Da Qin Luminous Religion (The Amazonian Sutras)

JMJ

Evangelizing another culture requires points of contact – not just person to person, but culture-to-culture. How do you reach out to an entirely new culture and share the good news of Jesus? Sure, sure, to the Jews the whole concept of “Messiah” was already there. The entire Hebrew Bible (in all of its linguistic diversity) was a preparation for Messiah. But when Paul got to the Greeks we had to look deeper: Logos – already in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures – came to the fore. What do you do when you get to a culture that doesn’t have the same Biblical antecedents?

Bishop Alopen reached China in the 6th Century. He and his entourage of missionaries brought with them Christian scriptures, icons, vestments. They were welcomed by the Imperial Court and instantly they began looking for points of contact even as they learned the language. The mission (mentioned in the stele posted at the top of this article) lasted until the 10th century. During that time the faith took on a remarkably Asian flavor as the missionaries learned to speak into the Buddhist and Taoist traditions that were there. In China the Church was called Da Qin Luminous Religion – “Da Qin” meaning from the Roman Empire. The teaching of the faith came in a remarkably Chinese flavor linking Jesus and the other paths.

What do you do when you don’t have the entirety of Hebrew culture and the rich, polyglot Jewish scriptures to provide the foundations of your work? Do you need to make people Jewish before you can make them Christian? The Church has answered this question with a profound and loud “no” since the Apostles were first asked this question. Over time, the Church has learned – as St Paul saw (following the Hebrew prophets) – that God has been preparing all peoples in their own experience of his revelation. Christ is not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Prophecies. If he is God in the flesh, the Taoists, the Buddhists, the Celts, the Hopi, the Aztecs, and even the Amazonians must all have points of contact for the Gospel.

They don’t need to be Jewish first. Nor do they need to be European. They don’t need to be urban, educated, or even “civilized ” as we understand it in the sense of colonizing people with our culture. What they need is Jesus.

More importantly: what we can learn, as Christians in the dying First World, is that the Gospel is both a levan in our politics, economics, culture wars, and colonialism – and is entirely liberated from and transcending them.

You can find Jesus without being a white, Anglo-American in suburbia. And the Jesus you meet will look more like you than you expect and more like you than the missionaries expect. And the Jesus you meet will enrich the entire Church in ways she did not expect. For the Holy Spirit was moving in your culture before we got there, preparing you, raising you up, opening your heart.

If only we could hear him as clearly as you do.

Being a Local Guide

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam.The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

In my “work” as a Google Guide, answering questions about businesses on Google Maps, I’m asked the same sort of questions over and over about local shops, restaurants, bars, and events. One of my favourite questions is “Is this place easy to spot from a vehicle in normal traffic?” Since I walk a lot, I don’t usually think of that, and in this day of GPS and “catch a Lyft right to the street address” it’s not something that bothers me.  But I do think about it for gMaps.  In fact, on SF streets where the speed limit is 25 mph but most folks do 45 unless you know where you’re going, you’re going to end up somewhere else. It’s not an issue in my current house of worship (see the photo above). I usually tell the Lyft driver, “turn left and you’ll see the front door…” I would make a comment about “most” Catholic churches, but the 70s kinda ruined it. A bishop once said of my former Catholic parish (in Georgia), “Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut?”

I was asked on Sunday why I had become Russian Orthodox (the subtle difference between the OCA and ROCOR is a bit hard to convey) and I told the story of how, even though I lived within walking distance of an Antiochian Parish, they had no sign outside with a service schedule, they had no Yellow Pages ad (this was in the early 00s), they had no voicemail (churches used to put their service schedule on their voicemail), and they had no website. Father Victor, memory eternal, the dean of the OCA cathedral, had not only a website, but one that was often updated by either himself or by his eldest son who is now the dean of the Cathedral. Fr Victor was committed to evangelism as was his assistant, Fr David – and as is the new Dean, Fr Kyrill.  A neighbor of the Antiochian parish tells me they still don’t have service times posted. SInce he had never seen what we call the Orthoburka, he thought maybe they were Muslims.


Since a lot of us are on the road somewhere, having visible churches is important. But walk-in or drive-by traffic is not the best source for new folks. Getting most folks into church still requires an invite.

When I was younger, I would hear our Lord in today’s passage talking about “laborers” and think “ordained ministry”. That’s not a very Catholic idea at all. In fact, there are places the non-ordained can go and things we can do that are too difficult for clergy and, sometimes, even for the non-ordained members of religious orders. Sure: a friar looks cool, but he sure does stand out in a crowd!

A former boss, an Episcopal Priest, once shared this with me: Every member of the People of God (Greek, “Laos” which means “people” gives us the English “Laity” More on that in a minute)… every member of the People of God is called to be an Evangelist, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. All of us Evangelists are called to the Eucharistic Table for strength, solace, and empowerment by God’s Spirit. Some of us, however, don’t do quite so good as Evangelists, so we give them other duties. We make them waiters around the table. Some don’t do so good, even so. We still have a function for them. We make them each a maître d’ and give them a staff of waiters. 

Now, the Eucharistic community of Evangelists (with our waiters and maître d’s) is often in trouble. So we’ll take a maître d’ every once in a while, maybe one that’s past his prime, and we’ll let him serve in a new function. We’ll dress him up in fancy robes and a big hat, and put him out in front of the community to draw fire, as sort of a decoy. This way, the whole community, of Evangelists, waiters, maître d’s and decoys can do the work of spreading God’s Kingdom, each in their own role and function.

It’s not quite what you might think of the ordained ministry, but it makes a point I’ve heard over and over in the Catholic Church: it’s our job, as the Laity, to do this work. The ordained ministry is there to support us in this work and call ups to deeper holiness (which is the internalized version of this work). We turn the whole structure on its head when we forget that the point of our hierarchy is service: the higher up you go, the more folks you have to serve. The Pope is called “The servant of the servants of God”.  

So when we pray for more laborers, we don’t mean more clergy (although we need more Priests in America, at least). What we mean is more folks in the Laos. I heard an Evangelical – whom I rather like – say that there should be no division between the “laity” and the “clergy” (fair). He then said “Laity” comes from the Greek word for “nobodies”.  In fact, quite the reverse: in the Greek Old Testament which Jesus would have used, “Laos” is used for Am Israel, the people of God, but not for the Gentiles (the Goyim). The People is an “us” term. It’s not a nobody, it’s a member of and worker for the Kingdom.

That’s us, the Evangelizing people of God.

Can someone see your Parish from the road in normal traffic? If not, why are you not standing in the traffic directing folks into your spacious parking lot? You are the best local guide going. But you gotta work it.
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When the heart is ready the teacher will come.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 2nd Week of Easter (B2)

Surgens autem quidam in concilio pharisaeus, nomine Gamaliel, legisdoctor, honorabilis universae plebi, jussit foras ad breve homines fieri, dixitque ad illos…
But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while. And he said to them…

The Church’s tradition, celebrated especially among the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, is that Gamaliel and his son were converts and the former, at least, is a saint. The translation of his relics is celebrated on 2 August. The Church’s tradition is that Gamaliel buried St Stephen on his own estate after the latter was stoned.

In a lot of ways, Acts is really the story of St Paul with this long intro. We tend to forget: Gamaliel was St Paul’s teacher. So, somewhere in this room of angry men, yelling for blood and demanding the death of the Prince of the Apostles… somewhere here is one Sha’ul of Tarsus. How else do we know these words at all? The “good guys” are out of the room. Paul is here, listening, and hearing the words of his Teacher speaking here, maybe taking notes, a transcription, as it were. Later it is Paul who tells these words to Luke.

And so, deeply tonight as I was thinking about this, I was struck by the image of St Gamaliel praying for his student… as he stomps off angrily to Damascus.

If you’ve seen the movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, there’s a lot of violence: the movie makes much of St Paul’s blood-lust directed at these odd followers of this Jesus. In Acts, the Latin says spirans minarum, et caedis, breathing out threatenings and slaughter… and as I write I’m seeing Gamaliel kneeling in prayer for his student’s conversion. And praying in all righteousness that God would show the light to this angry young man, Sha’ul.

Do you ever think of prayer as the first weapon of Evangelism? If you love someone so much you want to win them for Christ, how can you not pray for them – by name, not in the Abstract. Not all of us are called to be Evangelists: that is one of the gifts of the spirit, yes, but some are called to it and others are not. But all of us are called to go and make Disciples. Discipleship starts way before evangelism. Before the evangelism, before the preaching, before the Romans’ Road to Salvation, have you prayed for that soul? Have you got down and begged God to show his light to someone, or are you trying to elbow you way through the crowd to beat God to the punch?

St Gamaliel, pray for… who would you name here?