Sunday, June 28, 2009

Liturgy of Luke: prefaces to the readings

Here is my first draft of the prefaces for the readings for the Liturgy of the Gospel of Luke:

Preface to Moses, the prophets, or the Psalms:
All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the Psalms concerning Christ, who opens our minds that we might understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)

Preface to the Gospel reading:
To sit at Jesus' feet and hear his words is the one thing that is needful. (Luke 10:39,42)

Praise after the Gospel reading:
Many prophets and kings have desired to see what we have seen, and to hear what we have heard. (Luke 10:24)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The faith once given -- and my favorite heresies

Those who have known me for awhile will already know that I consider the New Testament record an essentially reliable record of the early Christian community, its thoughts and its memories of Christ. It is for that reason that I form my thoughts about "true Christianity" -- orthodoxy v. heresy -- in terms of the apostolic church's teaching as "the faith once given". And it is for that reason, oddly enough, that I find myself sometimes at odds with official orthodoxy according to some.

These days "orthodoxy" has a lot of different varieties, and what counts as "heresy" depends on where you stand. What is orthodoxy to me (that baptism saves you by the resurrection of Christ) is heresy on some neighboring blogs, and other examples are so easy to come by that there's no need to bother.

Here I just wanted to name some of the "heresies" with which I find myself in sympathy, precisely because I think they may have very well been in-bounds rather than out -- or in some cases, not even a question on the table -- in the apostolic church.
  • Annihilation of the condemned - I am not convinced that the annihilation of the condemned is true; it's just that I am not convinced that the faith once given included eternity in hell for the damned. I am aware of a passage which makes it sound as if hell is eternal; I am also aware of several more where the plainest reading is the annihilation of the lost. On the basis of such passages, I think that annihilation should be "in-bounds" as far as beliefs go, and not considered heretical.
  • Single procession - the earlier versions of the Nicene Creed confessed that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father" which is a quote from Christ. The phrase "and the Son" was a late addition to the Creed, and one that has never been universally recognized the way the original creed was recognized. For this reason, I think that belief in single procession should be in-bounds, rather than heretical, and reciting the Creed without the "filioque" ("and the Son") clause should be an acceptable variation.
  • Faith as trust - Jesus once compared the kingdom of heaven to a man who had two sons and sent them out to work. One said "Yes sir" but ditched when it came time to work. The other said "Take a hike" but actually did what he was asked. I have to ask myself whether this applies to the nominal atheist -- the one who keeps it in his pocket that "If God really is good, he'll have some compassion on us and judge us with decency and mercy." and lives his life according to this faith. I think that an atheist who can say that has a better confession of faith than a Christian who confesses all the points of an intellectual creed but proclaims "God is a hard man, who reaps what he did not sow," who preaches the injustice of God rather than his goodness.
  • The three hypostases and the one essence or substance - The language in which we describe the Trinity is mainly foreign to the apostolic church. I am fully on board with the fact that the early, apostolic church -- and Christ himself -- and the Old Testament, while we're on the subject -- all speak as if God, and His Word, and His Spirit are all inseparably bound up in what it means to be God in relation to this created world. That is not quite the same as thinking that the philosophical explanations hammered out in the 200's, 300's and 400's (and later) actually do justice to what it means to know God in relation to this world. I think those philosophical explanations should be in-bounds, no doubt, but not to the extent that they limit the discussion, or are seen as the ultimate word on the subject, or preclude exploring fuller explanations of the essential mystery of God.
In all these cases, it is "the faith once given" that makes me consider these "heresies" to be in-bounds. Orthodoxy, rightly done, keeps the faith once given from being distorted. But every once in awhile, the idea of orthodoxy is abused and actually distorts the faith once given.

I'm curious, does anyone else have favorite "heresies"? And if so, why?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On blogging under a pseudonym

Every now and then I see a conversation on whether it is ethical or acceptable for bloggers to publish anonymously or pseudonymously. Since it seems to bother some people, I thought I would mention my thoughts on the subject.

First, if I had an academic reputation to uphold -- if my name or professional credentials were relevant to the discussions at hand -- I would feel obliged to mention that in the interest of full disclosure. However, I work in the computer sciences and blog about the things of God. My identity or professional reputation isn't really relevant. Then my company also has a policy that controversial things shouldn't be tied back to the company or its employees. While I'm not a controversy-hound by any means, I'm sure someone could manage to take offense at various subjects I discuss. The last thing I would want is a "cease and desist" order from my employer on my after-hours activities, since it involves thoughts that could conceivably offend people.

But to me these are the smaller reasons; the larger concern is that one of my interests is plumbing the depths of sin and healing in an honest and personal way. I believe that taking a detached, academic approach to personal things is a fundamental distortion of the subject. I have already posted some material on my blog that mentions family members not by name but by relationship -- material which means that it would not be ethical of me to disclose my identity, since it would also disclose theirs. If I ever "go public", it would be after my mother has gone to her reward and is beyond the reach of controversy.

I should mention that the mere thought of ever going public (or being outed) has put a damper on what I post here. Several times this last year I have skipped on posting things that I believe could have helped other people, because of the harm that might be done to someone else if my comments ever became traceable. There are even a few things I have skipped saying about myself which would not bother me so much being public, but could possibly embarrass my children, as easily-embarrassed as children can be about parents. So if a post could be helpful to other people, but it might ever reflect badly on another person if my own identity were outed, that has made me reconsider posting even things that might help other people. If helping some people comes at the cost of harming others, it's suddenly no longer worth it. As my thoughts on this have developed, I have posted less material here of a personal nature; I still am hunting for a good way to approach this material, as I believe it could be useful. All this has had the net effect of my only mentioning things about my parents' generation and further back. In that way, twenty years from now it should theoretically be safe to reveal my name and no one living could be harmed by it. It's not so much that I regret writing under a pseudonym as that I regret that it is not quite strong enough protection, that someday the pseudonym may not be able to protect everyone it is intended to protect.

On a humorous note, people who know me on-line, but do know my legal name -- these people tend to have more misconceptions about who I really am than those people who know only my pen name. See, my legal last name is "ethnic" -- but it was my married name, not my birth name. I've had some people very kindly and solicitously ask after my supposed home country -- all with the best intentions, no doubt -- who had no idea that my legal name had misrepresented my identity more than my pen name, at least in that way. So for those who know my legal name but had thought I was East Asian of some sort -- I have to come clean that my legal name has misled you. I'm actually Scotch-Irish! With some Welsh thrown in for good measure. :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Five Authors meme ...

Dr. Platypus has tagged me with what was originally Ken Brown's challenge to name the five books (or scholars) that have had the most immediate and lasting influence on how I read the Bible.

The ones I finally chose are authors who have not only written great books, but these particular books have agendas that resonate with me deeply. These are books and authors whose agendas I have, at least in some part, adopted as my own in life ... often before I had read the author and met a kindred soul.
  1. Vladimir Lossky (Eastern Orthodox): The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. For not apologizing for loving beauty and mystery, for standing up for their place in serious theology in light of God's holiness.
  2. Eusebius the Historian (pre-Chalcedonian orthodox/catholic): The History of the Church. I "get" this author more than many other authors, and this book more than any other non-fiction book I have ever read. I can see his agendas running through his pages, through every word and organizational structure and repeated format in his works. A lot of my early patristics studies (pre-Eusebius era) is an effort to carry through with his monumental work that will never be quite finished.
  3. A.J. Heschel (Jewish): The Sabbath. For seeing the point of God's Law as being less about Obeying Rules and more about dancing under the myrtles.
  4. Lao Tzu (would he classify himself as a Taoist? I wonder): Tao Te Ching. Yes, I'm aware of the authorship disputes on the Tao Te Ching; don't be a grinch. For pursuing the ancient path as humility, gentleness, and simplicity.
  5. Ambrose Bierce (atheist): The Devil's Dictionary. For skewering pretentiousness and holding a mirror up to the parts of ourselves we'd rather not see -- but it would be better for us if we did see. One of the phrases that is always in the back of my mind is from the Devil's Dictionary:
    Christian (definition):
    1. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
    2. One who follows the teachings of Christ insofar as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

Anyone else up for a meme ("challenge")? I'd be glad to hear from you all; there are a couple of people I'm not tagging only because I doubt you do memes. If you want to participate, please do. The people I consider most likely to participate would be: Mark, Anastasia, Martin, Howard, and Proclaiming Softly.

Thank you, Dr. P. That was fun. :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Liturgy of Luke: Confessions and Absolutions

Here is my first draft of different invitations to confession, confessions, and absolutions from the Gospel of Luke. As the Gospel of Luke is rich in suitable material for this, several variations are shown here.

Invitation to confession: Salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what is lost. (Luke 19:9-10)

Confession: My enemies accuse me before you, saying I am a sinner. They accuse me rightly. The memory of my wickedness shames me and brings me to tears. But I am not alone in being accused; they also accuse you, that you are a friend of sinners; in you I place my hope. (Luke 7:37-39; 7:34)

Absolution: Your sins, which are many, are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. (Luke 7:47-50) I say to you, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who had no need of repentance, and over the repentance of a sinner there is joy in the presence of the angels of God. (Luke 15:7, 10)

Confession: Lord, in the weight of my sin I cannot lift my eyes to heaven. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. (Luike 18:13)

Absolution: I tell you, the one who humbles himself before God is the one who is exalted; the one who pleads for mercy is the one who returns to his home justified before God. (Luke 18:14)

Invitation to confession:
P: Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Luke 5:31-32; see also Matt 9:12-13)

(I haven't worked out the wording of the confession yet.)

P: "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 5:24, 20; see also Matt 9:6, 2).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Liturgy of Matthew: Prefaces to the readings

Here is my first draft of the prefaces for the readings for the Liturgy of the Gospel of Matthew:

Preface to the full set of readings:
Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Matt 4:4)
Preface to the Gospel reading:
This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him. (Matt 17:5)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Liturgy of Matthew: Seasonals

Here is my first draft of the seasonal sentences for the Liturgy of the Gospel of Matthew:

Advent: Mary shall bring forth a son, and he shall be named Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21)

Christmas: It was fulfilled what the Lord spoke by the prophet: They shall call his name Emmanuel, which means God With Us. (Matt 1:22-23)

Epiphany: Coming into the house where the child was with Mary his mother, the wise men fell down and worshiped him. (Matt 2:11)

Lent: From that time forth, Jesus taught that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day. (Matt 16:21)

Resurrection: The angel answered, "Fear not, for I know you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen!" (Matt 28:5-6)

Pentecost: I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who comes after me shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matt 3:11)

Sundays after Pentecost: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest for your souls. (Matt 11:28-29)

End Times (Troubled times): The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent forth servants saying, "I have prepared my dinner and all things are ready. Come to the wedding banquet." (Matt 22:2, 4)

End Times (Untroubled times): Watch, for you do not know at what hour your Lord will come. (Matt 24:42)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Liturgy and the Gospel of Matthew

I have a slow-going pet project: reworking the ancient liturgies in their familiar formats, but making them 100% from Scripture: every word, every song, every response. Time permitting and God willing, I'd also like to re-do the music too, so that there is a Bach-and-Matthew liturgy, or a Handel-and-John liturgy, and so forth.

I have a theory about good Christian writings, not just the gospels and epistles but the whole corpus of Christian writings throughout the ages: that any author who truly understands God and his message will have material that automatically and instinctively covers basics of a liturgy. I suspect that a truly good and well-rounded Christian writer could have their own material selected and arranged to create a liturgy from their words, complete with invocation, confession and repentance, adoration, praise, prayers, appreciation of God's word, the sacrament, going forth into the world, blessing, and so forth. I expect you could create a liturgy of St.Augustine, a liturgy of C.S.Lewis, a liturgy of Therese of Lisieux ... and that each author would be able to fill the framework of the basics of Christian adoration of God and proclamation of Christ.

I'd like to offer one tiny installment tonight, an invitation to confession and the proclamation of forgiveness in a Liturgy of Matthew:

Invitation to confession:
P: Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:12-13)

(I haven't worked out the wording of the confession yet.)

P: "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Take heart; your sins are forgiven." (Matt 9:6, 2).