Monday, April 27, 2015

The Tame Geese

Western Christianity is mostly comfortable and passive. There is a short parable by Søren Kierkegaard that raises the question, “Will you step out in faith, and meet the challenges that God places in front of you?

"A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. 'My fellow travelers on the way of life,' he would say, 'can  you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence?

I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. 'How poetical,' they thought. 'How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.' Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher's message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!"

The Tame Geese, by Søren Kierkegaard

Friday, April 24, 2015

Charity and Clarity

Without clarity there is no charity, for Love cannot exist without Truth. He who is Love is also Truth and you can’t have one without the other. 

An unpopular truth is that Love and Truth also cannot exist without Holiness, for He who is Love and Truth, is also Holy and calls us to be Holy. One cannot accept God without accepting all that He is. You can’t choose one attribute at the expense of the others. In the bellwether issue of sexuality the debate rages on and on, in part because we have become afraid of stating what we really believe because in so doing we are accused of a lack of charity.

Sexuality as an issue is derivative and related to the larger issue of whether or not we believe that Christ actually transforms lives, or perhaps even the question as to whether or not our lives need to be transformed; but remember that it is the God of Love who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” The question of sexual orientation is foreign to the biblical authors. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor any of the biblical writers ever concerned themselves with “Gay” or “Straight.” What they were concerned with was behavior and transformation of life. In surrendering to Christ are we willing to let the past die, and be made new creatures in Him?

There is a welcome call for unity in the Episcopal Church, but that call is often extended to us on the basis of Love without Clarity over the very issues that divide us. Unity is not possible for people who will not be transformed into the image of Christ. That transformation calls us to grow in Love; in surrender to Truth, and in Holiness. The issue fundamentally boils down to whether or not Scripture is authoritative in the matters of sexuality, or whether our contemporary humanism is the ultimate authority. If you accept the authority of Scripture you accept at face value what it says about sexuality. What it makes abundantly clear is that there should be no sex outside of the marriage union of one man and one woman. 

There is another related question: Don’t we have something better to talk about? Is this issue, the issue on which we want to spend our time? Unfortunately the issue is being pushed by those who reject the authority of Scripture and the call to transformation in Christ. That will come to a crisis point at the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church which will consider changing the definition of marriage and repudiating the current clear teaching of The Book of Common Prayer that tells us that marriage is between one man and one woman. Do we want to spend time on this issue? No. Do we have to? Yes.

In all of this we are being confronted on the national level with a New Fundamentalism that makes man the measure of all things, and extends absolutely no tolerance to those who wish to remain true to both Holy Scripture and Tradition.  From that quarter there is clarity, but no charity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Meditation and Impertinence

There is a popular approach to “meditation” that has the impertinence to put words in the mouth of Jesus. The leader of the meditation sets a scene, perhaps a woodland, mountain, or ocean scene, and places you in that scene with Jesus, and then has the Jesus of his, or her, imagination tell you what Jesus is saying to you. I know that often the intention is good, but it banks on reference points and scenes that you might not be able to identify with, and makes assumptions about your life and experiences that are sometimes unwarranted.

One very popular book uses this technique, putting the following words in the mouth of Jesus, “Don’t let unexpected events throw you off course. Rather, respond calmly and confidently, remembering that I am with you.” Now that is good wisdom, and perhaps fair enough theologically, but those are not the words of Jesus, but the words of the author. If the leader is biblically and theologically informed his, or h er, assumptions may be generally true, but they may not in fact apply to you.

A safe way to set the scene for the meditation is to draw on any number of biblical scenes or stories that you might be able to enter into imaginatively; then allow God through that scene or story to speak to you. The meditation should draw you into the presence of God where you can listen to what God is saying to you in that scene or story, not tell you what the leader thinks God is saying.

The true goal of a meditation is to lead you into the Presence of God, rather than attempting to instruct you or move you any particular direction. The classic Benedictine approach to meditation is Lectio Divina, which has four steps; Reading, Reflecting, Responding, and Resting. Read the biblical passage over several times. Reflect on the meaning of the passage and what God might be saying to you. Respond to God in prayer. Then Rest in the Presence of God.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Who is the Enemy that Martyrs Christians?

Who is the enemy that martyrs Christians? We are glad to point the finger at the blood lust of radical Islam, but that is too simple an answer. Consider what Holy Scripture actually says. The murderer of Christians is, “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations… arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality… And I saw the Woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” John the Revelator reveals that the Woman is, “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth." [Rev. 17].

In the days of John and the early Christian martyrs the great city was “Rome, domina Roma, the pride and queen of the world!” “Rome was th' whole world, and all the world was Rome” [Spenser’s Ruines of Rome, 360 f]. In our age this Woman is the kingdom of this world, with all of its great cities, Washington, Moscow, London, Tokyo, Beijing, and all the other centers of power. It is the World, archetypal Babylon revisited in the kingdom of this World, that bids Christians kneel before it and proclaim that it is a god, or ultimately die. What is so weird is that so many Christians are eager to accommodate to the world, to its ethos and morals.

Always remember the testimony of the Psalmist, who with joy confessed, that it is the Lord God, “Who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever; And slew mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever; Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures for ever” [Psalm 136:10-12]. What He has done before, He will do again. Our Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the grave and He is the Victor over death, over hell, and over all the kingdoms of this World.