your false self - but because that's who we really are we are: humility, from humus, earth. We are Sons of Adam - the Earth Creature. This is, I think, why God won't ignore the pleas of the Fatherless and Widow - they know where they are. They have no pretension. Of course they, too, can have a bloated ego, demand their rights, etc, etc. But before God we don't have rights: we have awe and humility. And before our fellow man: the image of God, we should have the same. Humility is the foundation of prayer (as noted yesterday), it is also the root of all the virtues. We can not love or serve without first being humble. Then, truly, the prayer of the lowly pierces the heavens. (Pro Tip: when ever giving alms, ask for prayers... cuz they will get heard long before yours.)

We live in an age of self-disclosure and self-description or so we tell ourselves. But if we fail at right relationship, how can we know ourselves? The true self is a communion, a dance of self-emptying service before the Other. If I am not in that dance, then my self-description is in error, it is a false self that I describe and feed. The Pharisee wasn't "into himself" but rather faking it. Apart from God, the only real Self in the picture, there was only the Publican in the Temple that day. The rest was smoke and mirrors.

22 October 2016

Freedom of Choice.

Ecclesiasticus 15:9-20
Revelation 10:1-11
Luke 11:1-13

If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
Ecclesiasticus 15:15-16

There is this debate between the Church and most Protestants (Wesleyans excluded) about this idea that you can pick fire or water: "whichever you wish". Calvinists teach that you can do nothing, at all: God either picks you or he doesn't. Wesleyans, together with the tradition of the Ancient Church expressed in Rome and the East, offer the Good News that God's grace is all around us.  Think, if you will of air... we are made to breathe air. It's there: and, once we get the first gasp, we just keep going until we die. God is like that: there, present. Forming our hearts to desire him at all turns. And right there, is the choice... you can breathe... or you can die.

Suicide is painless. It's always an option. But it's never God's choice.

Jesus is right there: Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Luke 11 9-10

Now a Calvinist will insist that not everyone will knock and anyone who knocks is already saved... but you can walk away.  You can decide to try things that are not part of the game. It's even possible to blame it on God:

Do not say, "Because of the Lord I left the right way"; for he will not do what he hates.  Do not say, "It was he who led me astray"; for he had no need of a sinful man. The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him. It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. Ecclesiasticus 15:11-14

I was born this way (I can hear Lady Gaga singing now).  This must be the way God wants me to be.  Humphrey Bogart's character in The African Queen would agree:  He says, as Charlie Allnut, "What are you being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature." To this theological claim Katherine Hepburn, as Rose Sayer, offers this reply: "Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."  Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches!  "Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him."

We are frail and faulty. God knows this. " For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man." But he has given us a way out. "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  Asking and receiving the Holy Spirit, we can move on. We can not blame God for our sin, because " He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin."

The way up is on our knees and that requires access: first, we must kneel. "Humility is the foundation of prayer." We can not be proud of our sin, our success, our politics, nor our position.  But in humility we can move on.

Of course, our real problem, as American Christians, especially, is we equate "keeping the commandments" with something called "Works Righteousness" and we will ask (even if we are not Protestants) "If we can keep the commandments by our choice, then what is the need of Christ?" That would be a whole other essay, so, only basic response now: keeping the commandments has nothing to do with "getting into heaven".  Salvation is not a "get out of hell free" card. Jesus is not a fire escape. The commandments, as such, are there to show us how we fail to live up to God's life. Keeping them is not a matter of obeying the rules - but of participating in God's life by which we live the commandments within ourselves. When we are living in God, death is a transitus only to a more-full living of that life. We can't get there by keeping the rules. But, again, that's a whole other essay.

21 October 2016

But this time it's different.

Ecclesiasticus 11:2-20
Revelation 9:13-21
Luke 10:38-42

There is a man who works, and toils, and presses on, but is so much the more in want. There is another who is slow and needs help, who lacks strength and abounds in poverty; but the eyes of the Lord look upon him for his good; he lifts him out of his low estate and raises up his head, so that many are amazed at him. Good things and bad, life and death, poverty and wealth, come from the Lord. 
Ecclesiasticus 11:11-14

Good things and bad come from the Lord. He's speaking in human terms, not moral, nor theological terms. Certainly neither poverty nor wealth has a moral category as such, right? Not like death, right? Hm, maybe he's talking about something else?

Lately there's been a lot of liberal think pieces about how pitiable the poor, uneducated folks are, that "we" have driven them to voting for the Donald. I'm sure that if the tables were turned (and maybe they are in some part of the net to which I don't normally go) the conservative intelligentsia would be writing think pieces about why poor, immoral liberals are supporting the former First Lady and how pitiable they are. Also, nothing annoys either side so much as saying "well, I'm supporting your candidate because lesser of two evils." Imagine all the times you've seen or participated in one side beating up on a strawman version of the other side. Name-calling is the least of our worries. We have forgotten St Paul's line "we wrestle not with flesh and blood."

So today, Jesus comes along and whispers, "You are anxious and troubled about many things. One thing is needful"

It's hard to imagine what that one thing might be in our current time, right? Because all I really want is to tell you for whom God wants you to vote and to make sure you do it right, early, and often...

When this election is over, in the few moments we'll have before either the beginning of the 2020 election cycle or the armed revolution, will we be able to look up - no matter who we voted for - and say "good and bad both come from the Lord"?

Will we be able to go back to, you know, loving our neighbor as ourselves?

In another place St Paul reminds us that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. All things? Even the election of that #$%^%$? And, in another, nothing will separate us from the Love of God in Christ. Nothing? Not even the fact that she voted for that #$%$&? And, in another, we have been made more than conquerors through the blood of Christ. Conquerors of what? Cuz if So-and-so gets elected there's no hope for our sort of Christians ever again.

The Saints, Canons, Scriptures and Our Lord tell us God's got this, it's all for your good, and get working out your salvation. The Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. And yet we still imagine that our real issue as Christians is who gets to sit in the Oval Office.

We are a strange lot are we not?

20 October 2016

I got that one DOWN, Lord.

Ecclesiaticus 10:1-18
Revelation 9:1-12
Luke 10:25-37

And who is my neighbor?
Luke 10:29b

This parable is so rich, so densely packed with content that I think we should be unpacking it until the Three Woes (Rev 9:12) are all passed and we are praising God in glory.

The young lawyer is there to test Jesus, and - seeking to Justify Himself - he says, yeah, I get that love God love neighbor stuff, but who is my neighbor?

There are, I think, two ways to read this. So let's ride this train first: We might - as I have been in many recent meditations - read the question as directed to the Church which is the Body of Christ.  Someone, the world maybe, is asking us, the Church, what they must do to be saved and we tell them all the Gospel: Love God, Love Neighbor.  I think that is a fair reading, and it might go well with the thoughts from yesterday, where, in proclaiming the Gospel, the Church might be called to martyrdom.  I think, however, there is another thing here for there is the entirety of the parable that follows.  And, let's face it, "Justifying Himself" really sounds more like a first-person problem in the Church than outside. Nowadays the outsiders really don't care about us at all.

So the Church comes to Jesus and says "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus gives us a theological answer... and we got that down, right, Gentle Reader? So we want to rest on our theological laurels, our theolaurels, as it were.  We Are Orthodox.

But then Jesus pulls us aside and points at Doctors Without Borders, which has no creed at all but runs around the world - even in war-torn areas - and takes care of people.  He points out the Sikhs who feed millions of people in their temples every year simply to celebrate the abundance one has when one shares. Jesus leans in and quietly whispers (in the words of my friend, Ana) "Sometimes the Pagans are better Christians than the Christians..."

Jesus waves that vision away and points at medical ministries and local food pantries, run by Papists and Protestants - even ultra-liberal Protestants, with Ordained Women and Gays! He shows how they give away metric tonnes of food to the hungry, giving them free healthcare at the same time.  He says, again, "Sometimes the Papists and Prots are better..."

Jesus notes the actions of a few Orthodox monastics who happily avoid going to where "traditional piety" would assign them and to go live in urban centers, feeding and caring for those around them without bothering to ask about their theology. How Orthodox missionaries are not "preaching" with words, but healing and feeding. How even church door opened in the name of mercy alone can let it thousands of starving souls...

Then he looks us in the eyes and says "Which of these, do you think, is proved neighbor?"

19 October 2016

Sea Beast and She who Rides

Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice, as it flew in midheaven, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets which the three angels are about to blow!"
Revelation 8:13

I confess this Election Cycle has me down. I don’t vote and I have not since 1982. I’ve been of the opinion that lesser of two evils is a sucky way to run things. But I’ve been watching and I’ve watched new messiahs rise up on the left and on the right and, in all cases, the messiah rises and the higher they rise, the harder they fall. I wonder that no one notices the pattern, or how it is that things only tend to go from bad to worse. How can people who claim to want XYZ can send a politician into a job, and not only get no XYZ but, in fact, get a whole lot of not-XYZ and rejoice? Not-XYZ was what we really wanted! Or, more often, they will produce charts showing that Not-XYZ is really XYZ.

But something about this one feels downright wrong. The whole system seems to say “You want XYZ but I’m going to ram Not-XYZ down your throat and you are going to like it. A lot.” I’m hearing that from all sides, the liberals, the conservatives, the indies: it’s like one huge ponzi scheme. There’s rabble. There’s pitchforks. There’s firebombing. It feels like we’re descending into the chaos we in the USA have often generated in other parts of the world... but that we’re doing it to ourselves. I don’t think we need too much help, although I’ve heard claims the Russians are ruining this one. If by ruining, you mean “letting all the dirt out” then yeah, ok. So then the trumpets come from Revelation. It can feel like we’re dealing with the Sea Beast with Ten Heads and She Who Rides on his Back...

That’s when the purpose of Revelation comes in. Over and over it says, “Yes, things are going to suck, and not your normal I didn’t pass my driving test and the prom is tomorrow suck, either, but more like human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria suck." And when things get to the totally most suckiest, God will be glorified.

But God is not often glorified the way we want. In fact, God is glorified in our lives, and in their ending we make ourselves most like his son: and then he is fully glorified.

To be honest this election scares me. I know some folks, partisans, will say that other person is evil, this person is ok. But I don’t think so at all. In fact, for faithful Orthodox and Catholic folks, at least, and I would imagine a few other religious folks an intolerant dictator on the left or on the right makes no nevermind. The church, up and down this hemisphere, has suffered persecution from the left and from the right. In a few places the Church “got in bed” with a dictator, but in almost all places it was the state feeling mighty rejected by the Church, pulling out her guns and popping the Bride of Christ in the head. From the Left in Cuba, from the Right in El Salvador, from the Center (with American support) in Mexico: the church has been shot at, hanged, stabbed, imprisoned, starved, divested, and in every way trampled under the feet of the state. If it has not yet been the Orthodox Church it is because she’s not big enough to be on anyone’s radar.

But Revelation is right: things will get pretty durn sucky long before they get better.

On Sunday Pope Francis canonized two martyrs (among others). Both were killed by secularist regimes that claim to have no official religion - although we well know that secular humanism is a religion in its own right. One was killed in France following the Revolution - from the Left. The other was killed in Mexico - from the Center, with American support.

I think we have much to learn from these Martyrs as we do from those called the “New Martyrs” of Russia - those slain under the Communist yoke. In fact, nearly all the martyrs of the last century or two were killed by “respectable” governments, those recognized by the other governments of the world as legitimate. Most of them were acting within their rights. None of them were invaded by “international peacekeepers” for the crimes they committed.

I think we, faithful and (o)rthodox Christians in America, have only a choice to make, next week, between which side of the spectrum the firing squad will stand on. Beyond that, we have to glorify God.

Here, from the movie, For Greater Glory is the martyrdom of St Jose Sanchez del Rio - his icon is at the top of this post. It’s a French version of the film, sorry: I couldn’t find an English clip on YeTubez. Before the scene we’re about to see, the tortures demanded he deny Christ. And when he responded with Viva Christa Rey! (Long live Christ the King!) they gashed his feet before making him walk through the town. The only thing you need to know, I think, is right at the end, looking at his mother, he says, again, those words.

And so God is glorified. If we have the Beast from the Sea and She who Rides on his back, let’s not worry about that. In fact, if that’s who we got here then Glory to God: this whole thing is almost over. But, it could still suck, even if we just have dim foreshadows of a far distant event. I think it will suck. I keep praying I’m wrong. But I see no evidence of being wrong yet.

May we all glorify God in our lives and in our deaths.

And may St Jose pray for us!

17 October 2016

If you only knew what Eternity is.

Ecclesiasticus 4:20-5:7
Revelation 7:1-8
Luke 9:51-62

Do not say, "I sinned, and what happened to me?" for the Lord is slow to anger. Do not be so confident of atonement that you add sin to sin. Do not say, "His mercy is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins," for both mercy and wrath are with him, and his anger rests on sinners. Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth, and at the time of punishment you will perish.

I had a class once in the Church Fathers. It was amazing to me to read the saints of the first four centuries and to hear, to my American ears, how much they sounded like modern, Protestant, liberal American religion. It was astounding. It was so astounding, in fact, that when the class was over, we asked the teacher to teach a second class. Instead of reading a textbook with selected quotes, we decided to read source material (in translation). So, for example, instead of reading snippets of Justin Martyr, we read the full text of both of his Apologies.  Instead of quotes from st Irenaeus of Lyons, we read his Against Heresies.  (Since his Apostolic Preaching had been referenced, I read that as well on my own.)

The difference was night and day.

As I pointed out in the discussions, “All the stuff we read last year is here, of course. But in context it tends to say the opposite of what we heard it say last year.”  Warm, fuzzy quotes about God’s all inclusive love (which are in the Church Fathers) are bracketed with stern warnings about his wrath. Prompts to right action are introduced and completed with prompts to right faith.  Advice to dance and sing before the Lord is predicated on most of life spent prostrate before him in humility.

God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s kindness, if you will, cannot be assumed, presumed, or taken advantage of. This is not a problem with God: but with us: Do not be so confident of atonement that you add sin to sin. God, who is kind, loving and merciful, has given us rules, commandments, and strictures, not because breaking those rules is bad, per se, but because if we don’t have rules we run amok. If all we have is mercy, then we presume on it, we take advantage of it. It’s not that God will take us in our sin and destroy us - but that sin is destructive in and of itself. We make our choice.

Imagine God is a warm, snuggly blanket on top of a comfy bed with lots of pillows by a nice fire, all on a winter’s night with snow falling outside and sleigh bells off in the distance.

But you’re sitting in another room where there is no fire and watching TV. You can whine all you want about the cold. You can complain that your teeth are chattering and your fingers getting frostbite. The TV hurts your eyes in the darkness and the wetness from your eyes is actually freezing on your face.  Do that all you want: you’re free to do so.  But unless you get up and walk into the other room all that kindness and coziness will be of no use to you. You can even get up and, instead, walk out into the cold and listen to the sleigh bells off in the distance: but that will just make your gradual chilliness get worse.  Eventually you will die, alone, in the darkness, with your TV.  All you have to do was come into the warmth.

There are some that will refuse to ever do that.

And, truth be told, coming out of all that cold into the warmth can even burn. It can feel like the roaring fire is angry. Like the blanket is just as cold as you are and nothing will ever warm you up again - you might even leave the room a couple of times. All you need to do is sit. Quiet. Wait.

The reality is there are a lot of people by the fire with you: but out in the cold, it’s just you and the TV.  By the fire you will never be alone. You’re free to leave anytime you wish but the only thing out there is the lonely TV. Some folks will want the lonely TV after the power is off and all things have frosted over and even the sleigh bells have stopped. Then the door will be shut and locked and the cozy fire forever out of reach or else, so warm and strong that to even come near the door - after so long at Absolute Zero - will be to shatter oneself into loss. So even a religious leader dedicated to mercy can be sad when someone walks out the door. The open door of God's mercy is both an entrance and an exit.

The Church Fathers are a conversation - as is, to the honest, the Bible. The teaching of the Church is an ongoing Rabbinic dialogue. Yes, there are those voices that are all about judgment and sin. Yes, there are those voices that are all about love and mercy. Jesus is about both, of course, and the conversation itself is about both. It's not a democratic voting process - whereby we can elect who we like. Nor is it an evolution whereby we can change things. God does not change. Mercy and wrath are both with him. It is us who must change to conform to him. The conversation is about how best to do that, and how best to keep in the middle, not straying to any excess that can lead people astray. But the time to enter that conversation, to commit yourself to be in the center is always now. Eternity is too late.

And yet we do pray for God's mercy on all souls - especially those most in need of him. Which includes me: so I ask your prayers that I not leave the fireside.

16 October 2016

Crucifixion: Tesseract

In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.
Colossians 1:24

This verse came up in a conversation about Paul's teaching and Francis of Assisi's reception of the Stigmata - the matching of signs on his body with the physical wounds of Christ in the Crucifixion. A discussion ensued about what Paul means - because, as the WR Orthodox say in the Anaphora of St Tikhon, Christ has made "a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." How can that be matched with what St Paul says, about "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"?

Anyone who was raised with (or around - as I was) Irish Catholic parents might remember hearing a child complain about a scraped knee, or how cold it was outside, or "But, Mom! I need to eat a pop tart now, I'm starving!" To which an exasperated, and overworked parent would reply, "Offer it up!" Which is shorthand for "offer it up to God for the souls in purgatory..." And that, too, seems a stretch, no? Jesus' sacrifice was full, perfect, and sufficient" so what can I do? What can Paul do? Or Francis or anyone living or dead, no matter how holy they are? Not a thing was wanting, right? So what can be lacking?

The answer is in the Eucharist, really.

In the Divine Liturgy, in the Mass, we take bread and offer it to God and he gives it back to us as the Body of Christ. It is not the Body of Christ in abstract or in symbol but in reality. And, in the Eucharist, we stand, not just before the Throne of God, but also, at the foot of the Cross. Jesus is not dying again - as some Protestants say making blasphemous fun of the Holy Mysteries: Jesus is offering himself from the Cross before us. Right there, right here. Right then and always now. It's not a redoing. It's not even a reminder of the event. It is, to borrow a Greek word, an Anamnesis: a making present in our now of a thing in the past. Or, more correctly, a being present both here-and-then. In ScFi Terms: a Tesseract, a bending of space and time. All of universal reality changes at the Cross. We do not see "the Body of Christ" in abstract, but in reality at that moment, at that time: when he says "Father into my hands I commend my spirit" we receive the host.

Now.  It is always now.

The Church is the Body of Christ. Not in abstract, or in symbol,  but in reality. Partaking of the Eucharist makes it so: literally, you are what you eat. As a Church Father said, "The Eucharist is the meal that consumes us." In that filled-with-Christ/being/becoming-Christ state of ontological change: when one suffers, we all suffer. When Christ suffers - we all suffer. When you suffer, Christ suffers. When I suffer, Christ suffers. We're not talking about scraped knees, or needing pop-tarts here, but if you unify yourself with Christ in His Church it's not that your pain "adds" to his but rather, your pain is his. We are one.

It helps to realize as we pray in various Western devotions, at least, that it is the entirety of Christ's life that is Saving Us. His infancy, including wetting his diapers and maybe having a little baby vomit on the blessed Virgin, his puberty, including his awkward voice changing, acne and other things that happen at that time in life that embarrass teenagers, his struggles in school, his fumbling, first uses of a hammer in his father's woodshop, etc. All of Jesus' life is God saving us. All of the common-place struggles of Christ were the act of Salvation being worked out. And so: "offer it up" becomes not a parent saying "don't bother me" but rather an ontological fact.

As the Church is really the body of Christ,  as the Church really is Christ in his person saving the world; and as you are in Christ in the Church, so Christ is in you, continuing his working of salvation. Your sufferings do not add to Christ in a mathematical sense, as if anything was missing from his "full, perfect, and sufficient" action, but rather they literally are the sufferings of Christ inasmuch as we present them in faith before the Altar of God and pray them to be offered in union with Christ. Your pain at your illness, your loss of a child, your grief, your inability to work - and anything else - are all, potentially, anamnetic channels of Christ's salvific presence in the world.

Paul says in verse 27, "Christ in you the Hope of Glory"; and again in verse 28 he wants to present us "Perfect in Christ."  We are, to the degree that we are willing to let go and trust his providence, presented before God as "little Christs" as "Christians". And received (in energy, not essence) into the Godhead's divine dance of self-emptying. Not as individuals: it's not "Huw Christ" and "Ben Christ" and "Mary Christ".  But rather, Christ, the one and only Son of the Father, consubstantial and coeternal, presented in your person. The Resurrection is the fulfilment of Christ's action on earth, proof that God, who raised him up, validated his teaching.  But on the Last Day, in the General Resurrection, it's not a new thing, not billions and billions of Resurrections: there can be only one.

Christ is risen.

12 October 2016

Could there ever be another Francis?

Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’
- Jonah 2:8-9

He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.
- Luke 9:2-3

The line from St Luke - as it’s recorded in Matthew, anyway - was the Gospel reading the day Giovanni di Bernadone was praying for guidance in starting his new community.  Giovanni is better known by his family’s nickname for him: Francesco or Francis.  Outside of Orthodoxy he’s one of the most-beloved of all Saints, regardless of one’s denomination.  He is, however, loved more for a near-mythological reading of a few highpoints of his life, turned into a sort of peace and furry animals sort of hippie icon.  Thus, the Francis one might find, for example, in the local protestant congregation will be all about blessing your fluffy kitteh but nothing at all about his Fanatical Devotion to the Pope, his radical deepening of the western tradition’s fasting rules, or the preeminent place he gave to the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Francis, like the Gospel, is a la carte these days.  That line cuts to the point I wanted to make, rather directly.

How can we live the full, radical Gospel in the world today? Would there be room, if you will, for a new Francis?  It might surprise you to hear that I feel this is not a Church question: it’s a State question.  

Francis gave away all his money and slept in a ruined church (with the permission of the priest involved).  He’d surely be evicted today, if not by the police then by the building department.  Francis fed the hungry freely (not legal in many cities) and took care of the ill and weak. I can hear the Department of Health and the Obamacare people demanding he register here and there and take insurance and whatall.  Francis begged from the townspeople to take care of his monastics and their guests. We can, I admit, get some donations legally today, but, really, it helps if you’re a 501(c)3 or some other sort of registered charity. People want to get their tax write-offs you know.  And of course, registering with the gov’t means that you’re beholden to them. Even now people are agitating to have tax exempt status removed from Churches and - more importantly - Church land. Imagine how many doors would close if there was not tax free status! I agree, mind you: owning property is an obligation to the state. Francis’ Mendicant Friars would, today, be call indigent as would Jesus and thus would promptly get arrested in most places; or at least told to move along. Getting rid of all your earthly belongings was fine in the Great Depression. Could you do it today? This doesn’t even get into the Question of Support. Even assuming it’s legal, would your local church support you?  See all of the above about the laws.  I don’t know the answer.  

What I do know - going back to our essay on Monday about idols - is that clinging to idols is turning away from God. Salvation comes from the Lord. In Hebrew it’s a bit of a pun for us, for the Hebrew word is “Yeshua” - Jesus’ own name. If we Christians, and we the institution of Church have built or helped in building a culture where it’s impossible to live the Gospel, whose fault is it? If we imagine we can’t be Christians without our tax exempt status or our beautiful churches, what have we done? If we lean on such things - to the point even of denying the Gospel - then have we not turned to idols? Worse, have we not built the idols with our own hands?

This line of thinking is not about fleeing from the culture: Jonah made that mistake.  Got eaten by a fish for it. This is about something more radical. This is about reform, not by revolution, but by living.  So the question is: can the space be found?