First Steps on the Road to Priesthood – Part 1

May 28th, 2013

I am perhaps, maybe, on the road to priesthood, and I am speaking in a tentative fashion, because this road is a process of discernment wherein I, along with others, through a series of steps, and over time, discern if there is indeed such a call on my life. Though the idea of ordained ministry has been in my heart and on my mind for quite a long time, I took my first official steps on this path in early January, at which time I told my priest that I need to officially begin this process. This move was a personal monument in my willingness to be vulnerable about this struggle, which has been intimately tied up with other issues regarding the grace of God, and my identity. Amidst this struggle what gave me the courage to step forward in this manner were two instances wherein I believe God spoke to me.

Instance One

I am at church, prior to the service, praying and preparing my heart, but feeling, as I often do, that my heart is an unruly entity, and so, as I often do, I tried to analyze and find the root of this unruliness. Amidst the self talk and scrutiny I get the following word, “You are trying to press in on things that belong to me,” and immediately afterwards I have a sense of peace accompanied by the awareness that self understanding is not in my hands for there is a part of me that is beyond me, and beyond my ability to analyze.

Instance Two

This instance is not really an instance, as in a particular moment in time, but rather a growing awareness that I was not going to be able to find within myself the proof that I am called to the priesthood. At some point, one I do not completely remember, the image of digging around and looking for something, a piece of gold perhaps, came to me, and out of this image came the words, “You cannot by digging through your soul find the badge of your calling that you can then pull out and show to others; instead, you must discover and confirm your call in discernment with others.” Once this thought was formulated I immediately felt a sense of peace and with this peace a holy anxiety, which is not to be confused with faithless anxiety, but rather the anxiety that emerges when God calls you to take a seeming risk, particularly one that requires vulnerability.

After coming forward to my priest about my need to take this step, my first response was, “Oh my God! What have I done?!?” Nonetheless, because of pride, and faith (yes, those two can work together),  I have continued to move forward. The pride played its part in that I did not want to be fickle, nor did I want to be perceived as fickle, as in, “Uh,.. I changed my mind about that whole priest thing.” Faith played its part in that I decided to trust God to be with me through this process even if it was inaugurated by some kind of stupidity or confusion on my part.

Great Grace for a Great Wreck

April 15th, 2013

My heart was made for a great God and has become a great wreck that can only be redeemed through a great act of grace by a good and great God!

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I could also say the above in a present ongoing sense, “My heart was made for a great God and has become a great wreck, and is being redeemed through unending grace by a good and great God!” However you or I say it, what I am expressing is a Kingdom principle, wherein Paul says, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” and where Jesus says, “He who is forgiven much loves much,” and where I say, “O my God, I am a great wreck, and how great your grace is to me!” I realize that my saying all this may sound quite negative, but what is driving my expression is my ongoing awareness of how deep our hearts are, much deeper than we commonly imagine, and how this indicates something of the magnitude and glory for which we were created. Certainly we all have suffered unimaginable loss, a loss in which we all are complicit, and yet, in Christ all loss is more than gained.

The Subversion of All Systems

April 11th, 2013

While I have this moment of clarity, I thought I would proclaim that the Cross subverts all systems by which humanity attempts to secure divine favor, or bring peace and order to the world. This is an assertion that is particularly directed to religious types such as myself. The Cross subverts human systems, particularly religious systems, because it radically reveals that autonomous human effort is at heart a denial of God. In other words, religion, the very thing that should function to further God’s work in the world actually works against God. This is made acutely clear in the fact that the religion that emerged from the covenant established by God’s initiative is the very religion that colluded with the premier political power of the day to crucify the Lord of Glory. This indictment, however, falls upon all systems, religious or otherwise, because all systems have a religious dimension, and all religions are represented by the religion that was established by God. My rationale for making this claim is as follows: if the system that was established by God and given the advantage of His resources to do His work actually turns against Him, how much more so do those systems that are not given such support.

This may all seem quite bleak, but actually it is the well spring of hope. Why? Because the very reality that is a sign of judgment is also a sign of grace. On the Cross God allowed himself to be broken by our brokenness, and judged for our rebellion, so that from within He could right us with Him. In this way the Cross is a double paradox for it is a sign of sovereign vulnerability and gracious judgment, for God made himself vulnerable, so that He could be crushed by our iniquities and bear the punishment that makes us whole.

Meta-Exegesis on Spirit and Law

February 20th, 2013

The following is a bit of meta-exegesis, which is to say that instead of providing and explanation of a religious text (exegesis), I am providing a commentary on another person’s explanation of a religious text. Although, what I offer is not so much a commentary but rather me wrestling with and processing another person’s exegesis. The exegesis comes from Luther’s preface to Romans, which has had a profound influence on the shape of modern Christianity. And so, without further ado, I give thee Luther’s text:

In chapter 7, St. Paul says, “The law is spiritual.” What does that mean? If the law were physical, then it could be satisfied by works, but since it is spiritual, no one can satisfy it unless everything he does springs from the depths of the heart. But no one can give such a heart except the Spirit of God, who makes the person be like the law, so that he actually conceives a heartfelt longing for the law and henceforward does everything, not through fear or coercion, but from a free heart. Such a law is spiritual since it can only be loved and fulfilled by such a heart and such a spirit. If the Spirit is not in the heart, then there remain sin, aversion and enmity against the law, which in itself is good, just and holy.

As I was reading the above selection from Luther, I was struck by Luther’s statement about the kind of heart which the Law requires if one’s deeds are to be acceptable to God. About this heart Luther states, “no one can give such a heart except the Spirit of God.” In processing this it occurred to me that when one lives independent of the Spirit such a one must become a law unto himself. Certainly this becoming a law unto oneself will be profoundly shaped by culture, but nonetheless, apart from the Spirit one falls into radical autonomy (self naming, self law-making), which is opposed to God, for He alone is the author of all things, who established the law of all things. In hearing this, I imagine it will be tempting for religious types, such as myself, to concur and to therefore think that our business as humans is to bring our being into conformity with God’s law. This would be wrong. Why? Because it would still be the product of our autonomy, even if it is an autonomy directed toward compliance with God’s laws. We, in-and-of ourselves can not bring about the kind of conformity God desires.

The thing is, God never intended humanity to live independent of his Spirit; we were always meant to have our hearts in the hands of the Spirit, so that by the Spirit’s intimate influence we would, as a matter of course, be shaped more and more into God’s likeness. God constituted us to be precisely that kind of creature that at root functioned through the movement of the Spirit. It is this reality, the move of the Spirit in the depths of our being, that we lost in the Fall, and it is this reality that we recover through faith, and are immersed into by baptism. In this light, it could be said that Christians are not called to live in conformity to the Law, but rather are called to live out the reality of their baptism, which is to say that they are called to live by faith, which is to further say that Christians are called to trust the Spirit to work out the life of Christ in them, a life of which the Law is a mere shadow.

The Deepest Law of the Universe

February 18th, 2013

As I was praying for my pastor the other day an image came to mind of the Stone Tablets of Moses, which then led me to think of the Stone Table upon which Aslan (the Christ figure of Narnia) was sacrificed, and what occurred to me in this association of images is that the deepest law of the universe is the Law of Divine Self-Sacrifice. As I have reflected upon this further, I would now assert that though the moral law, such as that seen in the Ten Commandments, is an expression of God’s character, the Law of Divine Self-Sacrifice is the law engraved directly upon God’s heart. I would further assert that the wounds of Jesus, afflicted by crucifixion, were the historical manifestation of this divine law. Amplifying this idea, the Gospel of John states that Jesus came from the bosom of the Father, from the very heart of the Father, and thus it is not much of a stretch to say that it was God’s very heart that bore our afflictions upon the Cross, and hence the sacrifice of Jesus reveals the deepest law of the universe.

God At A Distance

February 11th, 2013

It is never safe to keep God at a distance, for at a distance He judges sin, but up close He bears it

Drown That Bastard

February 6th, 2013

Drown that sad little bastard; drown him in a sea of grace.

On Not Being A Bibliolater

April 13th, 2012

Here is a recurring question of mine. What is the distinction between having an appropriate respect for God’s written Word, and being a bibliolater? To clarify, a bibliolater is one who is reductionistic in one’s thinking, and who fails to see that ultimately Jesus is the living Word of God. In this clarification I realize I am providing some parameters for addressing this issue, but still it doesn’t completely provide discernment. For example, the written Word has some kind of close connection with the living Word, but I don’t think it’s clear how close this connection is.

Jesus once said that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, and yet I know there are Christians who treat the Scriptures as if they have all authority. Certainly the Scriptures are authoritative, but it seems to me they are sacramentally authoritative, in that they are the divinely created channel to communicate the life and authority of Jesus. The problem, however, is that the Scriptures are often treated as having innate authority, an authority that can be then mediated by those who have some kind of familiarity or mastery of the text. This is a problem because the picture of authority in Scripture itself is not primarily a matter of cognitive mastery, but of spiritual development, a development that comes from wrestling with and becoming intimate with God. I imagine that this issue is connected to Paul’s distinction between the Spirit and the letter, wherein the former gives life and the latter brings death. Having acknowledged this, however, I am concerned about the consequences of placing too great a distance between the written Word and the Spirit of God, as this would quickly lead to gross subjectivity, innovation, and error, all of which are forms of death.

Along with the relationship between the letter and the living Word is the matter of how we relate to and draw upon the Scriptures when formulating doctrine, and constructing visions for spiritual growth and Christian living. In opening this inquiry, I spoke of biblical reductionism, by which I refer to the conviction that Christians should not be involved in spiritual practices that are not explicit in or clearly endorsed by Scripture. But this attitude raises questions regarding the nature of Christian freedom, as well as questions about the parameters and purpose of Scripture. For example, are the Scriptures supposed to be an exhaustive compendium for how one ought to live, or is it a foundational document that provides a basic framework and set of dynamic presuppositions that we then have to work out in the context of our individual and collective Christian lives as we engage new issues and areas of inquiry? I will be honest, and say that I tend toward the latter, but I see problems here as well. However, I won’t attempt to articulate these problems, as what I have said thus far is enough to provide the groundwork for processing my question.

So, again, I pose my question. What is the distinction between having an appropriate respect for God’s written Word, and being a bibliolater?

Breaking God’s Heart

March 17th, 2012

Sin basically consists not in breaking a set of rules but in breaking the heart of God – Anna Mow

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I got this quote from Donald Bloesch’s Theological Notebook. What I like about it is that it provides a profoundly Gospel understanding of sin, which is to say that it defines sin with respect to an immanently personal God, as opposed to a distant lawgiver.

Passionately Embraced

March 2nd, 2012

It’s a few days into Lent, and it’s evening, and I am sitting down to eat dinner on the couch, and, against the norm when eating on the couch, I am not watching TV, because, as I said, it is Lent, and TV is one of the things I have given up (actually it’s a restricted fast, as in restricted to Sunday-Thursday). As I am not inclined to stare at the wall while eating, I search for something to read, and thus I find the Oprah produced, O magazine, which, though not generally an attractive reading option for me, has in this instance particular promise, as this issue features an interview with Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith. When finished reading the article, which is located near the back of the magazine, I decide to read Oprah’s closing reflection where, not to my surprise, she talks about doing Transcendental Meditation with the citizens of a town called Fairfield in Iowa, where apparently it is a natural part of civic culture. Anyways, in this reflection she talks about a recent challenge she issued to her readers to sum up their lives in six words, a challenge called “You In Six Words”. I am a sucker for these things, and consequently, I read the challenge, and the examples that various readers sent in, and I come across the following:

Love.
Death,
Emptiness:
Trauma,
Then Lama

After this I read a brief blurb where the lady who wrote this almost Zen poem explains that she was traumatized by the death of her parents, and then set free from the trauma when a Buddhist Lama told her that she is not her trauma. Upon reading these words my heart pops with peace, and I start thinking, “Lord? Is this you??” And something like the following comes to mind, “You are not your sin. You are not your brokenness.”

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By the way my six words…

Passionately embraced by nail scarred hands