Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sola Fidei--Faith Alone

"I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I." Martin Luther

I have spent some time recently thinking about Martin Luther and his well known mantra "Sola Fidei" (Faith Alone) Reading his life story has made me think of how much I have been tempted to trust in my own religious performance to please God. Truth is, I could never outdo Martin the Monk for devotion to religious duties--he plumb wore out his confessor! And his quote above was his own recognition that even the strictest monastic vows and duties could not guarantee God's grace...that only comes through faith alone.

Yet another obstacle for me has been trials and difficulties in my life. As difficult circumstances arise (and I have had more than my fair share the last 7 years) I end up wondering, "How can I keep faith in times like these?" I find myself questioning why God would allow bad things to happen to me...after all, haven't I been a good religious boy? (see Martin Luther above!) The reality of those dark times has brought to light new dimensions of faith I'd never seen. One person that has helped me has been St. John of the Cross.

St. John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes Alvarez. Or as he is more widely known, San Juan de la Cruz—St. John of the Cross. Juan grew up in a poor family in a Spanish town called Medina Del Campo—and his father died when he was young. His mother carted him and his special needs brother around begging from various relatives. By the time he was 21, he entered a monastery of the Carmelite order—the same group as St. Theresa of Avila. Like Theresa, Juan became a mystic of the first order. He would pray and meditate and fast for days on end. Like our friend Martin Luther—whom we will consider in a moment—he was a great reformer in his own right. His poetry in Spanish is fluid, simple and elegant. Perhaps he is most famous for the work, Dark Night of the Soul.

Perhaps because of his own difficult background, Juan pictured our life in Christ as a journey—a spiritual road where the initiate or beginner climbs ever higher through difficulties ultimately to union with God. But that journey is one that takes us through the darkness. We sang earlier with Kim and the team, sometimes the road is marked with suffering, is it not? San Juan de la Cruz says that there are times when the road is a dark one. His famous phrase is the “dark night of the soul.” Perhaps you knew that the great Polish Cardinal who became Pope John Paul II wrote his doctoral dissertation on the concept of faith in St. John of the Cross. He points out that for Juan “Faith is night.” Night is the emptiness that reveals our desire for the world and its pleasures. Night is that which weans us from our desire and attachment to wordly things. Faith in the dark Night reminds us that our attachment to lesser things often prohibits our union with the greatest thing—God himself.

In my own life it has been the loss of things dear to me—it has been the tragic loss of innocence, the loss of status,—the loss of income and of certainty and of a sense of control—these losses that were black as the night sky—wherein God has shone more brightly than ever.

I'm wondering how your faith journey has been...has it been an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Or the active night of faith? Let me know!
Soli Deo Gloria
Some interesting books on the subject:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mourning the Loss of a Friend

According to Dr. Michael Palmer, Dean of the Regent School of Divinity, Dr. J. Rodman Williams went home to be with the Lord this past Sat. Oct. 18, 2008. He was 90 years old.
Dr. Williams was emeritus professor of systematic theology in the School of Divinity. Rod’s dear wife Jo is reported to be doing well.

Rod’s obituary will appear in the Virginian Pilot on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will provide details about the time and location of the burial on Thursday morning, October 23. At 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening a memorial service will be held at Kempsville Presbyterian Church. Dr. Danny Gilbert, one of Rod's first graduate assistants and protégé, will preside. Danny is also an M.Div. alumnus of the School of Divinity.
I have grown up respecting Dr. Williams for his unique blend of scholarship, churchmanship, and warm personal faith. His written works (The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, and his 3 volume Renewal Theology) have nurtured my hopes for a "both/and" in the worlds of vibrant spirituality and rigorous scholarship. I grinned from ear to ear when he commented warmly on one of my first sermons preached as a young intern at Kempsville Presbyterian Church.
But most of all I grew because he opened up time in his schedule. Here was a man who kept an active teaching load well into advanced age, played tennis, spoke and gave papers in numerous localities. Yet, when I was looking for one to give advice and wisdom about where to study Divinity, how to navigate the pitfalls of academic study of the Bible, he was there.
His wise words and gentle encouragement were used by God to send me on a path that has borne good fruit. I am grateful to Dr. Williams for being available to me and so many others through the years, and for taking his considerable talents and using them diligently and patiently for the good of the kingdom these many years.
You will be missed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bill Maher makes a living making judgments... and his judgment on religion is particularly harsh. On the link above, you can find him mocking with eqanimity televangelists, Mormons, a belief in heaven (although he describes a Neo-platonist version of heaven, complete with "dancing ghosts with a cosmic daddy) Overall, Maher adopts a snide, mocking tone of faith and people of faith that matches his publicly stated beliefs that intelligent religious people have a "neurological disorder." Nothing like demonizing your opponents...
But of all the things that can be said about Bill Maher, I would like to hone in on one comment he made while on the View...
MAHER: And this movie- one reason why it got such good reviews- and even religious people who watched it liked this movie is, we don’t judge. We don’t point fingers. We’re not making anybody feel bad. I’m just asking questions that nobody asks because this is the last taboo subject.
Maher invokes the Golden Rule of modern society "We don't judge. " Restated, "We don't point fingers..." Implication--religious people DO judge, religious people DO point fingers, therefore they are bad and we (the scientific rationalists) are good. But of course, isnt' that a judgment?
So do we agree with Mr. Maher, that the height of good is not to judge? Not to point the finger?
First, we have to say that Bill doesn't follow his own advice. "Religilous" the movie is nothing but a judgment against religious individuals that concludes that they are ridiculous and worthy of mockery. And admitedly, some of the individuals on the show are ridiculous (there I go making judgments) but if we're supposed to admire the work as "not finger pointing" I think we could agree it misses that mark...rather specifically pointing a "special finger" at all religious folks that were highlighted in the flick.
Second, I think we'd have to say that some form of judgment is required in life to thrive. Should I spend more than I earn? Should I buy a house that my income will not support? Should I package these risky securities into a nifty new investment, and parcel out to different banks so as to sever accountability from their original source? Well, in a world with no judgments, the answer is "YES" regardless of the consequences. But does one hear the chorus of "judge not..." from the media (or bill Maher for that matter) for the Wall Street types whose greed colored their JUDGMENT or consumers who took "low-doc" (Liars loans) mortgages without considering the consequences? NO. We expect are financiers to make better judgments than that, because poor judgments have dire consequences.
Incidentally, I agree with Maher that religion requires CAREFUL JUDGMENT. Jesus said this in no uncertain terms.
Some of the religious leaders Maher interviews are more fruitcakes than true spiritual fruit. They do not pass the test Jesus lays out for us...which is our FIRST JUDGMENT: (We'll call it the Maher test, in honor of our friend)
TEST #1 JUDGE So-called Spiritual Leaders to see if they are producing spiritual fruit.
Folks like Bill Maher have so much to jack their jaws about because we folks of faith do such a poor job of exercising our ability to make a reasonable decision on the credibility of so-called religious leaders based on the hard evidence of results. Maher's right and he's wrong...some religious leaders are ridiculous, but we DO need to make a judgment.
So tell me--what do you think?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To Judge or Not to judge

Most people I meet know very little about the Bible, which is all cool. It doesn't so much bother me, because most people I meet who THINK they know alot about the Bible unfortunately don't. But without question the one piece of the Bible even folks like Bill Maher know is the dictum "Judge NOT...!" 

Is that in the Bible? Yup. Is it incorrect? Nope. Just incomplete. Matthew 7:1 says, 
 1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged

In another New Testament book, Luke, we see a similar verse, 
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
In context, it certainly seems to state a truth I think we have all experienced: If you are a judgmental twit, guess what? What goes around comes around. (The revised Richard version)  Luke adds the positive statement, "Forgive..." and you'll pay good stuff forward. Like forgiveness. Mercy. Some slack... the kind of stuff we cut ourselves, and hope others will too. It's in that whole "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (The Golden Rule) vein, which incidentally,  comes from this same part of Matthew. 

In understanding a piece of the Bible, a couple of "rules of thumb" are helpful. One is that context is necessary to understand the purpose of a passage. Here, in context, Jesus is contrasting a life of hypocritical judgmentalism by a group of religious folks. (Wow, times sure have changed, huh?) He's warning his followers that a sincere passion to seek righteousness (right living the way God desires it) can often make us legalistic, high and mighty, and yes, judgmental. As we say in my house, "That's a big no-no." 

Not only does it invite the judgment of others, it invites the judgment of God. That's the ultimate result of a self-righteous life of looking down one's moral nose at everyone get to the end of the show and you run into the real judge.  And He says, Ok, you spent your life throwing the book at folks--it's your turn pal. What about when you said this to your teacher? (but I was so young!) What about when you did this when your wife wasn't looking? (But she deserved it!) What about when you downloaded old episodes of Knight Rider to watch alone with Chunky Monkey Ice cream? (Ok Lord, I just have no excuse for that one) 

Judging others harshly often comes back to bite us here, and certainly in the long run it will before God. But does that mean we should or could never judge anyone for anything? 

Well that's an interesting question for a later post. For now--take my little quiz and post away. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Procrastination--when a blog is more like a log

OK--so I didn't become a superhuman blog machine. I have a blog now, it's a good thing (I think) and like many other good things in my life, it has just sat there. More like a log than a blog.

It made me think of all the other things that have fungus growing on them in my life. (Don't be too literal here...go with me) There's my tennis game...haven't been out to swing the old racquet in some weeks now. But in typical form, when I go out next, I'll expect to be at the top of my game, and be mad at myself when I'm not. Then there's attention to my finances, seeding my yard, cleaning up the garage (uggh) and deciding whom to vote for.

It all comes down to that lovely word PROCRASTINATION.

  • While academic procrastination is not a special type of procrastination, procrastination is thought to be particularly prevalent in the academic setting, where students are required to meet deadlines for assignments and tests in an environment full of events and activities which compete for the students' time and attention. More specifically, a 1992 study showed that "52% of surveyed students indicated having a moderate to high need for help concerning procrastination

When I was in school, I used to leave a book on Procastination on my coffee table, just so when someone asked me if I had read it, I could say "NO, I HAVEN"T GOTTEN AROUND TO IT."

I'm wondering how procrastination works for you--is it fear that grips you? Is it a nagging perfectionism that inists everything must be perfect for others to be impressed with your performance? Is it just anxiety--that won't let you start on the multiple projects you have because you just don't see how you'll finish?

Ok--a little Bible for you. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”- Proverbs 29:25

For me, procrastination is about the snare of fear--wanting to have my stuff together so that others will be impressed. The bigger the project, the more I want it to be perfect--and the more I want others to like me and my accomplishments. I remember putting off my senior paper in College (it was supposed to be over 100 pages) piling research upon research, and never quite getting around to putting it all together. In that instance, it took someone else to come alongside and help in order to get the wheels moving again.

So here's the questions:

1. What are you procrastinating?

2. Any clue why?

3. Who in your world is in a place to help you have a better perspective on your fear?