The Risen Christ: On Hope and the Death of Death


A chapter from a manuscript that I’ve worked and reworked for the past 7 years (and drastically changed as writing this is what sent me in the direction of Orthodoxy). No idea on when or if I’ll ever publish it, but I find this chapter extremely appropriate considering the celebration of Pascha (Easter). 

 

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What is hope? It seems that in our modern world there is quite a bit of talk concerning the idea of hope, but there’s not a lot of explaining what hope actually is. To some, to “hope” is to wish that things will get better at some point. We hope our team will win the Super Bowl. We hope the economy will improve. We hope our situation will get better. But with such hope, there is never an assurance that such hope will be fulfilled. The hope is not authentic and cannot be authentic, because such hope can let us down, and a hope that can fail is no hope at all.

This lack of authentic hope is the position the disciples found themselves in the morning after the death of Jesus. They had dedicated their lives to this rabbi, but He was now dead and buried. He did not swoon, He did not fake His death; He was dead. If He were attached to modern medical equipment, all signs would indicate that He had died on the cross. This left the disciples depressed (Luke 24:21). They had “hoped He would redeem Israel,” but now He was dead.

Though Christ had prophesied His resurrection, the disciples had not paid attention. It is not as though they sat around waiting for Christ to resurrect. They honestly and truly believed that Christ had died. And who could blame them? They knew that Jesus had been placed in the tomb. It’s not as though they lived in a primitive culture that lacked an understanding of death; they were sitting around in the upper room because they knew Christ had died and they, like us, knew that the dead don’t come back.

Death is Consumed Continue reading

(Don’t) Let Them Eat Cake!: On Gay Marriage and the Extra Mile


DSC01941The Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows business owners to deny service based on sexual orientation. More to the point, the bill allows those in the wedding industry – photographers, bakers, planners, and the like – to deny services to homosexual couples based on religious convictions. Across the nation, of course, the issue of Christian bakers refusing service to homosexuals is a controversial one; in many instances the bakers face fines and sometimes shut down their businesses on principle.

I want to ignore the legal issues regarding personal conscience coming into conflict with societal obligations. The issue is tricky – after all, all of us wish to live with our personal convictions and to act on those convictions. None of us wants to engage in or aid an activity we believe to be wrong. But at the same time, sometimes being in a society means we have to do things we don’t want to do. That’s part of being an adult in a community. Where that limits begins, however, is highly contentious and I’m not sure if we can discover that line, hence my reluctance to engage in that discussion. While I think we’re moving beyond a secular state and into an anti-religious state – that is, one in which you’re allowed to believe in your faith, just not act upon that belief – I’m also uncertain whether a business owner has a right to exclude certain people from his business.

That being said, what is the Christian approach to such an issue, regardless of the law? If you owned a bakery and made wedding cakes would you make one for a homosexual couple? For many Christians who believe homosexuality to be a sin the answer is typically a quick no, or causes some to pause for a minute. But what if we used similar examples? What if the couple is grossly overweight, obese, caused by gluttony (Proverbs 23:2)? What if one or both people in the couple is/are divorced (Matthew 5:32)? What if the couple is extremely wealthy and gives nothing to the poor, and in fact intend to use this wedding as a display of their greed (1 Timothy 6:10)? What if they don’t go to church (Hebrews 10:25)? The list goes on of potential sins that the couple perpetually engage in as part of their lifestyle.

Now, some could make the case that these sins are different as they do not change the meaning of marriage. Homosexual marriage, it’s argued, changes the entire definition of marriage. Certainly one could make that case. Yet, the problem of a divorced couple going through a marriage remains; as does the problem of if the couple has already had sex and lived together, or if the couple does not attend church regularly, or if the couple isn’t even Christian. See, while “One man, one woman” fits nicely on a bumper sticker, it doesn’t really fit the Christian ideal of marriage. I dare not say the Biblical teaching on marriage because while the Bible is a holy book inspired by God, it also doesn’t always display the ideal in telling history. To put this bluntly, would we refuse King David a cake at his wedding to Bathsheba? While homosexual marriage might be different from gluttony, it is no different than remarriage or a watered-down version of a church wedding.  Continue reading

A Pro-Family Economy? On the Importance of Family Values over Market Values


DSC02081A 40 hour work week is considered normal and desirable within the United States. While other nations might laugh at so few hours, most industrialized nations work less (in some cases far less) than the average American. Of course, while 40 hours might be the expectation, it’s not abnormal for Americans to work upwards of 70-80 hours a week (either in one job or with two jobs); the reasons could be an ambitious young person trying to advance in a career, a lawyer running up against deadlines, or a single mother just trying to put food on the table. While Eastern Europe – known for its economic struggles – posts higher working hours on average than the US, Western Europe – known for a stronger economy – posts lower working hours.

In the United States, of course, we value hard work. We think of early in our foundation of farmers, cobblers, shop owners, and the like working long hours in order to support the family. Even today there are small business owners who dedicate almost every waking hour to keeping their company going. Yes, a typical 40 hour work week leaves a person tired at the end of the day and distant from the family, but that’s the price to pay for progress, correct?

The problem with such thoughts is they ignore that the typical job in the modern age takes a person away from the family. Yes, farmers, cobblers, shop owners, and others might have worked longer hours, but they did so mostly from home and with their family. The “job” they worked was a family job, putting the husband in contact with the wife and his children. Rarely did anyone have need of leaving the home for work. At one point in our history the economy centered around the family, not the consumer, and that made all the difference in both the work week and the type of work accomplished.

Post-Civil War America saw a change in the goal of the economy; rather than existing ultimately for the benefit of the family (in most cases), it began to exist for the benefit of the individual, namely the wealthy individual. The husband ceased to be a person, but rather a “good,” something in order to help wealthy men grow in their wealth. Men began to leave the family farm, the family shop, and the family itself in order to put food on the table; the cold irony of the new Capitalistic endeavor is that in order to sustain their families, men had to abandon their families. Since that time, men fought for worker’s rights, sometimes winning but mostly losing. Women, in turn, began to question why they had to stay at home while men “fulfilled” their lives. The individualistic approach drove a spike between husband and wife and rather than becoming one in all things – including economic gains for the family – they became economic partners attempting to bring in a fair share. To this day feminist fight for equal pay for women and equal placement within the corporate world, and if this is the system we are to have then women ought to be equal, but how come no one has stopped to ask if we should truly have this system? If the system is unjust, why do we seek to increase the influence of the system?

Some might ask, “So you think women should stay at home for work?” To which I respond, yes, I believe that the human ideal is for women to work from the home. Yet, I would say the same for the men. Both are to work from the home and sustain the family. Of course, that is the ideal and in an industrialized society not completely attainable, but certainly we can do better than what we have. Currently people spend more time at work than they do with their families, at least if we discuss quality time. Most families are involved in so many after school/work activities, or go and do their separate things when getting home (watching tv, playing video games, and so on), that the modern family is nothing more than strangers sharing the same space and DNA. In the pursuit of fulfillment in a job we no longer find fulfillment in having a family; indeed, having a family is not a very Capitalistic thing to do as it can take away from one’s personal goals. This is why so many complain about having children, complain about a wife, a husband, and so on. We speak of family values, but we abandoned our family values long ago when we decided that the dollar was more valuable than the home.

From a Christian perspective the family functions as the beginning of everything on this earth. While we are made in the image of God and therefore he directs our purpose, that purpose is first acted out within the family. Both father and mother work in their own ways to raise the children properly. Children learn how to function as good human beings within the family setting. The family itself is, in many ways, the “first church,” where true spiritual discipline takes place. Only when different families come together do they begin to form a community; a small secular gathering, a church, a school, or anything along those lines. Those communities eventually form societies, which form cultures. If, therefore, our own economic system functions in a way that it destroys or makes impossible the idea of a nuclear family then it follows that eventually communities will collapse, and soon after societies and cultures.

What, then, is the solution? I’m not sure on a pragmatic area (though I’d argue that Distributism is our best bet to get close to the ideal of a family-centered economy), but I do know it’s time Christians divorced themselves from Capitalism. Capitalism relies on and focuses on the individual, not on the family. Christians must support family values over market values, they must support what is best for the family and not a system that promotes low wages and high hours. We can’t support a system that intentionally keeps people in poverty and puts power in the hands of the wealthy over the hands of the family (or community). If Christians truly wish to follow through on a pro-family worldview, they must extend this view to the economy, otherwise the family will continue to waste away within the American experience.

50 Shades of Decay: On the Scandal of Love


IMDB.com

IMDB.com

If Christian Grey were poor and ugly then 50 Shades of Grey would be about an abusive and controlling man. But since his abuse is wrapped in a nice suit, wealth, and good looks, it’s “sexy” and “erotic.” Beyond the erotic bondage that both the book and the movie celebrates, we see a man that does all he can to control another woman. Within 50 Shades the nightmare that millions of women endure on a daily basis is morphed into some romanticized version of torture.

If we remove the glitz and glamor, remove the good looks, remove the wealth, remove the style, then is Christian Grey still a romantic figure with a dark past who needs fixing? The story plays on the ultimate trope, which is women love jerks because they believe they can fix them. Such an approach doesn’t dignify women nor does it liberate their sexuality, rather it treats them as objects, as curing pills to a psychological diagnosis. Without all those toys, Christian Grey is no longer a fantasy character, but a person appearing on a day time talk show or the guy in the back of a police car for a domestic violence dispute. He’s a stalker, but with money and good looks he’s “romantic.”

Our culture is in many ways pornographic, and I don’t mean that in the typical sense. Porn creates a false reality and sets false expectations; what is upsetting or disturbing in real life is normal in porn. Porn, then, distorts reality in favor of a fantasy, which means porn doesn’t have to be that overtly sexual video. Fox News (or MSNBC if you prefer) is a type of porn, creating a false image of what America and the world ought to be. Reality TV is a type of porn, creating a false reality, but acting as though it is real. In the same way, 50 Shades is pornographic, not just for the explicit sexuality, but because it creates a fantasy of love without facing reality.

The books and movie creates this image of the “ultimate alpha male,” the guy that every guy wants to be like and every woman wants to be with. But such a man is a fantasy and doesn’t exist. Such an image leaves guys attempting to act like the alpha male (which is nothing more than a glorified ass) and it leaves women searching for this elusive alpha male. Of course they’ll find someone who is similar, but he’s attempting to live up to a false presentation of reality, meaning the charade will eventually collapse and the woman will end up trying to find another man, or living a life of disappointment. Society questions where all the real mean have gone; but if you pursue a fantasy and make it your ideal, don’t be shocked when you can’t find it in reality. Men and women are trained to follow roles, not to become humans; they are given a cookie-cutter image of what the ideal man looks like, or the ideal woman looks like, and we then find ourselves shocked when people can’t live up to these fake and false images.

True love, the real thing, is scary and hard to find. We live in a culture obsessed with power, where even love is treated as an old mythology and relegated to the classics. We chastise the classics as being anti-female and treating men as gods. We are too quick to condemn the classics though, for though they treated women as lesser than men, they at least acknowledge women as human. In the modern age we’ve sought liberation and equality and have only succeeded in treating women a little higher than animals and objects. No, while the ancients were wrong about a lot of things, they were at least correct in their pursuit of love. To put it another way, today we “pick up” women, whereas at one point we “wooed” women: To “pick up” applies to an object (e.g. I pick up trash, I pick up food, I am the actor imposing my will upon an object). To woo means to gain, to acknowledge that you are dealing with another free will being who is capable of thought and choice. You pick up an object, but you woo a human.

While we seek after power – being the dominant male, a woman using her sexuality to gain an advantage over a man, sharing “authority” in a relationship, refusing to give up individualism even in the face of marriage – we’ve long forgotten about love. The idea of there being rules to love, of it occurring within a marriage, of it existing solely between man and wife (at least in a sensual way) was at one point ridiculed for being “Victorian” and outdated. Now such a viewpoint is hardly considered and even its whisper elicits scandal. One can almost imagine that in a few decades the real rush for teenagers wanting to go against the flow of society’s mores will involve them refusing to have sex with each other or anyone else and waiting until marriage, and then remaining faithful thereafter. Continue reading

Hypocrisy, Stupidity, Dishonesty, Ignorance, and Evil in the Bible


Originally posted on Truth is a Man:

noah-drunk One reason I find Christianity believable is the hypocrisy, stupidity, dishonesty, ignorance, and evil in the Bible.

Take, for instance, those remarkable individuals who made it into the spiritual “hall-of-fame” in Hebrews 11:4-38.  A list of some of the most important saints who ever lived; individuals God worked through to accomplish incredible things; individuals whose lives were built on faith.  Yet, every one of them were hypocrites–that is, their lives did not always match up to the values they cherished most.

Consider Noah, one of the only men to remain faithful to God in his lifetime–“humanities last hope”.  After the flood, whilst in the primordial stages of building a new civilization, he gets wasted and exposes himself to his sons (Genesis 9:20-23).  Or take Abraham, for example, who, out of fear, led a king to believe his wife was actually his sister; thus allowing the king to take his wife into his harem (see Genesis…

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Light Doesn’t Hide From Darkness: On Christian Isolationism


DSC01668For the past thirty years, the Religious Right claimed that the US government and liberals are doing all they can to persecute Christians. The rational response is that such persecution does not exist (unless you’re Todd Starnes and just make stuff up). However, since 2001 religious persecution has existed in the United States. Many people, especially right-wing aligned Christians, have done all they could do in order to persecute Muslims. We can recall the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” that forced developers to abandon their plans. Recently, however, a gun shop owner received praise by proponents on the right for refusing to allow Muslims to enter her store. Her criteria for if someone is a Muslim is if they have an Arab-sounding name. Even Texas’ state representative Molly White forced Muslims to declare allegiance to the United States before they could enter her office.

With recent events, of course, there’s a real reason to fear extreme Islam. After all, though ISIL and Boko Haram weren’t created in vacuums and there’s certainly a cause to their reaction, they are still Islamic-based and it’s worrisome. These are violent groups and we’re right to worry about extremism in any religion (or political ideology). Regardless, does such a concern justify treating all Muslims with disdain?

Leaving aside the political and legal quagmire of discrimination and privately-owned businesses, let us look at how Christians should respond to Muslims (or others). As Christians we of course acknowledge that Islam is wrong, that it is a heresy of Christianity. In fact, it was St. John of Damascus, writing under the Caliphate, that stated Islam was a heresy of Christianity. We do not embrace Islam and find it to be false. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement and such disagreement can create very healthy, interesting, and challenging discussions with Muslim friends. Why, then, do we isolate ourselves?

Sadly, Muslims aren’t the only targets of Christian isolationism. Throughout history many have faced the wrath of Christian isolationism. Martin Luther encouraged the German princes to oust all the Jews from The Holy Roman Empire, even if they converted. At other times it was witches. The Moors faced great persecution in Isabella’s Spain. Even Africans had much to worry about from Christians (even though the Pope declared slavery heretical and was defied by the European powers). Native Americans, American slaves, and many other groups felt the wrath of Christian isolationism, while few Christians stood for the ostracized and brutalized people.

Leaving aside the legal arguments for whether or not someone can or should deny service to another person, let’s look at the Christian perspective. Should a Christian refuse a Muslim – or anyone for that matter – service at his business? A very quick look at Christ’s life gives the obvious answer: No.

One can serve others without partaking in their respective sins or beliefs. After all, Jesus did it quite a bit. He still partook in the Temple gatherings even though the Pharisees dictated the rules. He still attended feasts where sinners were very present. He still drank with prostitutes and laughed with tax collectors. While Jesus did not own a business, he displayed his message in a very clear manner. He also called on Christians to duplicate what he did:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

The point being Christians are to be a light and to serve others in all instances. How does that work as a business owner? If you deny services to a certain group of people then how are you being a light to them? How are they seeing your light if their only interaction with you is to face rejection?

Matthew 16:18 has Jesus telling Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. The funny thing about gates is that they don’t move, they don’t charge into battle, they just stand still. For gates to prevail means they’re being attacked and pushed against. To not prevail it means that attackers have broken through the gates. For too long Christians have used this passage to justify believing that hell won’t conquer them, but they have it the wrong way around; hell has no choice but to be conquered by the Church. Hells gates stand not because they are properly fortified, but because too many Christians hide away in fear from them and refuse to charge in.

Jesus was a friend to all those who needed it. In Matthew 9 he points out that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. It is after that when he says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We who claim Christ must acknowledge that we, too, are sinners. That without Christ we are no different than any group we wish to malign; all are lost in darkness and violence.

Christ came to save all. Those of us who have embraced Christ, imperfect though we are, are still called to be light to the darkness. We can’t be light if we seek to segregate ourselves from the darkness. In order for light to matter it must permeate within the darkness. In order for gates to fall they must be attacked by an invading force. And in order to see Muslims come to Christ, they must interact with Christians, and sometimes that includes your place of business.

The Problem of Feel Good Spirituality: A Robust Anthropology


IMG_0254It’s popular in some spiritual circles to act as though humans are just slightly flawed (if that) and that our little missteps are just that; little. One little writing from yesterday by Mark Sandlin of “The God Article” perfectly sums up this “feel good spirituality.” To make matters worse, Sandlin is a pastor and was his blog was named one of the top 10 Christian blogs out there. Yet, his advice is that we’re not broken, not fallen, not sinful, just a work in progress. But his argument not only misses what Christianity actually teaches, it misses the human experience.

A theology of, “You’re not broken or fallen” might work for the average middle-class person of Western Society who’s never faced the evils of this life, who has the luxury of believing that this world is soft, but for the rest of the world such a theology is astonishingly ignorant. A woman drugged and then raped can’t look at the rapist and say that he’s, …”so deeply invested in life that [he] can, at times, deny the larger good for the experience of the moment.” Such a theological viewpoint doesn’t really address the carnage of this world and truly makes Christianity a “pie in the sky” religion. It ignores the realities on the ground, that people are murdered, that people are cheated, that evil occurs at the hands of these so-called “investors in life.” A man who murders women and children hasn’t missed the point, a CEO who cuts his employee’s salaries so he can increase in wealth isn’t invested in life, and a mother who looks to her own interests before the interests of her children isn’t misguided by love; such things are sinful and are evil. Superfluous evil does occur and that it occurs is central to the Christian message.

The flaw in such humanism is that it ignores reality. Just as a belief that humans are totally depraved and nothing good can come from us looks too much at our sin, Sandlin’s view doesn’t look at our sin enough. The flaw between both views is they can’t accept the paradox of humanity, that we are capable of both great good and great evil, often from the same person. Stalin wasn’t invested in life when he ordered the deaths of millions, he didn’t just temporarily ignore the greater good.

A great quote from the movie Spanglish is when the grandmother addresses her daughter, who’s been cheating on her husband and acting selfishly. The grandmother says, “Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.” It’s not that we ought to think of ourselves as dirt, but that sometimes we shouldn’t esteem ourselves. Sometimes our problems are our own doing. Sometimes we have to admit that we are actually broken, that we are fallen, and that we are sinful. After all, that is central to any Christian message lest Christ’s Incarnation be pointless.

Christianity does teach that as humans we are fallen. While some take it too far to say we are guilty or sinful by nature of being human, even within the Orthodox tradition the belief is that our wills are fallen. From birth our wills are turned from God. We freely choose to run away from him, to act on our own, and as such beget more evil into this world. This doesn’t make us evil by nature, but it does make us evil by choice. If Christianity left the story there, it still wouldn’t be wrong; how absurd to deny the one absolute, empirical, unquestionable fact of Christianity, that we are fallen and sinful. Thankfully, the Christian story doesn’t end with us being fallen.

A robust view of humans is that though fallen, by nature we are good. What that means is that we are made in God’s image, that is what separates us from the animals. God, of course, is good; therefore his image is also good. Sin is any act that goes against our nature and intended purpose, that is, sin is anything contrary to God and goodness. We choose to engage in sin and become sinners (we are not sinners by nature, as this creates quite a few problems with the Incarnation). As such, we are fallen, we are broken, and we do need to be saved. God the Word took on human flesh and took on our nature while retaining his own and redeemed our nature. To quote St. Athanasius, “God became man so that men might become gods.” The point being that Christ paved the way for us to not only reunify with our Creator (through Theosis), against whom we rebelled, but that we might actualize our nature of good and live holy lives.

Salvation and the necessity to live holy lives makes absolutely no sense without sin. While I believe the fall of man was not necessary – Christ could have shown his love to us even in a perfect world, albeit in a different way – it did happen and therefore this is the world we’ve inherited and in which we abide. We are broken and we do need help. Such an admission is a sign of tenacious humility, the kind needed for salvation. To say that we’re not flawed or broken is not just ignorance of the world around us, but a form of arrogance to say that we just need God’s help a little, that we’ve got it from here. But the greatest of saints had one thing in common, that they constantly sought after God’s help and realized they were nothing without him.

We do the world no favors if we try to remove the idea of sin and brokenness from our language and theology, for to do so makes Christians look even more out of touch with reality. Evil occurs and in order to understand the greatness of what Christ did, we must understand the breadth of the darkness into which Light came. Only by acknowledging the dark can we then begin to seek and appreciate the Light.