SAINT JOHN, APOSTLE, THEOLOGIAN AND EVANGELIST

Saint John Apostle and Evangelist

In the life of the Church we encounter many people.  Many may not reflect what we think a “true” Christian should be.  Some may be stern and demanding, some hot headed and prone to anger, and some may seem to be seeking the honor of always being in charge or first.  It is so easy to look upon those different from ourselves as somehow wrong or “unchristian” when upon closer examination we might find that they are actually “more Christian” than ourselves.

The Apostle John who is commonly held to be the one referred to as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” had a very close relationship with Jesus.  However, because of his quick temper and hotheadedness he and his brother James were dubbed by Jesus as “Boanerges” meaning sons of thunder.  He and James actively sought places of honor, one on the right and one on the left, beside Jesus when he was to come into his kingdom.  For these reasons the other disciples looked with some suspicion on John and James and questioned their devotion.

Even so in the Gospel account attributed to John it is said:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.  John 21:24.

John’s Gospel, therefore, was recognized by the Church as a “true testimony” through its canonization process.  This teaches me that before I criticize a fellow Christian for their personality, or motives, I should pause and remember John who despite his hot headedness, and place seeking, rendered what came to be recognized as a true witness to the Lord by his life and work.

Today we venerate Saint John for his life and work.  May we learn from him that not all Christian disciples approach their work in the same way but, even so, all are doing the work of the Lord.

And, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

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Last night I was privileged to attend a showing of Star Wars –The Force Awakens. For at least a week now I have been reading posts on Facebook in which it was suggested that if someone were to tell an Episcopalian  “The Force be With you” that the automatic response would be “And Also with You”.  Of course for those of us who have spent many years using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer we would be more likely respond “And with thy spirit.”  Having endured this barrage of humorous innuendo I jumped at the chance to actually see the movie.

My main take away is that you are never too old to be an admired action hero in the movies as was aptly demonstrated by Harrison Ford.  The phrase “looks like a movie star” will never bear the same meaning for me again. Mr. Ford’s performance is a true inspiration for those of us who, while gaining in years, still like to see ourselves as a Hans Solo or Indiana Jones types rather than as the stereotypical grandfather sitting back in the rocker and “watching” his grandchildren play.  In this day and age it is clear that this stereotype is way past its usefulness and needs to be chucked.  Harrison Ford is now my hero for real not so much for the characters he plays but rather for his ability to continue being a vital contributing actor well into his later years.

Ford’s Hans Solo pulls the action together and in his deft, craggy way he reprises a character who is likeable and lovable despite his obvious ethical lapses and who gives the story a sense of continuity and purpose.  He is especially supportive of the performances by the two main characters: English born actress Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey and English born actor John Boyega who plays Finn.

Mark Hamill makes a well portrayed cameo appearance as the long lost Luke Skywaker and Carrie Fisher admirably portrays an aging Princess Leyla complete with braided hair. The dark side was well represented in the performance of Adam Driver as the “insidious” Kylo Ren.  And, Oscar Isaac does well as the straight shooter pilot hero Poe Dameron.  Of course the real star of action adventure movies is always the special effects which were expertly and overwhelmingly done by the folks at Industrial Light and Magic.

And, finally I must mention the performance by Max von Sydow  as Lor San Tekka.  Mr. von Sydow remains a movie icon and just does not seem to be aging . His cameo was short and sweet but comforting to see an old hand do his job so well. Some of us remember Mr. Von Sydow’s performances as Jesus in the Greatest Story Ever Told, and as Father Merrin in the Exorcist.  No other actor has been able to duplicate the Merrin that von Sydow created.  I am still amused by the scene in which the younger priest with a degree in psychiatry attempts to explain away the possession as an “illness” in response to which von Sydow’s Merrin simply grimaces and says “Father, let’s get started”.

The best part of the film for me was in the performance of Ms. Ridley and the scenes in which her character Rey suddenly has an Epiphany of faith. She discovers that there is a power greater than her upon which reliance is the key to victory.  In one scene Rey is forced to look deep within herself to summon the strength to endure in a battle for her life. To her amazement she finds that her reliance on her own personal strength and skill pales to insignificance before the power of her reliance on “the force”.  And, it is in that moment that victory s achieved.  For me this metaphorically illustrates our need to rely upon God as we battle forces in our lives that seek to destroy us. And, I am not talking about physical destruction from an adversary, but rather, the destruction of our spirit, our very soul, by sinister forces not seen.  These are the same sinister forces that cause fear and hatred to erupt within ourselves and our nation in reaction to a threat and which turn us into something far worse than what we fear.  As is stated in saint Matthew’s Gospel  “(A)nd, do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.

Personally I can attest that there have been instances in my life very much like the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren. These were not physical battles but truly spiritual battles in which a confrontation with anger, or disappointment, or fear, threatened to pull me to the “dark side” of the force.  Such a confrontation occurred just last Thursday, Christmas Eve, and I was gladdened to find, like Rey, the strength to resist the forces of evil and turn not to the dark of anger and wrath but rather to the light of patience, understanding and ultimately love.

Enjoy the movie and may the force be with you when and  when times are hard may you remember  not to rely totally on you own strength but on that of a truly loving and caring God.

 

ART:  Holy Night (Nativity) by Albrecht Altdorfer ( cir. 1502 ) licensed under Creative Commons.

The Longest Night and the Light to Come

 

Longest Nught

In this, the longest night of the year, it is most fitting and just that we contemplate the mysteries before us.  In our material experience Christmastide portends a season of light and gaiety and celebration.  We rush about buying presents and decorating trees totally oblivious to the spiritual realities surrounding us.  In the astronomical/meteorological idioms this is a time of darkness, particularly tonight and tomorrow, and the full import of those realities has in this age of electric lights and the internet lost its ability to impress us with what is, in reality, going on.

We, and I mean all of us, are a lost tribe.  We put on the mask of gaiety and fill our cups to the rim hoping and praying that the assault of material goods and food will assuage that for which we all truly hunger, that being, in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich, our return to God’s everlasting embrace.

In this season of the year the darkness threatens to overwhelm the light and our psyches reflect this battle as we struggle to maintain a balance.  However, life and death continue on as always and in this season of jubilation there are those who suffer greatly from the loss of loved ones or simply from sheer loneliness.  Many simply are unable to remember a time of joy and happiness as their lives have been totally upended by uncontrollable tragedy in the form of death, divorce, addiction, depression or just pure stress.  There are those of us who feel this pain em-pathetically and, sometimes,  so intensely that it is as if it were our own.  We are moved to tears in thinking about the suffering of our brothers and sisters but we feel powerless do anything more than pray, pray through our tears and our own pain, in the hopes that God will hear us and be moved to intervene as he did for his people held in bondage in Egypt so long ago.

A prayer published today through the good offices of the Downtown Church in Columbia, South Carolina so nearly mirrors my own prayers I wish to reproduce it for you tonight.

God of light and truth,

Give special grace to your children who suffer in darkness

in this night season of the year.

For those who are lonely

Bring them the warm light of companionship

For those who are plagued by monsters in their minds,

Soothe them with the healing light of your truth,

For those who are trapped in dark relationships

Living situations, work, or addictions

Draw them into your bright peace

In the darkest time of the year,

You sent your light into the world through Jesus Christ,

Your Son, send your light into the darkest places of our lives,

That we may be freed from the bonds of darkness

and transformed by your light.[1]

          In addition to being the winter solstice today is also the Feast of Saint Thomas in many communions of the Christian Church.  Saint Thomas has been styled as a “doubter” implying that he dwelt in the darkness of unbelief until Jesus appeared to him and allayed his doubt by providing concrete evidence that he, Jesus, had actually died and come back to life.  In reading the biography of Saint Thomas today from a book titled Holy Women, Holy Men a thought stood out as particularly relevant to those who suffer this time of the year.  Allow me to quote it:

        He did not refuse belief:  he wanted to believe, but did not dare, without further evidence, because of his goodwill, Jesus gave him a sign, though Jesus had refused a sign to the Pharisees.  His Lord’s rebuke was well deserved: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). The sign did not create the faith; it merely released the faith which was in Thomas already. (Emphasis supplied).

           As we face the darkness of this night let us remember those who face severe challenges.  And, let us remember those, especially, who face a challenge of faith as did the blessed Apostle whose faith, though present the whole time , needed a catalyst to release it. Let us pray for, and be through our prayers, with our suffering brothers and sisters as they face the darkness in the hope that their faith may be released and the light of the Lord may come upon them. Let us pray that we may become that catalyst that releases their faith when the opportunity presents itself. Continue reading “The Longest Night and the Light to Come”

The LEVIATHAN and the Creeds

Working late on this Friday in Advent finding my way to the car on a cold dark night so drear thoughts of mortality and the passage time in relation to life brings on thoughts and ideas usually reserved for nightmares.  However, the electronic age managed to save my soul from despair as I receive a “vibrate” from my cellular announcing a new post from Nomocracy a blog I subscribed to some time ago.  In this post titled Leviathan: Latin Appendix 1.1-55 Professor Coyle O’Neal an assistant  professor of political science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri brings together in juxtaposition two of my favorite things, well a favorite thing being the Catholic creeds and a person in the form of Thomas Hobbes an English philosopher who along with Jean Jacques Rousseau  was one of the a primary exponents of the idea of the “social contract” .  My spirits soared as I read about Hobbes interpreataion of the the elements of the creeds as they so meshed with the orthodox theological concepts recently studied in a theology class utilizing Alister E. McGrath’s Theology the Basics. 

I will not bore you with the details but provide the link whereby you may feast at your leisure.

First, a bit about Hobbes taken from the introduction to his biography in Wikipedia:

Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (/hɒbz/; 5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679), in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy. His 1651 book Leviathanestablished social contract theory, the foundation of most later Western political philosophy.[1]

Though on rational grounds a champion of absolutism for the sovereign, Hobbes also developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.[2]

He was one of the founders of modern political philosophy andpolitical science. His understanding of humans as being matter and motion, obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential; and his account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political communities as being based upon a “social contract” remains one of the major topics of political philosophy.

In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes also contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, ethics, and general philosophy

Now the link to Nomocracy and Leviathan: Latin Appendix 1.1-55. :Leviathan: Latin Appendix I.1-55

One quote to whet the appetite:

Second, Hobbes argues that the confession that Christ was “begotten” implies that unlike the rest of creation, there was not a time when Christ was not. (Other than in the very specific terms of the Incarnation.) Hobbes is somewhat more charitable to the theologians of the early church than he had been to the late-medieval Scholastics earlier in the Leviathan. He suggests that although their attempts to explain how Christ could be both fully God and fully man end up in a rhetorical and theological quagmire, their motivation—”to make the mystery of the Trinity intelligible to all Christians”—was a noble one (I.14). Nevertheless,

It seems to me that they were not right to want to explain that mystery. For what do you do when you explain a mystery except destroy it, or make of a mystery what is not a mystery? For faith, converted to knowledge, perishes, leaving only hope and charity. (I.15)

Peace and All Good Things. And, the blessing of God Almighty be with you now and always.

Art:

  1. Thomas Hobbes Portrait John Michael WrightNational Portrait Gallery: NPG 225 Licensed through Wikipedia Commons but copyright is claimed in  some jurisdictions. 

2.  Icon of the Council of Nicea

 

 

 

Lives of Brokenness – Lives of Hope

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HOLY NIGHT NATIVITY Albrecht Altdorfer (1511)

During  this third week of Advent the publication First Things has published a piece by Professor Timothy George the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture which contemplates the thoughts and insights of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his last days during the season of Advent.  I urge my readers to go to the link below and read the full article.  But to me three main thoughts emerge here and those are:

We live lives of quiet desperation as we seek to conceal our true natures which are ones of restlessness and uncertainty.  As Professor George says:

 Bonhoeffer faced the issue of his own personal identity with unblinkered realism in the poem he wrote in August 1944, “Who Am I?” Although he appeared to his captors, he said, as “calm and cheerful and poised, like a squire from his manor,” in reality he knew himself to be “restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird. . . too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work, weary and ready to take my leave of it all.”

Advent is a perfect metaphor for the Christian life.  It is the perfect metaphor because we must wait and endure until the coming of Christ, for the coming of a better, more perfect form of existence.

Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Bonhoeffer was drawn especially to Advent, a holy season of waiting and hope which he saw as a metaphor for the entire Christian life. “We simply have to wait and wait,” he wrote. “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”

We make the world we live in,  however evil and broken, sanctified through our blessing.  We take the broken world and sanctify it through our own actions of blessing:

The world lives by the blessing of God and of the righteous and thus has a future. Blessing means laying one’s hands on something and saying, despite everything, you belong to God. This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: May God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.

To illustrate the article Professor George selected a painting by Albrecht Altdorfer who was a German artist and which is titled Heilige Nacht (Geburt Christi)  (Holy Night Advent) which was painted in 1511.  It is a very appropriate piece to illustrate Jesus coming into the world at a time of great distress and violence which in this case was the Nazi regime during world War Two.  It seems to me to be a fitting piece for today in the wake of mass shootings and terrorist attacks.  It also illustrates the abject poverty into which Jesus was born.  Such depiction offers us hope for our own salvation.

So as I proceed through Advent this year I am going to try very hard to keep in mind that my outer life with business suits, cars, houses and polite manners is just a cover for what’s really going on inside that being a “restless, yearning” and sickness”.  And, that yearning is a normal part of our Christian life as we await  the coming of Christ, and, that while here I have the power to bless and sanctify the world.  There is a choice.  Bless and sanctify or become part of the brokenness?  I choose to bless and sanctify.

Holy Advent, Happy Christmas. PN

Here is a link to the original article

Bonhoeffer’s Last Advent

My thanks to The Very Reverend Timothy Jones, my Dean at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina for sharing the First Things article on his Facebook page.

In Anticipation of the Coming of the Incarnate God

After publishing my piece last night concerning the fear and anxiety engendered by mass shootings and the actions of demons I found myself thinking about the words of three very gifted and talented preachers 495px-Meister_von_Hohenfurth_002 (1)

around whose thoughts  I built a meditation concerning suffering and Gods response through the power of faithful prayer.  In the hopes of lifting the spirits and turning our thoughts to our anticipation of the coming of Christ at Christmas I offer it again through the link below.

Human Suffering and God’s Response – Can it Really be that Simple?

 

ART:  The Nativity.  Master of Vyšší Brod, a Bohemian master, c. 1350. The influence of Italian Byzantine painting was strong in the court of Charles IV.

 

Resisting the Call of Demons

Salvador Dali _ Die heilige Bibel (1964-1967)

 

I have just returned home this night from a very long and arduous workday having, to my chagrin,  missed opportunities for corporate worship, a theology class, and an organ recital I so much wanted to attend, along with an opportunity to visit friends I so much enjoy being around.  But as I sit this night listening to Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in C Minor and wallowing in self-pity, so totally unjustified, I am brought up short by the article laid before me from the New York Times of today’s date.  The article recounts the thoughts of many people concerning the recent and recurrent mass shootings.  Each opinion shared in this article reflects the deep seated fear and anxiety that the chance of being shot, or having a loved one shot,  is now ever present in our minds as we pursue our daily life and work.  These fears and anxieties have come to permeate the very fabric of our nation. The possibility of premature death by shooting is becoming a commonplace part of our existence.  What was once a culture of death limited to remote parts of the world has now found us and is living amongst us posing a very frightening spectre of loss and horror.  And, while I share these fears and anxieties there is another fear and another anxiety that troubles me in a much deeper way and which I see as much more deadly than any gunman’s bullet.  That is: how the fears and anxieties of our people are in God’s reality demons[1].  These demons seek to corrupt our very souls and turn us from loving those whom we are called to love into bigger demons that thrive on fear and hate. For I believe in demons in the fashion that they are portrayed in the Screwtape Letters.[2]  I believe that we are continuously in the midst of a battle and the way in which we react to the actions of demons will, in the end, determine our fate for an eternity.  And, in this sort of contest, as was once said in a popular film, “there is no medal for second place.”

So in this evening of self-pity, fear and anxiety I pray that we may turn away from the call of demons and reaffirm our love for one another and for those whom we are called to love.[3]  It is a wise, just and good thing to seek to protect ourselves and our bodies but we must also protect our souls as well.  We must refuse to become demons feeding on fear, anxiety and hate.  Let us look to those brave wonderful souls from Mother Emanuel[4] who chose to turn toward the light and resisted taking a path into the night of darkness which by every earthly standard they would have been so entitled and justified to do.   Be brave and be strong in the knowledge that despite the assaults of  the works of darkness you live in the tender love of the Lord and that he has not forsaken you no matter what tragedies the headlines may bring before you day to day.

This Advent as we await the coming of the true Saviour of the world let us hope and pray that we remain in the light and refuse, steadfastly, to follow a  path into the night to the extinction of our immortal souls.

The NYT article may be found here Life in a Time of Mass Shootings

[1] One might question the rationality and even the sanity of one who professes to believe in “demons” but I make no apology as I also believe in God and in angels.  If that’s crazy then so be it.  A reading of the Screwtape Letter by C.S. Lewis will clarify this fine insanity.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters .

[3] My thanks to the Reverend Charles Davis for having coined this phrase as a part of his Eucharistic dismissal blessings pointing out our call to love those we really don’t feel like loving such as those differing from ourselves such as the poor and, yes, even terrorists both domestic and foreign.

[4] Mother Emmanuel AME Church Charleston, South Carolina the scene of horrendous violence earlier this year but from which emerged a local and then nationwide affirmation of love and forgiveness rather than hate and revenge.

Art:  The Waters of a Great Flood by Salvador Dali ( 1964) this piece was meant to illustrate the waters of a great flood but to me the dark void represents the omnipresence portended by the spreading of evil through the active work of demons in our world.