Thursday, May 31, 2007
I really feel that 21st Century Sydney is a zugzwang culture. We have seemed to developed the misguided notion that productivity is intrinsically linked to fruitfulness. Indeed, the more full one's schedule one is, the more important we believe they are. In response to the question "How are things?", the fashionable answer seems to be "Oh, I'm really tired - I've been so busy lately".
While it is true that we should strive to avoid laziness, there are times that it is better to wait and reflect than to simply act for the sake of acting and do for the sake of doing. Sometimes one has to stop being productive in order to be fruitful. There are times when to we need to slow down and regain our bearings. Only then will the right course of action present itself.
To help us in the pursuit of being fruitful rather than simply productive, Thomas à Kempis gives us three very practical pieces of advice:
1. Don't be too quick to accept the words of others - "Test everything. Hold onto the good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). God has given us all minds - let us use them to critically engage with what people say to us, rather than blindly accepting what they say as true. Every person has their own agendas and biases which influence the things that they say. We should be especially wary when people tell us things that we want to hear. Written within the context of gossip, Thomas à Kempis writes: "We do well to believe less than we are told". But even with the first principle in mind ...
2. Don't be too quick to reject the words of others - As Thomas à Kempis writes: "It is wise neither to be impetuous, nor to hold obstinately to your own opinions". That is, critical engagement with others involves not merely refusing to accept what people say blindly, but it also involves being open to what they have to say to you. Dogmatism is just as great an evil as uncritical acceptance - indeed, quite often the two co-exist. We should be particularly open to the opinions of others when these opinions differ from our own. Which leads us onto Thomas à Kempis third piece of advice ...
3. Don't be too quick to offer your own opinion - This is perhaps one of the few times where it is truly more blessed to receive than to give. Most people are far too quick to offer their own opinions, quite possibly because they give far too much weight to the importance of what they say. Knowledge is power and if you take the time to listen to what others have to say and perhaps even learn from them and their experiences, you will be greatly empowered. This is not to say that we should never share our opinions, but I believe that more often than not it is most wise to listen first, then offer our opinions second.
Let us take the time to truly reflect upon this advice from Thomas à Kempis. I suppose that there are times when we must make a decision quickly because deadlines are imposed on us from above, such as in the workplace. There are other times, however, when the only reason we make a decision quickly is because we have this chronic desire to do something rather than nothing. It is during these times that we must recognise that to wait and reflect is to be fruitful and that all time is not our own, but rather "kairos" or God's time.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Being a good person?
Having an expansive theological knowledge?
Believing the right doctrines?
Let me give you the suggestion that Rod offered at Space For God last night - being outrageously yourself.
Now, I must admit that's a fairly outrageous suggestion. Throughout most of the history of Christendom our essential humanness has been held in disdain by those in authority. To be human is seen to be dirty, corrupt, totally depraved. And you dare not do anything so human as to enjoy yourself and smile. In Calvin's theocracy of Geneva in the sixteenth century, to smile during a baptism (which I would have thought was meant to be a happy event) would get you imprisoned for three days.
Even though we may no longer be locked away for having the audacity to enjoy ourselves, the suppression of our humanity in Christendom continues. A good Christian is seen as someone who acts in a certain way, believes certain things and speaks Christianese fluently. And if you want to fit in, remember this advice: show emotion at your own peril, because if you do, people will think that you're a bit unstable. That is, unless you belong to a Pentecostal church, in which case you can show the type of emotion carefully scripted by the church to which you belong.
It didn't always used to be this way. Once upon a time, before Christianity had become Christendom, the humanity of humanity was celebrated. Nowhere was this more evident than in the quote of second century Church Father Irenaeus who wrote that "The glory of God is a person fully alive". The root cause of humanity's alienation and estrangement from God is not that we are human, but rather that we are not fully human. And shamefully, Christendom has proved not to be a help in this pursuit, but rather it has become a hindrance.
Think about it. The Psalmist writes that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). We are made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27). This is something to celebrate. In celebration, let us dance. And sing. And shout. And do precisely those unrefined and unkempt things that make us truly feel human, but make Christendom uncomfortable. To celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant, King David went so far to affirm his humanity as to dance naked (2 Samuel 6:14-20). He too was chastised for his unreasonable and inappropriate display of emotion. Just to reassure people, I'm not quite ready yet to affirm my humanity in such a bold manner, so you can all take a deep sigh of relief!
Perhaps one of the ways we inadvertently subvert our humanity and that of others is to assume that we are merely rational beings. As Rod pointed out, this is a legacy of Medieval theology that still exists in contemporary Christendom. Logic and rationality has been and still is championed over emotion and intuition. Because logic and rationality have traditionally been viewed as synonymous with masculinity, with emotion and intuition being seen as synonymous with femininity, Christendom has generally suppressed and subverted the feminine perspective. I think it would a fair comment to suggest that this has only served to impoverish Christendom. To adequately express the human condition it is necessary to listen to both the male and female voices in the Church.
Perhaps our distorted understanding of what it means to be human stems from the fact that we have traditionally viewed God in exclusively masculine terms. While it is right to affirm the masculinity of God, we also need to affirm God's essential femininity. On the margins there have been concerted attempts to do this. For instance, there has been a long standing tradition to equate the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Trinity with Sophia, the goddess of Wisdom. There is much to commend this perspective, considering the personification of Wisdom in the book of Proverbs (in female terms, no less), the fact that the Hebrew word for Spirit - "ruach" is distinctly feminine and the development of Trinitarian theology in the apocryphal writings.
I would like to suggest that Christendom would gain a much greater understanding of God and of what it means to be human by re-examining the person of the Holy Spirit. She is a creative, emotive being. She is not necessarily ordered or logical - or at the very least does not correspond with our understanding of order or logic. In fact, at Pentecost we see the Holy Spirit at Her most spontaneous and chaotic. Nor is She subject to our human constructions - She is a mystery beyond our deepest understandings. While She dwells with us and we dwell with Her, we cannot comprehend the depths of Her being. Indeed, the Holy Spirit provides an interesting metaphor for the paradox of human existence. We are at the same time ordered and chaotic, transcendent and imminent, familiar and ineffable. Let us celebrate it all.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Most of the dialogue in the debate between modernists and post-modernists has centred around the question of whether absolute truth exists or whether truth is merely relative. The objective and the subjective is thus seen as diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive. But is our search for truth obscured because we are asking the wrong question? Rather than ask whether truth is objective or subjective, Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard would ask the question: "Which truth is most important?" With respect to Christianity, Kierkegaard, using the pseudonym Johannes Climacus writes in "Subjectivity is Truth":
All essential knowledge concerns existence, or only that knowledge that relates to existence is essential, is essential knowledge. All knowledge that is not existential, that does not involve inward reflection, is really accidental knowledge, its degree and compass are essentially a matter of no importance. This essential knowledge that relates itself essentially to the existing individual is not to be equated with the above-mentioned abstract identity between thought and being. But it means that knowledge must relate itself to the knower, who is essentially an existing individual, and therefore all essential knowledge essentially relates itself to existence, to that which exists. But all ethical and all ethical-religious knowledge has this essential relationship to the existence of the knower.Kierkegaard does not dismiss the concept of objective knowledge - he merely suggests that objective knowledge is of secondary importance in the Christian faith. Even if the reliability of the Bible and Christianity itself were established beyond doubt, he suggests that objective truth is trumped by the greater truth of subjectivity. Even if every word of the Bible were true, this would still not mean that the Bible is the truth. Or to be more accurate, this would not mean that the Bible is the Truth. What matters is the individual's relationship to Christianity, rather than the propositional claims that Christianity makes for itself.
Like Kierkegaard, Thomas à Kempis rejects the importance of objective and propositional truth. He writes in his third meditation entitled "On Being Taught by Truth":
How happy a man is when the Truth teaches him directly, not through symbols and words that are soon forgotten, but by contact with itself. Our own way of thinking and our own impression give us only a false or limited view [emphasis mine].Christianity is at heart a subjective and experiential truth. Think about it. How would you go about explaining the colour green to a person born blind? Or better still, how would you explain falling in love in conceptual terms? I guess I could try, but I could absolutely guarantee that my description would give no insight into what the person who is falling in love experiences. One simply has to experience falling in love themselves to share in my truth. And once they have fallen in love, no words will explain what they feel, but rather words will merely undermine and understate the experience. Quite simply, the truth that can be spoken about is not the truth. But mark my words, the person who has fallen in love, though he or she cannot articulate this truth, has nonetheless stumbled upon one of the greatest truths we can know in this lifetime.
Even if every word of the bible were true, the biggest mistake we could possibly make is to regard the words of the Bible as the Truth. When we do so, we worship the revelation at the expense of the Revealer, the creation at the expense of the Creator. Even through careful exegesis of Scripture, we objectify God and thus create Him in our own image. When we do so, we become idolators. As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, "Concepts create idols, but only wonder grasps anything".
The way in which Thomas à Kempis compares symbols and words is extremely helpful in clarifying my understanding of the Bible in the life and faith of the Christian. I believe the Bible should be seen in sacramental terms - it is a gateway to the divine, rather than the divine itself. We must not merely reflect, meditate upon and exegete the Scriptures, but rather we should travel below the surface and expose ourselves to the Truth to which they witness. If we pursue the Scriptures in this way they will prove to be helpful, but if we see the Scriptures as an end in itself, the Scriptures will only serve to obscure the Truth. Indeed, in the same address in which Jesus calls himself the Truth (John 14:6), he instructs his followers to abide in Him (John 15:4). It is only through discipleship that we will be taught the Truth, a truth beyond words that surpasses all knowledge.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
The effect of having a barrier blocking me from the rest of the gathering so that they could hear my voice but not see my face was difficult both for me as well as the rest of the community. I know that in the age of the Podcast this is typical, but the fact that the gathering knew where the voice was coming from and knew that I was so close, yet so far away made it somewhat different. Funnily enough, even though I couldn't see people looking at me, I was somewhat more self-conscious than I would have been if no such wall existed.
We started by looking at the walls that we put up to protect us from ourselves. I pointed out that being human can entail a lot of responsibility towards others, so by refusing to affirm our own humanity, we are able to ignore the humanity in others. It is tough to be honest with ourselves, but this is what we need to do if we are to be of any use in the Kingdom of God.
Our first lectionary reading from Amos 8:4-7 spoke about the walls of greed that prevented the elite in Israel from either responding to the needs of the poor or relating to God. Religious observance had merely become an obstacle in the way of making more money. As soon as these people had gone through the motions of religious observance, they were back in the market. Not only did they neglect the needs of the poor, but they actively sought to exploit their vulnerabilities by ripping them off with dishonest measures. They would then use their ill-gained profit to employ the poor as cut-price labour so as to expand their respective empires.
Our second lectionary reading was the story of Jesus and Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10. Just like the people in Amos' time, Zaccheus became wealthy through using his position as a tax-collector to rip people off. Presumably, it would have been the poor of the land that were most at risk. However, Zaccheus' wealth came at a price. He had power without glory. Among the A-listers in Jericho, Zaccheus was seen as a social pariah. I suspect that rather than guilting Zaccheus into changing his ways, it would have reinforced his behaviour. After consistently being denigrated as less than human by the social set, I suspect that Zaccheus would have begun to see himself in this way. And if you're not truly human, why are you obligated to act in a truly human way towards others?
Zaccheus had one other wall. He was short. Unable to see over the crowd of people flocking to see Jesus appear, Zaccheus climbs a sycamore tree. (Just as a tangent, it is interesting to note that before Amos got into the business of being a prophet, Amos 7:14 states that he actually looked after sycamore trees for a living. What significance this has, I don't know.) Jesus sees him and decides to invite himself over to Zaccheus' place. This isn't a rude gesture - it's a way to affirm that Zaccheus can be useful. And by affirming that Zaccheus could be useful, Jesus was affirming Zaccheus' humanity. For the first time in ages, Zaccheus was forced to see himself as a human. And as a human he was forced to acknowledge that he had responsibilities towards others besides himself. We don't know the details of the conversation that took place at Zaccheus' house, but it must of had a profound effect on him - Zaccheus pledged to give away half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times the amount to anyone he had ripped off. And so, in one short day, an entire lifetime of unscrupulous business practices were completely and irrevocably changed.
One of the things that struck me about this passage was the juxtaposition of Jesus' response to Zaccheus with the response of Zaccheus' accusers and the result that each response had. While the condemnation of Zaccheus by his accusers actually reinforced his behaviour, the affirmation of Zaccheus as a person of worth by Jesus actually encouraged Zaccheus to see himself as someone who could actually positively contribute to the lives of others. This is a great challenge to us in the way that we respond to those who oppress and exploit others. By rejecting them as people, we reinforce their behaviour. But by affirming them, loving them and praying for them, we chip away the walls that prevent them from seeing that they are truly human and that they have a responsibility to act in a truly human manner towards others.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Things have been complicated further by the fact that my flatmate has been offered a job in Canberra. It will be sad to part ways - he's truly been a terrific guy to live with. However, at the same time I'm glad that he is receiving this really exciting opportunity to further his career.
With all of the above in mind, it looks like I might have to move into a studio apartment, since I'm not crazy about the idea of moving into a place with a group of people that I don't know. It seems like too much of a lottery and a losing one at that, because there are too many annoying people out there. I'm also reticent about the idea of living by myself, because knowing that there are times that I need some social interaction, I prefer to live with other people.
Anyway, I think that I've found a way around the problem. I looked at an interesting place on Saturday in Erskineville. It's a tiny studio which was originally converted from a warehouse. It has this very rustic charm about it and will help me in my pursuit to live a simple and minimalistic lifestyle. However, perhaps the most appealing element is Erskineville itself. Erskineville seems a lot like one of those long lost villages of the fifties. Within one minute of my doorstep, there is a cafe, a bakery, a pub, a newsagency, a post office and most importantly, the train station. It seems like the kind of close knit community where I could actually get to know my neighbours. I really like that idea.
My idea is to spend a lot of time at the cafe and the bakery, making sure that I get to know the shopkeepers and the regulars who go there. This way I'll be able to get the necessary social interaction I need, while I can chill out at night by myself.
What do people think? Am I being realistic?
Unless it gets better and better from here, I truly feel that these are the best years of my life. Now in my mid-twenties, I feel that I have finally come of age and I see only possibilities. This really is my Renaissance. It's a truly wonderful feeling to be aware of this.
Friday, May 18, 2007
We live in a world that abounds with walls. There are walls separating countries. There are walls separating people. There are walls separating people from God. Finally, there are walls that we put up to protect us from ourselves. Perhaps the thing that strikes me most about self-imposed walls is that such walls are primarily a defensive measure. Perhaps we are scared of affirming the fullness of our own humanity because we are scared of what we might find. Or perhaps we know that once we allow ourselves to be fully human, we will inevitably be drawn towards making commitments we may find to be onerous. Affirming our humanity may mean that we have to take the concerns and needs of others seriously and actually respond accordingly.
At Space For God (www.spaceforgod.org.au) this Jubilee Sunday (go to www.jubileeaustralia.org for details) we'll have a look at Amos 8:4-7, which looks at the way in which the people in Amos' day chose to wall themselves off from the needs of the poor and oppressed in their society. We'll also have a look at the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10, in which we'll look at the walls that Zacchaeus had imposed upon himself and how by affirming Zacchaeus' humanity, Jesus was able to break down these walls. Here's a few questions that you might like to think about:
(1) What are the walls that exist between myself and others? Between myself and God?
(2) What self-imposed walls have I constructed? Why have I done so?
(3) What can I do to break down the personal walls that I have constructed or that have otherwise been imposed upon me?
(4) How does breaking down these personal walls help to break down the walls of apathy, ignorance and injustice in society?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
So, what's my take? Personally, I was deeply distressed by his agenda and the fact that he has now died isn't going to change that. This said, I don't believe that I am in any position to judge him as a person. I say this for three reasons:
- Jesus teaches us that we should not judge, lest we be judged
- I too am a flawed human being
- Every individual has a story that explains the way they act
It is particularly on this third point that I would like to comment. One of the things I've learnt much more acutely during the last year or so of responding to blogs and now blogging myself is that people are more than merely the sum total of their opinions. Sometimes in the impersonal world of blogging, we can treat individuals as opinions needing to be critiqued rather than people needing to be loved. This is an entirely wrong-headed approach. The people we meet on the blogosphere are people with back stories. They have families. They have hopes and dreams and desires. They have had their hearts broken, been disappointed by friends and have suffered the pain and loss of the death of loved ones. It is for this reason that I seek to get people to tell me their respective stories so that I might be able to understand where they are coming from, even if I do not agree with them.
So, with the abovementioned considerations in mind, who are we to judge Jerry Falwell? What do we know of him as a person? Was he not human, just like us, subject to the same weaknesses and frailities that we ourselves are?
After all is said and done, let us remember that we too have stories that have shaped and moulded the way that we understand and relate to the world ...
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Although there's a strong sense in which what I'm doing is intended to help members of the community, I'd like to also encourage other people to contribute. It has always been our goal that Space For God would be an open and inclusive community and that people should feel welcome to have their say irrespective of whether or not they can make it to our Sunday gatherings, for whatever reason. This is all the more true if you believe you hold a viewpoint that conflicts with what I'm saying. I'd like to think that we could all learn from listening to what each person has to say and taking their thoughts onboard.
While I'm still talking about Space For God, I'd just like to encourage you to read Bek's Reflections. Bek is a wonderful writer and a talented poet whose unique insights complement my more prosaic articles quite nicely.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
- I live on the edge of the city.
- In fact, I quite often walk to and from work, which is near Wynyard.
- My flatmate isn't Christian.
- I think it's better that way.
- I am 24.
- I rarely divulge my age, since I believe that people should respond to my arguments, rather than a number.
- I am an unashamed mummy's boy.
- I have been estranged from my father for six and a half years.
- I have a sister living in Brisbane.
- I have two nieces, who are both gorgeous.
- I hope that once they are old enough, they will adore me.
- In a few years I shall take them to the zoo and buy them fairy floss without telling their mother.
- I feel uncomfortable at large family gatherings.
- So does my mother.
- I became a Christian when I was 17.
- Back then, I was an evangelical.
- But now I'm not.
- I used to be scared of Liberalism and afraid of engaging with what they believed in case I became "one of them".
- But now I'm not.
- I even did a bit of study at a theological college.
- I used to preach regularly at a church I used to go to.
- For a short period of time I wanted to be a minister.
- But I've now recognised that this isn't my calling.
- I have completed a law degree.
- While I achieved reasonable results, I'm sure I could have done better.
- I now work as a paralegal.
- I hope to be admitted as a solicitor in October.
- After that, I hope to work in criminal law.
- Depression has been a major part of my life.
- But at the moment I'm feeling great.
- I'm feeling truly human.
- Before the last few months I hadn't been able to say this for a very long time.
- I am an extroverted introvert.
- I have a small circle of friends.
- But those friends I do have are truly special to me.
- Everytime I speak to someone I have the intention to change their world for the better.
- I enjoy the prospect of shocking people.
- But I don't shock people merely for the sake of shocking them.
- I view everytime I speak to someone as an opportunity for me to learn from them.
- In the last few years I've learnt the value of listening to others.
- I've also learnt that I'm not nearly as smart as I previously thought I was.
- I used to be a really good chess player.
- I've represented NSW three times.
- But I don't play anymore - other things have taken priority.
- I love music.
- I like the idea of liking music that others either don't know or don't like.
- My greatest regret is not learning a musical instrument.
- I wonder if it is too late to start now.
- I am a perfectionist.
- I am my own worst critic.
- I am constantly disappointed in my inability to live up to my calling as a Christian.
- I wish I could be a writer.
- But because I am a perfectionist, nothing ever gets written.
- I read very few novels.
- I am seeking to change that.
- I love road tripping.
- Over the last few years I have travelled to Rockhampton an Adelaide.
- Because I am a control freak, I did most of the driving.
- I have a bohemian side that I use to escape from my image as a legal professional.
- My supervisor pressured me to cut my hair.
- I was very reluctant to do so because I thought it was fine.
- But I did it anyway.
- I love spending time in second-hand bookstores.
- But most of the time I don't buy any books.
- My last purchase was a book of Yeats' poetry.
- I understand it far less than I think I do.
- I love watching arthouse films.
- After watching such a film, I love discussing the film with a friend over coffee.
- I must overanalyse every minute detail.
- I've recently come to quite like Chai Latte.
- My last girlfriend was an evangelical.
- I respected her faith and I still do.
- I'm happy that we have remained friends.
- I'm not nearly as nasty as people who read my posts might believe.
- In fact, I think I'm a very empathetic person.
- I eat out far more often than I would like.
- I'm trying to change that.
- I am currently trying to get healthy.
- Because of this, buying slurpies from Seven-Eleven on a nightly basis will have to stop.
- Last night I ran 3.7km on the treadmill.
- I was very proud of myself.
- Which is depressing, because when I was 15 I would run anywhere from 10 to 15km every Saturday morning.
- I love driving my white Corolla.
- But I can only drive it when my I go home to my parents place because I have no carspaces where I currently live.
- I will go back this weekend for Mother's Day.
- I plan to study for my upcoming Property Practice assessment for the College of Law.
- No study will get done.
- I spend far too much time on the internet.
- Now that I've started blogging, I don't see this problem resolving itself.
- Despite the fact that I'm on the internet quite regularly I'm less computer literate than I would like.
- But as least I can type quickly and accurately.
- Except when I'm thinking about lists like this.
- Which has taken far too much time already.
- Although I'm not a workaholic, I spend quite a bit of time at work.
- But not today - I took two hours off for lunch.
- A certain minister is to blame for this.
- But I don't mind in the slightest.
- I'm also leaving early today because I'm seeing a movie at Newtown Dendy about Carthusian monks tonight.
- The writings of Kierkegaard resonate with me.
- Even though I have a hard time understanding him.
- I have come to love symbolism and ritual
- The Christian mystics appeal to me.
- This is because they stress praxis over and above theory.
- I love to be thought of as an enigma.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Do you pride yourself on your theological knowledge?
Are you a walking Bible concordance?
Do you spend exorbinate amounts of your time blogging about eschatology, bibliology and soteriology?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, Thomas à Kempis has some sobering things for you to think about:
- God couldn't care less - You might be impressed with your theological knowledge, but God isn't. It is written, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8) Suring up our knowledge of amillenialism simply doesn't come into the equation.
- Such knowledge doesn't bring you one step closer to salvation - The Pharisees devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures, yet Jesus said to them, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life." (John 5:39-40) That is, while the Scriptures do bear witness to Jesus, it is through coming to Jesus that we are restored, not through indulging in our theological knowledge.
- You are exposed to much more severe judgment - You may not have increased your chances of salvation, but you have opened a Pandora's box that has increased your culpability before God. As Thomas à Kempis writes:
Unless your life shows a corresponding growth in holiness, increased knowledge and better understanding will only mean severer judgment. So you should not let skill or knowledge elate you, but should rather feel a certain apprehension at what you have been allowed to learn.
- Even if your knowledge is impressive, your ignorance is even more impressive - Our human minds are so finite and the body of information in the world to digest so expansive that even the most learned of scholars have but touched the surface of what the world has to teach us. What is more, the type of knowledge we receive through our reading only accounts for a small proportion of all possible knowledge.
- There are countless people who know more than you - And chances are, many of these people will completely disagree with your theological stance. It is also more than likely that these people will have the ability to tear your feeble arguments to shreds, thus destroying any pretensions you may have had as to the value of your "sound doctrine".
Rest assured, Thomas à Kempis does leave you with one thing he believes is worth learning - "Aim at being unknown and thought of no account". This is a truly humiliating thing to think about. Not only does this involve lowering yourself below others, but it involves conceding that all of your great learning is mere rubbish in the eyes of God compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and following along the path of the cross.
At this point, I should include myself among those who need to learn the important lesson of humility. To truly embrace this teaching of Christ requires not merely learning and practice, but also a desire to unlearn those things that were once perceived to be important. Only then can one be filled with the wisdom offered by Christ.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Following Jesus may seem like a simple task, but the devil is truly in the details. I mean, how do we follow Jesus? And even if we know how to follow Jesus, how do we know that we are truly following him? Is it possible to delude ourselves into believing that we are faithful disciples when in reality we are undermining his work?
In order to resolve the dilemmas mentioned above, Thomas proposes that the teachings of Jesus should be our starting point. However, unless we truly seek to model our lives around that of the Exemplar, his words will remain obscured to us. Like the man who built his house upon the rock, we will be able to truly savour the words of Jesus when we not only hear his teachings, but also seek to put them into practice.
For Thomas à Kempis, the Christian walk is first and foremost about praxis. In order to stress his point even more forcefully, he asks:
What good can it do you to discuss the mystery of God the Trinity in learned terms if you lack the humility and so displease that God? Learned arguments do not make a man holy and righteous, whereas a good life makes him dear to God. I would rather feel compunction in my heart than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible off by heart and all the expositions of scholars, what good would it do you without the love and grace of God?
Thomas stops just short of suggesting that the pursuit of theological knowledge is intrinsically bad, but as we shall see in the next devotion, he way well cross this line. However, at the very least it is clear that Thomas rejects the pursuit of theological knowledge as being of paramount importance in our discipleship.
Thomas concludes this devotion by talking about the supremacy of the eternal over the temporal. We are to seek the Kingdom of God before anything else. It would appear that we can only do this by rejecting the things of this world. There is no room for middle ground. We must choose one or the another. We cannot have a little bit of both.
For Thomas à Kempis, living up to the calling we have received involves both a positive and a negative focus. Positively, we must make the express decision not simply just to hear Jesus' teachings, but also to follow them. Negatively, we must make the express decision to reject the things of this world. There is no room to believe that we can truly pursue Jesus and the things of this world at the same time.
So, what does this make me think of my own Christian journey? Not much. Lamentably, there have been countless times when I have failed to follow Jesus as I should. There have also been countless times when I have pursued the things of this world and in so doing have become possessed by them. It's starting to become quite clear that this discipleship thing seems much harder than one might originally think. I think it will take my entire life (and then some) before I can truly call myself a disciple of Jesus.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
After my Catholic bible study tonight, I asked the priest about what he understood to be the key differences between sacramentalism in Lutheranism and Catholicism. I feel that we only scratched the surface, but for some reason we got onto the subject of the Council of Trent. The priest explained to me that the Council of Trent was often badly misunderstood by Protestants and Catholics alike and that several things had to be taken into consideration:
- Trent is set in a particular historical, religious and philosophical context. If the Council of Trent were written today, it would be worded somewhat differently.
- The declarations that the Protestants were "anathema" must be understood within the interplay of 16th century sectarian dialogue. The exchange was heated on both sides, with the Papacy being labelled as the Antichrist, a label that still exists today in many fundamentalist churches. Vatican II, on the other hand, does not use the term "anathema" once.
- Trent was not merely the attempted refutation of Protestantism, but also a strong rebuke of then current Catholic praxis. Trent addressed everything from liturgical abuses to the abrogation of adequate pastoral care by Bishops.
These observations are so obvious, yet for some reason I missed them. I suspect that part of the reason for this is because I have long seen Trent through a Protestant lens. I still haven't read anything in Trent outside of the Canons on Justification and I'm sure that most Protestants can't say that they have either.
Another positive aspect of the conversation was that it helped me to more fully appreciate the important role of the Reformation in the history of the broader Christian Church. The priest acknowledged that many of the Reformers had legitimate concerns and I am sure that this is even a commonly held view within Catholicism. As well as establishing a "large R" Reformation outside of the Catholic Church, the Reformers helped to set the wheels in motion for a "small R" reformation within the Church. Without the influence of the Reformers, Catholicism may well have continued to lose its impetus and died a slow death through emaciation. Ironically, the Reformers themselves are largely responsible for the fact that Catholicism exists today.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Anyway, I thought that in order to get my creative juices flowing I might write my thoughts on each devotion in Thomas à Kempis' "Imitation of Christ". Between the four books there are 114 devotions, so even if I write a post every day the project will take me three and a half months. I won't do it for anyone else - it will simply be for my own nostalgia and edification.