Christians: Stand up for Jesus

As readers know by now, I am shocked and disheartened by recent world events, particularly the violence we see. I’ve said before that we need to work on our own lives to end acceptance of violence. It is all around us; it is the go-to solution when demanding doesn’t work. It happens on the large-scale when 93 people are killed in one day in Oslo, Norway by a man with homemade bombs and some guns. It happens on a small scale everyday whenever a teenager is beaten for being gay, or a parent hits a child in the name of discipline. It happens quietly with racial slurs and jokes. It happens loudly when a political rally is shouted into an angry frenzy over the issues of immigration and second languages.

I would like to see a large scale dayof peace. This would be a demonstration of unity among Christians, in fellowship with those who are not Christians, for the right to live in peace. We Christians need to step forward as world leaders in the matter of peace. We are the people of Peace; we have the promise of Jesus Christ. “My peace I leave with you.” It’s been done, effectively before. The Civil Rights movement in the USA succeeded with peaceful demonstrations and nonviolent resistance. It has happened elsewhere.

I asked friends on facebook if they would support organizing a worldwide Day of Peace. One said, “Only if it isn’t religious.” Another one said, “Demonstrations don’t do any good. We just have to live lives of peace.” The problem with the first statement is that Christians can’t leave their faith out of things. If we do, we are blocking the Holy Spirit from working through us. After all, our Faith is not a philosophy of doing good and living quietly. It is a belief that God Himself is working to change us utterly and thoroughly, and no part of ourselves or our lives can be set aside from that. The problem with the second is that while people may admire it, they have no motivation to try it themselves, because we make it look as if it is entirely personal, a matter of choosing between equal goods. But Christians, if they read the Bible, can see that that is not the case. We aren’t here to fit in. We are here to stand out.

The apostles stood up in the middle of cities and towns and told the people about Jesus, the Christ, the One who saves humanity from itself. They got arrested and beaten for it, often, but they also, in that witness as well as the witness of Christian life, changed people’s hearts. Following Jesus, they opened the path to God for many. Thousands were moved and joined the people of Jesus. And not once did they say to the people that war would work, that might equals right. Early witnesses in the church (Justin, Origen) emphasize the pacifism – the peace witness – of Christians, who would not even fight against those who would take their lives.

So sitting back and living lives of quiet righteousness may not be enough. My fear is that all Christians will be dumped into the category of people who advocate war and violence; the Norwegian who proclaims himself Christian and then kills innocent government employees, passers-by on the street, and most horribly, teenagers trapped at a youth camp; hawks who hold a Bible in one hand and a bundle of cash in the other, simultaneously quoting Deutoronomy and showering so-called defense contractors with money. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are what Christians look like in the public eye. We stand there mute as stones while this goes on.

If you believe that the way of Jesus Christ is the way of Peace, that we need to beat our swords into plowshares, that we need to send our public funds to those who are suffering rather than filling the bank vaults of very wealthy war profiteers, then now is the time. Who would get behind the initiative to have a Day of Peace, initiated by Christians?

It has to be the start of a new movement, to bring the Peace of Christ into the world, as He told us to do. It won’t be a one-time only thing and we get to go back to watching “Die Hard” movies and eating corn chips. It has to be the public proclamation that Christians are here to spread the peace that passes all understanding, the Peace that Jesus Christ left with us.

 

Heresy and IHOP

Ancient Icon of the Good Shepherd

I first heard about IHOP – the International House of Prayer – via facebook. Of course, I thought they were talking about the International House of Pancakes, the chain resaurant featuring many flavours of corn syrup to pour on flapjacks. I had no idea it was so controversial until I read an article in the New York Times. Now I can see what all the shouting is about. When I did see some assertions about IHOP, Bickle’s forerunner theology, and end-time prophecies fulfilled, my response was a shrug and “Nonsense,” which hurt those “friends” who are enamoured of Bickle and his praying down the eschaton.

I am not the only mainline theologian to think this way.

This sort of muddle-headed and puropsely deceptive theology is what I have called before “heroic Christianity.” With our efforts, Jesus will return! We have the knowledge!

The “forerunner” part of this is dangerous. It contradicts what both Jesus and John the Baptist taught, that John’s time has been supplanted, and that those who follow God will model themselves on Jesus Christ, not on John the Baptist. It turns ordinary Christians who should be out living good plain lives of faith, humility and virtue into generals in the heavenly army. It elevates hubris through false ascetic practices. Mike Bickle has already been involved with a discredited “Prophets” movement, and he seems to have carried that mistake into his new heretical teachings.

I am particularly disturbed by his teaching about a “killing Jesus,” that the Son of Man will return, literally, with a sword in hand to destroy those who serve evil, and that – literally – the streets of Jerusalem will run with human blood. This is based on an exaggerated interpretation of the Revelation to St. John the Divine, commonly and incorrectly called the Revelations. John was caught up in the horrific persecutions of Christians under Nero; city streets did run with Christian blood. Certainly, John is offering visions of the return of Christ, but he is also offering Christians of his day comfort in their afflictions.

Bickle also promotes the false teaching that Christ cannot return until the temple is rebuilt, contradicting 2000 years of orthodox teaching that Jesus Christ Himself is the new temple, as He said in the statement that the temple would be torn down, but rebuilt in three days. Yes, He meant His own body and being. End of argument.

Don’t be pulled in and deceived by these false prophets. Bickle is just another nutbar looking to for his megalomania to be aggrandized by a lot of naive people who will donate money and time to his cause.

The Day of Resurrection

It has been an odd Lent and Paschal season for us. We did not go to church – too ill – we did not keep the fast – too ill – we did nothing outside home during Holy Week – too ill. It seemed to take all my strength to just keep the household moving forward, or at least staying in one place; bills paid, housework done, laundry washed, dried, folded, ironed. Meals were, more or less, cooked. We survived, in our isolated valley way.

Rather than mourning the loss of the cycle of the lenten season, I was just grateful that we had a home, some savings to pay the doctor and the pharmacist, a little cushion to get us the extra petrol and groceries we needed.  I had plans – they fell through. I had goals – they weren’t met. And yet I am grateful, and peaceful, and happy.

I posted the painting above, The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesco, because it is a puzzling image. It is dawn; the Roman guards are asleep outside the tomb in which Jesus of Nazareth was buried – why should they stay awake? They are guarding a dead man. He won’t cause any disturbance, will he? And the disciples who were purportedly plotting to steal the body – they are just idle fisherman from Galilee, long gone home, hiding until the heat is off. This isn’t a triumphant warrior Jesus; this isn’t a winged Messiah, vaulting into the air from his victory over death and hell. There is no flash in his eye, no lordly gestures. There are no angels. He has simply arisen. He holds his banner as if he is using it as a staff to aid his posture, stretching out the cramped muscles that have lain so long on cold stone. He is marked with the horrors of the crucifixion, and yet he is calm, and focussed.

He has passed through not only the valley of the shadow of death, but the pit of death itself. He has surpassed the Passion; He has conquered all of sin. He gazes out at us with an inscrutable gaze. There is nothing more for Him to see but Life.

In a moment He will step up fully on the broken tomb, He will blaze forth in glory that cannot be contained under earth. The heathen soldiers will run in fear, running to a charge of desertion but perhaps just deserting; Rome is not gentle or forgiving.

I expect that He blessed them as they fled, sparing them the cold justice of Pilate. I hope that they made their way home to Gaul, and Iberia and the banks of the Tiber.

I did not grieve and weep over the broken body this year. I had no Pieta in my heart. I am confident of His conquest of death.

He is risen.

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia. Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

(Pascha Nostrum)

Lent and Fasting

 

“What are giving up for Lent?” 

I’ve heard it every year for – oh, a long time – and sometimes people will (a little smugly) tell me that they aren’t giving up anything, they are adding a discipline. Which is not the point of a fast. Add a discipline if you want – but keep the fast anyway.

Lent and Advent are the traditional fasting seasons in the Church. (Some add more days of fasting.) And fasting means – giving up something. Giving up a lot. Just staying away from Chips-Ahoy cookies isn’t a fast.

This is a fast: No meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol or fats for the whole fasting season. Two meals a day, nothing more. Yes, from Ash Wednesday to after the Easter (Pascha) service. There are little exceptions; fats and wine are allowed on Seventh and First Day (Saturday and Sunday). Yes, this means no Guiness on St. Patrick’s Day, nor Irish stew, nor corned beef and cabbage. You can have the potatoes, onion and carrot, and the cabbage, though.

When we could we have kept this strict fast. It usually means losing about ten to twenty pounds. We don’t keep it if we are ill or have a lot of physical work to do, in which case we modify it somewhat, keeping some fats and eggs or some dairy. One has to be sensible about the fast, but not make excuses for avoiding or breaking it. This year we are keeping in eggs and olive oil because of my recent illnesses.

We eat beans, brown rice, all vegetables, bread and other grains – which for us is oatmeal. Russians eat buckwheat or kasha. Quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice are also good choices. We use a bit of seasoning, especially nutritious herbs, but the idea is that it is just food, not something to please our taste buds.

It is a way to deny the sensuality of this world for a season, to remind us that God is with us and provides all for our good. We want more than just that good – we want pleasures that may not be good for us, as so many of us find with food. I hear younger women – and some my age – say how hard it is to give up the supermarket indulgences as they look for nutritious and economical food choices for their families. If anyone is beginning to feel the sticker shock at the grocery checkout, now is a season to get used to some changes, to shop better, to eat better, to live closer to the earth.

I shop once before Lent, and buy all the beans, rice, dried foods, winter vegetables and supplements we may need. This year I have black beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, lentils and split peas, with rice and bulgur wheat. We have three kinds of flour. I bought potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, apples and cabbage, with ginger and garlic for seasoning. I have some bottled tomato sauce. Since I will be using eggs we can have homemade noodles. We will use up the cheese in the next week.

Is this hard? Yes, it is, but it is not supposed to be easy. It is a discipline. We will pray for strength in this Lenten journey. I will try to be more diligent in my prayer and study. We will anticipate the great Vigil of Pascha and the remembrance that Jesus Christ not only died for us, He rose from death to defeat death for us.

What’s with the Sin, All the Time?

Christians talk about sin a lot. Google or tag surf the word “Sin”. Lots to read.

That’s a frequent criticism of the church. “What’s with the sin! You talk about sin all the time!”

We do, and we always have. The Philokalia, a collection of spiritual readings intended for Orthodox monks, has pages of lists of sins. I was raised in a Calvinist Baptist Church where the constant theme was “Avoid sinning.”  And we were told how to avoid sinning, mostly by staying away from the opposite sex. My logical little mind soon realized that staying away from the opposite sex did nothing to check gossip, lying, and envy among teenaged girls. Also, staying away completely from the opposite sex meant that the reason we stayed “pure’ – marriage – wasn’t going to happen. I knew a number of elderly spinsters in that Baptist Church.

Sexual immorality, of course, is the Big Sin for most evangelicals and fundamentalists. They see it (in a theological sense) as misplaced love, love that is owed to God and expressed in the basic relationship of a man and a woman loving each other and loving God together. Sex then becomes a mystery of the divine order rather than a physical human need. At that theological level, to misuse sex is the same as dishonouring a sacrament. (Please note that what I mean here by “sacrament” is theologically technical – not the sacraments of the church, but an action and a physicality that are sacred.)

The modern problem with emphasizing sexuality is that it becomes the focus of the definition of sin. It is so interesting! Prurience itself is a sin, when to hear about sex while being shocked by it becomes stimulating. Of course, sin is much more than sexual immorality.

Sin is anything that separates us from our love for God. Sin is always an idolatry of the self. We are more interested in pleasing ourselves than in pleasing God.

And isn’t it easy to excuse it, even as Christians? “It’s not vanity, I’m just trying to look nice for my husband.” “It’s not greed, I just think it’s okay for Christians to have nice things.” “It’s not envy, it’s just that she really doesn’t deserve that.” “It’s not pride, I just think I did a good job and should have some recognition.”

So the Church has talked about sin a lot, in order to alert us to its dangers. If I don’t tell you about the jagged rocks under the water ahead, your boat will probably hit them. Forewarned, you can steer around, or turn back if you must.

We can’t avoid sin in this world. It is a fallen world. Christ waits to restore it in the last days, with the saints in heaven asking, “How long, O Lord? How long?” We wait, but we wait amongst our own fallenness and the accumulated sin. We see it everyday – in broken lives, in hurt people, in hearts that may never mend from the injury done them in the name of human love. We see a polluted and damaged creation. Like cleaning up the tar balls on beaches after this latest oil spill, we can only mop up on the surface. The real damage goes much deeper. The real damage of an environmental disaster goes beyond ruined beaches, dead wildlife, and a crippled ecology. It goes down into our hearts, where luxury, greed, and desire pollute and corrupt us.

Our world is based on lies, the child of the father of lies. We are told daily that we need to look and act young, that we should be spending money on things and experiences, that the past is a dead and ugly thing. All of this leads to sins of the heart.

Why do we want to be young as we grow older? Is not grey hair the wisdom and glory of age? We must have been brainwashed, to think that being young is a good thing. Although I remember the carefree days, I also remember the overweening self-esteem that led me into some bad situations. I got in well over my head at times. I’m glad that’s all past.

Vanity is encouraged by those who want us to buy their products. Fifty-plus-year-old women don’t have lustrous dark hair, at least not many of them. Telling us that we need to look young (to get partners) is just a way to sell us a poisonous product to turn our hair a different colour. Make-up is the same thing, as well as face creams, foundation garments and figure-enhancing clothes. If you look like the middle-aged grandmother that you are, who is going to want to be your partner? Look, I figure that while I am married in middle-age, my husband is also middle-aged, and I dont’ need to look elsewhere or win anyone else’s admiration. If I wasn’t married, I don’t think I would look for a new partner. If God sent someone my way, he’d better be interested in a  grey-haired, Plain-dressed grandmother or keep on moving.

Vanity is a waste of money and time. Get used to yourself. Start young, and avoid the silly products, the waste of money and all the anxiety around dressing and looking like an advertisement.

Greed is subtle. We measure success in this world by money and possessions – the most fleeting of things. Beyond meeting our basic needs, why are we concerned about having ornaments and luxuries? So we can impress others? Be more concerned with the state of your heart before the Lord than with the state of your goods before the world! Keep possessions to a minimum, be easy to move if the Lord calls you elsewhere. You are only a pilgrim here.

We are brought up to be competitive, on the theory that good-natured competition encourages excellence. But it more likely encourages working for praise, and that leads to envy. We can’t seem to rejoice in another’s blessings without wondering why we didn’t get the preferment. Competition, along with the anxiety generated in us by an inundation of advertising meant to weaken our self-confidence, ruins our joy. Someone else can get the prize, or get the preferment, or get the promotion: The Lord has work for you that may not include any of those things. Be happy in the work of the Lord!

And when we do get the envied prize, the coveted preferment, the gainful promotion, then we are proud. We won! We are better! Have you ever noticed that the only personal trait in Jesus that is described to us is His sinlessness? It isn’t His skill in His trade, His athleticism, His rugged good looks. None of the usual traits that lead to fame are there. It is His willingness to do the work of the Father. Certainly, we must strive to be competent at our work, for we owe that to God who gives us our talents. But to desire and then gloat in worldly success because of them displaces them from heaven and drops them in the muck.

While we know we will not achieve sinlessness here in this world – for we are drawn into it not only by our own desires, but by the ways of the world that we cannot change – The Lord desires to forgive our sins and lead us in righteousness. All we need to do is walk in His light.