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When Worlds Collide: Doing Theology within a Community

johnchrysostom

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program as a Teaching Fellow in training. We had the option of choosing from a number of available courses so I decided to go with “Theodore the Studite and post-Chalcedonian Christologies” (taught by Dr. Thomas Cattoi) and “The Problem of Evil in the Writings of the Fathers” (taught by Dr. David Goodin). It was a great experience of studying and examining the primary sources as a community of learners and students.

One of the difficulties of studying theology within a community is the problem of pride: We all think that we are right in our particular understanding of an author or their work. This type of attitude is not conducive to learning, much less practicing the art of humility. Doing theology within a community can become problematic because it forces us to realize that others’ interpretation may be in stark contrast against our own interpretation. There is a tendency to become incredibly defensive and sometimes, downright hostile in certain situations. Trust me. I know. I have seen it time and time again. “I am right and that’s all there is to it” becomes our primary exegetical tool. There is no room for diversity of thought nor is there room for multiple interpretations. The desire to maintain a level of orthodoxy becomes an excuse to display arrogance and condescension masked in “spiritual” form. Sometimes I wonder if it truly is the “zeal of the Lord” that consumes them or their “zeal to be in the right.” In the way they act, there surely isn’t a lot of godly attributes to be seen and heard.

Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed my time as a Teaching Fellow in training. It was great to hear so many diverse opinions and interpretations as we delved deeply into the texts that were given to us. And by diverse, I don’t necessarily mean that they were so diametrically opposite from one another… there is diversity even in similarity. What others were saying was not necessarily any different from how I would interpret a certain passage. Instead, they highlighted a different facet, approached it in a different angle than what I am normally accustomed to doing. There is beauty in diversity. It doesn’t mean that the concepts of right and wrong are unnecessarily jettisoned as if they didn’t matter. It just means that we need to be open to understanding things in ways that may seem foreign to us. By doing this, it allows us to think and cogitate about what others are saying rather than reflexively shouting down their ideas.

This summer program also convicted me about the power of leadership in being able to transform others. Through the leadership of the Institute’s director, Dr. Bruce Beck, and the numerous teachers who taught the various courses, we were constantly reminded of the need to struggle with the texts and acquire an attitude of humility and a posture of learning. The teachers were reminded not to take a lecture approach. Instead, we were asked to “come and reason together” à la Isaiah 1:18. As a result, I have come away with a humble heart that is more willing to hear someone out rather than use Scriptural passages as a cudgel to drown out their voice.

Not bad for a week of learning.

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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.

Day 16 – The Lenten Journey of Sid

I think that God has given me certain gifts that I feel like I haven’t been able to use in awhile. I used to be more involved in different church ministries but lately haven’t been as active as before due to personal reasons. I wanted to change that and talked to a pastor about potentially starting a Bible study. He encouraged me to connect with someone in the church who knew of a family who would potentially be interested in having one at their house. I chatted with her and told her that I would love to help out in leading a Bible study. She asked the family and they said yes! Woohoo! So starting next week, I’m going to have the opportunity and privilege to lead a Bible study with a Nepalese family. Awesomeness! I’m super looking forward to next week when we start!

I also went back to work today. It was nice to be out of the house and breathe fresh air again. Today, I just wanted to take the time to show my thankfulness and appreciation to God because He has done great things in my life. I love Him so much!!!

Join me on this journey.

The importance of mystery

More and more, I’m convinced of the need to see the world afresh and anew. We are a society that has accumulated millions and billions of data about everything. And somehow, this strange phenomenon has not caused us to wonder about the world but instead has done the exact opposite. We now think that we know this world we live in. Back in the good old days, people didn’t know about the sun, so they wanted to know more about it. They didn’t know about the stars, so they wanted to learn more about it. They didn’t know about this, that, and the other… and in their curiousity, tried to understand the very thing that got them intrigued. I sometimes think we have lost this vivacious curiousity, this desire to ask “why” and “how” when it comes to the things around us or the ideas that are all around us. I mean, why bother, isn’t that what Google and Wikipedia are for?

But it is this craving to ask the questions that others aren’t asking that makes us humble in our understanding. It is in the very not-knowing that we can know things. It’s hard not to come at a situation with pre-conceived notions of how it works, or what it is. And sometimes, it is this very arrogance of know-it-all attitude that closes us to further experiencing this world that God has given us.

There’s an anime show I watched called “Full Metal Alchemist.” The show was about two brothers who lost their mom and wanted to bring her back through alchemy. Of course, this was also forbidden. According to alchemy, every action has a reaction. To create matter, you must first have the ingredients needed to create the very thing you want. The theory is, if all the raw materials are there, they can then resurrect her. They try to do it and of course it fails. The question that hounds them is why? Why is it that even though they had ALL the raw ingredients to make up a person, they could not create a person? Shouldn’t this cause us to wonder at how “fearfully and wonderfully made” we all are?

It is only when we look at the world with wonder that we can experience its beauty. Nature yields its secrets only to those who actually seek to know its secrets. In religious settings, it is the mystic who, in his or her desire to know God, finds God. Doesn’t the Bible itself affirm this when it says “seek and you shall find”? My challenge to you is to go out of the door tomorrow and notice the birds in the air, the trees, the little squirrel scurrying away, the flowers, the grass, the bus, the cars, the elevator, the door, the air… and realize how wonderful all of it really is.

and scene…