“Through Which Lens?” (by Chris Hall)

John Chrysostom believed firmly—and staked his life on this belief—that the stumbling blocks God’s inexplicable providence presents to the believer can be avoided by learning to read Reality well. These stumbling blocks, John argues, do not arise from the nature of things in and of themselves, but from the inability of the observer to see Reality clearly, an interpretive weakness that we can avoid through the development of a “well-disposed” character. Who we are will affect what we see and understand of our life’s circumstances.

Our character, formed by the Holy Spirit as we allow the truth of the gospel to soak into our minds, is the central factor in determining whether God’s world will be understood by us or not. John writes that those who are “worldly, difficult to lead, self-willed, and utterly carnal,” will continually misread God’s providence because they lack the eyes to see God at work, a vision that comes only to those who are actively exercising faith, that is, allowing their perspective to be shaped by the gospel and acting accordingly.

Many of God’s actions in the world will remain incomprehensible even to the faithful, discerning Christian. Should we be surprised by this? Chrysostom argues that human reason possesses inherent limitations and boundaries. A failure to accept the boundaries God has chosen to place on what we can know will result in spiritual sicknesses such as disillusionment with God and discouragement over how God is acting in the world.

John writes from his exile in Cucusus: “What, therefore, is the cause of sicknesses such as these? A curious mind preoccupied with vain questions, one that wants to understand all the causes of everything that comes to pass and to strive contentiously with the incomprehensible and ineffable providence of God. It shamelessly scrutinizes and concerns itself with a subject which in its very nature is infinite and untraceable.”

Rather than prying into things that presently cannot be fathomed, those seeking to understand God’s providence should be like clay in the potter’s hands, “following wherever the artist leads, not resisting, not prying into things.” Chrysostom repeatedly derides an inappropriately inquisitive attitude as audacious, insane, obstinate, foolish, improper, shameless, bold, inappropriate, ignorant, indiscrete, arrogant, ridiculous, and curious. Quite a list of adjectives!

John reminds us that for the Christian, everything—including dealing with God’s providence—is linked to the love and goodness of God. God’s love for God’s image-bearers and all creation is a fundamental presupposition for John as he views the events of life. Hence, Chrysostom’s interpretive stance before God’s providence is fundamentally deductive rather than inductive. Chrysostom insists that key revealed truths, whether in nature, Scripture, or history, must be accepted as necessary presuppositions for correctly understanding God’s providence. Primary among these is God’s love for humanity. And where can this love most clearly be seen? In the cross. Indeed, Chrysostom delights in the way the incarnation and cross have turned the values of the world upside down. Out of seeming defeat, disgrace, horror, suffering, and the reality of death comes unimaginable victory.

In short, in the cross of Jesus all the major themes of Chrysostom’s understanding of providence intersect. If what appeared to be the greatest tragedy in the history of the world is actually the most blessed event, Christians can have an entirely different perspective on the circumstances of their own lives and the arena in which their lives are lived. The cross “is the foremost good,” “a proof of God’s great providence, goodness, and love.” The cruciform pattern of the cross, then, becomes the lens through which Christians can learn to view their God’s providence at work in their lives and how God’s love and goodness manifest themselves in life between the ages, the unexpected time between Christ’s first and second coming.

 

SOURCE: Renovare.org

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When God is Useless… (revised)

“At times like these God is useless…” – quote from a Minister at a church service in NYC held the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.

 

That statement may seem harsh, caustic, and even reminiscent of the once famous proclamation of God being dead.  But that is far from the truth.  Rather, to me it speaks to a rawness of truth that people who have been through tragedy can relate to, and often need to hear.

One of the biggest obstacles when we try and live a life of faith are the very images of God we create and hold true for ourselves.  I have discovered that most people believe in a God who has an “ego” – because only a God with an ego would get “mad” or seek revenge or rain down judgment or have his divine feelings hurt if I spoke some personal truth in anger towards him.

I have actually had people judge me and tell me I have lost faith all because I tell them that when I pray I sometimes cuss, that I rage at God when I pray because that is who I am; I am being true to the man God made, and yet somehow I am supposed to NOT be human towards God?  I am also being true to the depth of realness in my relationship with God.

Let me state this as simply as possible, this ‘thing’ that transformed my relationship with God making it more real and authentic then at any time in my life is this change within me: I came to understand and “know” that God does not have an Ego.

Ego is defined as a “person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.”  In psychoanalysis, ego has to do with the role the “mind” plays in mediating between the conscious and unconscious mind.  See where I am going with this?

God does not need to have a “sense of self-importance” for God is self-contained; whole and complete unto Godself.  God does not need me to placate his feelings with trite remarks of praise.  God does not need anything from me, at all.  Nada.  God does not have a Mind that needs a mediating element.  God does not need a mind.  God just is.  God is the all that is and that is all.

And because I now live my life from the particular space/place that God has no ego, I can freely state such things like God is useless sometimes and it is not heresy.  In fact, it is particularly freeing and relevant.

Freeing because there is nothing more dangerous and powerful than a person who has been released to love and be with a God Who is so freeing and relevant because in the last few days I have had conversations with 2 different people – one whose sister died in a car accident a year ago and the other a young father whose infant daughter had died three months ago – where not only did I feel inadequate, but God seemed so useless as a source of presence or comfort.  And know that all I wanted to be was some symbol of God’s presence and comfort in the midst of the unexplainable rawness of our shared and fragile humanity.

Much has been written about God, suffering, life, etc., and because I am feeling so spiritually bankrupt (more like overdrawn on the spiritual bank account), I’m throwing in my truncated two cents.

If there is anything I have learned in my struggles – which include the death of my both my parents (Dad when I was a teenager, Mom as I entered my forties), the death of my son in childbirth, the death of grandparents, an aunt, a brother, and the numerous deaths of friends to addiction and mental illness, and even in my own personal darkness – is that God can’t be made a scapegoat.

Frederick Buechner said “God cannot make [tragedies] unhappen any more than we can use a floodlight to put out a fire.”

If I blame God for all tragedy, then in my scapegoating of God I remove free will and the grand mystery of it all and I end up hating God.  Some Christians talk about the permissive will of God as a way of explaining away tragedy and evil (i.e., God ‘allowed’ this to happen for some lesson to learn (which is a bullshit excuse, by the way).

Here are some squirmingly uncomfortable realities: EVERYTHING that happens falls under the will of God (if it does not then God is no longer omnipotent or omniscient); not everything has a human explanation or “purpose”; and some things in life will forever remain a Mystery.  And in these moments our job, if you will, is not to solve the Mystery, but to live it.

God is always being blamed for all sorts of human tragedies and errors, while simultaneously we remove all elements of human error and the laws of nature as well as the reality that we humans create much of the variables that lead to tragedy and I refer back to the aforementioned reality of Mystery.

So when I echo the sentiments of the pastor from the post 9/11 service – that in times of suffering and death and pain, God can indeed be useless – I am not saying God is not a present reality.  What I am saying is that it is a futile exercise to expect God to give us pat answers or solutions when tragedy occurs; that is putting ego into the equation.

I can hope for God’s presence, but in the brutal rawness of misery and tragedy, my senses tend to be numb and blind to any divine presence.  I become lost in my own emotions, swirling and swimming, drowning me.  What I can say is that in all the tragedy I have experienced, God is present more so in the pain than in any so-called answer given to me by well-meaning people.

So I try and remind myself when pain comes, and come it will, when suffering overwhelms my world, and I grasp and grope for God, for answers, hell, when I am grasping for anything to make sense of the pain, I will remind myself that although God is useless, God is still present.

 

A Short One…

Note: I have not been writing much as life has become more of, well, life: busy; financial struggles; seasonal sadness; deaths; and then there is all that is going on “on the insides.”  God is goodness and faithfulness and compassion and love.  Here is a quote I found rather tasty and identified with quite deeply.  Be well, be blessed, be a blessing.  – N.C.

 

I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well.

Like campers who have bonded over cook fires far from home, we remain grateful for the provisions that we have brought with us from those cupboards, but we also find them more delicious when we share them with one another under the stars.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (HarperOne: 2012), p. 224.

“Coming to Be Love” (Ilia Delio)

Today, on my 50th birthday, I wanted to re-blog a post written by the Franciscan nun and scientist Sr. Ilia Delio who writes about the mystical truths of science always leading us deeper into Love, and therefore into God.

May we all grow more deeply into the Love that sustains the universe….

N.C.

Coming to Be Love
(Wednesday, November 1, 2017 – All Saints Day)

Written by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, continues reflecting on love as the heart of the universe.

To see the universe through the eyes of love helps us make sense of evolution, not as a process of cold, blind chance or randomness, but one of passion, yearning, novelty, union, gift, suffering, death, and new life. Love is the faithful heart of the cosmos, the constancy of all life; yet love seeks to become more being-in-love and hence is the energy of change. . . . The name “God” points to this mystery of love in its unlimited depth, the center of all that is; love that overflows onto new life.

God is not a super-natural Being hovering above earth, but the supra-personal whole, the Omega, who exists in all and through all.

God is love—eternal, divine, overflowing, personal love.

Love goes out to another for the sake of the other and manifests itself in relationship. Divine love is personally relational—Trinity: Lover, Beloved, and the Breath of Love. Divine Love, breathed forth into Word incarnate, marks the history of evolution. . . . Every star, every galaxy, every leaf and bird breathed forth in divine Love, reveals the Christ who is the personal unity of divine being-in-love. From all eternity, God has sought to love another, to be love in another, and to be loved by the other forever—this other is the Christ who is the aim and purpose of this evolutionary universe.

[Evolution] is not only the universe coming to be, but it is God who is coming to be. Divine Love, poured into space-time, rises in consciousness and erupts in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, becoming the pledge of our future in the risen Christ: “I am with you always until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). We can read the history of our 13.7-billion-year-old universe as the rising up of Divine Love incarnate, which bursts forth in the person of Jesus, who reveals love’s urge toward wholeness through reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus is the love of God incarnate, the wholemaker who shows the way of evolution toward unity in love. . . . In Jesus, God comes to us from the future to be our future. . . .

Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be [healers and makers] of love in a world of change.

“Grace…” (Frederick Buechner)

AFTER CENTURIES OF handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested any more. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

Grace is something you can never get but only be given.

There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.  A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

Musings from the Shadows

I’m struggling lately…a veritable case of the f***its and blahs.  I’m sure some of it is the fact that I am three weeks away from my 50th birthday.  And some of it is depression.  And some of it is where I am in my recovery (like I have a new Sponsor and I am re-working the 12 Steps all over again for those in recovery who know what that can be like).

Part of my spiritual journey though has been to not shrink back from the shadowy parts of me, and of life.  As a Scorpio and someone with an attraction to mysticism, I find that God is to be found just as deeply in the shadows as in the light.

Walking into the shadows intentionally, can be mind-blowing and emotionally disruptive (as anyone who has done a thorough 4th Step will tell you); it can lead to feelings of stuckness, and lead us deeper into the parts of life where anger, resentment and fear dwell.

And that, my friends, is where I find myself again.

I am feeling so stuck these days that all I am ‘feeling’ is resentment and anger, which can be quite dangerous for this ragamuffin if left unchecked.  But awareness and honesty are two ways through it for me, and I am quite aware of it and I am ‘sharing’ it.

A few years ago I had a breakthrough when I came to know that I no longer wanted to, nor could, be the servant of another person’s dream – that equates to spiritual slavery for me.

But in the end I am the one responsible for my own happiness.  I am neither the victim nor the villain in this story of my life.  I am the only one who is responsible for my happiness and the integrity of my journey. I am not blaming anyone.  I am merely speaking my truth in order to regain the power I have: the power of choice in sobriety.  I must lean hard on God, even as I am in the midst of much doubt and struggling with my spiritual life and condition.

I must allow God the freedom to poke, prod, prune and do a new thing, a completely new thing – within and without.  I must once again, surrender my will and life over to the care of a wildly loving God. 

I am in that ‘fear place’ again.  I am sinking in hopelessness.  I am trying to make choices that will free me up, that will feed my soul, but I am not doing such a hot job. I am stuck in ‘Mythological Thinking’ – believing God will pull some ‘Deus ex Machina’ and come rescue me like some fairy tale damsel in distress.  That mindset is Bullshit.

Now God can indeed do whatever God desires, like pull a Deus ex Machina, but for me to be married to some specific outcome is dangerous. It can leave me stuck, myopically staring at the “one thing” I desire while the greater thing I need passes me by.

I am fond of saying there are no spiritual victims or villains in my world. I can no longer blame my alcoholic father or my mom for anything in my life; I can no longer blame society, or my brothers, or even my addictions for my state in this life. I alone am responsible for the choices I have made. God did not force them on me, nor did my family.

But oh how it would be nice for some miracles, some out of the ordinary experience, to come into my life out of left field. I still want that. But wanting it and obsessing about it are two different things: the former is human, the latter is deadly.

In truth, my life is surrounded by cracks of light in the shadows, miracles abound everywhere if I just re-orient my definition of one. I am blessed with another day where I wake up sober (and I have for years now). I have a cozy room with everything I need. I have a friend who is generously allowing me the use of his car for my needs.  I have a 13 year old dog who, for her age, is healthy and whom I adore, who brings me joy simply by her very existence. I have friends who love me, sometimes in spite of myself, sometimes because of myself. I am free to speak my mind and heart in this blog and not be shot or hauled off to jail for violating speech laws.

Indeed, I am blessed.

And this is why I write.  I write my way back into hope; I write my way honestly back to the truth of my blessedness.  This writing alone has allowed me to go from bleakness in the beginning to a sense of gratitude by end. This piece was written over a span of a few days, in the middle of an Indian Summer October.  As I finish this piece up, the rain is falling hard and the skies mirror my gray and dreary emotions.

But even in the supposed dreariness of the day, I rejoice in the Creator’s care for the Earth and for me – we both need rain water to thrive. So even in the rain, I am left with a sense of shadowy gratitude.  As my former co-worker Brother Francis used to say to me decades ago, “an attitude of gratitude is what makes life full of miracles.”

So at this very moment, this divine now, I am grateful…

A Short Musing on the Cross (or Musings on Theology and Politics and Prejudices for Christians)

For those who believe in God and specifically follow Jesus there is one earth shattering foundation truth that can never be lost: everything must pass through the Cross.

All theologies must pass through the cross – our conservative theologies, our progressive theologies, our Western and American theologies ALL must pass through the great equalizer – the Cross of Jesus the Messiah.

All political ideologies – be they Left, Right, Alt or Indy – must pass through the Cross.  All my fears, hatreds, prejudices and judgment must pass through the Cross.

So if my theology is prosperity based or married to the Republican or Democratic Party, my theology has become heretical for it veers sharply away from the very Cross that even Jesus himself had to pass through.  If Jesus could not escape the Cross, then how in the hell can my theology avoid it?  Preposterous and “unbiblical” at best, destructive and cultish at worst.

All denominational understandings must pass through the Cross.  If I call myself Evangelical, Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodists, Anglican, Ecumenical or even a ‘None’ – all of these interpretations must pass through the Cross as well.

All my politics and prejudices must pass through the Cross as well – be they Republican, Green Party, Democrat, Libertarian, or Reform Party, Independent, Alt Right or Alt Left.  For those who profess Jesus as Lord EVERYTHING must pass through the Cross.  And if it makes through that, well then, go ahead and follow it.

If in our shortsightedness, our theologies, out politics, our prejudicial tendencies have NOT passed through the Cross, then we have in essence pissed on the Cross and its power.  We have made human persuasion more powerful than God’s performance. 

And here is the thing about all ideologies passing through the cross: the cross wins.  The cross kills everything and everyone.  Not even the Messiah escaped the permanency of the cross.  In the time of Jesus the cross was an instrument for the death penalty imposed by an imperial empire to punish those convicted of sedition – for that is what the Roman Empire used the Crucifixion for historically.

But even more importantly and more powerfully than being an instrument of state execution, the cross was and IS an instrument of God’s Love not God’s punishment.  And until people who profess Christianity understand that key point, we will continue to use the Cross to crucify everyone who does not agree with us, look like us, vote like us and believe like us.

So when we go spouting our theology, our politics, our cultural folkways and mores, it behooves us to remember this groundbreaking, ego-shattering truth: the Cross of Jesus was God’s tool for restoration not retribution.