Jesus, Sex, Chocolate & the Dust People

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What can the world profit thee without Jesus? To be without Jesus is the nethermost hell, and to be with Jesus is sweet paradise. If Jesus were with thee no enemy could hurt thee. He who findeth Jesus findeth a good treasure, yea, good above all good; and he who loseth Jesus loseth exceeding much, yea, more than the whole world. Most poor is he who liveth without Jesus, and most rich is he who is much with Jesus.

~Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter VIII.

As is often the case in the world, things are not really as they seem. Having adopted an anthropocentric world-view (that is one in which we temporal “dust-people” are the center attraction and our little fictions pretended long-term dynasties) instead of the Kingdom of God – which is eternal and in which Christ is the true and Living Center (being the only One to actually have been permanently raised from the dead in glory) we have little or no ability to see things with their proper gravitas.  

So it goes with Jesus – who the Church itself has muddied our vision of by selling him like a commemorative stamp, or presenting Him as a fine example (although if He ever showed up in their church on Sunday He would be politely escorted out the side door with the other Homeless folk and given a few bucks.)

Further confusion is this idea of “making a decision for Christ” for we all know that we sit in such a seat – able to judge whether He is worthy of saving us and bringing us everlasting joy out of our absolute lostness and misery.

But there is some truth to this, for at the end of ourselves – and when He comes to rescue us from US, we still have to decide to get into the boat and get off the sinking ship. As obvious as the answer may have been, He still asked the paralyzed man, “Do you wish to be well?”

For  some people really don’t want to get better; don’t want rescue. Some people want their Hell. God doesn’t seem into violating our freewill – or not often (He does on occasion – like Saul had little choice in becoming Paul or not).

We really hate change – espcially not on our terms. We are prideful – and for no damned good reason. 

 The world calls people who love Jesus “Jesus Freaks” sometimes – and often these folk oblige (though no one has ever called me that – quite the reverse. I have been accused by people of people “too smart for my own good” – “too rational” etc… Hey, tough scabula) with odd antics.

I think that is just California to be quite honest.

I think West Coast Christians are way too afraid to say they love Jesus the Messiah – and why. I can assure you – one  and all – the possible opposing questions and arguments you may (possibly never) get are pretty simple, often earnest, and not really threatening at all.  

Most people’s complaints simply have to do with religious people who have done bad things in the name of Jesus – and we can simply agree with them. 

I do. 10 out of 10 times.

have-you-found-jesus

But this sidesteps A Kempis’ words which are so deeply true. This world is a sinking ship..and Jesus, in His love has come (His name literally means “Yahweh to the Rescue”) to bring true rescue. He has come with ships to save all who will come to a True Country.

Most of His parables are about the True Country – and how to desire it.  You can read them yourselves (Matthew 13 has a great collection). 

_________________

All that Thomas A Kempis says through the book is pretty much my exact experience near 700 years later.

_________________

But it is not just rescue from; it is rescue to. And the taste of that is our fellowship with Jesus now via His Holy Spirit.

There is, of course, no way to describe this to anyone who has not yet experienced it. C.S. Lewis likens it to trying to explain sex to a boy whose highest enjoyment to that point is chocolate. He would want to know, of course, where and when the chocolate was involved because it is the highest thing he knows.

Now granted, chocolate may indeed be involved (I don’t think Lewis brings this up, but I am) but it is really not the main point now is it? But you really can only give parabolic explanations until that person experiences sexual union – and then hopefully in the fullest expression – with someone dearly known and loved in a trusted covenant where there is true freedom – and not some guilt-laden and awkward situation with a strang2861xer with worries about STDs or some form of payment.

 So I can only tell people of my regular experiences with Jesus – the Living One – and that what Thomas A Kempis wrote so clearly and eloquently about in the early 15th Century (and this book is second only to the Bible in its popularity as a spiritual classic and the number of languages it has been translated into) is spot on. Now having experiences life with and in Christ, to be without Him would be Hell for me.

I have had my heart broken by not a few women – and recovered. I would never recover from His withdrawal. And that is because He is my “First Love.”   

All that Thomas A Kempis says through the book is pretty much my exact experience near 700 years later. In fact, if we had a good translator, I have no doubt the two of us would have a fine conversation if we met here and now in some remote (non-modern) locale to discuss his book, or say some passages of scripture. 

A Kempis was a lover of God and humanity. He was humble and kind – but bold too.

If Jesus is just an idea – then, well that is helpful – but not a real big deal – not really. It is the fact He is risen (and not just on Easter) and with us alive now.

We dust-people think we are eternal, but we are so fragile and if not for Him would just die and disintegrate into the soil – forgotten. But because He lives, life has meaning and we shall “get up” incorruptible. Rescue has come and we have already started life with Him. I live it today with Him. I’m not a dust-person anymore. ..and neither are you.

 

 

Let’s Set Nietzsche Straight….

nietzsche_god_is_dead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or us..really. He was a fine thinker and despite the fact he get’s trotted out as some “Enemy” of Christianity that is not really true. No. He once accurately described the “cross of Christ” as the “trabsvaluation of all ideals.

Bingo. I mean he meant it a slam I say…yeah..so what’s next?

Brother Johnny wrote today about Hipsters still clanging the “God is Dead” thing around. Well God is as dead as you kill Him.

But He gets up.

And that is the end of the famous quote “..and we have killed Him.”

I mean we have – which is why so much hate, havoc and usury is rampant instead of faith hope and love.

When Nietzsche died – they found him in a cold cabin alone. He had bits of paper sewed into his coat. They said “the crucified one”” over and over.

An intellect just a notch or two below the staggering Kierkegaard – still impressive. But in the end thinking it was like math.

My Ex used to glibbly refer to Nietszche – like that could top a train  – or Jung. Children – brats really (smart ones – but still).

The real Exploer doesn’t ask for Truth on HIS terms and under HIS control. That is nonsense

And he ends up dead in the snow half-mad.

Humbled.

Perpetua...my favorite saint and martyr. And Feleti her servant and faithful friend.

Perpetua…my favorite saint and martyr. And Feleti her servant and faithful friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kinda promised friends I’d write on a real subject. Here it is: Paul in Philippians says he has goals.

Now there are HIS goals…not some dipstick in Arkansas with his “17 Goals for Your Life.” Nope. Paul’s in ina friicken dungeon and these are his goals.

His goals rule.

Forget Mr. Dipstick.

Laura and I read simply “ But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss [c]in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and [f]the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 iin  order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

I askd her after anyone too this serious?

 

 

 

 

Babage

Now SPOKE is suppoCAM00471-1sed to be about Jesus.

It is.

 

When I first talked with the woman last year she referred to Jesus as “the Beautiful One.”

Didn’t do a think for me (I keeeed)

A year has past and Laura is my best friend. I have ssen he in every situation and she has me too. Yet when we lay next to each oher  there is a God given calm and peace that is inexplicable.

We pray, we laugh.sometimes we make out

We want to wait for a continental promise with God in front of friends before we go crazy. It’s not that diff – were in our 50s

I actually bought an engagement ring.

 

ask qeustions…hey it s me…

 

 

Jeremiah Vs. Religion

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Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Jeremiah 7: The Prophet Against Religion

By Christopher C. MacDonald OT 8174 Fall 2015

Introduction

If it is at first difficult to find a footing in which to approach Jeremiah’s sermon in chapter seven (due to the questions of sources and whether it is of pre- or post-exhilic construction) one may instead opt to anchor a view from chapter 26, or the simple aftermath of what was – quite arguably the sermon in question (given the unusual juxtaposition in the sermon between Shiloh’s destruction in the North and present Temple in the South which Brueggemann points put) [1] which was not well received by the people. In fact, they simply mobbed the prophet and wanted to kill him (Jer. 26:7 NLT).

Perhaps our understanding of the opening pericope (verse 1-15) should start there – for it takes it out of the realm of either a forced and conjectured nuanced political science that shrewdly foresaw future political events or as something back-dating prior events as some form of lessons for someone in the name of some dead prophet – as was somehow (this always mystifies me)  easily inserted as an authoritative story later amidst the oral traditions.

I think a far more interesting question – from the text –  is why God protects Jeremiah but allows the  other prophetic voice – Uriah son of Shemiah – to be brought back from the country he has fled to and (Jer. 26:23) to be run through with the sword and be buried in an unmarked grave? One of the characteristics of unredacted texts is that they are not neatly tied up – precisely because there is a very good possibility they are not “spin” at all.

Brueggeman sees the focus of the sermon as an explication of an “if-then” argument based in the Mosaic tradition and “distances it from the unconditional promises claimed for by David (2 Sam. 7:14-16).”[2]

It is in this that Jeremiah will shatter the “Zionist” security which embodies the current mindset both in their religion and in their sense of stately security.

Holladay takes a rather anthropocentric view saying “if the people do right, then Yahweh will be able to continue to dwell with them. This syntax of course suggests that Yahweh’s sovereignty is in this instance dependent on the conduct of the people and this perception of a dangerous limitation on his independence must have stimulated the vocalization of M.”[3]

Of course Holladay has it all wrong. It is a vain search for any corresponding data from the sermon itself which will say anything about God’s going anywhere.  That an M anywhere is spurred to vocalization moves beyond speculation into mere fantasy. What it does in fact say is that the people who were brought to the land will no longer dwell there, not Yahweh (v.3) It is their freedom which is in question, not God’s (v.6-7).

If anything it is in mentioning the doom of Shiloh, which as Brueggemann points out would have been utterly contrary to all expected metaphors – and a shock – that the prophet would have enraged his audience.  As Brueggeman says:

The position taken here by the prophet could only be treated as treason by the state, because it destroyed the ideological underpinning of the establishment (cf. 26:11). That dominant theology claimed that Jerusalem was inviolate because God had made unconditional promises. This royal tradition, albeit now distorted, is rooted in the temple and royal claims of David and Solomon.”[4]

Elsewhere Brueggemann has argued well that the temple had already been joined with political power and wealth under Solomon. That it was already a place of control opposed to Yahweh.

Brueggemann argues in chapter two of The Prophetic Imagination that “Solomon was able to counter completely the counterculture of Moses” in a three-fold manner by countering:

  • the economics of equality with the economics of affluence;
  • the politics of justice with the politics of oppression; and
  • the religion of God’s freedom with the religion of God’s accessibility. [5]

It is this last point especially (where “accessibility” is directly tied to the temple”) that God’s  freedom to act is in view.

That was the 10th Century, this is the 7th – things are only even more reified. Jeremiah brings out the metaphorical jackhammer for as Brueggemann argues in his commentary on Jeremiah:

It was part of the rationale and self-understanding of the southern royal community that northern Shiloh and southern Jerusalem are precise opposites.* Whereas Shiloh is rejected Yahweh and therefore destroyed, Jerusalem is chosen and valued by God, and therefore safe. The contrast between Shiloh and Jerusalem shows the power of self-serving, vested interest in shaping the truth claims of the royal ideology. The managers of the Jerusalem establishment could not believe that Jerusalem might be treated by God as Shiloh was. [6]

 

Brueggemann knows well the fully articulated views of sociologist Peter L. Berger (as cited in the beginning of The Prophetic Imagination) whose catalog of books starting with The Social Reconstruction of Reality (with Thomas Luckmann, Doubleday, 1966), through books like The Sacred Canopy, his The Noise of Solemn Assemblies and my own favorite, The Precarious Vision (Doubleday, NY, 1961) present a stunning explication of the religious enterprise in Ancient, Modern and Postmodern contexts.

It seems obvious to me that Brueggemann has missed the last book (which is easy to do as Berger has 12 others on the same theme) for he believes Berger presents only a “formal” sociologist’s view and not the “the substance of the prophetic ministry.”[7] Berger’s whole last two sections of The Precarious Vision, entitled “Zion”and “Exodus” are an amazing unpacking of a deeply Christian prophetic calling both “in the world but not of it.” His last chapter entitled  You are the Man  uses the exchange between Nathan and David after his failure with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite as a typological example. It depicts David attempting to hide behind his Kingship but Nathan stripped him of this self-deception with the story and declaring “You are the man!”[8]

Not the king, the man.

Like Nathan, Isaiah and every other prophet one can think of, Yahweh’s freedom to break through the collective walls of human self-deception – most powerfully embodied in the religious enterprise when joined with the state and most perfectly housed for Israel in the temple in a Zion theology of security comes through His prophets alone.

It is not a coincidence that the message of the prophets is so often tied to those outside the protection encasing of the established powers: the orphan, the widow and the foreigner (Jer. 7:6).

It is a curious thing.[9]

But it is consistent throughout the prophets. As Richard D. Patterson says:

 Throughout the Old Testament, then, the cause of the widow, the orphan, and the poor is particularly enjoined upon Israel as befitting a redeemed people who are entrusted with the character and standards of their Redeemer. Even in the last book the theme is utilized in pointing to the coming ministry of the forerunner of Messiah and of Messiah Himself and of the righteousness that would then be inaugurated (Mal. 3:1-6).[10]

Dealing with things straight up Jeremiah lives in Judah while it play vassal to either Egypt or Babylon under Jehoaikin. His concerns have little or nothing to do with anything other than Israel’s fidelity to Yahweh and its moral actions. Israel’s freedom or bondage is dependent on God’s will not that of the King (who is never mentioned.) In fact, other prophets would occasionally name who was going to be the instrument of punishment. In this case, it almost (not quite, because he will throw them out) seems a case of Divine apathy in return for their pretentious use of the temple as a “hiding place” for their own sin (Jer. 7:9-11).

Lessons from Jeremiah’s Sermon

Certainly one of the safest places to hide from God is in the Church or within the religious enterprise. In our culture one does not have to look far to see the Solomonic mix that Brueggemann pointed to from the 10th Century which combined affluence, political oppression and organized religion as a means of control. At first reading I felt I was reading an analysis of the Bush years (with no small reverb though the Obama years as well) – not the Sitz im Leben of the prophets in general or Jeremiah specifically. Military power, joined with monied interest and a quasi religious justification that ever-so subtlely subordinates the true demands of the Gospel to the pragmatic advancement of the State – world-wide.

But on a smaller scale  it goes like this: “I give my tithe, serve on the deacon board and attend my church regularly.” I may also in fact support Internet sites that pay for human trafficking as I am addicted to porn. I live a double life. But I am forgiven and feel my good outweighs the bad because I envision God as having a “scales” system. My Presbyterian church has encouraged me to “re-imagine God” and this is how I do it.

“I am safe in my church as no one really knows me, the sermons are on bettering my life in quick pragmatic ways that encourage my  best sides and never challenge true holiness or discipleship. I could never be honest about my life.”

I am no moralist. I only know this man is sick in heart and needs help that is not coming.

The prophetic voice does not now bring condemnation or the threat of outcast (though the man had best be careful who he shares this information with). The prophets were always for the freedom of their people and about matters of the heart.

It was for this reason that Jeremiah reiterates what God had revealed on the trek  into the Promised Land – that He did not want burnt offerings and sacrifices (Jer. 7:21-24) – but obedience from the heart. He says, in fact, that they are utterly “backwards.” (v.24).

I’ll end with the words of T.S. Eliot, born under modernity who speaks directly into our current postmodern situation:

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?[11]

Are the closing of many of the mainline churches a form of apathetic judgment by God for like some of the mirrored excesses or myopia of the templed state of Israel under kings like Solomon, Jehoikim and so many others?

When we replace heartfelt faithfulness to God with the benefits of membership in a religious institution that promises safety despite moral action – especially in regards to the disenfranchised and the call to do justice – is not possible we are inviting our own decline?

Secondly, if that same agenda (to represent the widow, the orphan and stranger) crops up through prophets from all ages and then again in Jesus as God’s fullest expression (Hebrews 1) it not a difficult inferential jump to adopt such a stance either personally or within any faith community concerned with biblically responding to the heart of God as it has been consistently been unfolded.

 

Bibliography

Berger, Peter L. The Precarious Vision: A Sociologist Looks at Social Fictions and the Christian Faith (Doubleday, NY, 1961)

Brueggemann, Walter A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Eerdmans, 1998)

Brueggemann, Walter The Prophet Imagination (Fortress Press, Philadelphia 2001) Ellicott, John. Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible as referenced online October 24, 2015. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/psalms/89.htm

Eliot, T.S. Choruses From the Rock as cited at http://www.tech-samaritan.org/blog/2010/06/16/choruses-from-the-rock-t-s-eliot/  Cited on December 27, 2015.

Holladay, William. Jeremiah Chapter 1-25 Hermenia (Fortress Press, 1986)

Patterson, Richard D. The Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-Biblical Literature (Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary. Used with permission -July 1973) p. 23-34. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/20-proverbs/text/articles/patterson_widow_bsac.pdf As cited on December 27, 2015.

 

Additional resources

Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Anchor, 1990).

Berger, Peter L. The Noise of Solemn Assemblies: Christian Commitment and the Religious Establishment in America  (Doubleday, 1961).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Brueggemann, Walter A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Eerdmans, 1998) p.74-75

 

[2] Brueggemann, Ibid., p.75

[3] Holladay, William. Jeremiah Chapter 1-25 Hermenia (Fortress Press, 1986) p.241.

[4] Brueggemann, Ibid., p. 74

[5] Brueggemann, Walter The Prophet Imagination (Fortress Press, Philadelphia 2001) p. 98

[6] Brueggemann, Commentary on Jeremiah, p. 77.* Brueggemann footnotes what he calls a “self-serving ideology” as articulated in Psalm 78:78:56-72, then points to Anthony P.Campbell’s “Psalm 78: A Contribution to the Theology of the Tenth Century Israel,”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979) 51-79; and Richard J. Clifford, “In Zion and David a New Beginning: An Interpretation of Psalm 78,” in Traditions in Transformation, Baruch Halpern and Jon D. Levenson (Winona Lake, INd.: Eisenbrauns, 1981) 121-141.

[7] Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination, p. 130.

[8] Berger, Peter The Precarious Vision: A Sociologist Looks at Social Fictions and the Christian Faith (Doubleday, NY, 1961) p. 227.

[9] And will be addressed in a second paper to submitted for possible extra credit given certain lapses and delays this semester. There is not space nor is it appropriate here.

[10] Patterson, Richard D. The Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-Biblical Literature (Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary. Used with permission -July 1973) p. 23-34. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/20-proverbs/text/articles/patterson_widow_bsac.pdf As cited on December 27, 2015.

[11] Eliot, T.S., Choruses From the Rock as cited at http://www.tech-samaritan.org/blog/2010/06/16/choruses-from-the-rock-t-s-eliot/  on December 27, 2015.

Clement of Alexandria: The Third Alternative

Clement of Alexandria (150 - 215 AD)

Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215 AD)

Clement of Alexandria: The Third Alternative

By Christopher C. MacDonald  

Whether unearthing the mystery cults from the roots up by artful and learned argument or providing intellectual argument beyond anything one can call a mere “debunking,” Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)[1] is noted as one of the first true “intellectuals” to take on not only large philosophical questions, but also to work out a biblical philosophy that could be re-presented and used for future generations. As Shelley states:

“After him, Greek thinking united with Christian thought. In the great saints and theologians of later Eastern Christianity this bond was secured. Without it the staggering theological achievements of the first church councils would have been impossible.” [2]

To understand this quote in context one needs to perhaps reference an earlier one:

“Clement’s purpose was clear. He seized not only the external garb and forms of expression of the contemporary pagan philosophers but also their problems. If, for example, he discussed the universe and its meaning (cosmology), so loved by the gnostics, he did not do it with the intention of proving these ideas wrong offhandedly and then discarding them quickly, but instead he pointed out how the fundamental religious questions about the creation of the world, the existence of evil in this life, and the salvation through the Word, Jesus Christ, found their last and deepest answer in Christian revelation.”[3]

 

It is on this approach to the world of ideas, and with Gnosticism (as the most obvious test case of Clement’s day) as the backdrop that I would like to examine some of his Stromata (“miscellaneous”) – the third collection in his supposed trilogy of works – an unfinished collection of theology that has come down to us as seven books.[4]

Clement demonstrates a boldness few today would possess in his use of overt tactics. He will at once identify an oppositional category (like “Gnostic”) in a positive light then re-define it openly in what he will then refer to as a “true way.” Well versed in the philosophy itself (no novice) as he is in the poetry, philosophy and literature of the time (staggeringly so), Clement simply hijacks the philosophical question at hand.

Thus when it comes to the question of motive for moral behavior, Clement argues that the “True Gnostic” does good not out of fear, but in response to the love of God:

But he who obeys the mere call, as he is called, neither for fear, nor for enjoyments, is on his way to knowledge (γνῶσις). For he does not consider whether any extrinsic lucrative gain or enjoyment follows to him; but drawn by the love of Him who is the true object of love, and led to what is requisite, practices piety. So that not even were we to suppose him to receive from God leave to do things forbidden with impunity; not even if he were to get the promise that he would receive as a reward the good things of the blessed; but besides, not even if he could persuade himself that God would be hoodwinked with reference to what he does (which is impossible), would he ever wish to do aught contrary to right reason, having once made choice of what is truly good and worthy of choice on its own account, and therefore to be loved.[5]

 

In one fell swoop he both debunks the Gnostic view and far out distances it with something far greater for moral behavior itself is of no real consequence to the Gnostics. He points ot he good than supersedes it with the superior motive.

All of this he does in the open – in direct contradistinction of the secretive Gnostic teachings.

This is Clement’s pattern: fearless and intelligent confrontation, followed by commandeering the discussion/topic and the expansion of it.

It is a practice we can learn from today as opposed to what Shelley earlier referred to as merely disproving the offending ideas and “discarding them quickly.” That is to miss the huge opportunity to teach and go deeper – one which Clement was not willing to miss.

I cannot imagine facing Clement in any type of debate – he would swarm you with detailed arguments – but worse – pull your own argument up by its roots.  One author estimates that his works “contain over 700 quotations from some 300 pagan authors, an achievement which well justifies Cayré´s remark that his prodigious erudition was unsurpassed even by that of Origen.”[6]

 

That would be the postmodern equivalent of some real mastery of the top novelists, poets and cultural/musical icons responsible for shaping the current major symbolic/meaning structures that lead and inform our culture and the major subcultures.

I would assert that Clement would be well familiar with the world and science of the “New Physics” and rather than being dismissive or seeing it as antithetical, would be looking for ways in which the Logos was being revealed in such studies.

Christians have the tendency to run from new discoveries when they should do just the opposite. What Clement demonstrated in 2nd Century Alexandria – among the intelligentsia there – was not only the ability to hold his own – but actually advance given the advantage of divine revelation via the Word.

To be sure, Clement has what all good theologians have – the sure knowledge that Reality is not based just in a clever argument or any such sophistry. Or as C.S. Lewis so eloquently says of Christian apologetics – that we must be saved this “by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the reality–from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.” [7]

Against the World, For the World

But embodying the age-old tension within the Church between being called to be “in the world but not of it,” (a complicated relationship that Jesus spent no small amount of time praying about in detail in what is now referring often to as His “High Priestly Prayer as recorded in John 17) – Clement engaged  the world; disregarded and dispatched anything useless but embraced anything worthwhile. Reminiscent of a modern teacher, Prof. Arthur Holmes same titled book, I think Clement would say that “All Truth is God’s Truth wherever it may be found.”[8]   Thus Clement affirmed the Greek philosophers where he could – just as I think we should do anyone who does good and solid work – not with some attitude of superiority as if we were the adults and they children – but rather as legitimate co-explorers who – at this time do not share faith as a spiritual “optic.” We should often expect to take a back seat.

Gregory saw faith as a gift and the start of all true in-depth inquiry:

Now faith is the ear of the soul. And such the Lord intimates faith to be, when He says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear;”(Matt. 11:15) so that by believing he may comprehend what He says, as He says it. Homer, too, the oldest of the poets, using the word “hear” instead of “perceive”—the specific for the generic term—writes:— “Him most they heard.”(Odyss., vi. 185.) [9]

 

One gets the real sense that Clement’s ear is attuned to this as he reads the pagan poets and philosophers that he so readily quotes – even on the subject of faith.  As such he needs to be revived as a stunning example for postmoderns for he both fearlessly wades into the culture at-large looking for Truth wherever it may be found – yet will not mute the Word or be caught in the despairing mire of relativism which ends – when pushed – in impotence.

Shelley writes of Clement’s situation: “The Christian convert often faced a choice between clever eloquently defended heresy or a dull, narrow-minded orthodoxy.”[10]

Is this not often our situation today? Where in the Church is the open academy for new belieers which gives instruction on how to understand orthodoxy while engaging the culture at large?

To this Shelley says “Clement was determined to offer a third alternative.”[11]

While a reading of Clement ‘s three collections shows a man caught in his time – and a man reacting and perhaps more effected by the Sophists than he would have been able to admit or see (for there is an asceticism in him even alongside his attack upon it), it should be remembered that he is, in fact, perhaps the first truly intellectual theologian of the Christian faith. It was with an uncanny boldness and faith that Clement took on top philosophical ideas and issues and sought to understand them, then push them to the farthest extreme in relationship to God in the world via the Word.

Thus he says:

Now, inasmuch as there are four things in which the truth resides—Sensation, Understanding, Knowledge, Opinion,—intellectual apprehension is first in the order of nature; but in our case, and in relation to ourselves, Sensation is first, and of Sensation and Understanding the essence of Knowledge is formed; and evidence is common to Understanding and Sensation. Well, Sensation is the ladder to Knowledge; while Faith, advancing over the pathway of the objects of sense, leaves Opinion behind, and speeds to things free of deception, and reposes in the truth. [12]

 

Clement saw Faith as providing the ability to advance “over the pathway of the objects of sense” and leaving “Opinion” behind thus speeding “to things free of deception.”

He did this while openly considering the works of those outside the “faith.”

Of course this is not all he says, or even a good summary. A review of his collection The Instructor (Paedagogus) or Tutor  shows with greater exactitude his fuller mind. But we can surmise that Clement – was far from seeing every vantage point outside a rigid and safe Christian orthodoxy as being antithetical to the Truth. He did this despite seeing the pervasive dangers of the popular Gnosticism of Basilides which was supported by Valentinus in his day.

We still face Gnosticism in a variety of forms from the ridiculous (Scienology) to the more sublime (The Secret) . In all cases – as with other issues requiring cultural engagement it does not have to be a question of capitulation and syncretism on the one hand – or utter withdrawal in fear of being besmirched. A robust reengagement with the dominant cultural forms, thinkers, poets and artists with a wise eye of discernment via living faith and the Word as revelatory epistemologies can grant not only safe passage – but real advances in exploration.

Clement made such advances in theology. Others throughout the ages have made similar advances in art, music, literature and philosophy. They did so by seeing a third alternative and by not being motivated by fear.

)

 

 

[1] As referenced in the Wlikipedia article Clement of Alexandra, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clement_of_Alexandria as cited on December 21, 2015.

[2] Shelley, Bruce.  Church History in Plain Language, (Thomas Nelson, Nashville 1995) p.82.

[3] Ibid., p. 81.

[4] Wikipedia, Ibid.

[5] Clement of Alexandra, The Ante Nicene Fathers Vol. 2, (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, Il), Philip Schaff, editor p. 919

[6] Wood, Simon P. (Translator and author of the introduction). Christ the Educator: The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Patristic Series. The New Catholic University Press, Washington, D.C. 1954),  Vol. 23. P. X

 

 

[7] Lewis, C.S. Christian Apologetics, as quoted at length http://www.virtueonline.org/christian-apologetics-cs-lewis-1945 on Dec. 22, 2015.

[8] Holmes, Arthur, All Truth is God’s Truth. (Eerdmans Pub Co July 1977.)

[9] Clement, Ibid., p. 747.

[10] Shelley, Ibid., p.81.

[11] Ibid,, p. 82.

[12] Gregory, Ibid,, p. 747.

Gregory the Great: (The SPOKE Remix)

gregorythegreat

(Latin: Gregorius I; c. 540 – 12 March 604)

It is humbling to read of “Gregory the Great” not for his great deeds, and certainly not his power. It is his humility which humbles – a humility so free from itself that it was free to act, for as limited as Gregory was by physical prowess, age and often tested by illness during his reign as the pope, the sheer amount of service he was able to render to the flock of Christ was nothing short of amazing both in worldly aid and spiritual comfort.[1]

It is, in fact, Gregory who, among the few, is able to not only critique the haughty, ambitious the proud in his book The Book of Pastoral Rule, but also take equal aim at those hiding from duty behind their humility and desire for contemplation as an ends and means of escaping service to others.

I know…we don’t know people like that really…but they do exist…somewhere.

Bruce Shelley, in his book Church History in Plain Language (516 pages of it), points out that Gregory stressed “that the spiritual leader should never be so absorbed in external cares as to forget the inner life of the soul, nor neglect external things in the care for his inner life.”[2]

It is in light of this dual aspect to his calling that Gregory wrote his book around 590, known also as Pastoral Care. This paper is a brief exploration of the dual nature of Gregory’s view of the calling to serve others.

Context: “Run away…run away!”

Gregory was no stranger to the desire to avoid serving and avoiding the limelight. Himself a monastic (Benedictine) he had to be ferreted out of the woods where he was hiding once it had been announced that he was the new Vicar of Christ. One may ask why he was hiding? Was it true humility, or was it the mirrored fear (which I think we can all understand) of Moses and others called who say “Who am I to speak your word?”

Be that as it may, Gregory, once installed, and constantly battling both enemies outside the Church (the vicious Lombards who could make crooked any street) and with his own physical (health) limitations did seek to serve with all that was within him.

As Shelley remarks,

“in time the Catholic Church added his name to those of Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome to speak of the Latin Fathers of the Church. In terms of intellectual powers alone Gregory probably doesn’t belong in such company. But he combined great executive ability with warm sympathy for human need.”[3]

It was perhaps this, combined with working under extreme circumstances which earned his title. As such, history has treated Gregory extremely well:

He is considered a saint in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and some Lutheran churches. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope.[4]

That is no small feat – especially since Calvin would just as soon burn many a Protestant leader at the stake for failing to cross a “t” or dot an “i” his way  – not really a nice guy from many an account. I mean, I feel safe – now – but that’s only because there are centuries between us.

The title “the Great” was a title Gregory would not have liked (whereas other popes would have enjoyed such) – but came as recognition by those who came after him for his great love of God and God’s people for as Shelley summarizes “It was a singularly appropriate description of the man who had exerted himself to the utmost to be solely God’s while ruling church and world like a Roman statesman, the last of his line.”[5]

The Book of Pastoral Rule has, as its main bulk, part III consisting of detailed instructions – most often on how to admonish opposite “types” of cases within the congregants. The list is fairly comprehensive- and one which I will not  foist upon you here – but does exist in the paper I turned in (it is quite LONG).

Most all of the 30 some-odd categories are split into opposite categories for “admonition.”

“Admonish” is as admonition does. It can be a harsh legalism that deals with people like things to be processed; or on the other hand it can cull them like those who will produce money and goods for the church itself if not challenged (as Megachurches often do).

Gregory, being both a caretaker of the outward cares of humanity (once mayor of Rome at the age of 33 and in charge of all it’s vital commerce.)[7] and a Benedictine monk familiar with the care of souls –  Gregory demonstrated his deep knowledge of exactly how to “admonish for the good” in every circumstance.

One can pick at random any of the categories in his book for a thorough example.

Scourages

Now I choose this one precisely because we do not use this at all in our culture – not physical ones anyway. We use different types of shaming and punishments– particularly in the Church- to our great condemnation – for we all know that Jesus said “Come all ye who are weary and heavy laden so we can pile a bunch of guilt, shame and new expectations on you!”

No?

But Gregory does not “line up” with the scouraging as we might expect for a religious man in power. He deals with the reality that scouraging takes place in his culture. But his concern is first and foremost for the deep effects it had upon the heart.

His fear, for those who found its threat motivated them away from all sinning was that it left their heart untouched by a greater motive: the love of God and true freedom in Christ, for he says:

…they should dread eternal punishments; nor yet continue in this fear of punishments, but grow up by the nursing of charity to the grace of love.  For it is written, Perfect charity casteth out fear (1 Joh. iv. 18).  And again it is written, Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear, but the spirit of adoption of sons, wherein we cry, Abba, Father (Rom. viii. 15).  Whence the same teacher says again, Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. iii. 17).  If, then, the fear of punishment still restrains from evil-doing, truly no liberty of spirit possesses the soul of him that so fears. [8]

Gregory is arguing beyond mere behavior to a spiritual freedom based in the love of God as motive – not the avoidance of punishment.

In his dealing with the more obstinate – those for whom a scourging is no longer a deterrent – his counsel is curious on the one hand – yet straight-forward on the other. He says “For generally they are to be disdained without disdain, and despaired of without despair, so, to wit, that the despair exhibited may strike them with dread, and admonition following may bring them back to hope. “[9]

The second part is straight forward enough. Their case is to be shown as one of unending despair in its current trajectory.

We understand this. We see a man or woman caught in an addiction and wanting it so. W cannot help but mirror back a certain despair at their plight – for to mirror back the lie that they will reform that very day when we know it is false is no favor to them. But show them disdain? I think not – not if we know our own faults and charity.

But one wonders at Gregory’s very choice of language in “disdained without disdain?” For later Gregory will add “It is, however, to be known that sometimes when they remain uncorrected amid the hardness of scourges, they are to be soothed by sweet admonition.  For those who are not corrected by torments are sometimes restrained from unrighteous deeds by gentle blandishments.”[10]

It is here that one begins to see (from both sides) how Gregory is attending the heart and final goal of each person’s heart with God. Gregory is a physician of the soul!

Forsaking and Bewailing

Another example picked at random, are the admonishment of those “who bewail misdeeds, yet forsake them not; and those who forsake them, yet bewail them not.”[11]

To the first he says:

Those who bewail transgressions, yet forsake them not, are to be admonished to acknowledge themselves to be before the eyes of the strict judge like those who, when they come before the face of certain men, fawn upon them with great submission, but, when they depart, atrociously bring upon them all the enmity and hurt they can.  For what is weeping for sin but exhibiting the humility of one’s devotion to God?  And what is doing wickedly after weeping but putting in practice arrogant enmity against Him to whom entreaty has been made?  This James attests, who says, Whosoever will be a friend of this world becomes the enemy of God (James iv. 4). [12]

 

Let us first admit that where Gregory speaks openly of transgression and sin we live in an age where this is unfashionable – until we start talking about other people in a popular way. Then we will find all manner of fault equally these two categories (easily).

When it comes to Gregory’s response let us first note that, like so many of the Fathers, he laces his reasoning liberally with scriptures as a matter of course. In fact, in an earlier place he has insisted that anyone who preaches be capable of answering any question at a moment’s notice from scripture. They must be that conversant and immersed in it – a test I would surely fail.

Gregory is not proof-texting (as if he had to go and look things up to prove a point), but rather simply and seamlessly allowing his knowledge of Holy Writ to flow into his instructions.Later, in his exploration of the Word and Church he will even be “at play” metaphorically.

Throughout his dual instructions to the opposite extremes, Gregory is looking not for some pacified middle ground but rather real advances beyond the limitations of the severe hindrances each situation inherently presents. In this case Gregory sees no real value in an outward show of repentance with no corresponding change in actions. He likens it both to “the dog returning to its own vomit” and the swine – once clean – returning to even greater defilement.[13]

\You go “Ew,” right before you turn on the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Go figure.

For those who seem to easily step away from the actual sin itself yet show no remorse or change of heart Gregory once again shows his pastoral concern:

those who forsake their transgressions, and yet mourn them not, are to be admonished not to suppose the sins to be already remitted which, though they multiply them not by action, they still cleanse away by no bewailings.  For neither has a writer, when he has ceased from writing, obliterated what he had written by reason of his having added no more:  neither has one who offers insults made satisfaction by merely holding his peace, it being certainly necessary for him to impugn his former words of pride by words of subsequent humility…”[14]

This guy is thorough…you gotta give him that.

While we may argue that said sins are “already remitted” and that there is no accountable “measure of tears” that corresponds to salvation within the biblical witness we all too easily disregard the spiritual value of what the Catholics refer to simply as “penance” which – at the root – is simply tied to the idea of heart-felt repentance.

We Protestants really do not get it a lot of the time. Seriously.

It is not primarily with the idea of “earning” anything – but as Gregory goes on to supply – a concern for true sorrow over sin to be joined to the avoidance of it in future actions.

In this area, Gregory fits well as one of those through the ages who were adept at the “cure of souls” (McNeil, 1977).

Conclusions

Gregory has a formula in his presentation – just a juxtaposition. There are many ways to frame it, but one easy way is to simply cast it in most cases (not all) in extremes. The one side is gregarious, pride-laden and bodily; the other ascetic, shy and austere. Both – in Gregory’s view – are in need of correction whether they land in overt arrogant rebellion or seemingly in humble submission of a kind. Gregory is concerned about the hearts of men and women being brought into true and rich communion with God.

More importantly, Christ is not seen as far off, abstracted or commemorative as has often been the case in both a modern and postmodern context whether conservative or liberal.

10-basic-steps-step-13

An example of one well-meaning abstraction that makes Jesus potentially formulaic.

While this postmodern writer demurs about whether he should capitalize “he” or “He” when referring to the Living One, Gregory the Great smoothly and regularly says things like “But the Truth in person says, ‘Broad and spacious is the way that leadeth to destruction’ (Matth. vii. 13),”[15]  and (among many other references)  “For hence in the Gospel the Truth says, ‘That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matth. v. 16).”[16]

Gregory is not as shy as we are. Of course he has the advantage of the papacy.

But not a pomp papacy. It was borne of the plague (his predecessor died in agony) and while Americans think it is the End Times because there is a black man in the oval office or (wait…I’m checking what it is this week…okay…global financial markets to be ruined any minute now and if we let Muslims into the country then in a matter of a few months there will be more of them than of us (like they multiply way faster than rabbits or even illegals from Mexico.)

Because, as we all know, America is really right in there in biblical prophecy and End Times stuff anyway. The pastor has a new book on it which you can pick up next to his wife’s recipe book on “Eating God’s Way,” in their megastore.

Back to a sane guy: Gregory – who just had to fight off the Lombards, be chief administrator for his country and be spiritual overseer for the world.  Yet  you  get a pervasive sense that, for Gregory, “the Judge is right at the door.” (Jas. 5:9). He was playing to an audience of One.

The book has come down to us with two different titles: The Book of Pastoral Rule and Pastoral Care. Once read, I can see the reason for both. For a pastor, I would place the first title right next to Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor as the two chief guides to that calling.

A good pastor  would welcome it all and already be doing most of it. It would put on paper years of what it took them to learn by painful experience.

A bad pastor? It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to him at all – particularly a Protestant “betterment” guy who only wants outward show and not true transformation.

(But no one will be reading them 15 years from now, not to speak of near 1,500 years from now).

But if not a pastor – if I was perhaps someone in the healing profession who dealt with the “cure of souls” more one on one– then I would buy a copy under the second title and use that alongside books by Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Larry Crabb and Thich Nhat Hanh who address more directly matters of the heart.

[1] Shelley, Bruce Church History in Plain Language, (Thomas Nelson, Nashville 1995) p. 166.

[2] Shelley, Ibid., p. 164.

[3] Shelley, Ibid., p. 164.

[4] Gregory the Great, Wikipedia article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Gregory_I as cited on December 14, 2015.

[5] Shelley, Ibid., p. 164.

[6] Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series II, Vol. I2 (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, Il), the great Philip Schaff the original editor. P. 625-626.

[7] Shelley, Ibid., p. 165.

[8] Gregory the Great, Ibid., p. 651.

[9] Ibid., p. 651.

[10] Gregory the Great, Ibid., p. 652.

[11] Ibid., p.625.

[12] Ibid., p. 625.

[13] Ibid., p. 702.

[14] Ibid., P. 703.

[15] Gregory the Great, Ibid., p. 610.

[16] Ibid., p. 717