Thursday, January 31, 2013

The First Commandment | Large Catechism

"The only thing under the sun that changes is the style in which we carve our idols... Once they were stone and gold. Today they are textiles, fuel-injectors and gigabytes.

Wherever you place your hope, that is your idol. For this reason, we must be wary..." Jonathan Fisk

"And God spoke all these words saying... You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God..." Exodus 20.

"You shall have no other gods.

What this means: You shall have Me alone as your God...

What is God? A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart... If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God [Hebrews 11:6]Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.

The purpose of this commandment is to require true faith and trust of the heart, which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. It is like saying, 'See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another.' In other words, 'Whatever you lack of good things, expect it from Me. Look to Me for it. And whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need. Only do not let your heart cleave to or rest on any other...'

Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Such a person has a god by the name of 'Mammon' (i.e., money and possessions; [Matthew 6:24]), on which he sets all his heart. This is the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure [Luke 12:16-21] and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few people can be found who are of good cheer and who neither mourn nor complain if they lack Mammon. This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave.

So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he has great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god. But it is not the true and only God. This truth reappears when you notice how arrogant, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent they are when the possessions no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore, I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that to 'have a god' is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts...

So you can easily understand what and how much this commandment requires. A person's entire heart and all his confidence must be placed in God alone and in no one else. For to 'have' God, you can easily see, is not to take hold of Him with our hands or to put Him in a bag <like money> or to lock Him in a chest <like silver vessels>. Instead, to 'have' Him means that the heart takes hold of Him and clings to Him. To cling to Him with the heart is nothing else than to trust in Him entirely. For this reason God wishes to turn us away from everything else that exists outside of Him and to draw us to Himself [John 6:44]. For He is the only eternal good [Matthew 19:17]. It is as though He would say, 'Whatever you have previously sought from the saints [or anyone else], or for whatever things you have trusted in money or anything else, expect it all from Me. Think of Me as the one who will help you and pour out upon you richly all good things.'

See, here you have the meaning of the true honor and worship of God, which pleases God, and which He commands under penalty of eternal wrath. The heart knows no other comfort or confidence than in Him. It must not allow itself to be torn from Him. But, for Him, it must risk and disregard everything upon earth... If your heart does not take refuge in Him but flees from Him when in trouble, then you have an idol, another god..."

"'Which commandment is the most important of all?' Jesus answered, 'The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'" Mark 12:28-30

Bill's Letter (Cause)

"Without feedback from precise measurement... invention is 'doomed to be rare and erratic.' With it, invention becomes 'commonplace.'"

Bill Gates' annual letter was published yesterday with some tips on how to save the world. Or, at least, become better stewards of it. Now, unlike most world-saver wanna-be's out there, Bill is a man with a plan. And, a man with the funds to support his plan. He has both the business background and the people skills to get things done.

I haven't even got to the best part yet. Bill, isn't distracted by gas prices, tree killing, or even global warming. He is focused on one thing, and one thing alone, how to better mankind. He's focused on helping people... just as we have always been called to do.

"But in the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition [everything from helping developing countries to supporting education in the United States]. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop..."

"Unlike business, where profit is the 'bottom line,' foundations and government programs pick their own goals. In the United States our foundation focuses mostly on improving education, so our goals include reducing the number of kids who drop out of high school. In poor countries we focus on health, agriculture, and family planning. Given a goal, you decide on what key variable you need to change to achieve it...

You use the measurement as feedback to make adjustments. I think a lot of efforts fail because they don't focus on the right measure or they don't invest enough in doing it accurately."

He uses an example to explain that clear and concrete goals bring focus to the effort's highest priority. This is why businesses and causes such as Kony 2012 succeed. They are organized. They know what they want to achieve. They strive to reach their goal.

Here are Bill's active goals for the near future:

"As 2015 approaches, the world is taking a hard look at how it is doing on the goals. Although we won't achieve them all, we've made amazing progress, and the goals have become a report card for how the world is performing against major problems...

I remember the disturbing images from Ethiopia of the 1980s when more than one million people died in a famine that swept through the Horn of Africa. It was a tragedy brought to the world's attention by the 1985 Live Aid concert and part of a long period of war, political unrest, and instability for Ethiopians. Their country ranked near the bottom on nearly every key health indicator, including child mortality.

About a decade ago that picture started to change...

Where health services were once nonexistent, rural areas had health clinics stocked with vaccines and medicine. Where once there was little local health expertise... health workers delivered babies, administered vaccines, and supported family planning.

I got the chance to see that progress on my first trip to Ethiopia last March. Driving through the countryside, I felt the challenge Ethiopia faces in connecting its people to health care. Rural Ethiopia is composed of vast tracts of farm land-85 percent of the population survives on farm plots of less than two acres-connected by sometimes very rough roads... I saw people walking everywhere. There were few other vehicles, even few bicycles...

Interventions are quite basic, yet they've dramatically improved the lives of people in this country. Childhood death has decreased. So has the number of women dying in childbirth...

Yet while measurement is critical to making progress in global health, it's very hard to do well. You have to measure accurately, as well as create an environment where problems can be discussed openly so you can effectively evaluate what's working and what's not."

Imagine what this sort of goal-planning and determination could do in your life, not to mention the lives of those around you, your school, and your church. How do you save the world? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Everlasting Man | Judaic Comparative Religion

"It is true in this sense, humanly speaking, that the world owes God to the Jews...

[The Jews had an] amazing romance of restlessness of which we have not yet seen the end. But through all their wanderings, and especially through all their early wanderings, they did indeed carry the fate of the world in that wooden tabernacle, that held perhaps a featureless symbol and certainly an invisible god. We may say that one most essential feature was that it was featureless. Much as we may prefer that creative liberty which the Christian culture has declared and by which it has eclipsed even the arts of antiquity, we must not underrate the determining importance at the time of the Hebrew inhibition of images.

It is a typical example of one of those limitations that did in fact preserve and perpetuate enlargement, like a wall built round a wide open space. The God who could not have a statue remained a spirit... He was living in a land of monsters... Moloch and Dagon and Tanit the terrible goddess. If the deity of Israel had ever had an image, he would have had a phallic image. By merely giving him a body they would have brought in all the worst elements of mythology; all the polygamy of polytheism; the vision of the harem in heaven.

This point about the refusal of art is the first example of the limitations which are often adversely criticised, only because the critics themselves are limited. But an even stronger case can be found in the other criticism offered by the same critics. It is often said with a sneer that the God of Israel was only a God of battles, 'a mere barbaric Lord of Hosts' pitted in rivalry against other gods only as their envious foe. Well it is for the world that he was a God of Battles.

Well it is for us that he was to all the rest only a rival and a foe. In the ordinary way, it would have been only too easy for them to have achieved the desolate disaster of... stretching out his hands in love and reconciliation, embracing Baal and kissing the painted face of Astarte, feasting in fellowship with the gods; the last god to sell his crown of stars for... the nectar of Olympus or the mead of Valhalla. It would have been easy enough for his worshippers to follow the enlightened course of Syncretism and the pooling of all the pagan traditions. It is obvious indeed that his followers were always sliding down this easy slope; and it required [prophets]... who testified to the divine unity in words that are still like winds of inspiration... The more we really understand of the ancient conditions that contributed to the final culture of the Faith, the more we shall have a real and even a realistic reverence for the greatness of the Prophets of Israel.

As it was, while the whole world melted into this mass of confused mythology, this Deity who is called tribal and narrow, precisely because he was what is called tribal and narrow, preserved the primary religion of all mankind. He was tribal enough to be universal. He was as narrow as the universe. In a word, there was a popular pagan god called Jupiter-Ammon. There was never a god called Jehovah-Ammon. There was never a god called Jehovah-Jupiter. If there had been, there would certainly have been another called Jehovah-Moloch. Long before the liberal and enlightened amalgamators had got so far afield as Jupiter, the image of the Lord of Hosts would have been deformed out of all suggestion of a monotheistic maker and ruler and would have become an idol far worse than any savage fetish... The world's destiny would have been distorted still more fatally if monotheism had failed in the Mosaic tradition... The world would have been lost if it had been unable to return to that great original simplicity of a single authority in all things. (p.61-62)...

We live in a large and serene world under a sky that stretches paternally over all the peoples of the earth... that we do most truly owe, under heaven, to a secretive and restless nomadic people; who bestowed on men the supreme and serene blessing of a jealous God.

The unique possession was not available or accessible to the pagan world, because it was also the possession of a jealous people. The Jews were unpopular, partly because of this narrowness already noted in the Roman world... Polytheism had become a sort of jungle in which solitary monotheism could be lost; but it is strange to realise how completely it really was lost.

Apart from more disputed matters, there were things in the tradition of Israel which belong to all humanity now, and might have belonged to all humanity then. They had one of the colossal corner-stones of the world: the Book of Job. It obviously stands over against the Iliad and the Greek tragedies; and even more than they it was an early meeting and parting of poetry and philosophy in the mornings of the world. It is a solemn and uplifting sight to see those two eternal fools, the optimist and the pessimist, destroyed in the dawn of time.

And the philosophy really perfects the pagan tragic irony, precisely because it is more monotheistic and therefore more mystical. Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say 'I do not understand,' it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat 'You do not understand.' And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.

But this mighty monotheistic poem remained unremarked by the whole world of antiquity, which was thronged with polytheistic poetry. It is a sign of the way in which the Jews stood apart and kept their tradition unshaken and unshared, that they should have kept a thing like the Book of Job out of the whole intellectual world of antiquity. It is as if the Egyptians had modestly concealed the Great Pyramid. But there were other reasons for a cross-purpose and an impasse, characteristic of the whole of the end of paganism. After all, the tradition of Israel had only got hold of one-half of the truth, even if we use the popular paradox and call it the bigger half (p.63)...

Here and there in all that pagan crowd could be found a philosopher whose thought ran of pure theism; but he never had, or supposed that he had, the power to change the customs of the whole populace. Nor is it easy even in such philosophies to find a true definition of this deep business of the relation of polytheism and theism... It is really the collapse of comparative religion that there is no comparison between God and the gods. There is no more comparison than there is between a man and the men who walked about in his dreams (p.64)."

Worlds Apart (Slice)

"Anyone who has ever walked through the halls of the great philosophers, early church leaders, or ancient rhetoricians or ethicists has inevitably stumbled upon the person and work of Augustine of Hippo. In his lifetime, Augustine served as a professor for over a decade, established a school of rhetoric, acted as bishop of Hippo, argued fluently in crucial theological debates, and authored over a hundred separate titles. He was the most quoted theologian throughout the Middle Ages, and is considered a great doctor of the early church. But his theology continued to make an impression on the broader Christian church and later Western thought as well. Augustine is easily considered one of the more influential contributors toward the Western mindset; he was also a favorite theologian among the protestant reformers of the 16th century.

Augustine’s voice was prominent in the development of the church’s theology concerning the validity of the sacraments and the nature of the church itself. The Donatist controversy had raised questions concerning the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper when administered by clergymen who had lapsed in their faith. The Donatists insisted that those who received the right of baptism or the sacrament of communion from a faulted priest were not truly baptized or cleansed through communion. But Augustine argued insistently that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the human agent who administers them, but rather upon Jesus Christ who instituted them in the first place. Likewise, the holiness of the church is not maintained by the level of virtue among its members, but by the holiness of the one they claim to follow. Quoting the apostle Paul, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Augustine’s theological views arising from the Pelagian controversy were equally influential to the church as we know it. Pelagius was a monk who began teaching that human nature was not corrupted by Adam’s fall, that humanity had no inherent inclination toward evil, but only bad habits that resulted in sin, and that salvation was thus an earned reward. Augustine saw this teaching as incredibly dangerous, unbiblical, and irresponsible. His writings against pelagianism averred the absolute necessity of God’s grace in salvation, the irrefutable evidence of original sin, and the great hope of God’s sovereignty in the work of redemption. He was insistent upon the expectant words of Scripture: “When you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God* made you* alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

Today these theological teachings remain significant for a church that is still living within a world wanting to claim full autonomy, disclaim the concept of sin, and undermine the gift of Christ. Like Augustine, we hold fast to a message some do not want to hear—namely, fallen humanity, left to its own devices, is incapable of entering into a relationship with God. Yet, it is from this darkened vantage point that we are able to see the fullness of light because, from here, by the Spirit, we can see that God intervened, coming into our desperation to change the outcome entirely. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are saved. For Augustine in a world of heresy or for Christians today in a sea of pluralism, we see that humanity must depend upon God for salvation and that God alone sufficiently meets our needs. What we cannot do for ourselves, God has accomplished through his Son.

There may seem at first a great gap between Augustine’s world and our own. Perhaps in the end we are not that far apart. Regardless, there is thankfully one who effectively bridges the far greater gap between creation and its Creator."

-Jill Carattini

Need more Augustine?

Check out some quotes from his Confessions of a Sinner.

The Search for Identity (Youth Worker)

"I can still see the faces of the youth who got away. Their faces are different, but after 13 years of youth ministry in four different churches, their stories sound the same. There was Jonathan*, who grew up in a solid Christian home. Kate* was a convert, but she seemed so solid in her faith. They are just two examples that represent many young people who have abandoned the faith of their youth.

Some of these youth have chosen to live by another faith, while others have joined the growing number of the nones, rejecting the church and religion altogether. As a youth pastor I ask myself, "Could I have done something to prevent this?" There is no easy answer for this daunting question, because faith development is complicated in adolescence and is intimately connected to identity development.

Identity development is a complex and long process that takes center stage during adolescence and emerging adulthood. For the first time, one's physical, cognitive and socio-emotional selves come together to answer the proverbial question, "Who am I?"

When an individual is a child, his or her ability to think is childlike and undiscerning, therefore making it simpler for parents and spiritual leaders to direct him or her toward Christ. When a child becomes a teenager, however, the ability to reason abstractly and idealistically increases, and such direction is not as straightforward. Teenagers may no longer believe with child-like faith; rather, they have many questions about faith and life. If a belief in Christ is forced on an adolescent without room for discerning and questioning, chances are he or she will outright reject it or acquiesce for the time being and turn from faith later in life.

Psychologist James Marcia has identified four identity statuses in adolescence: diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, achievement. When applied to issues of faith development, Marcia's concepts can bring perspective for youth workers and parents who journey with adolescents as they seek to discover, "Who am I in Christ?"

Understanding the Four Identity Statuses

...Marcia argues that in order for adolescents to make a commitment to an identity, they must go through a period of significant exploration on issues such as occupation and ideology. This suggests that one of the main tasks of a youth worker or parent is to guide adolescents through this period of exploration on their quest for identity.

...Adolescents who neither experience a time of exploration nor make any significant commitment are characterized as having identity diffusion... [The] first identity status... it indicates they neither have spent any significant time exploring roles, ideologies or life plans nor made any lasting commitments in this regard.

Spiritually speaking, youth who are identity diffused may seem quite flexible and adaptable at their best and lost and isolated at their worst. Due to a lack of internal sense of self, a diffused adolescent may appear to have made a commitment through identification with a leader in his or her youth ministry; however, when that leader is gone, the youth returns to a diffused state [It would be a good thing for the bomb/personality to go off.].

E.g. Mark*, one of my former students, is an example of an adolescent who is experiencing identity diffusion. He grew up in a Christian home and was involved in his local church and youth ministry. We met regularly, and he was being developed as a leader within my youth ministry. He appeared to be well on his way to developing a positive faith identity; however, it did not take long after I moved to another position in another town that Mark began to lose interest in the church and faith altogether. His spiritual identity was too diffuse to survive this change.

The second identity status, identity moratorium, is characterized by students who have given significant time in exploring life but have not made any commitment to a specific way of life. The youth worker can identify these young people in his or her youth ministry because they tend to be morally sensitive (i.e., they may be vegans, or will not buy clothes suspected of being made in a sweat shop) but remain non-committal regarding beliefs and life direction.

E.g. Shawn*, a former youth leader from a church I recently pastored, is an example of an adolescent in the moratorium phase. He has been all over the world on short-term mission trips and sight-seeing adventures. He has tried helping inside the church and outside of the church but remains unsure which fits him better. He has explored spirituality and life but has not determined the specifics of his belief system...

[The] third identity status is called identity foreclosure. Just as the name suggests, this status is dominant when an adolescent is prevented from developing his or her own identity. An adolescent who finds him or herself in this status has not had an exploratory period, or perhaps never has been allowed to have an exploratory period, yet a commitment has been made. Youth in this status tend to inherit an identity from a significant adult in their lives (i.e., a parent or caregiver).

E.g. Cheryl*, a young adult I knew from a ministry position a few years ago, is a classic example of identity foreclosure. She graduated from high school and headed to medical school to study medicine because her parents are doctors; since she was little, she was told she would be a doctor, too. Her spiritual life mirrored her occupational life. She grew up in a patriarchal Christian home where she learned that one does not question one's parents. Thus, her belief system was forced upon her by her parents and she dared not question it in fear that she might disappoint them. Her faith was not her own; though she appeared to be a confident young woman, on the inside her belief system and identity were quite fragile...

The fourth identity status... the status one should strive foridentity achievement. This status indicates an adolescent has experienced a meaningful time of exploration and has come to a commitment about what he or she will do and believe. These adolescents have spent time exploring different roles and ideologies, and through trial and error have deleted the ones that do not work and integrated the ones that do.

Adolescents who have achieved identity maintain a good understanding of what they believe in light of other beliefs and ideologies in the world around them. ["Test the spirits..." 1 John 4:1] Such achievement tends to come with more life experience, and these adolescents are characterized with confidence (but not a defensive confidence) in their relationship with Jesus. Identity achievement is generally developed when adolescents attend college.

Applying the Identity Statuses to Ministry

Grasping these four identity statuses is vital for youth workers because, if used and applied, they can clarify where their youth may be in the process of identity and faith development. Understanding the statuses also can benefit youth workers as they help parents gain a better understanding of where their children are in their identity and faith development.

I have three specific suggestions for youth pastors who want to apply identity theory to their ministry with youth.

1) It's a Long Journey

Identity development is a process and a journey. Short-term interventions are not beneficial in helping adolescents come to identity achievement. Rather, teens need someone to consistently serve as a guide and coach along the way. They need someone—a parent, youth worker, mentor—to walk with them as they search for their identity and go on a quest to find out who they are.

It is important for parents and youth workers to remember adolescence is a decade-long journey. In his book Emerging Adulthood, researcher Jeffrey Arnett comments that more and more adolescents seem stuck in the moratorium status because of the elongation of adolescence. Young people are spending an extended time exploring life and are taking longer to make a commitment. This means that teens have more time to explore their options today than they did in their parents' generation.

Guiding young people out of this elongated moratorium status is complicated because of the numerous factors that come into play (i.e., economics, parenting, schooling). Youth workers can help these students by supporting parents to encourage their youth to make commitments. Generally speaking, parents have a greater influence on the life of a teen than a youth worker does. A gentle push from a parent—such as requiring a teen to pay rent, find a job, choose a college major—may be what a teen needs to begin making commitments toward identity.

By coming alongside these teens, youth workers can reinforce the choices parents are encouraging their youth to make. Working together as a team will give parents and youth workers the best chance to help their young people move past identity moratorium toward identity achievement.

2) Encourage Exploration and Questioning

The second suggestion is that we need to give adolescents real opportunities to explore faith. This does not necessarily mean exploring other religions and faith systems, although it may include this. For a teenager to make a belief system his or her own, he or she must be able to question it and see that it stands true. This questioning can be done through the exploration of different spiritual roles (i.e., agnostic, atheist, apathetic Christian, biblical know-it-all, judgmental Christian) [But, not necessarily practicing them].

As adolescents weed out the roles that do not fit and integrate the ones that do, they develop a sense of who they are by what they believe. A key role for adults is to give adolescents appropriate opportunities to explore these roles. Some of these opportunities could be visits to places of worship of other faiths or studies of other religions.

It is important that youth workers be appropriate in giving these opportunities, making sure parents are aware of what is happening and what their teens are learning. Parents may lose trust in a youth worker if it is perceived he or she is exposing their teen(s) to religious teaching with which they are not comfortable. Spiritual discipleship needs to be in conjunction with parents, which is why it is significant that parents be involved.

A youth worker should not expose teens to other faiths without also enriching the learning experience with a program of spiritual development that would encourage spiritual exploration on the part of parent and teen. A catechism taught by parents would encourage parents to gain a deeper understanding of their beliefs and challenge their teens to know what they believe and why. This would be more than just a curriculum for Wednesday night Bible study; it would need to be a parent/student participatory program...

3) God Is in Control

My third suggestion is that youth pastors need to encourage parents to remember God is in control. This is not always easy for a parent to hear, especially if they feel their teen has walked away from God.

Youth workers must be sensitive to the frustration and confusion parents experience in raising their adolescents and need to encourage them that whether their teen has identity diffusion, moratorium o rforeclosure there is hope in the words of Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it."

***I would also like to stress how much critical thinking is a factor in this experience. Yes, teach a child the way they should go. Yes, teach them the Truth of Scripture. Yes, share with them your beliefs and knowledge. But, also teach them how to think for themselves. (That's how my parents taught me. More often than not, when I would ask them a question, they'd ask me what I thought the answer was or should be before explaining what they thought.) God will guide them.

Blind Spot

"When I applied my heart
to know wisdom...

I saw all the work of God,

Man cannot find out the work
that is done under the sun.

However much man may toil in seeking,
he will not find it out.

Even though a wise man claims to know,
he cannot find it out."

In All-New X-Men #3, Cyclops thinks he's on top. He has just broken out of jail and met up with his gang (Magik and Magneto). They are ready to start a "new mutant revolution." But, there's just one more member of the team they need to rescue from the government first, Emma Frost.

While Cyclops and Magneto break Emma out, something unexpected happens.

Scott's face explodes.

Well, his face doesn't literally explode. But, Scott finds out that he cannot control his mutant ability. It's a lot stronger than it has ever been before. And, it's harder to manage than when he first started Xavier's School. They assume it's from the effects of being possessed by the Phoenix Force in A v X.

This idea relates to our knowledge of God. The wisest philosophers and theologians all admit that they've only been able to dabble in what we know as Truth. Right when they realized that they were on top, the most enlightened, they saw that they knew nothing. Just as Cyclops reaches the full potential of his power (both with the Dark Phoenix and now with his original mutant ability), he realizes how blind it makes him. It is either too strong to realistically use or too hard to get a proper focus on.

Socrates was the wisest man in Athens only because he knew that he did not know everything (while everyone else was too arrogant to admit it).

Job's deep insight on the Lord forces him to ask, "Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?" He realizes that, "Man does not know its [wisdom's] worth, and it is not found in the land of the living... it cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed as its price..." Later, God asks Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." Job is humble and repentant in response, he realizes his own lack of understanding.

We have a human blind spot. We cannot know or understand everything. We are limited. And, just when we reach the pinnacle of our understanding we can begin to see how far we still have to climb. C.S. Lewis calls God the Great Iconoclast because once you get a good picture of Him, He shatters it so that you may have a newer and deeper understanding of Him than ever before.

So, if God is really this iconoclastic, how can we ever attempt to know Him? How can we hope to grasp his might and glory with eyes that cannot see?

"Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord... went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard the voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.' The men who were traveling with him stood speechless... Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. For three days he was without sight...

[Ananias] laying his hands on him [Saul] he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized...

Immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying 'He is the Son of God.'" Acts 9.

Do see the irony here? Saul was made blind so that he could see. He was at the top of his game. He knew everything. By being trained in the art of Judaic Law and having mastered his theological schooling, Saul had been sent out to rid the world of those who would dare insult his religion by claiming that his Christ had come. That's when it hit him. Like Cyclops' loss of control, Socrates' acknowledgement of ignorance, Job's humility and repentance, and our own revelation that we can't know it all, Saul had been struck. Literally, he was struck blind.

It is not until we realize that we too are blind that we find the need to call out. We know that we need help. The proud fall and the humble are lifted up.

Have your eyes opened? Saul's experience answers our question, "how can we ever attempt to know God? How can we hope to grasp his might and glory with eyes that cannot see?"

Although we continue to come up short, even our knowledge and wisdom reaches its limits, God in His infinite mercy sent His Son, to open our eyes. When we were shocked by the abomination of our ignorance, we became blind, and helpless. As Magneto said to Scott in the comic book above, we are "embarrassing" ourselves. We try to become selfish, depending on our own grounds for truth. "I am my foundation." Or, we lean too much on the teachings of this world. "This is my home." Or, we open our hearts freely to accept any dogma of religion without prayerfully thinking it through. "In church (little "C") I trust." When, in reality, we need to be led by the hand (as Saul was to Damascus). We need to regain our sight by believing and trusting in Christ alone (as Saul became Paul). We need to be able to truthfully say, "Christ is my foundation;" "Heaven is my home;" "I belong to the Church."

We need to finally admit that our eyes are broken so that we can honestly see.

And then, although we know nothing, although we deserve to know nothing, Christ removes the scales from our eyes. He points us to the Father through the Spirit. Through the Scripture, He (the Word) shares with us who He really is.

And, it is our calling to become as humble and as repentant as Job, praying:

“I know that you can do all things,
And that no purpose of yours can be thwarted...

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
and I am comforted in dust and ashes.”

God alone can reveal to us his unimaginable wonders.
He can show us the light, even in our blind spots.

"Call to me and I will answer you,
and will tell you great
and hidden things
that you have not known."

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Everlasting Man | Pagan Comparative Religion

"Even polytheism seems often the combination of several monotheisms.

A god will gain only a minor seat on Mount Olympus, when he had owned earth and heaven and all the stars while he lived in his own little valley. Like many a small nation melting in a great empire, he gives up local universality only to come under universal limitation. The very name of Pan [meaning "all"] suggests that he became a god of the wood when he had been a god of the world. The very name of Jupiter [literally "god-father," understood as the god of the heavens] is almost a pagan translation of the words 'Our Father which art in heaven.' As with the Great Father symbolised by the sky, so with the Great Mother whom we still call Mother Earth. Demeter and Ceres and Cybele often seem to be almost capable of taking over the whole business of godhood, so that men should need no other gods. It seems reasonably probable that a good many men did have no other gods but one of these, worshipped as the author of all (p.57)...

Over some of the most immense and populous tracts of the world such as China, it would seem that the simpler idea of the Great Father has never been very much complicated with rival cults, though it may have in some sense ceased to be a cult itself. The best authorities seem to think that though Confucianism is in one sense agnosticism, it does not directly contradict the old theism, precisely because it has become a rather vague theism. It is one in which God is called Heaven, as in the case of polite persons tempted to swear in drawing-rooms. But Heaven is still overhead, even if it is very far overhead. We have all the impression of a simple truth that has receded, until it was remote without ceasing to be true. And this phrase alone would bring us back to the same idea even in the pagan mythology of the West. There is surely something of this very notion of the withdrawal of some higher power, in all those mysterious and very imaginative myths about the separation of earth and sky. In a hundred forms we are told that heaven and earth were once lovers, or were once at one, when some upstart thing, often some undutiful child, thrust them apart; and the world was built on an abyss; upon a division and a parting...

There is the idea of God in the very notion that there were gods before the gods. There is an idea of greater simplicity in all the allusions to that more ancient order. The suggestion is supported by the process of propagation we see in historic times. Gods and demigods and heroes breed like herrings before our very eyes and suggest of themselves that the family may have had one founder; mythology grows more and more complicated, and the very complication suggests that at the beginning it was more simple. Even on the external evidence, of the sort called scientific, there is therefore a very good case for the suggestion that man began with monotheism before it developed or degenerated into polytheism. But I am concerned rather with an internal than an external truth; and, as I have already said, the internal truth is almost indescribable. We have to speak of something of which it is the whole point that people did not speak of it; we have not merely to translate from a strange tongue or speech, but from a strange silence (p.58-59)...

I suspect an immense implication behind all polytheism and paganism. I suspect we have only a hint of it here and there in these savage creeds or Greek origins. It is not exactly what we mean by the presence of God; in a sense it might more truly be called the absence of God. But absence does not mean non-existence; and a man drinking the toast of absent friends does not mean that from his life all friendship is absent. It is a void but it is not a negation; it is some thing as positive as an empty chair. It would be an exaggeration to say that the pagan saw higher than Olympus an empty throne (p.59)...

In short, there is a feeling that there is something higher than the gods; but because it is higher it is also further away. Not yet could even Virgil have read the riddle and the paradox of that other divinity, who is both higher and nearer ["And he (God) made from one man every nation... that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us." Acts 17:26-27.]. For them what was truly divine was very distant, so distant that they dismissed it more and more from their minds. It had less and less to do with the mere mythology...

Yet even in this there was a sort of tacit admission of its intangible purity, when we consider what most of the mythologies like... The Greeks did not degrade it [true religion or the true God] even by imaginations. When the gods were more and more remembered only by pranks and profligacies, it was relatively a movement of reverence. It was an act of piety to forget God. In other words, there is something in the whole tone of the time suggesting that men had accepted a lower level, and still were half conscious that it was a lower level... These men were conscious of the Fall if they were conscious of nothing else; and the same is true of an heathen humanity. Those who have fallen may remember the fall, even when they forget the height. Some such tantalising blank or break in memory is at the back of all pagan sentiment. There is such a thing as the momentary power to remember that we forget. And the most ignorant of humanity know by the very look of earth that they have forgotten heaven. But it remains true that even for these men there were moments, like the memories of childhood, when they heard themselves talking with a simpler language... like Virgil... cut his way with a sword-stroke of song out of the tangle of the mythologies, the motley mob of gods and goddesses sank suddenly out of sight and the Sky-Father was alone in the sky...

A white light as of a lost morning still lingers on the figure of Jupiter, of Pan or of the elder Apollo; and it may well be, as already noted, that each was once [monotheistic]... They lost this lonely universality by a process... The whole pagan world set itself to build a Pantheon. They admitted more and more gods, gods not only of the Greeks but of the barbarians; gods not only of Europe but of Asia and Africa. The more the merrier, though some of the Asian and African ones were not very merry. They admitted them to equal thrones with their own, sometimes they identified them with their own. They may have regarded it as an enrichment of their religious life; but it meant the final loss of all that we now call religion. It meant that ancient light of simplicity, that had a single source like the sun, finally fades away in a dazzle of conflicting Lights and colours. God is really sacrificed to the Gods; in a very literal sense of the flippant phrase, they have been too many for him (p.60).

Polytheism, therefore, was really a sort of pool; in the sense of the pagans having consented to the pooling of their pagan religions. And this point is very important in many controversies ancient and modern. It is regarded as a liberal and enlightened thing to say that the god of the stranger may be as good as our own; and doubtless the pagans thought themselves very liberal and enlightened ["All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there (in Athens) would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." "Some said, 'What does this babbler (Paul) wish to say?' Others said, 'He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities'-because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took hold of him and brought him to (speak at the Areopagus for them)" Acts 17:21, 18-19.]...

But exactly what it lost by these larger ideas is the largest idea of all. It is the idea of the fatherhood that makes the whole world one ["The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth..." Acts 17:24]. And the converse is also true. Doubtless those more antiquated men of antiquity who clung to their solitary [image]... and their single sacred names were regarded as superstitious savages benighted and left behind. But these superstitious savages were preserving something that is much more like the cosmic power as conceived by philosophy, or even as conceived by science. This paradox by which the rude reactionary was a sort of prophetic progressive has one consequence very much to the point. In a purely historical sense, and apart from any other controversies in the same connection, it throws a light, a single and a steady light, that shines from the
beginning on a little and lonely people.
In this paradox, as in some riddle of religion of which the answer was sealed up for centuries, lies the mission and the meaning of the Jews (p.60-61)..."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Everlasting Man | Animistic Comparative Religion

"Men are moved most by their religion; especially when it is irreligion (p.40)...

Instead of dividing religion geographically and as it were vertically, into Christian, Moslem, Brahmin, Buddhist, and so on, I would divide it psychologically and in some sense horizontally; into the strata of spiritual elements and influences that could sometimes exist in the same country, or even in the same man. Putting the Church apart for the moment, I should be disposed to divide the natural religion of the mass of mankind under such headings as these: God; the Gods; the Demons; the Philosophers. I believe some such classification will help us to sort out the spiritual experiences of men much more successfully than the conventional business of comparing religions; and that many famous figures will naturally fall into their place in this way who are only forced into their place in the other. As I shall make use of these titles or terms more than once in narrative and allusion, it will be well to define at this stage for what I mean them to stand. And I will begin with the first, the simplest and the most sublime, in this chapter. (p.55)

In considering the elements of pagan humanity, we must begin by an attempt to describe the indescribable. Many get over the difficulty of describing it by the expedient of denying it, or at least ignoring it; but the whole point of it is that it was something that was never quite eliminated even when it was ignored. They are obsessed by their evolutionary monomania that every great thing grows from a seed, or something smaller than itself. They seem to forget that every seed comes from a tree, or something larger than itself. Now there is very good ground for guessing that religion did not originally come from some detail that was forgotten, because it was too small to be traced. Much more
probably it was an idea that was abandoned because it was too large to be managed. There is very good reason to suppose that many people did begin with the simple but overwhelming idea of one God who governs all; and afterwards fell away into such things as demon-worship almost as a sort of secret dissipation... [For example:] A missionary was preaching to a very wild tribe of polytheists, who had told him all their polytheistic tales, and telling them in return of the existence of the one good God who is a spirit and judges men by spiritual standards. And there was a sudden buzz of excitement among these stolid barbarians, as at somebody who was letting out a secret, and they cried to each other, 'Atahocan! He is speaking of Atahocan!'

Probably it was a point of politeness and even decency among those polytheists not to speak of Atahocan. The name is not perhaps so much adapted as some of our own to direct and solemn religious exhortation but many other social forces are always covering up and confusing such simple ideas. Possibly the old god stood for an old morality found irksome in more expansive moments... Anyhow, there are any number of similar examples. They all testify to the unmistakable psychology of a thing taken for granted, as distinct from a thing talked about...

[A Californian Native American once wrote:] 'The sun is the father and ruler of the heavens. He is the big chief. The moon is his wife...' and so on through a most ingenious and complicated story, in the middle of which is a sudden parenthesis saying that the sun and moon have to do something because 'It is ordered that way by the Great Spirit Who lives above the place of all.' That is exactly the attitude of most paganism towards God. He is something assumed and forgotten and remembered by accident; a habit possibly not peculiar to pagans. Sometimes the higher deity is remembered in the higher moral grades and is a sort of mystery. But always, it has been truly said, the savage is talkative about his mythology and taciturn about his religion (p.55-56)...

In other words, we have here the curiosity of religious history that the savage seems to be parading all the most repulsive and impossible parts of his belief and concealing all the most sensible and creditable parts. But the explanation is that they are not in that sense parts of his belief, or at least not parts of the same sort of belief. The myths are merely tall stories, though as tall as the sky, the water spout, or the tropic rain. The mysteries are true stories, and are taken secretly that they may be taken seriously. Indeed it is only too easy to forget that there is a thrill in theism. A novel in which a number of separate characters all turned out to be the same character would certainly be a sensational novel. It is so with the idea that sun and tree and river are the disguises of one god and not of many. Alas, we also find it only too easy to take Atahocan for granted. But whether he is allowed to fade into a truism or preserved as a sensation by being preserved as a secret, it is clear that he is always either an old truism or an old tradition. There is nothing to show that he is an improved product of the mere mythology and everything to show that he preceded it. He is worshipped by the simplest tribes with no trace of ghosts or grave-offerings... Whatever else there was, there was never as such thing as the Evolution of the Idea of God. The idea was concealed, was avoided, was almost forgotten, was even explained away; but it was never evolved (p.56-57)..."

Icemen (Cold Love)

I've always thought that Captain Cold was one of the stupidest ideas for a Flash villain.

What happened? Did the DC comic book writers wake up one day and ask: "What do we do now? We have this speedster, Flash, who everyone likes. But, what do we do with him? Who could stop him?" "I know!! We'll make a guy that shoots freeze-rays to slow him down... and stuff..."

Anyway, it happened. In 1957, Captain Cold was written as the third villain ever to face the Flash. And, he's been around to fight the Scarlet Speedster time and again. Currently, he serves as the leader of a villainous group called the Rogues.

It wasn't until recently that I actually sat down to figure out what made this guy tick. I knew he was bad, but I didn't know why.

In his origins, long before he was ever called "Captain Cold," this villain was named Leonard Snart. He was "trailer trash." The only immediate role model that he had was his dad, a child and wife-beating ex-cop. In his tortured family life, his mom often left his dad. But, always returned. And, always received her punishment for leaving.

The only good influence that Leo and his sister knew was their grandpa, an ice delivery-man. He was the only one who showed those two children love. He took them to the park, to restaurants, and to baseball games. He was the one who was there for them.

Leo's grandpa died when he was only twelve. By then, "he and his sister had learned to never cry, to be emotionally cold."

"This aint the way it's supposed to be."

Eventually Leo got away from his family. He left "home" and his sister behind. He worked on the street, with thieves. While breaking in to a building one night, the Flash stopped him along with his gang. Leo was imprisoned and swore revenge on the speedster.

As he waited for parole, he studied science. He became a pupil of kinetic energy and thermal motion. In his studies, he realized that absolute zero temperature would stop anybody, even the Flash. As soon as he was released from jail, Leo broke into a lab and stole blueprints and the tools needed to create his new weapon: the cold gun. It was with this new mastery of science, ability of ice, and longing for revenge that Leonard Snart became Captain Cold.

And now, in the New 52, Captain Cold and his ice manipulation powers have become one. He no longer needs the gun. He is an Iceman.

"This aint the way it's supposed to be."

Wow, I kind of sympathize with the guy now. But, why didn't I before?  He just didn't make my cut? I didn't think he was worthy? He wasn't cool enough? (Had to make that pun somewhere.)

That's. Not. Right.

I guess I should be thanking God that Captain Cold is just a fictional being. He has no feelings, no humanitarian value or real character, no real life or any truth behind his name. He is just a figment of someone else's imagination. But, he is not the only one that I've had this bias against.

Don't we do this on a daily basis? I mean, judging comic book characters doesn't really matter. But, don't we judge others?

Now, although it is certainly true, I'm not going to sit here and tell you (along with myself) that "There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" I'm not going to make a long, drawn-out devotion on the fact that "in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things." And, I'm not going to shout out to the heavens, "You hypocrite[s], first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye," "judge not, that you be not judged."

Instead, I want to get to the core of the problem.

"As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 'Tell us... what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?' And Jesus answered them, 'See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name... they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another... And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD!!! THE END OF THE WORLD!!!! Be not alarmed. Although we have had famines, earthquakes, world wars, tribulation, and martyrdom these are but the beginning of the birth pains. We still have a good amount of time left. There's no reason to blow this out of proportion  Not here. Not now. That's not my point.

My point is just one of the signs. It is just one of the many things in the precurser leading up to the precurser of the precurser of the coming of Christ. My point is that many will fall away. They will betray one another. They will hate one another. The love of many will grow cold.

"This aint the way it's supposed to be."

But, it's the way it is. "Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." This is where we find ourselves today. What I said above was true, we do judge. We act unaccordingly to our position. We are hypocrites. But, do you know why?

We have forgotten.

We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten who we have always been. And, we have forgotten who we were meant to be. Children of God. But, we have now even forgotten what that means. We are brothers and sisters. Not by our own means. Not by a hallucination or awkward wish. We are brothers and sisters through Christ. Even more-so, we aren't to love each other as brothers and sisters often do. We are supposed to love each other with no end. Not only that, we are supposed to love our neighbors with no end. Yes, our brothers and sisters are included, our immediate family is included, our Christian family is included, our coworkers are included, our president is included, strangers who we meet are included, even our enemies are included.

HOW?!? How in the world are we supposed to do this? There is no secular way for us to even attempt such a feat. That's exactly the point. There is no way to follow through with this on our own. We need God. Not only do we need him to know what true unlimited love is, we need him to be able to love one another. Our love comes from him, and by grace we are able to pass it on to one another. That is why we must love him first, above all else.

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart."

Still... How do we know what love is?!? I know that this may sound cliche, and I am preparing you now to brace for it. But, we know what love is because: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." God has loved us so much that he has paid our price. He has made up for all of the times we fail to love or even acknowledge one another. "As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." He has endured to the end so that we might be saved.

Do not let your love grow cold. Do not give in to apathy, which I've heard is worse than hate. Do not fall short in the one aspect. Don't even falter to becoming lukewarm. Let your heart burn, not with vengeance, anger, or hate, but with love. Do not judge. And, when you do discern what is right and wrong, do so out of love.

Do not be emotionally cold. But, seek passion as Christ has had passion for you.

Do not be an iceman. But, a man of heart.

Do not judge out of false piety. But, discern out of compassion.