Wise & Guileless

The Treasure-Seeker

He was engaged in this prayer when a Voice came from Heaven, saying,
‘You were told to put the arrow to the bow; but who told you to shoot with all your might?
Self-conceit caused you to raise the bow aloft and display your skill in archery.
You must put the arrow to the bow, but do not draw to the full extent of your power.
Where the arrow falls, dig and search! Trust not in strength, seek the treasure by means of supplication.’

That which is real is nearer than the neck-artery, and you have shot the arrow of thought far afield.
The philosopher kills himself with thinking. Let him run on: his back is turned to the treasure.
Most of those destined for Paradise are simpletons, so that they escape from the mischief of philosophy.
While the clever ones are pleased with the device, the simple ones rest, like babes in the bosom of the Deviser.

—Jalal al-Din

The Lifeblood of the Innocent Poor (EC Blog #3)

I found this “battle poster” on a Salvation Army website. I don’t know why they have Jeremiah 29.11 on there, however. A much more appropriate passage from the prophet Jeremiah would be something like Jeremiah 2.33-35:

How well you direct your course to seek lovers! So that even to wicked women you have taught your ways. Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of all these things you say, “I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.” Now I am bringing you to judgment for saying, “I have not sinned.”

From what I can gather, it seems that most of us (you Seniors and I) have been raised in similar backgrounds vis-à-vis our Christianity, namely evangelical. For this blog entry, I want to ask you: do you think American evangelical Christianity has let (especially conservative) politics exert an undue amount of influence on the way we live out the call of Christ to a life of God-sized compassion, radical self-sacrifice, and unseemly zeal for God’s way?

When I ask this, I can’t help but think about how the term “social justice” often evokes the idea of left-wing radicals. Do you agree with me? What would you say are some issues we face in America today that evangelical Christians need to take a second look at? Why?

Also, just for fun, what would you say is the most striking passage on social justice in the Prophets that you have come across? How does that passage apply to the issues that have come to your mind?

If you are not a student of mine, you can view this entry for a brief explanation of what I’m doing here.

Standing in the Place of Christ

++Rowan at the WCC; photo credit WCC

There is a difference between seeing the world as basically a territory where systems compete, where groups with different allegiances live at each other’s expense, where rivalry is inescapable, and seeing the world as a territory where being in a particular place makes it possible for you to see, to say and to do certain things that aren’t possible elsewhere. The claim of Christian belief is not first and foremost that it offers the only accurate system of thought, as against all other competitors; it is that, by standing in the place of Christ, it is possible to live in such intimacy with God that no fear or failure can ever break God’s commitment to us, and to live in such a degree of mutual gift and understanding that no human conflict or division need bring us to uncontrollable violence and mutual damage. From here, you can see what you need to see to be at peace with God and with God’s creation; and also what you need to be at peace with yourself, acknowledging your need of mercy and re-creation.

—Rowan Williams at the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Brazil

Read the whole message here.

The Sacrament of the World’s Possibility (Blog #4)

tapestry section from Our Lady of the Angels cathedral (L.A.)

…if the church fails to be a community of reconciliation, it has failed its essential mission. For Paul in the letter to the Ephesians, indeed, the church would have no more reason to exist. Note that, in this respect, to be catholic is to be holy… [the church] does become the sacrament of the world’s possiblity, the sign of what the world can be.

Against this ideal—the deepest meaning of the third mark of the church—the profound human tendency to gather with the like-minded, and therefore to form “the church” on the basis of similarity rather than difference, is difficult to overcome. Even with the power of the Holy Spirit, the catholic ideal is seldom accomplished.

The Creed, p.272

In a very real sense, the “catholic” marker is almost the counterpart to the “holy” marker. The question before us as members of the true Church is how do we have both? Can Jesus himself be a model for this? What basis in Scripture can you find? What are one or two issues facing the Church today that you can think of in which this challenge of maintaining holiness and catholicity at once is a primary necessity? How do you think the Church should deal with these issues in a way that is faithful to the ideals of “holy” and “catholic”? If there are any other quotes from Johnson or the Scriptures (or any others, for that matter) that you think are relevant to this question, please include those.

If you are not a student of mine, you can view this entry for a brief explanation of what I’m doing here.

As Deep as Sheol and as High as Heaven

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Isaiah 7.10–16

I think the dominant impression I have received this Christmas season is that of the reality of Immanuel, a reality the prophet Isaiah pointed to hundreds of years before Christ. The “with us”-ness of God is something that has always been significant to me and has been an important aspect that significantly informs my relationship with God. (See my post from a couple years ago for some cool quotes from Bono and from Pope John Paul II that relate specifically to the incarnation.) A Christmas carol that has stuck out to me lately is one that was apparently written as a sort of melancholy lullaby for the Christ child. It’s a beautiful song, but I think the most important thing about it is that we are singing a lullaby! It just points to the humanness of Christ:

Coventry Carol

Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

Interestingly, this idea of Immanuel that has been so important to me has only increased in importance as I have read works of world literature, especially Shusaku Endo’s writings and those of Russian Christian authors (especially Dostoevsky and Tolstoy). Endo’s Silence in particular had quite an effect on me, most memorably at its climax when God’s silence toward the protagonist is broken and the grimy, abused image of Jesus speaks a message of ultimate solidarity with us and sacrificial suffering for (indeed, beacuse of!) us. Dostoevsky’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zosima, Ilyusha and his dog Zuchka/Perezvon, Ivan, Alyosha (of course!), and Jesus himself in the notorious “Grand Inquisitor” chapter, all have pointed to aspects of who God is and to the reality of who we are and how we interact with God.

I think those of us who are Christians, especially in this day and age, would do well to focus on the Immanuel aspect of God. For one, it should be a primary focus anyway, and for another, most people, when it comes to spiritual and meaning-of-life questions, respond positively to this God. And why should they not? What an amazing thing God has done (and does, if you get Shusaku Endo’s message) for us!

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 5.6–8

Most atheists and practical agnostics I’ve known (which, admittedly have been few and have been pretty young, around my age) have lived lives characterized by not only strife, but rage and deceit as well. I think a major factor in this is that they are living reactionary lives, lives of rebellion against different negative experiences or powers. But what does rejection of God bring, in a practical everyday sense (I am laying aside any theological considerations here)? As far as I can imagine, and as far as I have seen in the lives of my friends and loved ones, nothing that is ultimately of any good to them or to others or, of course, to God. At first, there may (and I stress “may”) be a sense of liberation, but that supposed freedom is akin to the feeling of freedom one may feel once one has been pushed out a window twenty storeys up. Even the one who believes in no God knows that ultimately, there is an end to this existence, and even if there is nothing after death, annihilation is a pretty scary thought, too. If an atheist philosophizes too much about death, he or she will begin to sound like the ancient Hebrew writers as they spoke of Sheol, the Pit, the chambers of Death; a place of darkness, obscurity, and oblivion.

The only other gain that I have seen in the lives of my peers has been the opportunity to give the ultimate “Fuck You!” to pretty much everything. Our whole existence is tinged with the person of God, as well as conceptions of that person of God. I’m not just talking about the created world, which indeed screams out the existence of God. Our society, as secularized as it is, is still profoundly shaped by theistic impulses, particularly of the Judeo-Christian variety. So being an atheist (or an agnostic, I would say) is a great and dramatic way to give the bird to anyone or thing one might be bitter toward: parents, church, school, whatever. Great for a thirteen-year-old, perhaps, but what is life built upon then? That kind of person has built their life on a foundation of puerile bitterness and rebellion.

I must say, though, that atheism has been ennobled a bit in my own personal view. I have never met a strictly “practical” atheist, one who rejects the idea of God so that he or she may live in whatever way suits him or her. I think, especially for many younger atheists, that practical atheism becomes more and more a way of life for them (it is hard to imagine it not to), but it has not been the primary cause. That’s nice. And of course, I do have more than a bit of respect for the more serious atheists, who object to the idea of God on moral grounds, although I don’t think the atheistic moral objections are unanswerable, by any means. The most excellent and moving presentation of this kind of atheism that I have encountered was in the aforementioned Brothers Karamazov, but not just (or even primarily) in the much-heralded (in the secular university setting) “Grand Inquisitor” chapter (look, it’s even been published by itself!), but more so in the chapter before it, entitled “Rebellion.” Books 5 and 6, entitled “Pro and Contra” and “The Russian Monk” respectively, are a must-read. They present the moral-atheist objection to the idea of God and the Christian answer. Simply stunning reading.

But back to the point of this time. I think Christmas, perhaps even as much as Easter (and maybe more than, in some senses), really captures the essence of Christianity. Not that God hates us and wants to punish us and torture us but somehow he doesn’t; no, it is that God loves us, and loves us enough to suffer as we do, to experience what we experience, even to experience more than most of us experience in terms of agony and death. I think I would go along with Endo’s idea, too, that God’s suffering continues, because of what we do, not only to him, but to each other and to the rest of creation as well. Another Japanse writer named Kazoh Kitamori, a Christian theologian, really picked up on this idea in Theology of the Pain of God and other writings, too. (I think Japanese Christians, no, Japanese people in general, are pretty good at picking up on this aspect of God, but that’s for another post.)

And this suffering is not the end, neither is it pointless. Its goal is that we all may be reconciled to our estranged Parent, that we may all be reconciled to each other as well. That our hatred and evil to each other and to God and to what is around us may come to an end! And who, whether atheist or agnostic or theist, does not yearn, in a way most painful, for that existence?

My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Galatians 4.4–7

O Come, Thou Dayspring!

In church on Sunday, we sang the song that probably causes me to come closest to that sense of longing for Immanuel, our God with us. It was hymn #56 in the Episcopal hymnal, and more commonly called “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It is both a cry to God to come to us into our midst, but it is also a call to rejoice to those who are in their exile, awaiting his advent. It is both full of sorrow and full of hope.

The paradoxical nature of the song points to the paradoxical nature of Immanuel himself. This idea in and of itself breaks down into several paradoxes, but the one that comes to mind for me when I sing this song is the fact that we desire his coming, and we crucify him who “death’s dark shadows puts to flight.” When I sing this song, I want to cry and smile at the same time.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

According to the Scriptures (Blog #2)


On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
And his kingdom will have no end.
Nicene Creed IV

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ – whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
1 Corinthians 15.12–27a

Why is the resurrection of Christ so essential to Christian belief? As you write your post, keep in mind what Paul has to say about the resurrection, as well as what we have read and have discussed so far. Please, of course, include your own view on the importance of the Jesus’ resurrection.

If you are not a student of mine, you can view this entry for a brief explanation of what I’m doing here.

Thanks for the Theme

I just wanted to mention to everyone that this awesome WordPress theme I’m using was not created by me. It was done by Nao. She made it for a theme contest, and in my opinion she should have gotten first place. Anyway, I’ve already modified it and will probably keep tweaking it, but there it is!