Monday, 29 April 2013

Pain, Love, and Boston

"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"
-Revelation 21:5

Tonight my heart and mind are with my friends and colleagues in Boston. These last couple of weeks have truly been impressive for Boston: the bombing, the shootout (s?), the manhunt, and now this, the healing process.

Martin Luther, reportedly, said that if he knew the world would end the next day, he'd plant a tree. He'd plant a tree. This life is so transitory and so temporary and so hard, it is important to live life as fully as possible. Your next breath is not guarantee, let alone tomorrow.

This last week, a friend of mine messaged me, asking for prayer for her friend and her friend's family: her friend had just lost a baby before it could even be born. My friend called me later, just this past Saturday, to process her reaction to the baby's funeral. She remarked how nothing in life prepares you for a baby's funeral. Nothing in life prepares you for a baby's funeral.

Life, it seems, is in the business of blindsiding us. So many things happen that are unexplained. My 16 year old brother has a few serious heart conditions that are putting his promising athletic career on hold and could have killed him at any point during his athletic career. They didn't, but it's still scary.

Baby's funerals and brother's heart conditions, drone strikes in Pakistan and bombings in Boston. The world is a mess. The world is scary. All I have to offer the world is Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. My friend came to the same conclusion when thinking of her friend who has just lost a baby.

Any attempt I make at concluding this post will be lacking, will be quite lacking. God is in the business of redemption, but when I hear stories of extreme personal lost, like a baby dying, and stories of extreme community loss, like the bombing of a marathon, I wonder where His redemption is.

Still, I believe: Come, Lord Jesus, come. We are hearing, waiting O Lord, in the near dawn of Your second coming. Come, Lord Jesus, come. And quickly!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Zambia and daily interruptions

Our friend Meg has written this inspiring piece, reflecting on her time spent in Zambia:

 "Our daily routine needs to be interrupted by the heart-rending cries of the broken – because they’re real. It is the daily reality of countless people around the world, people cherished and loved by God. People who we were created to know and love."

Read it here!

This is a wonderful continuation of much of what we have discussed so far, and the responsibility we have to minister to others' sufferings; to follow Christ in being present in the sufferings of others.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Family is Worth It

A wonderful Christian ministry, World Relief, has created an unbelievable video called 'Is Justice Worth It?' that sticks right to the heart of some of the thoughts and questions Nathanael & I have been raising on this blog. I highly recommend it. 

What does our union with Christ mean for our relationship to the suffering? What does love of neighbor mean? Does loving your neighbor 'as yourself' (or as perhaps might be clearer: 'to love your neighbor no less than you love yourself') require identifying with them in their pain and suffering as if you are one? As if you are united? 

Christian social ethics has often been swept one direction or another by eschatology (what will happen at the end of time); is the kingdom of God to be slowly build on earth until it is complete? Are things only going to get worse before Christ comes to fully set up His kingdom? If the latter, is seeking good for the world worth it? 

These questions, while interesting, miss the point I think. No matter where things are going, it is the opposite of love to give up on your own. It is the opposite of love to give up on your suffering neighbor who is the body of the Lord to whom we are bound. 

No matter what direction the world is going. No matter what failures there may be. You never give up on your own. 

You never give up on Jesus. 

"Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me” … What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well." 
-St. John Chrysostom, from his Homilies on Matthew. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sorrows Borne

From Isaiah 53:4: 

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering

Yesterday a terrible, and entirely unexpected, tragedy befell the city of Boston. I awoke from a nap, suffering from a normal late night of homework, to a handful of text messages from friends and family asking if I was ok (as I live outside of Boston and am downtown often). For the next hours my eyes and mind and heart were filled with images of blood, smoke, and tears. All of America, and likely a great deal of the world, was likewise filled with such painful images. 

There are few words that can or should be spoken. 

I am reminded of the journey of the Messiah. Isaiah tells us that he bears not only our iniquities, but also our sorrows. I believe that, on the cross, the whole weight of the pain and suffering and sin of this world rested on the shoulders of our blessed Christ. 

When the bomb went off, the nails were going into his hands. 

When debris cut through limb and skin, the crown of thorns was maiming His head. 

The crucified Christ is present in death, pain, and suffering. He has been there and is there. 

That is the fullness of His love. Giving up all, to feel the pain of all the suffering of this world with us. 

Today is not a day for easy answers. Today is not a day for a faith that glosses over the anger and incredulity. Today is not a day to have a comforting, padded, faith of denial. Today is a day to present all that we are to the presence of the crucified Christ; even if all we have is anger, silence, and confusion.  He knows. He was there, on the cross - He felt all those things. 

I pray that believers who are near to Boston, as I am, will be the incarnate Christ in this city; the incarnate Christ who stands in solidarity with the suffering and the brokenhearted. The Christ who is not theologizing, but moaning in pain, screaming on the cross along with all who suffer. 

As we wait for details, I pray that we would be kept from jumping to conclusions about who committed these awful crimes, or why. And I pray that the information we learn, much less our speculation, would not fuel prejudice or dangerous anger. This is indeed a time for anger. It is a time to mourn. We are in pain over abhorrent evil, and right to be so. But, regardless what we learn about what happened, my prayer is that the God of peace would keep us all from allowing hate and anger and darkness to win the day - for that is the great desire of the evil one. 

 I pray that the Church would stand as an example of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. May the love, forgiveness, and peace of Christ be in our hearts, and in our hands. 

But many of those questions are for tomorrow. Now we mourn, and meditate on the crucified Christ who is present with all those who suffer today. We, as the body of Christ, mourn in the full agony. We are in Him, and He is in us - and He is with them. 

Christ, may your Eucharistic presence be known - may it be known that you are broken with the brokenhearted on this day. 

"Those who come close to people in pain, naturally draw near to God, because God is always by the side of His children who are in pain." -Elder Paisios. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

God? At home?

Kyle and I are asking some interesting questions in this blog. Primarily, how can we incorporate a love for Christ as bridegroom and think of ourselves as the bride vis-à-vis Church?  Furthermore, can we make the realization of those two concepts into a lifestyle that expresses Christ’s love for the world?

In essence, how can we be Christ-like Christians?

I don’t claim to have many answers for how this should work, but I do have some stories. I come from a large family, well large by Western standards. I have six siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 25. My house is almost always packed full of people, each of us with our own agendas and schedules. My mom is always rushing around making sure everything is running smoothly, that everyone is clothed and fed, that everyone is well and successful. It can be overwhelming at times, but she gives a lot and oftentimes it is under-appreciated. My brother, Jonathan, is the same way—out of all my siblings he’s the most active in helping around the house and is just an all-round servant.

I’m not like my mother or my brother. I’m admittedly a more arrogant and selfish individual. Yet, I talk a big game about my Christianity and my commitment to service. And, outside my house, I believe I do a reasonable job of this. Inside my house, I know I often fail. Whether it be failing to be patient with my brother when helping him with his homework or silently avoiding chores, I can be the worst Christian to those closest to me.

And from what I hear, that isn’t all that uncommon.

So, today, I want to step back from our grand service-oriented mission and our grand dream of tackling our issues with lust and just think about how we can love our families more fully. Service and purity are great, but there is much to be said for being a good son and brother, and, perhaps someday, a good father and husband. Now I cannot tackle the latter two right now, but I sure can try to make less of a mess of the former two.

Christ help us all. Indeed, Christ helps us all.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Israel the Adultress - and Poor People

This is a follow-up to our last post: Lust and Alms. This post just walks through a few biblical passages related to the issues raised in that post, to encourage further reflection. Nathanael and I will be talking more about these themes in future posts as we continue to ponder them ourselves. May these serve to frame the further discussion.

Jeremiah 3

19 The Lord says,

20 But like an unfaithful wife,
    you have not been faithful to me.
I, the Lord, have spoken.”

Hosea 2

“Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’

“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband.

Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
    and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.

Amos 5

Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you:
“Fallen is Virgin Israel,
    never to rise again,
deserted in her own land,
    with no one to lift her up.

There are those who turn justice into bitterness
    and cast righteousness to the ground.
10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.
11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.


Throughout the Old Testament prophetic literature, the 'unfaithful bride' motif is tied to justice, righteousness, and treatment of the poor, etc. 

Hosea predicts a future restoration where a renewed marriage will occur between the Lord and His people, and they will love righteousness and justice: 

Hosea 6

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us, 
    that we may live in his presence.

Hosea 2

19 I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
    in[f] love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in[g] faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the Lord.

Isaiah 61

 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Matthew 25:1

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom"

Revelation 19

    For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.

Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”

Ephesians 5:28

28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wivesas their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body. . . 

Mark 20

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Luke 4:18

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them,“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

'Good news to the poor' coincides with the coming of 'the year of the Lord's favor' which I and many scholars believe to be the prophesied day of restoration intimated in the prophets, a fulfillment that was partially fulfilled in the restoration of Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah but was still only a shadow or anticipation of the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Matthew 25

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’


To love our Lord is to give of ourselves to those in need. In this way, we love the body of our Beloved Saviour, and should do with a love that is fully selfless and not concerned with our own needs. 

He has redeemed us and made us his bride, and we are His. We are one. He is in us and we are in Him. To love the least of these is to live out this marriage to our Saviour. 


"Don’t exchange your love toward your neighbor for some type of object, because in having love toward your neighbor, you acquire within yourself Him, Who is most precious in the whole world. Forsake the petty so as to acquire the great; spurn the excessive and everything meaningless so as to acquire the valuable.
He who shows kindness toward the poor has God as his guardian, and he who becomes poor for the sake of God will acquire abundant treasures. God is pleased when He sees people showing concern for others for His sake. When someone asks you for something, don’t think: "Just in case I might need it, I shall leave it for myself, and God — through other people — will give that person what he requires." These types of thoughts are peculiar to people that are iniquitous and do not know God. . . . But you, having sent away the destitute with nothing, spurned the honor offered to you by God and thereby, distanced yourself from His grace."   -St. Isaac the Syrian

(St. Isaac the Syrian)

Friday, 12 April 2013

Lust and Alms

I read in a book today that the crucifixion serves as a beautiful contrast to sexual exploitation. We follow a Christ who gave away His body for others.  But we live in a culture that, on the contrary, operates by demanding and taking from others - most clearly seen in our rampant sexual exploitation. Christ gives His body - the opposite of taking and exploiting.

Indeed, our world is obsessed with 'rights' and entitlement. It is particularly striking to me that  we treat sex as a right - as if we are mere animals who cannot control or turn off our desires. This attitude feeds a culture of licentiousness and exploitation; and also interacts with emotional entitlement that feeds all sorts of relational dysfunction. 

We possess a desire for companionship, relationship, affirmation, and sex. These desires are natural and God-given. But we also have something deeply perverse inside of us. We have a ravenous internal monster that wants to take and demand from others. It is from this place where exploitation, abuse, lust, and many other related evils all stem - including dysfunctional emotional cycles of dependence and enmeshment, and emotional manipulation; a self-centered neediness and sense of entitlement and demand that dominates many of us in differing degrees. It permeates society, and our individual lives, in deeply destructive ways. We blame rape and abuse on the victims, as if we (men particularly) are insatiable beasts who have sexual needs that it is only natural to satisfy. We have a raging sexual exploitation industry that has enslaved millions of women, children, and sometimes men into forcible prostitution. We have rampant porn addictions and treat these addictions as natural, normal, expressions of our uncontrollable animal desires. Our kids bully and rape (do you really think the recent high school rape case was an isolated incident? - sexual exploitation among our youth is rampant and conveniently ignored by parents, churches, and schools). Domestic violence is rampant, and its roots can often be identified in deep needs to control, exact emotional 'benefits' from a significant other by force, and dominate for ones of own selfish desires. 

We pay lip service to condemning many of these things, but our deep hypocrisy is unmistakable. 

As I toyed with these ideas, I wondered why it is that our culture runs away from marriage and commitment as if from a plague? It would make sense to me that in a society like ours marriage would be appealing. It provides a permanent and consistent setting for taking what we want and supposedly have the right to have, from someone else (who is expected to give it to us).  Why don't we more earnestly seek someone who is bound to us, who we might could display some sense of ownership over - to demand all those things our inner-monster wants to feast on for our own selfish ends? 

There are millions of different sociological, historical, cultural, and ideological reasons this is not the case. For the first time in history we act as if marriage is a choice we have complete control over and might have reason to put off. In pre-modern cultures, marriage was in some senses a duty - an institution that dictated society and had religious, economic, familial, and social expectations governing it and encouraging it. But we have 'progressed' past this era and treat marriage as a right based not on duty, but solely on desire. So we find reasons to put it off, and don't find it as important. Sometimes we claim economics as the reason to wait. Other times we cite a desire to enjoy young adulthood as free agents. And these tendencies get easily Christianized: 'I want to be right with the Lord first,' or 'I want to be sure I'm following my calling first,' or 'I'm just not sure we're right for each other and I don't want to rush into the wrong thing and having an ungodly marriage.'  I'm not commenting on the merits of these objections, many of them are certainly worth thinking about (many have indeed entered poor marriages because of a lack of careful thought and maturity) and part of what I am calling for is greater commitment to Christ above all else.  I am simply pointing out that these questions are spectacularly unique to our period in time. People living before us didn't have the luxury to think about these things. Marriage happened independent of such considerations, more or less. 

In such traditional societies, there was arguably less tendency to treat marriage and sex with a sense of personal, emotional, and sexual entitlement. That's not to say there wasn't plenty of exploitation before - there definitely was. We in the West have a long history of degrading women, for example. But it still contrasts with the current world of selfish demand and insatiable neediness. We plan and control our relationships, and we enslave others to feed our seemingly insatiable desires. When marriage is put into a context of demand, lust, instead of duty and community it becomes meaningless and unnecessary. And we exploit. 

St. Augustine taught that while marriage and family are beautiful and wonderful things, sex was a result of the fall. Beforehand we would have procreated without sex. It now exists as a necessary evil. This view has, in some periods of Christianity, encouraged an over-emphasis on celibacy and sexual asceticism - sometimes assuming that our sexuality can and should be fully controlled and subdued (or at least that it is more holy if we are able to do so). I disagree with this opposite extreme. We do have good and natural desires for marriage and sexuality that I don't believe should be necessarily deprived.  But, Augustine (and the ascetic tradition) helpfully teaches us the need to lay down our desires and find our fulfillment in our life in Christ. Augustine sought deliverance from his life of wayward licentiousness, which left him empty and restless. He discovered the he could find his "rest in Thee." Indeed, The Catholic critique of contemporary sexuality (well-founded in Augustinian thought) is powerfully prophetic in its declaration that sex is not the insatiable desire many now treat it to be. The Catholic Church is often quite wise in its attempt to find solutions to sexual-ethics related problems which probes into the deeper issues of the human heart (though, I sometimes disagree with certain particularities, especially about birth control). Where are the men and women who are, while not denying the goodness of marriage and sexuality, are willing to put their desires 'to death' for Christ? To turn the world's message that we are owed things from others on its head and become servants of the Lord?

Christ offers us an example of absolute surrender. He demanded nothing from anyone even though He was above all most deserving of all honor, praise, and glory. He did not count equality with God as something to be grasped. He did not retain His own life but freely gave it away. 

Consequently, we have no claim to anything in this world. Wealth, health, marriage, sexuality, companionship, affection. Nothing. Our whole self belongs to the Christ who gave His whole self to us. 

We are the bride of Christ - He and we belong to one another. He gives Himself for us and we give ourselves to Him. 

This is not just a personal, spiritual, ethic - it is absolutely a social ethic. We are to treat suffering humans as if they were Christ Himself: for as the Lord says, what we do for 'the least of these' we do unto Him. If Christ is our Beloved spouse and we are to serve Him through 'the least.' In a sense, then, we are to serve the least as our own spouse. 

We are called to love God and love our neighbors as our own self - this is the core of the law, Jesus says. Have you noticed how similar this is to the biblical picture of marriage in which man and wife become 'one flesh'? To love your neighbor as yourself is to love them as one would love their own spouse, their own flesh - as we are to love Christ. Indeed this is how we love Christ. The least of these - our Christ, our spouse, Whom we owe everything and from who we deserve nothing. 

This is not to deny that God may provide us with many wonderful blessings - including marriage, health, perhaps even wealth. And particularly on the former - if we are given the blessing of family we are to be good spouses and parents - too many in full time ministry have used their commitment to Christ as an excuse to neglect their families.  But all these things are to be put in context of our allegiance to Christ. 

Can we transform our demands and desires into submission and surrender? Can we give ourselves to the poor and needy, the body of Christ, instead of exploiting?  Can we give instead of demand? Can we live as ones who are surrendered to others instead of living as if others are our conquered slaves?  Can we speak for the voiceless instead of using our voice to bring attention to ourselves or to abuse or manipulate others for our ends? 

Can we bless our Beloved Christ, our Spouse, instead of looking for others to satisfy our selfish demands?

Can we stop looking for what we can get from others, and seek to discover how much we can give? 

Can we put down our raunchy magazines and rescue girls from brothels? 

Can we stop trying to please our bodies, and feed the broken bodies of the lost and the hungry? 

Can we follow Christ in His death and surrender - into the very pit of Hades? 

Can we transform our lust into alms? 

No, we can't. But Christ can. He can transform us. 

He can turn this whoring, unfaithful, bride of His and redeem her. 

Nathanael and I will be blogging quite a bit about asceticism, sexuality, and particularly  draw connections between sexuality and service. This is just the beginning. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The people in my life

I've been thinking about people a lot these last five or so weeks. That's not uncommon for many people, I'm sure. People are all around us and often make our best and worst days what they are. That's no secret. But does that have to be the case?

People are important, no doubt, but should they be central to our feelings of happiness and worth? It seems like too many times we let them be. At least, I let them be. So, this realization has got me thinking: What does Jesus mean when He says "Who is my mother and my brothers?" (Matthew 12:46-50)

Jesus is preaching to crowd and his mother and brothers come up to speak with him. He, presumably, ignores them by replying “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then pointing to his disciples and proclaiming them as his mother and brothers because they do the will of His Father in heaven.

Over the last four years, I have been thinking more and more about who's criticism I allow to affect me. I have been interested and involved in charity work at various levels for the last 8 or 9 years. People are often critical of charity work and with good reason. I've been involved with my church and my faith at large for the last 10 or so years--people are very critical of Christianity and with good reason. At different points I've allowed these criticisms to have a negative effect on my service and my Christianity, yet I have often forgot to ask "Who are my mother and brothers?"

Charity is not above criticism. And Lord knows, Christianity isn't either. Yet, a good number of people criticize both charity and Christianity as an excuse to either not get involved with either or to try to persuade others to stop "wasting their time with both." When that is the end goal of the criticism, it does not help me.

However, when criticism comes from those around me that are critical of Christianity or charity because they want to see either of those endeavours proceeding in the best way possible, something is to be learned from that. That's not to say we should out and out ignore the negative critiques around us, but we should learn to listen most carefully to the critiques of those that wish to see us succeed.

And this goes beyond charity or Christianity, those are just two examples I deem relevant to this blog and to my life. But you can ask "who is my mother and who are my brothers" in all manner of situations. Last year, I returned to my high school and gave a motivation talk to four biology classes. One of my key messages was this, surround yourself with people that want to do the same things as you. Successful people make a habit of surrounding themselves with people that share the same goals as them. Happy people are friends with happy people. Basketball players hang out with basketball players. CEOs have cocktails with CEOs. Etc. . .

As you go through this week, ask yourself "Who are my mother and brothers?" Who are the people in your life that are pushing you towards your goals in life? Because those are the people who's criticism you should consider the most.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Provocations not of Kiergekaard

We've just begun a new month, the first month of the second quarter of this year. During this quarter, we'll be working on an experiment meant to push us towards a deeper understanding of God's love for us and the love and service we are called to show to others. We won't go too far into the details of this project, though we're sure they'll come up later, but suffice to say it'll be a challenge for the both of us.

As we embark on this adventure, which will be at least the next three months, there are a couple of questions that are pressing on our minds:

What does Jesus mean when He says "Who is my mother and my brothers?" (Matthew 12:46-50)

Nuns consider themselves to be married, exclusively, to Christ and make a vow of lifetime celibacy. (The Bible teaches that the Church is the bride of Christ, we are all married to Christ.)What does it mean for them to be married to Christ at the expense of human marriage? 

What do the New Monastics (vis-a-vis Shane Claiborne) have to say about the relationships between poverty, alms, celibacy and other aspects of asceticism within the Christian tradition?

And finally:
What does love mean (setting a basis for how we define and move forward in our lives/mission) and how can we embody it?

This last question is the crux of what we our doing in our three month experiment. Without love, we've missed the point of what Christ calls us to do.

As we struggle through these questions and others during our three months, we invite to comment, email, or otherwise give us feedback, suggestions, or scathing criticisms of the mess we will make as we journey.

May the peace of Christ be with you.