Guns and Jesus Christ

6 07 2009

gun

I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions lately about this recent hot topic. Some of that discussion has, indeed been over the conflation of the Church and the [American] State. That’s not what I want to focus on here though, a lot could be said on that, but perhaps another time.

Most recently, as part of one of those discussions on Beliefnet, someone spoke of the need of churches to protect themselves, either of parishoners packing their own protection or having security detail to protect the congregants and minister(s). No doubt, part of this idea may be influenced by another recent major happening.

As a people, we Christians are invited into a dangerous, vulnerable life of living beyond ourselves for the sake of others. That isn’t hubris for the sake of sounding pious. That’s actually what we’re supposed to do. We’re actually supposed to surrender ourselves for the sake of the other, give up our rights to life, and feed, clothe and love our neighbor. Sure, that neighbor might be a gun-wielding psychopath, but that changes nothing. When Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan, it was in response to a man who asked, “but Lord, who is my neighbor?”. Our neighbor is not only the one like us, or with whom we happen to get along. Our neighbor is everyone and anyone. The man asked this in response to when Jesus spoke the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself.” Who are we to love? Everyone. And if for a moment we try and tiptoe around this, thinking that those who wish or cause us harm are outside of the boundaries of our love, Jesus said quite flatly, “You’ve heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies.” Indeed, it’s the love of our enemy that Jesus says is the witness that we are children of “[our] heavenly Father” who causes it to rain on both “the just and the injust”. In Luke’s version of the Sermon, Jesus says, “…who is merciful to all, even the wicked and the thankless”.

Dangerous love, that’s what we’re supposed to have. Love so dangerous that it could even get us killed.

What is a church if we’re starting to talk about using armed force to “protect” it? How can the Church be the Church in such a situation? Have we, here in the West (and particularly in America) become so complacent, so comfortable, so easy-going that the idea that we might actually have to spill our own blood to live out the commandments of Jesus makes us shrivel up in fear? That is nothing but a parody of discipleship. And I’ll admit that I’m fully saturated in guilt in this respect, I’m no less complacent and no less comfortable than the next–God have mercy on me–but, how can this be?

Is this what our religion has been reduced to here? To nothing more than a parody of faith?





Obama is President. Jesus Christ is Lord.

5 11 2008

Like many of you who may end up reading this, I’m glad that Barak Obama won this election. I didn’t vote, I chose not to vote, I voted to not vote; nonetheless I liked Obama more than McCain.

With that said, we need to be very careful to remember that the Christian call to radical discipleship and to be members of Christ’s own body puts us into that place where we choose Christ over Caesar. Always. Jesus is always Lord, always King of the Kingdom. We need to remember that America is still America, America is still a State–that temporal entity of imperial power. The Church must always remain not only non-partisan, but trans-national. We cannot recognize the validity of the stately powers, to do so is not only to divide the Body of Christ along international borders, but to cut ourselves off from our neighbors.

We cannot, we must not, we must forbid ourselves the temptation to pledge allegiance to America’s flag–or any flag.

Yahweh Nissi, the Lord is our banner. Christos Kurios, Christ is Lord.

We are but poor beggars. We are only pilgrims. Amen.





Ministering to…

23 10 2008

So… what is the responsibility of the Church to minister to people like “Crazy Tracy”? How do we reach out to them with the Gospel?





My Plastic Jesus

26 08 2008

Oh my plastic Jesus,
How I love you so,
You are so fake and sterile,
No punch, no pow, no go!

When I worship you,
I pose you as I will,
Karate chop the bad guys,
Send ’em all to hell.

You are my plastic Jesus,
My saving friend indeed,
My soul you send to heaven,
You’re everything I need.

You demand nothing from me,
You do everything I say,
Serving you is easy,
Cheap grace means no pay.

Oh you’re my plastic Jesus,
In my church of plastic smiles,
When hypocrisy is abounding,
I love how you keep silent.

The poor I can ignore,
And I can beat up on gays,
Because you’re my plastic Jesus,
Gee golly you’re A-OK!

Can thump a plastic Bible,
Every single day,
Carry you on Sunday,
Cheaply, you’ve washed my sins away.

You’re my plastic Jesus,
You mean everything to me,
As long as you’re my Jesus,
My life is mine to keep.





St. Isaac the Syrian

24 04 2008

One of my favorite theologians and mystics has to be St. Isaac of Nineveh, also known as St. Isaac of Syria. A 7th century Christian who, as indicated by his name, become bishop of Nineveh. Despite is possible Nestorianism he is recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

What I love about St. Isaac are his deeply moving, passionate and powerful words on the love of God. He speaks so sublimely on love that he even manages to compel us to be filled with mercy even for the devils themselves. Writing,

“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

It was St. Isaac who ultimately gave me a new way of understanding the concept of Hell as something different as what I had been raised to understand it. For St. Isaac, and many other of the Eastern Fathers, Hell was not a place of torment distinct from the Paradise of Heaven, it was rather the state of existence of those who, having despised and loathed God and creation in this life, continue in their natural state of loathing. In this state, even though they exist in the same “place” as the Saints who have been beatified by the love and light of God, they experience the unrelenting love of God as torment. He writes,

“As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.

That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.”

Hell is not the punishment of God inflicted upon sinners, nor is it even the “eternal separation from God” of contemporary Western theological thought. For there is no place apart from the Presence of God, for even the Psalmist writes, “If I make my bed in sheol, You are there.” Heaven and Hell are two distinct experiences of the same stimuli: God’s all-pervading, never-ceasing, all-encompassing love.

How hopeful this is! The power of the possibilities of what might come at the end of all things, that perhaps St. Gregory of Nyssa is right when he speaks of Hell as a “purgatorial fire” that acts upon the soul as fire does upon gold–refining it, purifying it, burning away the dross, and leaving only the malleable, soft, pure thing of stunning beauty. That in love God will accomplish all that He has willed to accomplish since the beginning of all things: the beatification of all creation, all things through Christ in whom the whole of Creation has been united through His becoming flesh and sharing in our nature.

“In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.”

In love all things were born. In love all things will be consumed. The One who is Love will make this happen, in love He has made it happen. How deep, wide, high, and great is the love of God in Christ!

So I’ll leave this post with one last St. Isaac quote:

“Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.”





Christian Revolution

21 04 2008

This page of the Gospel is rightly considered the “magna carta” of Christian nonviolence; it does not consist in surrendering to evil — as claims a false interpretation of “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) — but in responding to evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice. It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God’s love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the “Christian revolution,” a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. The revolution of love, a love that does not base itself definitively in human resources, but in the gift of God, that is obtained only and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Herein lies the novelty of the Gospel, which changes the world without making noise. Herein lies the heroism of the “little ones,” who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of life.

– Pope Benedict XVI, Feb. 18th 2007 (source: Catholic Peace Fellowship)





That They Might Be One

26 11 2007

After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. While he was waiting for them in Athens, his spirt grieved at the sight of so much idolatry. So he began to engage in discussion with the Jews and converts to Judaism in the synaggue, and also daily in the town square with whoever happened to be there. Even philosophers among the Epicureans and Stoics engaged him in discussion. Some asked, ‘What is this scavenger trying to say?’ Others said, ‘He sounds like a promoter of foreign gods,’ because he was preaching about ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection.’

They took him and led him to the Areopagus on the Hill of Ares and said, ‘We would like to hear more of your ideas. For you bring some strange notions to us; we would like to know what they mean.’ Now all the Athenias as well as foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing some new philosophy or idea.

Then Paul stood up among them at the Areopagus and said: ‘It is very clear to me that you Athenians are in every way a very devout and religious people, for as I walked around examining your shrines, I even discovered an altar dedicated to ‘An Unknown God.’ This, whom you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that’s in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is He served by human hands as though He were in need of anything. Rather it is He who gives life to all and breath to everything. He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and He fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their influence, so that people might seek God, even perhaps groping for Him to find Him, though He is, indeed, not very far from any one of us. For “In Him we live and move and have our being,” as even some of your poets have said, “For we too are His offspring.” Since therefore we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine is like an image fashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination. God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now calls all people everywhere into repentance because He has established a day on which He will “judge the world with justice” through the man which He has appointed, and He has provided confirmation for all of this by raising that same man from the dead.’

When the philosophers heard about the ‘resurrection of the dead’ some began to mock Paul, but others said, ‘We would like to hear more from you about this at another time.’ So Paul left them. Some did however join him and became Christians, among these was Dionysius, a mamber of the Areopagus, and also a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” – Acts 17:15-34

This is perhaps one of my favorite sections of the Acts, partly because I find philosophy fascinating (Socrates and I are homies), partly because I find Paul’s ability to so readily integrate himself into a group of thinkers very different than his own, partly because I think this is perhaps one of the best sermons given in the Acts, and lastly (and most relevant here I think) in part because it shows the disparity within the clash of metaphysical ideas.

One the one hand you have the Greeks who have their own long and ancient tradition, and on the other you have the Jews who likewise have a long and ancient tradition.

Here Paul is mediating between two very different worlds, the Hellenic and Hebraic. These two worlds have very different metaphysical conceptions of reality.

It demonstrates the unique world-stage in which Christianity was born, and the tug-of-war between Athens and Jerusalem which has forever shaped the course and core of Christianity down to this very day.

On the one hand there is Jerusalem, center of the Jewish world, center of the Hebrew way of life, home of the Temple. This is the home of the Prophets, this is Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon and Elijah. Home of prophecy and revelation.

On the other hand there is Athens, center of the Greek world, center of the Hellenistic way of life, home of the Areogapus. This is the home of the Philosophers, this is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. Home of philosophy and pursuit of knowledge.

In typical Pauline style he seeks to mediate between the two. He is amongst philsophers here, the top thinkers in Athens, specifically here are students of Epicurus (Epicureans) and Zeno (Stoics).

I think that what amazes me about Pauline thought, what makes me love the Apostle Paul as a theologian is his vision. Paul’s Christianity is not radically different than what the Apostles had been teaching up to that point, but it does have a scope of vision that is unbelievably broad.

Prior to Simon Peter’s (quite literal) vision while meditating on a rooftop, the followers of “The Way” were quite content conceiving of their religion as little more than a new way to be Jewish. Theirs was very much a Jewish religion, and was exclusively for members of the Jewish religion. There was some idea of reconciling disparate groups, however. For example no one particular sect of Judaism was plucked from the consortium of Jewish sects of the period, whether Pharisees, Saducees, or Hellenic Jews it was all the same: The message of Jesus as Messiah. Indeed there may have even been this idea that, per Jesus’ peaceful interactions with Samaritans (the woman at the well in John ch. 4) and His use of the “Good Samaritan” in the parable that is so-named, that these early followers of “The Way” were to help mediate between Jews and Samaritans and bring them together in unity of faith under the Messiahship of Jesus.

Peter’s vision, and Paul’s subsequent work changes the scope. It’s a radical change in emphasis and vision of what Jesus came to do and who Jesus is in relationship to all humanity.

In truth Paul’s visionary conception of Christianity is nothing more than taking Jesus’ own teachings to their inevitable conclusion. That if Samaritan and Jew are, in fact, neighbors; if a Roman Centurian can have faith, if there is–indeed–no reason for any barriers to exist between people; then God has indeed done something truly magnificent and tremendously gigantic in the sending of Jesus.

It’s precisely from this radical vision of seeing all people as part of a single people, rather than dividing them up into tribes and various other affiliations. Rather than seeing ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ and ‘Barbarians’, rather than seeing ‘Circumcised’ and ‘Uncircumcised’; rather than seeing ‘slave’ and ‘freeman’–all these categories cease to function with any meaning in Paul’s vision. In Christ God has done away with all these lines of demarcation, that is why Paul, in Galatians, says, “There is therefore no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) It’s why in Colossians he writes, “Here there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11). In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians he writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have become near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, He who has made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

There is, in Jesus, a new way of being human, a new kind of existance. The former way is full of division and bitterness, war and hatred, enmity and tribes trying to exterminate each other. Paul sees in Jesus a call from God toward something new, something which had always been predetermined by God for the world, but which was a mystery hidden in the past and only in the present coming to light. This mystery is the Church (Ephesians ch. 3), which hidden in God from time immemorial, has now come to light through Jesus Christ.

That Christ, who being a New Adam has set forth to establish a new humanity bound and interconnected with His Person. Through His death and resurrection Christ has overcome and destroyed the “powers and authorities” (i.e. sin, death and hell). Being now released from all bondage through the victory of Christ mankind is now free to enter into new life in and with God through Christ who is the Mediator between the two–being the very embodiment of God in human flesh–and this new life is unconditionally given to all as an act of God’s unwavering generosity. Entering into the Life of God through Baptism, by which we are bound to the same Christ who was crucified and resurrected, we become participants in that same mystery of victory as Jesus and become inexplicably interwoven into the tapestry of His own bodily life. Therefore the Church–that community of baptized Christians–is properly called the body of Christ. If, thus, we are inexplicably bound, bodily, to Jesus we are therefore participant sharers in all that properly belongs to Jesus. All which is the unique property of Jesus is therefore the unique property of all who are, in mystery, bound to Jesus: Thus it is the Son of God who gives right for all others to be called children of God; if Jesus suffered we too shall share in His sufferings, since Jesus rose from the dead we too shall rise from the dead. If Eternal Life is His, it is ours too. The “evidence”, or rather the pledge of God to us that this is true is that we have the same Spirit in us that was in Christ Jesus, namely the Holy Spirit–“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

This Church, this community of baptized, is the very organic–if not very mystical–body of Jesus Himself; and it is a new way to be human in the world. A way of being human that is organically and inexplically connected to Jesus Himself in all respects, and in which all people of all walks of life are brought together in the peace of God. This Church is destined toward a purposed future, where death will no longer have any power, for at the end of the age there will be a resurrection, and all who ever died will be brought back to life, vindicated by God and experience, in full, the victory of God in Christ who is the “firstfruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The purpose and mission of this Church is to live out into the world the same mode of life which Christ lived, and to–through loving words and actions–invite all people to come in and dwell and to sit and be gathered at the same table of peace as we ourselves sit.

Thus whether by feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, taking care of the sick, widow and the orphan we are doing the work of God in the world; the will of God to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation. These actions have within them the very character of Christ, and thus in them God is, Himself, at work in the hands that feed, clothe, give, and help.

In contradistinction from an exclusive club with highly mystical and religious overtones, the Church understands itself as a mystical union of people of all walks of life, that is inclusive to all. It is, in this respect, a reunion and re-formation of human community, a re-bringing-back of people who have been dispersed all over the world back together into a unity of hope and community, bound together in the grace and graciousness of God through the Crucified and Risen Jesus. If through Adam all men have become many and divided, through Christ the New Adam all men are being brought back together into the unity of love. Through the old there was war and strife and corruption of power; through the new there is peace and grace and the eradication of corrupt power.

Therein lay the Christian conviction that death is dead and life has sprung up bodily immortal in Christ Jesus, who “in [us] is the hope of glory.” (Collosians 1:27).

-Jon