Archives for posts with tag: Christianity

Today an excellent short article was being passed around my Facebook circles regarding the notion of someone being spiritual, but not religious.  You may refer to the original article from the Huffington Post here: http://tinyurl.com/7xag59f.  I liked this article, but wish to offer a few more thoughts on it that extend beyond the normal limits for Facebook comments and status updates. 

First, while I agree with pretty much everything in the article, I think those of us who are “religious” need to own up to our role in leading people to be “spiritual, but not religious.”  What I mean by that is simple.  If people from the outside–or probably even worse, from the inside–see how we behave, why would they want to be associated with religion?  We may rightly criticize the “spiritual, but not religious” group for their faults, but we should also be willing to accept criticism back for our own.  In fact, I would argue, if we were self-critical to begin with, most people would feel no need to be spiritual, but not religious.  For this reason, I make every effort to follow the authentic, but difficult, biblical tradition.  The Bible is extremely critical of those of us on the “inside” of religion.  So instead of spending time worrying about the so-called “culture wars,” I prefer to spend time criticizing and improving my own faults and those of my own faith community. 

Now, in some ways I am going to be hypocritical with respect to my previous statement.  I generally try to stay away from critiquing even other Christian denominations, at least publicly.  I confess, sometimes it is very difficult to avoid critiquing modern expressions of Christianity, especially when I believe such expressions give Christianity and religion a bad name in general.  So please understand I make these next comments in the spirit of the best interest of Christianity as a whole, and not from ill intent to simply criticize others for criticism’s sake.

I would take Ms. Daniel’s argument a step further.  She correctly speaks of the importance of belonging to a community because in a community one must deal with people “calling you out on stuff” and “disagreeing with you.”  In other words, it is easy to be spiritual, but not religious, because you can be spiritual all by yourself, with no one to point out your imperfections.  This point is well taken.

Again, however, take this argument a step further to the situation we have today in Christianity with the multiplication of denominations.  Clearly, the “spiritual, but not religious” group was not the first to run off and start something on their own.  They were not the first to challenge or deny authority, however you want to spin the argument.  This general spirit and attitude towards religion comes from the Protestant Reformation.  And this attitude is still pervasive today among the majority of American Christians–most of whom still identify themselves as Protestants.  To me, personally, I would think “protestant” would be a derogative term.  Why would someone want to identify themselves as protesting rather than standing for something?

As I said, I am very hesitant to be critical of other faith traditions, whether different denominations or different religions altogether.  But sometimes, for the benefit of Christianity in general, I believe certain questions must be asked.  If we Christians begin accepting the presupposition that if we don’t like what’s happening in our church we will simply join or start another, then we have no right to criticize people who take that argument a step further and become “spiritual, but not religious.” 

Anyone who knows me realizes I have a lot of problems/concerns/complaints against the way we Orthodox tend to think, act, etc.  Technically, it is one of my job responsibilities to critique these things, at least in myself and in my own parish community.  But for the very reasons outlined in the article I shared, I cannot see myself leaving the Orthodox Church.  Do we have problems?  Yes.  Are we perfect?  No. But I also have problems, and fleeing the Church would be to run from my problems, to assert my own will and supposed expertise.  As our Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch once said (paraphrased): “The Church is not invented.  It was founded by Jesus Christ and is passed down for generations.” 

The ultimate challenge for us who are “religious” is to live in such a way that others would also at least respect “religion.”  As it stands, there are plenty of reasons to disrespect religion.  As it stands, most of us fall under the critique and judgment in this article leveled against those who are “religious, but not spiritual”–we just haven’t taken the argument to its logical conclusion.

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I am back from vacation and the Parish Life Conference, so I hope to keep this blog more regularly updated.  Today I will return to the book of Genesis, chapter 15.

Chapter 15 offers a pivotal moment in the Bible, primarily because in verse 6 Abram (later re-named and subsequently referred to here as Abraham) is “accounted righteous” by God.  Whether we like it or not, in a very real way this one verse has shaped the past 2,000 years of history.  The reason I make such a bold statement is simple: this verse is the cornerstone of the defense/apologia of the Christian movement as seen most explicitly in Acts, Romans, and Galatians.  And, of course, we know that history has been changed because of Christianity.

According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as thoroughly outlined especially by St Paul of Tarsus, being accounted righteous by God is independent of being perfectly obedient to the Mosaic Law.  I believe it is important for Christians to understand that the teachings of Jesus and Paul–that righteousness is found apart from the Mosaic Law–is not a “new” concept, but one found in the Old Testament.  Put differently, in defending the teaching of Christ, Paul did not invent a new argument or concept, but simply referred back to Scripture to make his case.

In Paul’s time, as in our own, we are tempted to think (even if we profess something different with our mouths) we are righteous because we follow certain rules (insert the rules of a specific religion or denomination).  With religious Jews, it is easy to fall into the trap of righteousness by following the Mosaic Law.  However, as Paul correctly points out, Abraham is deemed righteous by God BEFORE the Mosaic Law even exists.  Therefore, if one is accounted righteous before the Law is given, then righteousness does not come through the Law.  Instead, as Genesis 15:6 indicates, it comes through belief in God.

Now it is important to keep in mind that the word translated “believe” in Genesis 15:6 is more than an intellectual ascent or a simple confession of faith.  Rather, biblical belief in God means you put your trust in God.  I often compare this to kids and their “belief” in gravity.  Give a 3-year old kid a balloon and take him outside.  Watch him let go of the balloon and cry when the balloon flies away.  The child has such a strong trust in gravity he believes whatever goes up will always come down.  The 3-year old in this example has a biblical “belief” in gravity–he behaves according to something unseen based on a trust in that principle.

Ultimately, putting this kind of faith, trust, or belief in God is what leads to us being accounted righteous.  It is our authentic admission that we are insufficient before God, and our recognition that only He can correct that, which leads us to holiness.  Certainly, if we have that sincere faith, action should follow; we should behave in a certain way.  As St James pointed out in his epistle, if our behavior does not match the confession of our lips then it proves we do not have a biblical belief in God, but only the kind of intellectual belief I mentioned previously–and one shared even by the demons (James 2:18-19)!  Yet, we should never permit ourselves to think our actions make us holy.  It is only God who can deem us holy, and only when we are willing to admit our deficiencies and inadequacies. 

Genesis 14 includes three verses (18-20) about the most enigmatic figure in the Bible, Melchizedek.  Throughout the centuries, biblical readers have argued about the correct translation of the Melchizedek passage and its significance.  Besides these three verses in Genesis 14, Melchizedek is mentioned in Psalm 110 and briefly in Hebrews 5 and 6, and more extensively in Hebrews 7.

What I wish to present here is the traditional Christian understanding of Melchizedek, based largely on the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Melchizedek means “my king is the king of righteousness,” or simply “king of righteousness.”  Melchizedek is introduced in Genesis 14 as the “king ofSalem.”  The word Salem in Hebrew means “peace,” so this “king of righteousness” is the “king of peace.” 

There are three main reasons Melchizedek is important in Christian understanding.  First, Abram (later re-named Abraham) offers Melchizedek a tithe.  This offering would indicate Abram viewed Melchizedek as greater than himself.  Second, Melchizedek is the “king of peace” and a priest of God Most High.  These titles are taken to refer to Melchizedek as associated with whatSt Paulwould call “the heavenly Jerusalem” (for certainly the earthly Jerusalem has not been known as a peaceful place!).  Third, Melchizedek offers Abram bread and wine, two extremely important images in Christianity.

From all this we can understand the importance of Melchizedek in Christian thought.  Christianity moved away from the earthly, Levitical priesthood and theTemplesystem in favor of the idea of Jesus’ eternal priesthood and once-for-all sacrifice.  Furthermore, and quite related, Christianity left behind the Temple sacrifices and the notion of worshipping in one specific geographical location (i.e. the earthly city of Jerusalem) in favor of worshipping God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24) wherever one is located.  Christians stress the pre-eminence of the “heavenly Jerusalem,” which will be a peaceful city, over any earthly city.  Finally, instead of offering a new sacrifice, Christian worship revolves around the remembrance of Jesus’ death, with the bread and wine being offered as antitypes of His Body and Blood sacrificed on the Cross.

Although Melchizedek appears for such a short time in the Bible, his importance is considered significant, serving as a reminder to us that we should read each and every verse of the Bible carefully.  If we gloss over the story of Melchizedek, we miss an essential aspect of the Bible.

As a Yankees fan, the season (and perhaps career) ending injury of Mariano Rivera has been tough news today.  For those who are not aware, Mariano Rivera is one of the all-time great baseball players and a New York Yankee.  He is one of the best pitchers in the history of the game.  Indications were Mariano would retire after this season.  He has always been considered a class act as a human being and player, never being connected with any sort of controversy or immorality.  He has been as consistent over the past twenty years as any player in any sport, and last was on the disabled list for an injury 9 years ago.

Mariano is respected by his teammates and opponents alike.  He is known as a generous, Christian family man.  Given his history, everyone familiar with him hoped he would finish with yet another strong season, a fitting tribute to a good human being and superb athlete.  No one would have dreamed his career might end in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during batting practice while he was shagging fly balls and twisted his knee (tearing his ACL).

One of my initial thoughts about this situation was the sadness he surely feels.  I also thought about the injustice of the situation.  An apparently good, honest, upright man who worked hard and was respected by everyone goes out in such a tragic way.  Granted, Mariano has millions of dollars to help comfort him–don’t get me wrong–but for me the deeper issue from a Christian perspective is the lack of justice in this situation. 

I think most people consider justice to be a good and noble thing.  However, true justice simply does not exist in this world.  Furthermore, I would argue, it has little place in Christianity.

St Isaac the Syrian once said (I’m paraphrasing) God is not just.  For where is the justice in the only sinless one dying for the sins of others?   Now, this is not to say God is unjust, but rather that God exceeds justice (emphasizing a higher virtue of mercy and compassion).  The reality is, through God’s grace, we have the possibility of not “getting what we deserve.”  We have the possibility of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.  Moreover, those in this world who suffer injustices are promised to be recompensed in the afterlife.  This is the gist of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  It is also reflected in the Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel: “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich has He sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).

As Christians, we should spend much less time and energy thinking about “justice.”  There is no justice in this world.  Instead, in this world, we should focus on showing love, mercy, and compassion.  These are the highest gifts, the greatest virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13, see also Matthew 12:7).