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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Certainly we should not despise the ancient and widespread belief of the race that the soul survives the body’s death. But for the record, it ought to be noted that, in christian circles, this survivability was predicated only of the human soul. Animal and vegetable souls were held to perish when the matter they animated perished. Man’s soul was indeed said to persist; but the reasoning behind that conclusion was based chiefly on the theory that, unlike all other souls, each individual human soul was directly created by God and then infused into a body provided by cooperative parents. That, however, is one of the most minimally scriptural notions of all. It derives mostly from highly spiritual and otherworldly religions which set up an antagonistic dualism between matter and spirit: The soul, as spiritual, is good; the body, as matter, is evil. The goal of human life is to get rid of the nasty old physical cocoon in which the beautiful butterfly of the soul is imprisoned, so that, unfettered at last, it can assume its true nature and fly to God.

I am sure that many Christians—and all cheap-john- funeral-parlor-poetry-writers—firmly believe that to be the true Gospel. But it isn’t. It is a thousand miles from the judaeo-christian tradition. The beginning of the true teaching is that God made man—and precisely what we ordinarily mean by man: eyes, ears, nose, arms, buttocks, shin- bones, ankles, toenails—God made all that, not just a “soul,” in his image. And the end of the true teaching is that God redeemed man—flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of human nature—by the Resurrection of the Body of Jesus. For a Christian, there are no souls in heaven; there are only Risen Bodies.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

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A radically disruptive result of keeping the sabbath is that it denies the dominant cultural belief that we must always be working and doing. Particularly in an American culture that still suffers under the bastardization of the Puritan work ethic (which conflates righteousness with industriousness) and a sense that we are always missing out on something important, choosing to cease for one day every week is a disruptive witness to our neighbors. And it’s an act of faith in God’s providence—an embodied argument that fullness is not found in the desperate struggle of busyness. And yet it is hard for Christians to take a sabbath rest because Christianity can easily become yet another thing that fills our constantly busy life—something really no different from following football. There’s always another event to do, another study to read, another program to attend, another way to catch up, get ahead, or try to get out of the hole. A sabbath rest is an act of spiritual defiance against the ideal of existential justification through production and consumption. It is a denial of the founding principle of the American Dream—that if you want to get ahead and reach the good life, you must always be working or self-improving.

A sabbath rest is a rest from our good works, even while it obligates us to works of service. The difference is that the rest is a rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Sunday is not a day to “clean up our act” or “get right with God.” It is a day to rest in our imputed righteousness by Christ and turn that joy outward (the double movement) into fellowship with our brothers and sisters, meeting together and sharing the table, ceasing from our labor, meditating on the Word and on God’s natural revelation, and doing acts of service for our neighbors. I believe that sabbath rest also involves play—but it should be redemptive play, not the kind that consumes us and leaves us more mentally and emotionally drained than before. We should be refreshed, even if we are tired.

My recommendation is to see this time as a special time to love our neighbors. We might convene a small group on Sunday evenings or have people over for lunch or dinner. We should work hard throughout the week so we don’t have to work on Sunday, but remember that there is grace for those moments when work must be done—the lost sheep must be found. It’s wise to avoid shopping or work as a reminder that the marketplace is not the center of our lives, but a tool of culture we can use or abuse, like any other tool. We might also choose to rest from screens, or just smartphones and computers, and so create space for contemplation, reflection, and conversation. Alternatively, we might restrict our screen time to activities that are intentionally communal: watching a movie together, playing a game together, sharing photos and memories, or video chatting with family.

Thought of this way, the sabbath is a foreshadowing of the rest we have in Christ, which is not contingent on our good works. We don’t need to work seven days a week to be valued and important, and we don’t need to achieve spiritual maturity to receive God’s grace. But it also foreshadows the end of this age, when we will rest from the curse of toil. And what a beautiful thing that will be! By resting and refusing to participate in the rat race, we act in faith that God will care for us and that this race is no path to salvation.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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One of my favorite things to do as a priest is to participate in house blessings. When people move into a new house, we come together to pray throughout their new home, moving from room to room and using a special liturgy for the occasion. My priest friend Peter has led several house blessings for people in his congregation. He told me he’s noticed that everyone starts paying closer attention when they crowd into the bathroom to bless it. It may be that they are a bit uncomfortable—it’s not often you crowd into a bathroom to pray with a bunch of your friends. But he’s noticed that people tend to lean in and start listening more carefully, wondering what it might mean to invoke God’s presence in this most humble of rooms.

He anoints the bathroom mirror with oil and prays that when people look into it, they would see themselves as beloved images of God. He prays that they would not relate to their bodies with the categories the world gives them, but instead according to the truth of who they are in Christ.

It’s easy to look into the mirror and take stock of all that we feel is lacking or wrong about our bodies. Instead we must learn the habit of beholding our bodies as a gift, and learn to delight in the body God has made for us, that God loves, and that God will one day redeem and make whole. Peter told me that when he prays over the bathroom mirror, he has noticed fathers of young girls begin to cry; they long for their daughters to see themselves as God sees them, and for their reflections in their bathroom mirror to be a reflection of their belovedness and freedom in Christ.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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Covetousness, like greed, tends to be more focused on possessions— things we have or own—than envy does. Ahab covets Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). (If we think of people in terms of something we can own, like property, then this sense of covetousness can be extended to coveting people, as King David coveted Uriah’s wife. Note that his wish was to have Bathsheba himself, not primarily the delight in taking her away from Uriah.) Envy, on the other hand, is typically more concerned with who we are. Envy targets the internal qualities of another person, qualities that give a person worth, honor, standing, or status. If the envious do desire an external thing, it is because that object symbolizes or signifies its owner’s high position or greatness. There is a difference, for example, between wanting a BMW because we are car aficionados and love the driving performance of a particular model, and wanting a BMW because it will make us feel superior to our neighbour, who just bought a new Camry. Anything but to be the only ones in the neighborhood still driving a Taurus! But it’s not the car that makes us green with envy, so much as what being the owner of such a car says about who we are, the personal respect and admiration that we command when we drive up in it. We envy not the car but the superiority, the classiness, of the person driving it. Getting the right car is just a means to that end of being the right person. Not to have the car is not just to lack that thing, but to be less of a person, to be deficient or defective. His or her lack makes the envier feel less loveable, less admirable, less worthy as a person.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies

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If Jesus is one-hundred percent man, how do you figure the union of his two natures in one Person? Well, the old orthodox answer comes in the form of two rules of thumb. Rule 1: If you’re talking about the natures, you give Jesus two of everything and you try your best not to mix them up. Rule 2: If you’re talking about the Person, you can relax a little and let it sound as if you had forgotten Rule 1. (Rule 1 came out of the church’s experience with the christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries–especially out of her response to some gentlemen named Apollinaris and Eutyches. Rule 2 arose in connection with a theologian by the name of Nestorius; it is called the communication of idioms. I don’t know if that helps you, but I do have to flash my union card once in a while.)

Rule 1. Example: Jesus has two minds, one divine, one human.

QUESTION: Why do you have to say that?

ANSWER: Because if you don’t, you welsh on what you’ve already said about his being true God and perfect man. Human thought and divine thought don’t mix. Asking “Did Jesus think divine thoughts in his human mind?” shipwrecks you on the rock of incommensurability. It’s apples and oranges—like asking, “What does E-flat smell like?” If you sneak divine thoughts into a human mind, you make it super-human. That can be a lot of fun, of course, but it messes up the realities of salvation. He came to save us, in the bare-faced human nature he gave us. But if the final product of his labors is a jazzed-up third something which is neither honest-to-God God nor honest-to-man man, then he didn’t save us. He gave up on us and saved something else he liked better.

Get on top of it and look down. Suppose you were the highest thing in the universe, the cause of everything below you. And suppose that the frogs had eaten of the Lily Pad Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil and messed themselves up royally. And suppose you decided to save them by becoming incarnate among them. How would you have to go about it? (Just for the sake of neatness, we should get the Latin formation straight: Carn- means flesh; incarnation, therefore, is enfleshment. Frog, in Latin, is rana; en-frogment should be in + ran- or irranation.)

In your irranation you must, above all else, take care not to foul up the frogginess of the frogs. After all, that’s the very thing you’re out to rescue from the detestable unfrogginesses they have committed. Accordingly, you will have to come down and dwell among them without intruding your nature into theirs in any way, shape or form. You, as you, must not be revealed among them, because that would violate the way they live. Your thoughts of political science, economics and chemistry must not be thought in their substance, because that’s not their style. Your taste for fine wines, escargots, peperoni pizza, and bawdy songs must not once be indulged through the whole of your irranation; you will have to content yourself only with the best insects you can find, the jolliest croakings you can manage. Only that way could they rebuke you, as we rebuked Christ, for being “a Croaker and a Bugeater.”

For if you were to violate any of those conditions, the Christfrog in whom you would be irranated would be just a freak; a frog whose mind, for example, had two compartments. The lower chamber would be merely froggy, but the upper one, gloriously human. And between them would be a trap door so that, even though your Christfrog would normally draw his thoughts only from the froggy part of his mind, he would always be able, in a pinch, to reach up through the trap door and get any human knowledge he might like or need.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

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Public displays of religion are more offensive than public displays of affection, which I think partially explains some Americans’ reactions to Muslims who say their daily prayers. For many Americans, seeing someone practicing religion in public feels a bit like watching the inebriated or mentally unstable in public: What are they going to do next? Why aren’t they being rational? Why couldn’t they keep this to themselves? Which is one reason why saying grace can be a testament to a watching world that our faith is not a personal preference that we keep discretely hidden behind our “normal” public life. And insofar as saying grace defies the secular social etiquette of privatizing religious practices, it is a disruptive witness.

We certainly shouldn’t say grace in order to be seen saying grace, or to make people uncomfortable. We don’t pray loudly so that others will be shocked and disturbed by our piety. Being a “Jesus freak” just to be a freak capitulates to the game of secularism in that it turns our faith into an advertisement, a signal to others. The practice of our faith turns out to be the advertising of our faith, which is the exact kind of hollowness at the core of so many contemporary beliefs we are seeking to avoid. If our public prayers or any other public display of faith ceases to be primarily about the spiritual purpose—in this case, thanking God for his provision—and instead becomes about others seeing us be thankful toward God, then we have exchanged the thing itself for the appearance of the thing. Our motive ought to be gratitude to God, not seeking attention. But if we find ourselves actually avoiding public prayers because it feels socially awkward, or because it feels like we’re imposing our faith on our neighbors, we need to be able to call that avoidance what it is: a capitulation to secular ideas of the public square.

Another way that saying grace is a disruptive witness is that it challenges a materialist account of provision. Although there are nearly innumerable acceptable visions of fullness in our secular age, the majority of them assume that we live in a closed universe wherein everything or virtually everything can be explained through an empirical, materialist, scientific account. Physics and chemistry account for the totality of existence. We may come to many different conclusions from this assumption, however. For example, someone might look at the purely material world as a kind of nearly transcendent gift that requires our admiration and worship. Such a person may show gratitude for the idea of the Earth in all its vastness. Others may believe that the food in front of us is a testament to the human potential for greatness—our ability to cultivate the earth and produce fine food efficiently and economically. Still others may simply take provision as a given, not bothering to consider it at all except insofar as they are responsible for paying for the food.

What is uncommon is the view that whatever food lies before us is a gift from a personal God who provides for us because he loves us. The more divorced we are from the cultivation of crops and animals, and the more mechanical and manufactured our food appears to us, the less we see it as a gift. When our meals come to us carefully wrapped in paper from hands wrapped in latex gloves that took ingredients from hermetically sealed plastic bags that were created in a sanitary, automated factory, it is no easy thing to see the hand of God at work providing for us. Contingencies of weather and seasons, human errors, and animal behavior and health have been carefully, systematically, and technologically reduced as much as possible. Think, for example, of the fact that modern people expect to be able to go to the market and buy apples year-round. Humanity has mastered nature, and we owe humanity no gratitude—just some monetary compensation. This of course makes the act of giving thanks to God all the more disruptive. If I am thankful to the cook or the restaurant chain or capitalism or modern farming techniques or my job that allows me to afford the food or even a semimystical conception of Mother Earth, I am still fundamentally accepting that the food before me is completely the result of processes in the material world. But to thank God is to defy this logic. This is not a generic or impersonal sense of gratitude toward nature or the universe, but a specific thankfulness for a meal to a personal God whose common grace provides for us all.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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Theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues that to truly learn a story, we can’t just hear it. We must also act it out. In our worship—and Hauerwas specifically cites the practices of baptism and communion—we act out the story of the gospel with and our bodies. “We must be taught the gestures that position our bodies and our souls to be able to hear rightly and then retell the story,” Hauerwas writes.

For example, while we may be able to pray without being prostrate, I think prayer as an institution of the church could no longer be sustained without a people who have first learned to kneel. If one wants to learn to pray, one had better know how to bend the body. Learning the gesture and posture of prayer is inseparable from learning to pray. Indeed, the gestures are prayer.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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