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.

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.

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?

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?”

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!

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.

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.

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?

Jonah, Jairus, Jesus

Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
  • Luke 6:48
Jesus answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well.”
  • Luke 6:50

A long time ago I noticed the Gospels use “pistos” and “sozo” a lot. They both get translated differently in different places.  Pistos is “believe”, “faith”, and “trust”. Sozo is “heal”, “made whole”, and “save”.  The Greek words carry all the meanings at the same time.  Only in English do we need to pick one or the other.  We learn more about the translator’s biases than we do about the meaning of the text, I think. The same word play is there in the Hebrew.  You can be saved or healed, either one, by the Latin Salvum but by the time St Jerome was working on the Bible he had to pick between meanings of fides and crede in translating these verses.  English is just a further evolution. This is important because of the meaning of “Save” in modern religious language.  We speak of it in the future-imperfect usually: I am saved, I will go to heaven when I die.  The key point is “go to heaven” or, to reverse it, “not go to hell”.  

But I never noticed two things about this passage: the same words are used for the bleeding woman – a present tense event – and, in the future tense, they are used of a dead girl.  There is a further difference:  the woman bleeding is “sozo-ed” is done so by her own pistis.  The man is told his pistis will sozo his daughter. This is not the only time in the NT this happens: St Paul tells a jailer only to believe on Christ “and you and all your household will be sozo-ed.”

Jonah gets a call from God and then runs away because he’s not trusting in God.  He has no faith.  In the end, however (we’ll see in a couple of days) he lets his faith take over and it saves all of Nineveh.

I don’t want to take this meditation too far: we can get in trouble. The Mormons get baptized once to sozo themselves and then repeatedly to sozo their dead relatives. Clearly it’s possible to do this wrong.

But what ever can it mean? For these to make any sense, faith can’t be a list of doctrines – My “credo” as it were.  Faith has to be something else. Jonah’s list of doctrines are probably not too long: God is one. Don’t eat pork (etc). But his faith saved a city.  What might it be?  Jairus had no doctrine, certainly; at least not much more than Jonah.  His faith raises his daughter from the dead. Trusting in Jesus, one assumes… but – and we know this from St James – “Faith without works is dead.”  Holding a set of doctrines in the head is meaningless: it’s not an emotion or mental activity.  It’s going to Nineveh and preaching.  It’s walking with Jesus to the sick girl’s bedside – even when they say “She’s dead.”

Before any set of decades are prayed on the Rosary, a Creed is said, then an Our Father. Then we say the “Hail Mary” three times, traditionally for an increase of Faith, Hope, and Love. But these three “theological virtues” as they are called are not emotions. We’ve already said the Creed, the doctrine. Doctrine is not faith. Faith, here, is the doing of it. Hope, here, is not being distracted from the doing of it by the world, the flesh, or the devil. Love, here, is the thing we are to be doing.

If we do it then the world will be saved.  That may not mean what we imagine – and people can always run away – but that’s what we are about.

Ephraim’s Idols

Hosea 14:1-9

O E’phraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Hosea 14:8-9

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Luke 6:46

When I was in High School I had a pastor who was very into the whole “Moral Majority” thing. That may be meaningless to some of my younger readers, but it was a group that wanted to “Make American Moral Again.”  They wanted laws passed that would force everyone in public to appear to be Christian. I’ve been told that this was only in public, because they didn’t want their children to see certain things, but I lived through the time. It is true they didn’t want their children to see (eg) two women kissing in public, but neither did they want to imagine that someplace someone was having immoral sex in private. If someone was having such sex, they wanted it to be illegal so that someone could go to prison for violating laws set down in the book of Leviticus. These folks worked to elect politicians who claimed to adhere to the same positions. And, when all was said and done it was of no effect at all. This is the both the beginning and the constantly replicated prototype of the “Cultural Warrior” form of Christian Politics.

What I find most odd in all of this is that the politicians are the ones that win: they get to say certain things and, by saying them, they win the votes of these “moral majority” people, the Cultural Warriors. But when they fail to follow through, no one seems to notice. When the next election cycle comes around, the entire process starts over again. The “moral majority” people, the CWs all demand politicians who say X, Y, and Z.  These politicians arise saying X, Y, and Z. They get elected. They blame other politicians for failing at X, Y, and Z. And they get elected again.

X, Y, and Z get further and further from the radar of the politicians because they see that all they have to do is say they will X, Y, and Z. The voters are so rabid that they will do anything at all for anyone who merely says they will X, Y, and Z. A member of the Roman church asked me who will defend us if we don’t elect pro-life Republicans. I had to remind him that we’ve had nothing from these so-called pro-life Republicans since Roe v Wade. He said “The courts stymie things” and I replied that the majority of judges in our system had either been appointed by Republicans and/or been approved by Republican legislatures all to no effect. We pay no attention to history: the past evaporates and we try again.

It seems CWs have made idols out of our political system and out of our politicians. To these voters God says, O E’phraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit. From God himself comes all of our blessings. Why are we bothering with idols?

To the politicians themselves, our Lord says “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”  They build their moral house on sand – which is right and just for a politician who must change his talking points like the sand at every turn of the wind so as to attain an electoral victory. But Christians have no business paying any attention to such people.

Our Lord says the same thing to us: he has told us what to do as well. We are to go into all the world and make disciples of all people and teach them to obey all that God has told us. Go. Make. Then teach. Jesus never said to pass laws to make people look like Christians. We skip over the hard part – go, make disciples (students) of Jesus and then teach them. So why do we say “Lord, Lord” and build our world on Sand?
+++   +++   +++
These are very difficult time for people who participate in American political life and for people around the world who are affected by American political life. In fact, as Christians, I would say we hold a greater obligation to that second group – those without voice in our system who are affected most by our system. Let’s face it: apart from a Zombie apocalypse (which I deem highly probable after November of this year – but that’s another post) America will just continue on. The day after the election we will shop at Wal*Mart and consume too much food and make too much garbage and will continue on our egotistical way regardless of who we elected the night before.

But things will be very different in other parts of the world, where they have no voice, no say in our process. I remember in 2008 how the rest of the world rejoiced with the election of President Obama: joke’s on them, however, because see Hosea and all preceding American Politicians.  But the point is well made: our elections cause events around the world to change.

As Christians, I think we need to be mindful of that. What intrinsic evil will we be causing in the third world?  What moral decline will we precipitate in Africa? What injustice will we cause in Latin America?

Since the election is on everyone’s mind recently, it is unsurprising to find posts on this topic around the net.  I found one to be very helpful here. The part that is most helpful is this list of points from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Our Orthodox bishops, meeting in Synod last week failed to say anything at all about the election beyond lamenting the crisis in civil discourse.)

34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods.
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as  

– abortion,  

– euthanasia,  

– assisted suicide,  

– deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions,  

– redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning,  

– or racist behavior,  

if the voter’s intent is to support that position.  In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.  

At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

I added formatting and emphasis to make it clear: there is a whole list of things that are not abortion… these are not posted to invite an Orthodox-Catholic debate or additional commentary on our current failed crop of candidates, but rather to note: it’s not a case of lip service to X, Y, and Z. And Christians should not use one point to ignore the fact that all the other points are also important.

Read the entire document from the RC church if you wish: it contains a lot of good, solidly Christian advice even if one is not Catholic. I would ask you to pray, however, that Orthodox Bishops could get over their infighting long enough to offer such good advice. In American Orthodoxy’s chaos the most vocal of our clergy are still fitting into the CW group, having failed to learn any lesson at all since 1980.  I know Orthodoxy is slow – let’s not be hasty.  But the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.