We admitted that we were powerless over God, and that our lives had become unmanageble

We admitted that we were powerless over God and that our lives had become unmanageable 

In our western culture of faith we really don’t trust God. It is not because that is how we want it to be; it is how the heritage has developed. We want to be assured; we want to have the right facts; we want to be certain — all the things that are incompatible with Faith in God Who IS mystery.

In our desire to have the right facts we shift our being with God from relationship, to aspects about God. We make lengthy and impassioned forays into categories and aspects  and characteristics of God, and think we do Him justice.

In the story of the Garden of Eden, what changed for man in sinning was intimacy with God. We now had to contend with the noisy mind that could no longer simply relate to God. We exchanged intimacy with experiencing good and evil. And this tendency to take our experiencing as an exchange for encountering God has influenced how we do theology.

We treat God as if He were a formula that we must fulfill (like an incantation), or as a being that can be legally obligated to do what we want. We treat the Eternal God like our errand boy, like an object to be used — a holy vending machine.

We treat the Eternal Almighty God as if He were our local Ba-al on steroids. We assume He is on our side but make no effort to make sure we are on His side. This even shows up in how we try to string our way of doing theology into how we do politics. We want God to bless us and stick it to our enemies. Today we have people who think that if they can change the politics to fit their theories about god that we can force God’s hand, so that God will HAVE to come and establish His Kingdom. This is both a misunderstanding the nature of the Kingdom, and a repeating the sin of Judas, betraying our faith in order to see an outcome that we have come to mistake for faith.

How we relate to God shows up in how we pray. Prayer is more than saying whatever thoughts that we have that we want God to magically bless. Prayer is more than saying the right number and kind of prayers at the right time. Prayer is intimacy with God. How we pray shows the state of our relationship. How we pray often reveals how we treat God. Sometimes in prayer we often degenerate into telling God how to be God. We expect God to be available to us even if we have spent the last several hours running away from Him. We don’t spend time re-entering the relationship with Him. We want God to “be a good god and answer my prayer the way I want it and I’ll see you on Sunday if the weather isn’t too good” We treat God worse than our pets.

We need to stop trying to control God and worship Him instead. God greatly desires to save us. But as long as we are committed to doing it OUR WAY, we don’t give Him much of a chance. As CS Lewis pointed out, we must come to the point where we can say, truly with our heart: “Thy will be done!”, lest we hear God sadly tell us: “thy will be done.”

We need to recover the priesthood of the believer, NOT as an excuse to do it MY WAY, but as an offering of our lives to God as our spiritual sacrifice. This is prayer: to bring ourselves into His presence and offer our world to Him.

I keep using WE, in this essay because “I” cannot do it by myself. I need the grace of God, and the prayerful support and direction of the Church. I cannot do it in isolation; I need my fellow Christians. WE do it together.

We must admit that we are powerless over God, and meet God as He has chosen to be met, through His incarnation in the flesh, through communion, and through prayer.

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Honest Questions asked of me on Facebook

Honest Questions asked of me on Facebook

 

One of my Facebook friends with whom I have chatted off and on for several years has posed a few questions and asked me to respond (and invites others as well to respond).

Laurie Reeves asks: Steven – I wonder if you would let me hijack this or some other post of yours. I have questions about Christianity, and 1. I trust your opinion over any other “religious” persons I know, as I believe you will be as honest as you can be, and 2. I welcome responses of some of your friends who are not my friends, so I didn’t want to private message you or use my status.

Steven – I’ll start one issue at a time 🙂 But first, so that I have the best way possible of asking my questions, can I ask you a few?

Do you believe the bible is man-made or God made?

Do you believe Christianity (Christ, perfect, cross, salvation) is the only means of getting to heaven?

Do you believe in one god or multiple god’s (Muslim, hindu, etc). And by god’s, I mean religious god’s as they are commonly understood. Not Greek god’s or the one some random guy made up in his basement.

Laurie, you ask some good questions. Let me give it a shot.

 

First Question: the Bible was written by man, inspired by God. They wrote in human terms about things that in many ways are beyond language. Scripture cannot be understood outside a relationship with God (since that is what they are about) and attempting to take them in a literal only way is to invite sickness (passions).

The Scriptures are a book OF the Church and are properly understood from that perspective. In a sense the Scriptures represent a synergy between God and man.

When we look at how people have used scripture in the last two centuries we see a different approach employed both by the “conservative” and “liberal” ends of the spectrum. They use a mostly literal approach to either prove or disprove the scriptures. An approach that seeks to “prove” things using scripture inevitably ends up creating God in our image (rather than the reverse). The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. The scriptures are one of the many ways the Church communicates that truth. Other ways are through the Hymns of the Church, the Icons, the Councils, The Tradition, the lives of the saints.

Second Question, Christianity: There is One Body, One Bride of Christ. Those who find themselves in heaven will do so because they participated (Communed) in that One Body. Heaven is a relationship with God in which we see His Light as Love (not so much a place). Jesus saves us collectively, not individually. We are either participants in Him or we are not.

Thus it is possible to say where the Church IS (Even though there are many who are part of it’s communion who have yet to be born). The Church is the proclaimer and invoker of the Kingdom of God. That said, it is NOT possible to say where the Church IS NOT. An individual muslim, hindu, pagan, atheist, may be part of the body. It is not my call to say where the Church IS NOT. God saves (restores, heals) those who participate and work with Him. Salvation is not just about a ticket to heaven; it is about the healing of our disease, the removal of our Character Defects, and a communion with all who follow Him. It is a transformation and renewal of our mind (NOUS) into a restored likeness of God. It requires our participation and cooperation. God does not save us without our cooperation. The Cross saves us (but not in the Anselm sense of substitutionary atonement) through Christ taking on our disease and being wounded by it and raising our humanity to what God had intended. Christ makes a path for us to walk to the Father, a path of glory, sobriety, humility, and love. If a hindu takes up his cross and follows Christ he is further along than many Christians.

I believe that God holds us accountable for the revelation of Him that we have. Thus I expect fewer Orthodox Christians to make it than “others”, for we have the fulness of the revelation of God, and thus no excuse for not following it.

Third question, God: I believe in One God: Father Son and Holy Spirit, One Essence in three persons. This means that God is a communion of Love unto Himself in ways we cannot know. It means that we, created in His Image, are called to a communion of Love with ourselves, with Him, and with others. Christianity does not divide God into functions. All of God was involved in creating, inspiring, saving, empowering. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and points to the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father before all ages and lives perfect obedience to the Father out of love and points to the Father.

The Glories of God (His energies) are shared by all persons of the Trinity. We have only seen the Word become flesh for our sakes. But His Glory is the Father’s Glory. And His energies are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fatefulness, gentleness, self mastery. These are the fruit of the Spirit that we are called to bear.

We cannot know God as He knows Himself. God is a mystery. This is my big disagreement with self-help groups  which speak of “God, as we understood Him.” Western Christianity seems to think that it has to figure God out. The problem is that the God we have figured out says a lot more about us and our disease then it says about God. The god who can be understood is not God. Or, as St. Evagrius of Pontus said: “God cannot be grasped by the mind. If He could be grasped, He would not be God.” We can (and must) have a relationship with God without understanding Him, allowing Him to be Who He IS.

God is Love, and if we say we faith Him, we must love too, otherwise we are just fooling ourselves. So, the question of whether we truly Faith (believe in) God shows up in how we treat others. How we minister to the “least of these” is how we treat God in Whose Image they are all created.

The End of a Great Debating Career

 

Story of the pentecostal preacher at Stetson in the parking lot.

When I was at Stetson University, I was known to be a very sharp debater, having honed my skills on the backs of many hapless deacons at churches my father had pastored or I had attended. I mention this because it has to do with a story of what happened one spring.

I was coming out of a NY Deli that was in an old burger joint’s building at the corner of Plymouth  and Woodland Blvd. As I left, I was accosted by a preacher in the parking lot. He had with him about a dozen of his Church. They were out “witnessing”. It is how he understood his service to Christ worked.

One of his come on lines was to ask the usual, “What’s your major?” My major was Music Theory and Composition. The preacher then said, “You know about music; I know about God.”

The preacher had no idea what he had done. He could not imagine how badly he had lost his argument before it even started. He could not comprehend the verbal drubbing that was in store for him.

I opened my mouth. And as I looked at him, I saw him surrounded by his church group. This would not be pretty. He would get the thoroughly trounced in front of people who looked up to him.

I closed my mouth. It occurred to me that in his assumptions and pride he had given me immense power over him. He did not know that I had taken multiple senior level religion classes; he did not know that I had full access to my Baptist minster father’s library since I could read. If I were an evil type person I could have shellacked him well in front of his congregation. I turned and walked away and mused about how this preacher’s pride gave complete control away to the mercy or mercilessness of whoever happened to be there. Then, as I walked back to my apartment I began musing about how I did that myself, how my own pride gave people, whose intentions may or may not be honourable, power over me.

Thus ended my debating career. There must be something more. Something important was missing, possibly more than one thing. I was beating my head against the wall of the culture I had been brought up in. And yet I believed  in a God Who IS beyond all culture and language.

In all this thinking about God abstractly (even high quality abstract thoughts), something was missing. Nothing in how I had been taught to “DO” theology included relationship with God, it was just well conceived, rigorously pursued ideas ABOUT God (along with a nagging warning to myself not to turn my thoughts about God into an idol).

This is not how I wanted it. I knew well the importance of Relationship with God; I knew that God was far beyond my words about Him. But, alas, the tools I was accustomed to using did not lend themselves well to dealing with God in relationship.

What was missing was COMMUNION (fellowship, participation) with God. I had a well studied idea about what fellowship with God was like. But it was a sort of foggy notion at best, since I had not allowed God to Incarnate Himself to me through communion. As a Baptist we believed that the Lord’s supper was a sort of Symbol of a Symbol of something that we did for reasons we really didn’t know other than Jesus said “This do….”

Having been to Russia during the last of the great Soviet persecutions of Christians, I had also seen their worship first hand. This gave me an excellent example of very high liturgical worship that didn’t fit my preconceived notions of “stuffy”. Rather, they combined the simplest of services with all the festivity and solemnity that we normally reserved for “Easter” and Christmas. What is more, they prayed as if their very breath depended on it. This, very lovingly, violated my assumptions.

Seven years later I was, myself, Orthodox. But a question occurred to me very early on: What do I do with all this theologizing that I had been taught? Of what use was it in this new space? I did not want to employ the old ways of thinking, but they were so much a part of my habit of thinking that it made me almost afraid to read scripture because I knew I would do to scripture what I had always done.

There is the tendency among both the non-believer and the believer brought up in the heritage of western thought to separate theological categories and consider them in isolation. We don’t do that. And this is because we are Catholic (Catholic means according to the Whole) and must consider the whole together (and we are accountable to the whole). How we do any particular thing always is related to our relationship with God and His self emptying love for us. Thus He desires not the death of a sinner but that he turn and live. It is easy to justify a multitude of positions when you consider them in isolation. When I found myself accountable to the Whole — to all of the saints that had come before, that were sharing this time with me, and those who were yet to be born — I had to think theologically in terms of all of them. When I said anything I remembered that I was in communion with the saints to whom the faith was once delivered, and that I was also in communion with those to whom I owed the responsibility of passing along the same treasure I had received.

The Church is the agent by which Jesus the Christ has provided that we commune with His Body and Blood and become His Body. This cannot be understood outside of relationship. We are healed in a relationship with the Healer, not because we deconstruct how we understand His spiritual medication and use that to self-medicate ourselves spiritually. This is a recipe for disaster and madness.

Acquiring the mind of the Church as a communion of the Body of Christ, is not something that happens overnight or by magic. I am still working on that in myself, having taken the approach of my Baptist forefathers to its logical conclusion and realizing that there was no “THERE” there. And, compared to what Jesus was up to, what I had been taught was extremely impoverished.

Our Relationship is with God Who took human flesh for our sake, Who came to our condition, Who stretched out Himself to us, for us, and through communion, IN us. That relationship is expressed in Holy Communion, and through prayer. Here I find the words of St. Maximus the Confessor echoing at me constantly: “Theology is Prayer, prayer is theology. Theology without prayer is demonic.”

It is a journey into that relationship that I now make. It is a journey that I do very badly very often. Christ calls me to a life-giving relationship with Him when I want it, and also when I want to run away from it. It is a journey that I don’t ever expect to master; and yet, it is the journey of Life to which He calls me. May He direct my steps and help me both when I want to follow Him, but especially when I don’t want to. As St. John Chrystostom said: “O Lord, save me whether I want it or not.”