The Hands That Shaped You

April 29th, 2014

Perhaps in the end the final question is: “By the work of whose hands do you live?” Are you going to live by the work of your hands, and be the sum of all you’ve done? Or, are you going to be the work of God’s hands, hands that were pierced to embrace you, remake you, and make you His own? Perhaps in the end God will merely look for the hands that shaped you.

The Mere Melody

April 24th, 2014

In thinking about why I am a bit uncomfortable with fundamentalist Christians, even though they share many of my theological convictions, an analogy occurred to me wherein the Christian faith is much like a symphonic piece, and the Fundamentalists, as well as a whole host of Evangelicals, are singing the basic melody, but are missing the whole symphony, a wonderfully complex orchestral piece that has a clear melody, but a melody that throughout the whole of the orchestration is repeated with a slight variation on a consistent theme, and where there are echoes of the melody, counter-melodies (which heighten the tension of the melody) and where there is vocal and instrumental harmony, all of which provides texture, depth, and breadth to the song that is Christianity. The main problem, however, is not that they are merely singing the melody, but that they too often think that the mere melody is the whole orchestration, and too often they are suspicious of those parts of the larger orchestration that go beyond the basic melody. In short, its like their souls have become attenuated by only listening to the pop version of the Christian faith.

May Sumatra Be With You

March 27th, 2014

I love coffee. I love it more than I should. This I know, because my sensitive digestive system often tells me so; nevertheless, I love coffee so much I often ignore what it says. This post, however, is not about my physiological responses to coffee, but about a disparity in my experience of coffee, which is that coffee never tastes as good as it smells at that moment when it is being ground. That smell is like heaven crashing my senses, like God has said, “I will enter the world as an aroma” and when that aroma hits, I am suddenly lulled into a deep sense of contentment, peace, and that everything is aligned, both in the world out there and the world within. It’s almost a mystical experience, a sudden sense of oneness, but the problem is that this sense passes all to quickly, and I am left bereft with only a faint memory to sustain me.

Now that I think about it, this post is about my physiological responses, as I am convinced that body and spirit are two-sides of one coin, and when the aroma of coffee hits my senses, catalyzing a whole series of hormonal responses, I am certainly expressing both the psychosomatic dimension of human existence, as well as the capacity of these physiological responses to engage my spirit at a deep level. Again, the aroma hits, and I am one with God, everyone, and all things. This phenomena reinforces my deep sensibility that ultimately all things are sacramental, that God ordained in the structure of creation that the material can participate in the spiritual, and that the senses, when rightly trained, can lead us into the presence of God.

So, in thinking this through, I’ve decided I’m gonna start carrying around a battery powered coffee grinder, and some fresh coffee beans in a vacuum pouch, and when I start getting, anxious, frustrated, or angry, which is far more often than I want any of you to know, I am going to pull out those beans, grind them, and be one with all things and everyone.

May Sumatra be with you…

sacramentally of course, as only God can give peace.

Anxious Face

March 24th, 2014

Every morning I wake to see the top picture above hanging on the wall just to the left of my bed, a picture of an Italian village near a river. And every morning through the lens of anthropomorphising imagination I see, amidst the buildings of this village, a little face expressing something like anxiety with a touch of fear. It’s as if this building, in a moderately high-pitched, cartoon-like voice is saying,  ”Uh… anyone see those approaching storm clouds???”

Why Millennials Long for Liturgy

January 17th, 2014

Below is a link to a good article on why some Millennials are leaving mainstream Evangelcial churches and crossing the liturgical threshold into Rome, Constantinople, or Canterbury. In short, they are looking for historical rootedness and tradition, a deep connection between the spiritual and the material, and an intimate connection between truth and beauty. Personally, I resonated with the testimonies of the people who were interviewed in the article, particularly when it came to the concerns expressed by one gentlemen regarding the move by many Protestant churches to incorporate more liturgical styles in their own worship. In his words, “such stylistic treatments dodge the real question: the issues of church authority behind the traditional liturgy.” It seems to me that the traditional liturgies are organic in nature, having emerged from the common life and wisdom of the Church as it moved through and developed over time, and in my experience these liturgies have more presence, as if they act sacramentally to communicate the work of the Spirit amidst the multigenerational work of the people. By contrast, the modern move among Evangelicals and Protestants to recover aspects of ancient liturgies for their own worship is at risk of treating liturgical history as a buffet to choose from without submission to a greater reality than their own theological sensibilities and convictions. As the above gentlemen said, such an approach too often evades questions regarding the authority of the Church. I don’t see this evasion as necessarily intentional, however, as the nature of both the Church and authority are complex and sensitive issues.

However you weigh in on this issue, I recommend reading the article, which is titled “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy” and was written by Gracy Olmstead, who is the associate editor for The American Conservative.

Your Heart Stopped Beating

December 15th, 2013

Lord Jesus,

Your heart stopped beating for me, so that my heart might start beating for you.

May my debt of gratitude be forever outstanding.

-Amen

Is Pope Francis a Universalist

October 5th, 2013

The following is an email that I wrote to a friend and dear sister in Christ, who expressed some concerns about recent words of Pope Francis wherein he was accused of being a universalist. I thought I would publish it here to share with my family, friends, and fellow pilgrims.

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Dear Ms. C,

I read a few articles on the Pope’s reported universalism, and I think the following quote from a recent sermon of his, is what has caused the brouhaha:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

Of all that he said in this passage I think what is most challenging with respect to the charge of universalism is where he said, “And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class!” To explain I will begin by saying that I’ve read that the emphasis of redemption in a Roman Catholic and I think Eastern Orthodox framework is on Jesus’ identification with the whole of the human race wherein his union with us, and his crucifixion and resurrection for us actually changes the status of the whole of humanity. By contrast, we Protestants when it comes to redemption tend to focus on the individual’s appropriation of the work of Christ. Another way of saying this is that Christ has won redemption for all of us. Likewise the blood of Jesus has given all of us abundant blessing, beyond what any of us deserve, and all of us, whether we know it or not, partake of those blessings. With this in mind I think that the Pope is saying that all partake of the blessing of redemption by virtue of sharing a common humanity with Christ via incarnation. The question then being whether all will partake of the full benefit of Jesus’ redeeming work such that all will be saved in the final sense of the word, by which most people usually mean that one will go to Heaven, and not go to Hell. With respect to this question, I would bet that the Pope would say that not all will be saved in that sense, that God will respect people’s freedom and will let them choose to not partake of the full benefit of Christ’s redeeming work, and that though all will have received some benefit, ulitmately some will refuse to submit to the full work of redemption and will die lost.

You will also notice that in the above passage Francis states that we all have a duty to do good. For many, particulary Protestants, the duty to do good would be heard as a command of Law, which would therefore be a work of judgment. By contrast, I think, and I admit this is speculation, that in his framework the duty comes from being a creature made in God’s image, which is itself a grace, and being a redeemed son, which is an even further grace. Again, one could fall short of this duty that is a grace, and having fallen short of this grace, one could lose the status of sonship and thereby be be lost. In this economy of grace, one could begin by fulfilling this duty as best as he or she understands, and would thereby go further into the redemptive work of Christ, a going further which would eventually require faith for the redemptive work to come to completion in one’s life, a completion which Paul, in Romans 8:23, refers to as the adoption as sons for which we eagerly await.

Having said all that I said above, I understand why many have accused Francis of being a universalist, but I think he is a nuanced thinker that speaks very pastorally, and who wants to put an emphasis on the mercy and love of God as the foundation for a call to repentance and moral renewal. Also, I think he is a person who frustrates religious expectations in a good way, and is perhaps called by God to school people in the abundance of God’s grace that frustrates such expectations. Again, I am being speculative. In the end, I continue to read him and read about him with eagerness.

Finally, I have to share that a part of me feels a bit odd, or even wrong assessing his theology. I realize that he is not perfect, that he is a man who is also in need of redemption, a fact he openly confesses, and so his theology is apt to fall short in some ways. That said, I think it is a kind of Protestant pride that says, “Hmmm I’m gonna size this man up and identify where he falls short.” I guess I say this, because we Protestants tend to be suspicious of heirarchy and religious authority except for the authority of Scripture, which in some measure is right, but a bit simplistic, and in reality tends to work itself out in our lives in such a way that we really respect the religious authority of those who read the Scriptures in the same way we read the Scriptures. Having said this, I realize I have opened up a whole other can of worms, but I will save that for a latter conversation.

Peace be with you.

Love,
Anthony

100 Words – God’s Holiness

September 24th, 2013

Throughout my life I’ve heard that God’s holiness is the reason we sinners cannot stand before him, that his holiness is the measure of moral perfection against which we are compared and found greatly wanting. Lately I’ve been thinking this notion misses the heart of what holiness means. Instead of judgment, God’s holiness is about the purity of his love, a love utterly untainted by egoism, a love that utterly gives of itself to redeem the beloved. In this manner holiness is not essentially about judgment, but about the certainty of a sinner’s hope in the depths of God’s love.

100 Words – On One Hundred Words

September 4th, 2013

Awhile back while at Pismo I was surrounded by many opportunities to take beautiful pictures, and yet I was without my camera. I did, however, have my camera phone, which at best can be characterized as a point and shoot. In taking pictures I discovered that the constraints of my camera phone forced me to be creative with my shots, and in the end I was quite pleased with the results. This is the point of 100 Words, to write brief essays, very brief one-hundred-word essays, the constraints of which I expect will force me to be concise and creative.

Slow Sipping in SLO

June 25th, 2013

I am sitting in a cafe in SLO, slowing sipping on a latte with the alternating sounds of jazz and alternative pop playing in the background. I like these kinds of places: the privately owned enterprise with an urban, quirky vibe that utilizes a hodgepodge of furniture, a number of well placed lamps, and enough visually arresting, various-sized works of modern and street art to keep my semi-ADD brain occupied for hours. I feel cool just being here, as if the cool kids let me sit at their table in the lunchroom, but the crowd here isn’t high school cool, but rather college cool, which means the kids here likely weren’t cool in high school. These are kids who know stuff, which I know because one of the walls here is a dedicated pantheon to the gods of Western intellectual history, with various sized pictures of such luminaries as Kafka, Marx, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Locke, Steinbeck, Rand, Dostoevsky, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and I believe Wittgenstein. Of course, not all who hang here know the names of the people on the wall, and not all of them go to college, but clearly this is a college scene, and I imagine that many of the clientele find these figures cool in the sense that they represent culture, critical thinking, and commentary on the human condition.

Regarding the people who hang here, they too add to the quirky vibe. The ladies that are currently on shift, along with the lad that was working earlier, all have tattoos, which makes me imagine an interview scenario wherein the boss asks questions about a prospective employee’s tattoos, which would allow said boss to evaluate the potential employee’s sensibilities and values, particularly with respect to how it would resonate with the vibe of the establishment. The formula for establishing appropriate locally-owned, coffee house resonance goes is like this: get various types of employees who will bring the right amount of dissonance, and yet whose dissonance will eventually come together and resolve itself in an unexpected yet consistent harmony. In this way a coffee house becomes a living expression of jazz, which I think is what draws people like myself to these kinds of places. Moving from the employees to the clientele, a number of young men sport mustaches, but I believe they are sporting them ironically, as if they are making a nod to a 70′s cop or porn star, or a porn star dressed like a cop (to my shame, I admit that I have seen this scenario). A number of dudes are bald or near bald, and are wearing dark framed, ala Buddy-Holly-style glasses, and a number of them are sporting English driving caps, including yours truly. I also see dudes wearing shorts and mid-calf-length, black socks, and dudes sporting semi-bed head, and sometimes some of the former dudes are the latter dudes, or are the dudes who are bald or semi-bald and are, or are not, wearing English driving caps. A number of the ladies, including some of the aforementioned baristas, give off a mildly feminist, granola-Gaia, don’t mess with me vibe, but I readily admit that I could be projecting my expectations on the basis of the previously mentioned tattoos. Finally, there are a lot of regulars here. Perhaps I should say normals, as regulars connotes frequency of patronage, and I mean to indicate the overall sensibility of these patrons. These normals wear chinos, or jeans and T-shirts, polos, or button up shirts, of a non-descript variety. Of course, these so-called normals are coming here for their coffee, so it could be that their quirkiness is subtle, and not readily apparent to my observing eye. It could be that they are quirky at a level beyond my capacity to perceive and process, and in the mercurial heights of their subtle quirkiness are looking over at me and thinking, “typical.”

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By the way, the above cafe is Kreuzberg Coffee Company, and the following are a few pics to give a sense of the place. Click on the pic to get the full shot.