Your heart stopped beating for me, so that my heart might start beating for you.
May my debt of gratitude be forever outstanding.
Your heart stopped beating for me, so that my heart might start beating for you.
May my debt of gratitude be forever outstanding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Little by little things are disappearing from my house. At first it was little things: pieces of decor, some books, a small kitchen appliance, and then it was bigger things, as in pieces of furniture, my bike, and a few of my tools in the garage. Upon investigation I’ve found no signs of breaking and entering, no signs of trespass or burglary of any sort. And, yet, as if there is an insider making sure no signs of crime appear, things are disappearing from my household.
Okay, really, my daughter Elena has the moneymaking bug, with a fever of 104, and on top of that she has a knack for acquiring it. It is as if the gods of green have bestowed a special karma upon her that allows her to generate cash at will. In saying this I am specifically thinking of two areas where the blessing is manifest, which I will alliteratively refer to as Craigslist, and Contests. With respect to Craigslist, all she has to do is post something and within the hour someone will call, be genuinely interested, and by day’s end will have purchased the item posted. With respect to contests, Elena merely has to enter it, and very likely she will be among the winners, which in many cases will put her in the circle of those receiving cash prizes.
As a result of this unique bit of karma in which Elena currently abides, I imagined a scenario, something like you would see in a sitcom, wherein a precocious child, not unlike one of the kids in a Disney show, was enthralled by an incident wherein she legitimately sells one of her possessions via Craigslist to generate cash for another desired item, and under the narcotic of easy cash begins to sell, unbeknownst to the parents, other household items, making connections with prospective buyers all at times when the parents are conveniently away from the home.
It is this imagined scenario that inspired the opening paragraph of this post, and though it is not true that Elena has been selling our items behind our backs (if anyone would do this, it would be my son Joel, who is a good kid, but a bit impulsive), it is true that the gods of prosperity are currently smiling upon her. Well, let me restate that in a manner more consonant with my worldview… Jesus likes her just a little bit more than the rest of us.
After speaking to my priest, the next major step in the discernment process was to go before the vestry and present why I think I am called to the priesthood. To bring the end to the beginning, the outcome of going before the vestry was that I was given unanimous affirmation that I should go forward with this process. I was relieved to receive this verdict, and I mean verdict, as honestly there is a part of me that always feels like I am on trial, and a part of this trial is about having an appropriate sense of self. Yes, it is a bit neurotic, but the fact is I am afraid of not knowing what I should know, of having an inordinate or skewed vision of myself, of being one of those contestants on American Idol who think they can sing, but who are told by Randy and the crew, in front of millions of people, that they are deluded about their talents. So, in short, it was nice not to hear, as I mildly feared I might, “Sorry Anthony, we just don’t see it.”
With respect to preparing for my presentation my pastor said that I should clarify my vision of why I think I am called. My beginning point for this time of clarification was my conviction that I am a teacher, a conviction that has been evident in various ways throughout my adult life. This, of course, does not necessarily lead to the priesthood, but the connection between teaching and the priesthood had to do with the kind of teacher I want to be. In short, I want to be a holistic teacher, the kind that addresses the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Along with this, I have long been preoccupied with the the human condition, particularly as it is understood within the biblical categories of sin and redemption. Again, I realize that one can be this kind of teacher without necessarily being a priest, but with respect to myself it became clear that this kind of integration meant priesthood, for it is the priest who presides over Communion, the act of grace wherein God allows himself to be broken for our brokenness so that we can be healed and made whole. As I continued to process, what became clear was that all I wanted to say about God and humanity radiated out of this one reality, that this one reality had implications for every aspect of our existence, and that I saw myself presiding over this reality by proclaiming it through word and sacrament.
So, there it is, the heart of what I presented to the vestry, and the heart of what compels me to pursue this call.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.