Sunday, January 30, 2022

Loving the world, one thing at a time

 "For God so loved the world ..." -- John 3:16

I know that there are times when the scriptures speak of the world in its corrupt state, where "loving the world" means "worldliness", in which the world has become an idol. In that sense, "Friendship with the world is enmity toward God." 

Because God loves the world, we know there is a right way to love the world, and a sense in which we are called to join in that love. When the world gets between us and God, then loving the world is idolatry. But when we are God's ambassadors to the world, then loving the world is an act of blessing and redemption. And when we are simply God's creatures, then loving the world is gratitude for what he has done.

My new year's resolution this year is to try to be mindful of these kinds of love of the world, to participate by loving the people, places, and things in front of me. "The world" is too big and too abstract for me. But I can love my family, one child at a time. I can love the world, one mockingbird at a time. I can love the world, one cat at a time. It is easier for me to take in small steps. Loving the world, one wildflower at a time. Loving the world, one apple at a time. Loving the world, one neighbor at a time. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Eve and Pandora, and where the puzzle piece fits

This post is slightly off my usual topics, but Father Stephen's post this week touches on Pandora -- so this seems an opportune moment to explore some connections about ancient narratives and ancient worldviews. 

For anyone who wouldn't mind a refresher, Pandora is a character in Greek mythology who lets evil loose in the world. She does this by opening a box that is forbidden to open, desiring to know what is inside it. Though the details are different, the outline has similarities to the Bible's account of Eve bringing evil into the world by reaching out for knowledge that was forbidden. I am not planning to compare and contrast Eve and Pandora here. My point is that both the Greeks and Hebrews had either revelation or primal instinct that human misery was in part due to human pursuit of knowledge -- perhaps without enough wisdom. 

I know that there are some legitimate reasons why people might object to comparing Eve with Pandora. I do not intend to try to change anyone's thoughts. My own reason for the comparison is this: the Greek and Hebrew people shared a world, after a certain point in history -- though it may be that the Greek sense of national identity began later than the Hebrew one. Their worldviews had some things in common. Consider another aspect of the Biblical creation account: the wind / breath of God moved over the water, the man was made from the dust of the earth. We see the classical "elements" of earth, air, and water in that, with the Spirit of God consistently associated with air and water. As for humanity, "Dust you are, and to dust you will return" -- we are creatures of earth. It's not a story directly repeated in any Greek myth that I know, and still the ancient world's "elements" (which we tend to think of as Greek elements) are there in the background. Sure, their "elements" are more like what we now call "states of matter": solid, liquid, gas. While our knowledge of states of matter is more advanced than the ancient one, that original understanding still informs our own and is still taught as one of the early lessons in chemistry. 

A few years back I'd shared some thoughts on the ancient "element" of fire, contrasting the Greek myth of Prometheus -- in which a man stole the fire of the gods -- with Pentecost in its Christian meaning, in which the fire of God's Spirit is freely poured out on people. In the Bible, the holy fire is given as a gift to humanity. The breath of God is given as a gift to humanity. The purifying water is given as a gift to humanity. So all the other elements of fire, air, and water are given as gifts to the children of earth. 

Knowledge is not given as a gift. We value it: in every generation, a significant number of people devote time and focus to learning, to gaining understanding, to teaching. So it is easy to empathize with Eve. There is an old Jewish teaching that, when the time was right, Adam and Eve would have been given to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil -- that the problem was not with the knowledge itself, but with the (lack of) wisdom and maturity of the recipients, or their relationship with God, each other, and the world. On the view that God freely gives of himself to his people, that interpretation fits.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Bible: One-line introduction

For those who weren't raised Christian, many people have heard nothing accurate about the Bible. I found myself wondering how I would introduce the Bible in one line, speaking to someone who knew nothing (or nothing honest) about it. I think I might start here: 

If a book ends with a wedding, it's a love story. 

The Bible ends with a wedding between God and his "bride" -- his people. Throughout, there's a wedding theme. Israel saw the Sinai covenant as something like wedding vows. The prophets spoke of their chasing after idols as a kind of unfaithfulness, again assuming the context of a wedding. Jesus spoke of himself as the bridegroom, and again spoke of the final celebration at the end of time as a wedding feast. Even in the tricky-to-interpret final book of the Bible, it's plain enough that it is a wedding celebration, and the husband has prepared a beautiful home for his bride. 

It's ultimately a story about how God loves the world, and gives us life. 

Regardless whether you see Genesis' creation scenes as mythical / symbolic or historical, it starts with God loving the world, giving it life, and giving people his blessing. Regardless whether you see Revelation as symbolic, metaphoric, or spoiler alerts to the future, it ends with God loving the world, giving it life, healing our hurts and giving people his blessing. It speaks of this in terms of a wedding: God is all-in. 

And it's something that would be good for me to remember about the Bible, too: It ends with a wedding; it's a love story.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

God In Person

During this pandemic, I've come to know some new people through online meetings such as zoom. A couple of months ago, of the new people I have met online, I saw someone for the first time in-person. We recognized each other instantly. (We might've squeed* with excitement and rushed to give each other hugs.) And yet: she was shorter than I realized. In my mind I quickly adjusted my mental image of her with that and a few other things that weren't clear on camera. She probably did the same with me. While we had no trouble recognizing each other, a video conference wasn't quite the same as meeting in person. 

Our image of God has the same issues. We're not in a position to see what we want to see, and the obstacles don't yield to technological solutions like zoom. If God wants to know us in person -- and for us to know him -- then we have places that we look. Sometimes we look to nature, sometimes we look to Scripture. For a Christian, ultimately our face-time with God is in the person of Christ. 

Jesus serves that place in our knowledge of God, as he said: "He who has seen me has seen the Father." He is the image of God; through him we know God and recognize God. We balk at seeing God as down-to-earth; it's not how we think of God. Inside our minds, we tend to de-personalize God. Heaven help us when an academic tries to prove they know God. They tend to trot out abstract theories or lofty descriptions. The theologized God is often "omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent" -- as opposed to "slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." There's a bias in the academic world that the best knowledge is impersonal. The incarnation -- Jesus showing us the true the image of God in person -- says that our bias is mistaken. In Jesus, the image of God is someone who loves the world, who meets us at our point of need. When we meet God in person, that is the image that will allow us to recognize him. For the long days between now and then, they will allow us to hold faith that his coming will be a good thing. 

* The spell-checker is taking issue with the verb "squee". I expect that one will make it into the dictionary eventually, but it's in common-enough use that I'll ignore the spell-checker on this one.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Best of the Blogroll 2021

Here's to the new year. I'd like to recognize the Christian blogs that I read, linking to my favorite (entirely subjective) post(s) of the year. These are posts I have found intriguing, uplifting, edifying -- or an excellent lead on primary sources. 

  • Common Denominator - Ken Schenck starts with the question that many of us have probably asked ourselves privately: Why were the wise men the only ones who seemed to notice the star? He continues from there with some other observations along those same lines on the first epiphany in his sermon-starter post Hidden In Plain Sight
  • Conciliar Post - In his piece In Praise of the Holy Angels, Brian Rebholz discusses the edifying benefit of affirming the existence of angels. "Angels reveal that [the] ordinary world is extraordinarily sacred."
  • Dr Claude Mariottini - Dr Mariottini might despair of my choice but I enjoyed the posts about some archaeological finds, including New Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments and possibly the oldest woven basket to survive intact (estimated age 10,000 years). When I hear things like that, I always wonder what the scribe or weaver would have thought if they had known. 
  • Forward Progress - Michael Kelly reflects on Thanksgiving: The Foundation of Christian Thanksgiving is the Character of God
  • Glory To God For All Things - Fr. Freeman writes on Healing the Heart about discernment about the battle for good or evil within our own hearts. He reposts a reflection on how Jesus reveals God's goodness, as the clarifying view for all exegesis on the character of God. And his reflections on Thanksgiving also caught my eye, as he contrasts the modern mind-set with the unique kind of gratitude -and-communion to which Christians are called. 
  • Meta's Blog - Joseph Hinman provides a fresh, brief review of the Transcendental Signifier argument for the rationality of belief in God. The linked version also contains a critique of modern philosophy for things it fails to address in its worldview. 
  • The Pocket Scroll - MJH announces his upcoming course in the Historical Context of the 7 Ecumenical Councils. (While I doubt he takes write-in requests, I'd love a monograph on the background of some of the earlier councils in the ante-Nicene era.) 
  • Reading Acts - Philip Long provides a valuable service in regularly helping organize the Biblical Studies Carnival, such as the most recent one for December 2021. 
  • Roger Pearse - In his continuing coverage of ancient texts and translations -- and sometimes original contributions to his field -- he mentioned an exciting rediscovery of the Chronicon of Eusebius in Armenian. 
  • Sun and Shield - Martin LaBar frequently posts material on prayer from CCEL in digestible devotion-sized excerpts. Here is a recent favorite on prayer and fellowship in Christ.  
  • Undivided Looking - Aron Wall had an interesting discussion on Christian Conscience and the Secular Workplace
  • Weedon's Blog - Pastor Weedon is a regular source of edifying devotions. How best to recognize that work? Probably a link to his newly-published book of advent devotions, Isaiah 'Twas Foretold It

Thank you to all who use their space online to bring more fellowship, honesty, humility, and light to public discourse!