Sunday, January 29, 2017

The 7 Habits of Joyful People

As a follow-up to a prior post, here are my candidates for The 7 Habits of Joyful People:
  1. Gratitude. One foundation of joy is to be glad for what is around us, to appreciate life rather than take it for granted. 
  2. Forgiveness. Bitterness sabotages joy. So does malice. Forgiveness makes it possible to enjoy life in a world that is not perfect, and to enjoy the company of people who are not perfect, and to accept ourselves though we are not perfect.
  3. Friendship. Every good moment is enhanced and enriched when it is shared. Even moments experienced alone can be shared in the retelling. 
  4. Sorrow. When we deny our losses, we have only a counterfeit joy. If we dispute with our own grief, we undermine the goodness of whatever we have lost. To appreciate something fully includes mourning its loss.
  5. Humility. Pride blocks our view of the good in other people. Humility leaves us open. 
  6. Childlikeness. There is a willful suspension of cynicism that's needed for joyfulness, an innocent openness to what is good, an openness to delight. It takes a renewed innocence to see the world rather than tune out the familiar.
  7. Love. Love includes within it a well-kindled satisfaction with whatever is good and right, which is the flame of joy. 

I'd be glad to hear your contributions. There's no reason the list has to be closed after 7 entries.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

To what extent is the doctrine of the Trinity useful, and faithful to the Bible?

This continues a conversation with Aron from the comments section of a previous post. I'll begin here with one of my closing thoughts from the comment thread: I'm still a student of the nature of God, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I'll gladly acknowledge that I have more to learn.

I think it doesn't help that the conversation here is taboo in most mainstream churches. There is always the undercurrent that, if a person doesn't come to the same conclusion as others, that person is no longer welcome. It's the kind of thing that puts a damper on honest and searching conversation, even if we ultimately agree. Because the taboo puts a damper on honest and searching conversation, the taboo works as an obstacle to understanding.

I mentioned in the earlier discussion:
While the doctrine of the Trinity is meant to clarify things, create unity, and reduce confusion, I don't think it has done any of those things.
And to be clear, though it has some points to recommend it as the centuries can attest, it hasn't fully succeeded any of those things, which is why it keeps being a matter of conversation amongst the churches of different denominations (or a reason why some churches won't recognize the validity of other churches, or do not have unity with other churches). It's important that I make my reasons clear from the beginning: the doctrine of the Trinity may have served well to refute the teachings of the Arians back many centuries ago. It was meant to clarify, create unity, and reduce confusion. In the long run, has it done that, or do we have more ground to cover? If it has not succeeded in those objectives, then there is probably room for us to understand better and explain better. That is the hope of this conversation.

I'd like to expand briefly on those specific points, since they are my reason for wanting to have this conversation, and believing that the conversation can productively continue:
  1. Clarity: The doctrine of the Trinity is meant to clarify things. But the number of things that become less clear may rival the number of things that were addressed: Three "persons" -- How convincing are the arguments for unity against the charge of tritheism? And granted the translation issues and the philosophical subtleties of the conversation, how convinced are we that it clarified everything? (Do we prefer to say 'hypostases'? How much does that clarify for the average churchgoer?) What's the origin of the Holy Spirit? Or for the big picture: If nobody in the early church taught it, are we warranted in requiring uniform answers to those questions?
  2. Unity: The doctrine of the Trinity is meant to create unity in the church. But doctrine of the Trinity and the related doctrine of the person of Christ have divided a number of groups who cannot in good faith embrace the majority positions. The ancient Coptic church of Egypt is among those holding a variant position. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox are divided by a related question. Which brings me straight to:
  3. Reducing Confusion: The doctrine of the Trinity is meant to reduce confusion. It may have reduced confusion about Arianism -- but different questions and challenges keep arising, and it's not enough to answer Arianism. I think the doctrine of the Trinity has introduced confusion about specific things. For example, I read a theologian (Moltmann) -- someone who had a good reputation -- explaining how the "second person of the Trinity" became the Word of God -- and it sounded as if he meant that the Word of God was not the inherent nature. It would seem more Scriptural to say that the Word of God is regarded as the second person of the Trinity  -- or is by nature the second hypostasis of the One God, or some other construction like that.
So back to where we began? I'm still a student of the nature of God, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I'll gladly acknowledge I have more to learn. And with the above said, I lean towards the view that what we honor is by nature the Word of God, and we recognize the Word of God as the second hypostasis of the One God, who takes on fuller distinction in relation to the world as incarnate. I lean towards the view that what we honor is by nature the Spirit of God, and we recognize the Spirit of God as the third hypostasis of One God, who takes on fuller distinction in relation to the world as the Spirit who is kindled in humans. And that the origin of the Word of God and the Spirit of God is God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth who is the ultimate origin of all things -- including His Word and His Spirit. 

I'd be glad to learn more.

Take care & God bless

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 7 Habits of ... exactly what are we trying to become?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a phenomenon when first published, and continues to be a respected book. At the start of the new year, reflecting on what I might like to accomplish, I found myself thinking about that book and wondering, "Effective at what?" With that thought in mind, here are some other topics I would like to understand:
I'd be glad to hear of other peoples' wish lists there.

Updates: adding links to posts on those topics written after this original piece. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Following Jesus in Teaching: Do Bible Commentaries Carry a Risk?

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)
When we read the Bible, there are all kinds of commentaries to help us understand it. But what if they help us misunderstand it?
This Good news we call the gospel of Christ. After making people aware of their sinfulness and their inability to save themselves, Jesus assured them of God's merciful forgiveness. (From the Albrecht & Albrecht commentary on Matthew 4:23)
When I look at Jesus' ministry in Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and surrounding countryside, I don't see him spending a lot of time on "making people aware of their sinfulness and inability to save themselves". He talks about God as the God who blesses, who meets us with blessing exactly in the worst moments of our lives, whose answer to the problem of evil includes not only defeating it ("healing every disease and sickness among the people"), but proclaiming beautiful blessings for those who have suffered. I see him kindling a desire for holiness. I see him showing how "morality" is not about keeping rules, but about the time that someone's decency and goodness made them the hero of someone else's story (Good Samaritan). I see him reserving his harshest words for the religious leaders and the religious establishment (such as "the blind leading the blind").

As he went around the countryside teaching, he was rarely their accuser. Someone who bashes the people over the head with their sinfulness is not bringing good news; in many cases they are being verbally abusive. They may cover that by saying it is necessary; but if so, why doesn't Jesus do it so regularly? Neither does Jesus spend a lot of teaching time trying to create feelings of self-doubt and helplessness. He does not seek to undermine their hope or their self-love. Instead, he seeks to leverage their self-love into opening their eyes to the needs of others ("as you love yourself"). He seeks to leverage their wish for forgiveness into mercy for everyone -- because we desire not only mercy from God but the people around us as well.

Somewhere there are some passages where Jesus confronted people with their sinfulness; that does not provide a license for his followers to use those as the official general approach, when Jesus did not have that as his official general approach.

To what extent does fitting Jesus into our system, then commenting on Jesus from the viewpoint of that system, run the risk of making us blind to what Jesus actually said and did?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Best of the Blogroll 2016

Here are my favorite posts of 2016 from the Christian blogs that I read regularly:
Thank you for all your dedicated blogging over the years! I'd encourage my readers to try a few of these links if you're looking for edifying material.

Best off-the-blogroll 2016: 
  • The return of my health, which had caused me to take several months' leave from blogging (amongst other things)
  • The 30-day chip received earlier this month by someone dear to me
  • My son's safe return from his first deployment
Blessed be the name of the LORD.