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Community and Belonging: Pappas Patristic Institute Summer Program 2016

pappaspic

 

Last week, I had the great opportunity and privilege to participate as a Teaching Fellow for the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program. I was there last year and enjoyed my time so I came back for another year. There’s a certain feeling of home when I enter the Hellenic College Holy Cross campus. I come from an evangelical background and yet, in many ways, I feel more at home in this Greek Orthodox setting than in an evangelical church context. Perhaps, it is because I’m surrounded by people coming from diverse backgrounds. I have friends coming from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Methodist, Baptist, and other Christian traditions. Despite our different backgrounds, we are all united in our desire to learn from, and understand, the words of wisdom handed down to us by our spiritual ancestors. It’s a little taste of heaven on earth! There were 12 (!!!) courses to choose from this year and trust me, it was a struggle because I wanted to go to every one of them! This year, I took “The Gospel of Matthew in the Patristic Tradition” taught by Dr. Brian Matz (Fontbonne) and “The Theology and Hermeneutics of Irenaeus of Lyons taught by Dr. David Jorgensen (Colby College).

As we studied together, I was reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. We are not the first society to deal with the problem of evil, of violence, of discord, of natural calamities, of economic injustices, of competing biblical interpretations, etc. The words of the ancients, written so long ago, still have the power to touch and transform us because there are some truths that can stand the test of time. As we look at the text, argue about how we should understand it, talk about the social context in which they lived in, we are left forever humbled and changed by it. Personally speaking, I just find it so refreshing to have the level of conversations I have had with everyone. If you want to be smart, surround yourself with smarter people than you. I have definitely been a believer of that advice and this week, I definitely got smarter as I interacted with such amazing minds. I think it is hilarious that whenever there was any debate in terms of trying to understand a certain passage, the admonition to “look at what it says in Greek” becomes the call we all heed. And maybe that’s what I enjoyed the most about this group of people who gathered together to learn from the Church Fathers… we came to learn from the text and we want to know what the text means. Any interpretation we may have concerning the text is first and foremost based on the text. The text is the ultimate control of any interpretation. Too often, I am around people who have Scriptural interpretations that do not take into account the whole of the Scriptures. For once, I am with people who acknowledge the primacy of the text over our own interpretations. There’s something beautiful about that. It becomes less a debate about ideas of what we think the text is about but actually debate about what the text is trying to say. I cannot tell you how beautiful it is to have that type of learning environment. We spend time looking at the text, mulling over the text, digesting the text, and just eating it up. To say that it was fulfilling cannot fully capture the feeling.

At the end of the day, any organization is really less about the program, but more about the people. I am thankful for the leadership of Dr. Bruce Beck in organizing this week of awesomeness. In many ways, his belief that it is important to learn as a community is reflected in how he has organized this program and its outcome. I’m blessed to get to know so many awesome people over the past 2 years. These people are legit smart and I can’t help but feel dumb around them because they’re so smart. Even though they’re smart, they are also the funnest and friendliest people I have ever met. Definitely came out of it feeling spiritually refreshed, rejuvenated, and replenished. Looking forward to next year!

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When Enough is Enough

depression

For today’s Wednesday Writings, I wanted to share a new poem I wrote. This poem was inspired by real life events. It is a mixture of different people I have encountered whose life situations were all different but strangely connected by one thing: addiction. There is something incredibly frustrating and painful for people who suffer through addiction of any kind. There is that daily struggle of succumbing to the temptation or fighting through it with teeth clenched. There is the awful feeling of guilt and shame, that you can never live up to everyone else’s expectations even if you want to. You know that you are hurting the ones you love and the last thing you want to do is cause them pain because of your actions but at the same time, sometimes you just can’t stop yourself from feeding the addiction itself.

So many times, when we see and meet people who are addicts, there’s a tendency to think “Why can’t you just stop what you’re doing? Look at how you’re hurting yourself and others around you!” It’s not as if the person doesn’t know that. It is hard to love an addict because in some ways, you have to be ready to be disappointed. Sure, things can get complicated and messy and confusing… but I hope that we would never stop loving even when it hurts to love.

 

 

Safi*

You look at the ground, cloudy eyes, creating raindrops that fall to the floor

Wondering

Waiting

 Wishing

Why?

Why can’t I change?

The destruction you leave behind in your wake knows no bounds

It is true what they say

The ones you love are the ones you hurt the most

She turns to look at you

For the last time

You break her heart into a million pieces because of your actions

She breaks your heart into a million pieces with her last glance

Just another broken relationship

In a long line of broken relationships

Broken hearts

Broken promises

Broken lives

You wonder

You wonder if this is what your life is really all about

Is it but heartache and pain?

You wait

You wait for healing that does not come

Is it for everyone but me?

You wish

You wish that things were different

Is it futile to hope for a better future?

You look at the ground, your face mirrored in the pool of tears, and scream into the nothingness you have created.

*Safi is a Moroccan word meaning “enough”

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When suicide strikes too close to home…

depression

 

His name was Bill Zeller. I read his story and there was just something about it that just struck me to my very being. I think suicide has had that effect on me. Lives snuffed before their time. I wrote a poem dedicated to him.

the dark passenger
 

scream, cry, numb

every fiber straining
to hold it all together.
but i can’t.
not anymore.
no one knows
not until the end
will they realize.
by then… too late.
emptiness swallowing me whole

until i am lost, never to be found.

truth hurts.
It wasn’t the first time that I’ve written on the issue. I have talked about Amanda Todd and Matthew Warren. I have talked about my friend’s suicide.

This topic has once again hit me in the face. The helplessness, the feeling of “I should have seen it,” and the unremitting guilt that you could have done something but don’t know what you could have done plays in the background of your daily life. You can’t shake it off. You know that it is irrational. There is no reason to blame yourself. But you still do. The endless game of “What if’s” play on repeat within your head.

Hug a friend, a family, a loved one, heck, even a stranger. Be nice even to those who are mean to you. We are all fighting a battle. Don’t forget to show your appreciation while you still can. Make sure that those who are important to you know that you love them.
We all need to make sure that we create safe spaces where people can speak openly about mental issues. The stigma still remains, even more so in Christian circles, it seems. I have known many godly Christians who have been diagnosed with depression (and other mental issues). Because the illness isn’t happening on the outside, I think it is easy for others to simply dismiss it or discount mental illness as something that is actually real. Mental illness is real. Way too real.
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2016 – The Year of Going Back to the Basics

Hello 2016. It’s me. I was wondering if we can have a brief talk about how things are going to be this time around. 2015 wasn’t exactly the best. Situations I never thought would happen happened. Feelings that I thought were gone reminded me that they were still lingering. I managed to surprise myself, and I don’t think I mean that in a good way. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom either. Started going back to the gym regularly thanks to awesome gym buddies. Realizing to a greater extent what “love covers a multitude of sins” means. Affirmed by my supervisor that I’m doing well. It was a story of ups and downs.

This year, I want to go back to the basics. Somehow, life got really complicated. I want to go back to a simpler time when things were less confusing and I knew what was going on. A huge part of that is finding my inner center and working on living out my true self. While many people have different ways to achieve this, for me, this means finding my identity in Christ and learning who I am in Christ. It means making sure that I’m reading the Scriptures on a daily basis and taking the time to meditate on His Word and spending time in prayer. In the busy-ness of life, it can be easy to let these spiritual practices go to the wayside, but it is when things are at its craziest that I actually really need to make sure that I am engaging in these soul refreshing activities. I want to develop a sleeping routine that allows me to be able to get the sleep I need so that I can have the energy I need for the hectic day ahead of me. I want to develop a work routine that allows me to get my job done but also allows me the rest I need. I want to make sure that my Sunday is a complete day off from work. I need to be reminded that I’m a human being and not a machine, so I need to treat my body with caution and care. I want to read books that I don’t have to read, but want to read on a variety of topics. I want to read for the pure pleasure of reading!

At the end of the day, I cannot control what will happen to me. Nor is it healthy for me to try and control everything in my life. The only thing I can control is myself… and that is something I haven’t been really good at doing. I want to learn greater self-control. I don’t want to be mastered by my emotions; I want to master my emotions! I want everything I do to be intentional rather than simply being reactionary. I just want to be a better me. So here we go 2016… let’s get this year of new blessings and new opportunities started!

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Tunes for Tuesday – Dan Auerbach (Goin’ Home)

dan

I found out about this song through a friend awhile ago and I must say that it has been a song that has quickly risen to “fave” status. Everything about it just speaks to me on such a real and deep level. The concept of “home” has been something I have thought about throughout the years as I have moved to another country, moved to another city, but periodically coming back home. What is home? That is the perennial question that I think most of us ask ourselves.

As Christians, we know that this world is not our home…. Our home is somewhere else. Maybe it’s because of all of these ideas swirling in my head as I contemplate the lyrics of this song that has made this song really resonate with me on a personal level. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

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Pensées on Love, Homosexuality, and the SCOTUS ruling

lovewins

The recent SCOTUS ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in the United States of America was met with a flurry of rainbow-themed avatars and #LoveWins hashtags. There was also a proliferation of warnings of apocalyptic destruction and the empire’s downfall from others. These two messages filled the air waves and polarized people in two camps. Social media was quick to highlight the tension between these two camps. Messages of love, hate, compassion, and confusion intermingled with one another forming an amorphous blob of simplistic explanations and pithy aphorisms.

There were many Christians who went out of their way to define and describe what love is. Some even reminded their audience of Jesus’ unconditional love for them. However, this was also coupled with a fairly lengthy caveat of sorts that turns into more like a disclaimer notice one would find in most contracts. I think it’s very important to make sure that we communicate what we truly mean. I would say that’s a basic given in trying to communicate with others. Yet, I feel like if you have to explain what unconditional love is by adding so many conditions to it, then it fails to be unconditional love anymore. If you have a son who is a drug addict, would telling him “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing drug behaviour? No. If you have a daughter who got pregnant out of wedlock, would telling her “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing sex outside of marriage? No. It means that even though they may have committed actions that you do not condone or endorse, you are not going to withhold or refuse to offer them your love. Displaying unconditional love means that our expression of love for another person is not based on what they have done but based on who they are.

In the Scriptures, we constantly see Jesus interacting with the marginalized and the oppressed. They were the bad people that society says we should never associate with: prostitutes, tax collectors, and cheaters. There is something startling in the way that Jesus dealt with those on the fringes of society. What startles me is not what Jesus said, but what he didn’t say. He never utters a single word of condemnation or what could even be interpreted as a “loving sermon.” He treats them with kindness, dignity, and dare I say it… love… that is so shockingly simple. This was not a love that needed lengthy explanations. This was a love that was simple and clear. It needed no further ramblings on what it meant. It was given purely. It was received purely. And it had the ability to transform their lives in ways that verges on the unfathomable.

When unconditional love is given, no words can properly define it. Why? Because unconditional love is intensely experiential. It arouses feelings within that we didn’t even know existed before. It is an incredible experience that defies logic. It may be difficult to put into words but it also unbelievably clear. There is no confusion in it. There are no doubts. Only clarity.

If we, as Christians, truly have this type of unconditional love for homosexuals as we often say we do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to give them a detailed explanation because they would know what it means. The fact that we do makes me stop and pause for a minute and wonder if this is actually true.

Maybe it is best if we just said this: I love you. Period.

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Theology Thursday – Lenten Reflections, Part II

gal614

This month, I had the opportunity to attend two back-to-back conferences in good ‘ol US of A. First, I presented a paper at the Eleventh Annual Archbishop Iakovos Graduate Students Conference in Patristic Studies hosted by the Pappas Patristic Institute in Brookline, MA. I also got a chance to be a respondent and a moderator for a session. It was a great experience and I enjoyed getting to know so many awesome people. Perhaps, it is a sign of the times that before going, I was wondering if the presenters were Christians too. In today’s academic climate, you just never know. Just because it’s a conference on a biblical topic, doesn’t necessarily mean that those who go will necessarily be Christians. So it came as a surprising shock (albeit the good kind) when I found out that the presenters were Christians too! There is a certain bond, a sense of camaraderie and fellowship, that Christians share. It is this sense of belonging to something… or should I say, Someone… who is greater than me, than us, than my culture, than my nationality, than my gender, than my socio-economic status. Through Christ, we are all brothers and sisters. There is something inherently powerful about that.

I also got the chance to go to the SPS (Society for Pentecostal Studies) conference in Florida. There is something weird about not wearing winter jackets in March. I enjoyed meeting my new roommates and making new friends. There was something so beautiful about seeing so many like-minded and like-hearted people in one place. I think that’s why I loved these two conferences that I attended. In some mysterious way, I felt like I belonged. As an academic, I think it’s really important to make sure that you join a society that gives you that feeling of belongingness. Everyone was incredibly gracious and extraordinarily nice. SPS felt like home, a place where there are people of differing personalities and temperaments, but are still united in love for God and for one another. Yet, their love for God doesn’t mean shoddy scholarship. In fact, I think that their scholarship is great because of their love for God and their love for the church.

I have been blessed to attend these two conferences. If anything, it was a lesson on humility. I was surrounded by people who were so smart, it’s hard not to feel dumb. However, they were not arrogant or prideful at all. They were so humble and gracious. These are the people who, in my mind, have arrived. But, there is a danger for anyone who ever thinks they have arrived. There is always something more to be discovered. No single person has the ability to know everything about anything. It was great to see these men and women of God exhibit that type of humility and grace within an academic system that is often bereft of such qualities. It is a reminder that I need to guard against arrogance and pride as an academic scholar. The call for humility becomes even harder when you feel like you have something to boast about. If I were to boast in anything, may I only boast in Christ, and Christ crucified. As this Lenten season is nearing its end, may it also signal the end of my own pride and hubris, and the beginning of humility and grace.