9/15/2016

important things 6: conflicting beliefs

1. Catching Up

Hello, again, after a couple months. Summer is fading in gold-emerald hues; another school year begins.


Late last year I first read Jack Crabtree's article, to which I decided to respond. Not until February did I really begin writing and wrestling with what to say. Then in the spring I learned things would be changing at Gutenberg College: Jack and his brother David Crabtree would be stepping down as tutors from this beloved great books school. (They were continuing a project, the initial fruits of which are now available online.) An interesting development.

In May I went ahead and sent the first post in this blog series to my friend Margaret, who graciously shared it with the group at Reformation Fellowship (the church Tim and I attended for more than a decade, where Jack and David still attend and teach). Since then I have slowly, slowly worked on approaching my subject, my response to a teacher I have deeply admired and will always be grateful for.

Today I reach a point of laying out two differing understandings of history and reality. This may be the main thing I've been trying to get at (and also procrastinating doing). It may be, after it's said, all I need to say.

Relatedly, the other day a quote on Facebook grabbed my attention. David Robertson (a recent Gutenberg grad, or almost grad) has shared with me his joy at studying Michael Polanyi, and here is part of what he quoted, regarding, in Polanyi's context, conflicting scientific presuppositional understandings:
Two conflicting systems of thought are separated by a logical gap, in the same sense as a problem is separated from the discovery which solves the problem. Formal operations relying on one framework of interpretation cannot demonstrate a proposition to persons who rely on another framework. Its advocates may not even succeed in getting a hearing from these, since they must first teach them a new language, and no one can learn a new language unless he first trusts that it means something. A hostile audience may in fact deliberately refuse to entertain novel conceptions such as those of Freud, Eddingtion, Rhine, or Lysenko, precisely because its members fear that once they have accepted this framework they will be led to conclusions which they--rightly or wrongly--abhor. Proponents of a new system can convince their audience only by first winning their intellectual sympathy for a doctrine they have not yet grasped. Those who listen sympathetically will discover for themselves what they would otherwise never have understood. Such an acceptance is a heuristic process, a self-modifying act, and to this extent a conversion. It produces disciples forming a school, the members of which are separated for the time being by a logical gap from those outside it. They think differently, speak a different language, live in a different world, and at least one of the two schools is excluded to this extent for the time being (whether rightly or wrongly) from the community.
If there is any way I have grown during the past five or so years, it is perhaps to have come to recognize the truth of the above statement (thanks, Mr. Polanyi for your philosophical aptitude!) and to accept the accompanying humility in a reality of Christian/biblical love, where the central goal is not to win intellectual sympathy (doing so is fine, obviously, but if it were the central, or at least the immediate goal, then Paul and the other martyred apostles were mainly dismal failures).

I mention this in order to say I recognize I have nothing to offer to gain your intellectual sympathy. Worse (from my view), the way I'm using language will sound dumb, compared to Jack Crabtree's brilliant way of using language. The following comes from a truly different "language" than any Jack has ever studied, which I have come to accept via a heuristic process. But it will sound as though I'm speaking from within a Roman Catholic/Protestant framework, simply because I'm using English words and phrases about which we all have certain presuppositions.

(I'm as okay with this as I can be, at my current place in life, in the process I struggle with inwardly, being very stiff-necked, prideful, and so on, regularly repenting of such. Just thought I would express this. Thanks.)

2. Concerning 4th-Century Christians

Last time, I gave a brief overview of the Orthodox Christian presupposition I came to accept regarding God as a multiplicity of Persons. (Each of these Persons is understood to be uncreated, or, you might say, outside of creation, which includes being outside of time--for example, "Today I have begotten you" is used as an expression of what is. Everything always "Is" for God in this presuppositional framework.) I hold this view in contrast with Jack Crabtree's understanding about Jesus.

Although in the article I'm responding to Jack merely says Jesus was "brought into existence by God, his Father," I have heard Jack explicitly state that Jesus is a man like any other human being, conceivably replaceable in his role in God's story by any other human being.

In contrast, I believe Jesus himself was referring to a different reality when he said, "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Another time Jesus responded to Philip, who had asked him to reveal the Father to the gathered apostles, that the Father was "in" himself and he was "in" the Father. Jesus, therefore, maintained that only the Son (of God) "knows" the Father and that the Father is "in" the Son.

Jack's interpretive framework gave me a rule that said, "No person or being can be inside another person or being." If I heard him correctly, this is his understanding. It makes sense, according to what our five senses tell us. I now think there is evidence beyond our earthly senses for there to be something different happening, at least regarding God. This something can be expressed as a closeness beyond what any human being can have with another human being. It can be termed, as I sort of said before, a perfect concert of interaction. The word communion also fits.

As was pointed out in a comment last post, history shows us an exceedingly messy, sometimes humorous process of people coming to express in bulky, awkward human language what had been revealed by God through Jesus Christ to his apostles regarding himself in relation to his Father. Fourth century Constantinople was full of interested arguers from every social strata. Unlike at any time since Christ was born, it was now legal to openly theologize. In his book The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware mentions this oft-lamentable situation with generosity: 
If Christians were at times acrimonious, it was because they cared about the Christian faith. Perhaps disorder is better than apathy. Orthodoxy [ancient Orthodox Christianity] recognizes that the councils were attended by imperfect humans, but it believes that these imperfect humans were guided by the Holy Spirit.
The model for these ancient councils was the council assembled in Jerusalem during the first century, attended by Paul, Barnabus, Peter, James, and others, which determined that the group known as Judaizers was heretical in what it taught Gentiles about Christianity. Whatever one believes about the fourth century gatherings and beyond, the original one recorded in Acts had at its core prayer and the Holy Spirit's guidance. (Somehow the apostles and all first Christians had been "filled" with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father.)

To return (at last) to Jack's article (Point II), another statement about the Jerusalem council might be that those men to whom Jesus gave "the true meaning and significance of what they had already learned as first-century Jews who had been taught the Scriptures in the synagogue" processed along their apostolic journey into a council, when it became necessary, in order to determine aspects of critical Christian understanding/teaching/doctrine and to write them down.

In his article Jack's view is clear. He believes the fourth-century council's bishops no longer practiced Christianity; rather, it had happened that:
By the end of Paul’s life, those who considered themselves followers of Jesus had largely turned away from this hard-fought understanding that Paul taught (2 Timothy 1:15). Having become interested in a significantly different understanding of the nature and significance of Jesus and what he accomplished, they began to teach a different Jesus and a different gospel...The founding of Christianity arose through teachers and leaders who are mostly unknown to us. These men invented an entirely new and different religion—a religion distinct from and independent of the decidedly Jewish worldview and gospel that Jesus and Paul had proclaimed.
The reason Jack believes this:
Through the original works of ancient writers, I have became acquainted with the thought forms and tendencies of the Church Fathers at the same time that I have become much more familiar with the worldview and concepts of ancient pagan philosophers...I came to realize the extent to which the reading of the Bible by the earliest Christians (in contradistinction to the earliest believers) failed to be an accurate exegesis of the biblical texts. Rather, it was the combining of various Hellenistic and pagan ideas with biblical concepts, language, and ideas.
If I haven't yet, it's important to make clear that I believe Jack's views come from legitimate reactions to the general religious form that passes in our culture for Christianity, and which came to us 21st century Americans via the broken, incomplete traditions of the Reformers (who were, themselves, reacting to broken, incomplete Roman Catholic traditions). Jack expresses this traditional Christian understanding very well, but his problem is that in ignorance he lumps Orthodox Christianity with it. This lumping seems completely rational to him, and I get that. But he stopped far too soon in his exploration of the interpretive framework of this ancient faith.

3. An Alternative Framework
Because Adam believed the devil who had told him his lies, and tasted of the tree of knowledge, therefore, as one who had believed a liar, he fell away from the truth. After this, human nature labored a great deal seeking the truth but could not find it. This is clearly confirmed by all the wise men of Greece, who could by no means harmonize, unify, and direct on the right path the varieties of human wisdom, despite the fact that many used means for this end and wrote a multitude of lengthy works in which they examined virtue and vice from all points of view.
~ St. Symeon the New Theologian (died in 1022 A.D.)
Orthodox Christian understanding relates to the scope of what God does and who God is. Not fully, of course, at all, but as God provides the means. One hymn we sing about Jesus' transfiguration on Mt. Tabor basically expresses that at this event the disciples Peter, James, and John beheld the Messiah's glory as far as they were capable of doing so.

The Scriptures are intrinsic to Orthodox Christian life. Everything is about what they are about, and we find they are about what God does and who God is in relation to humankind.

I'm someone who studied under Jack Crabtree and his friends for eleven years, fully engaged and enthralled--I audited Gutenberg classes, attended Oktoberfusses, Summer Institutes, and Art Conferences--and for years before that I interacted (jousting at our dining table) with people from Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Buddhism. I am a preacher's kid who didn't like the "churchyness" of church, because I grew up among much (though not total) artifice and worldliness.

Nothing I observed, studied, or listened to before Orthodox Christianity was so comprehensively engaged with Scripture, with the people who wrote the Scriptures and those about whom they wrote. (Nothing, I began to note grudgingly at first, was so doggone consistent.) Obviously I've been aware of other long-lived groups--Catholicism and Islam, for example--which claim to practice the truest Scriptural truth. But what they do and who they are, as far as I've seen, don't hold together. They (in history and theologically) are not all of a piece; they are in tatters at best. Such has also been the case, and even moreso, for Protestantism.

Orthodox church services draw heavily on their Jewish roots. Prayers in church are mainly from the Psalter; King David's hymns bookend everything. The recognition is ever present, on which St. Symeon's quote above touches, of humankind's fall and need for help, and of the nature of humanity's failure to find its own way to wisdom.

For the Jews, synagogue worship was not optional; it was central. Praising God happened in community, as well as privately in one's "closet" (the inner chamber of the heart). It was personal--God had interacted with the Hebrew people on a personal level--but it was not individual (it was never cut off from others). This manner or method of coming together, this aspect of the Law, was a great part of what Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill, by establishing the Law of Liberty about which James wrote.

Jesus' first disciples, those people who began to be called Christians at Antioch, observed the world changing as they spread their good news. What context, what framework, were they broadcasting from? That of their worship services, the centrality of the Scripture-interpreting life of the nascent Church which Jesus established. The apostles delivered to the people the prayers of King David along with what those prayers (and what David's life) illustrated, as well as what every event in the now-old Testament had illustrated, preparing the world for the final and "fullest" Messiah. Everything that happened in the past had really happened, certainly, had been real in time to the people back then, but truly, for everyone who had lived in belief beforehand (that great cloud of witnesses Paul spoke of) there was joy in seeing how their life events had laid an illustrative foundation for the miraculous lives of Jesus and all who surrounded him.
When did human beings begin to abandon the worship of idols, except since the true God Word of God came among human beings? Or when have the oracles amongst the Greeks and everywhere ceased and become empty, except since the Savior revealed himself upon earth? Or when did those called gods and heroes by the poets begin to be condemned as merely mortal humans, except since the Lord erected the trophy over death and preserved incorruptible the body which he took, raising it from the dead?...And formerly everywhere was filled with the deceit of the oracles, and the utterances of those in Delphi and Dodona and Boeotia and Lycia and Libya and Egypt and Cabiri and the Pythoness were admired in the imagination of human beings. But now, since Christ is announced everywhere, their madness has also ceased and no longer is there anyone among them giving oracles. Formerly demons deceived human fancy, taking possession of springs or rivers, wood or stone, and by their tricks thus stupefied the simple. But now, after the Divine manifestation of the Word has taken place, their illusion has ceased.
~ On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius (299-328 A.D.)
Jesus' coming into the world changed history, changed everything, in ways we who are now far from it aren't aware of (while at the same time we benefit from it). The true church, the correct faith, is also Jesus himself continuing to dwell in history ("Behold, I am with you always"). The Son of God, being God by nature, can concurrently remain seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven (the unseen realm each of us will see the day we die), without having to change places or go back and forth. Heaven is actually, after all, closer to us than our own souls. Evidences for its reality provide faith, which is the hope of things not yet seen.
And as John was finishing his course, he said, "Who do you think I am? I am not he. But behold, there comes one after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose." Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know him, nor even the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning him.
~ Acts 13:25-27
The prophets are real people, who died and went "down" to Gehenna, or Hades, still waiting for their Messiah. This one the prophets foretold would "take flesh" and be born as John the Baptist's cousin. Jesus' grandparents, Joachim and Anna, would be buried in a sepulcher near a garden called Gethsemane, to which Jesus would come whenever possible to pray, to commune with his Father in the hidden chamber of his core being. He would do this perfectly, showing his disciples the way to imitate. Jesus would then be arrested in the garden, crucified on a cross, and buried. While his flesh lay "asleep" in the grave, he personally would trample down the gates of Hades and rescue its captives: the prophets, King David, his grandparents, Adam and Eve, and all the rest who waited there, longing for him. He would take them to heaven, to Paradise, to be with him and a thief, who on the cross next to his had asked to be remembered in his ever-present, timeless Kingdom (which will exist in complete fullness for all in the future but which is a reality even now).

There is more I can say, and I realize I would like to make a few final points about Jack's article. Next post. Please respond to this one if you'd like to. Fire away.

7/22/2016

important things 5: terms, claims, nutshells

I'm sorry for my delay in getting back to this series. Thank you who are following along for your patience. I hope you are having a good summer.


Last post I ended by saying I would continue, this time, with what happened to me as I wrestled between my own two viewpoints or interpretations of Scripture. The first interpretation was influenced by eleven years as a student of Gutenberg College teachers, basically following many ideas espoused by Jack Crabtree (specifically expressed in his article that I'm responding to). The second interpretation, beginning in 2011, came from an immersion into Orthodox Christianity.

Today I'll present my observations about "Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, brought into existence by God, his Father."

Until I studied in the Orthodox church, my Trinitarian understanding originated in what I now view as a broken or incomplete tradition--that which came to me through history via Roman Catholics and Reformers (and probably others). This tradition distilled a definition of God into one sentence: Within the nature of the one God exist three Persons. I think my trouble with this defining claim began long before I listened to Jack Crabtree. Traditionally we find the Creator of all, the one true God, explained in ten words! Amazing.

Perhaps a problem with our Western culture's way of thinking is this desire to put many created things in a nutshell, let alone seeking to analyze God's true nature and plunk it down on paper. But of course human beings do this, have done this, not only in the West. Sometimes language is all we've got, and the moment calls for explanations.

The Orthodox understanding begins and ends (if one can say it has an ending) with Man and God. Adam and God. Eve and God. Cain and God. Abram and God. Jacob and God. David and God. Esther and God. Habakkuk and God. Zachariah and God. Symeon and God. Mary and God. Joseph and God. Peter and God. Paul and God. John and God.

None of these was seeking to diagram or explain God. Each was dealing with his or her own encounter with God. Just as each encounter with a person leads to specific things in the history of any life, so each encounter with God recorded in the Bible led to specific things. These encounters were with a Person. The reason this is said to be a capital P Person is that He is other than any person of mankind. This Person the biblical authors record meetings (and other sorts of encounters) with is not of our kind, is not a "kind" at all, being uncreated. There is none of our kind like this. There is only one God.

What I began to recognize is that, while the Bible doesn't describe any other being that is God, it also doesn't contain any writings that describe any other being that is Man, or human. Humanity illustrates something (as do all living creatures) by being created as one "thing." Which is why I can say Man encounters God and be talking about more than one human person, with no confusion on the part of my hearers. Language easily allows for Man (or even just man) to be plural.

Mankind, then, might be said to be a plurality. We know this by experience. This plurality of unique beings can still be called one Being. This is true, even though mankind is a very scattered, sundered being, spread hither and yon in ways beyond just space and time. Man is very disunified. Everyone goes his or her own way. And yet we all share mankind-ness. 

This sharing of our created kind-ness, or nature, or essence, still does not have sovereignty over us. What I mean by that is, I share humanity with others, but first of all, sovereignly, I am a unique identity. I don't exist as a generic human within humanity who contains my unique features. I exist as a unique identity, never before experienced by others until I came to be, who bears recognizable human features. We know from observing nature that this is true with every kind of thing: leaves, horses, snowflakes, and so on. Each molecule and star appears on the scene as a unique one of its kind. There is no repetition of identity in creation.

While instinctively I knew this concept, I had never observed this sort of understanding of mankind until I entered into what is unveiled and hymned in every Orthodox service. Not that it happens in a spooky way. The recognition is simply there and interacted with, by those who wish to at their own pace, soberly and with gratitude. Naturally involved with recognizing identities sharing the nature of man (as well as identities sharing the nature of angels, the "bodiless hosts") is a recognition of Identities sharing the nature of God. I have come to believe that this is why God made man the way He did, as one of gazillions of illustrations for us of reality.

In Orthodox interpretation, just as we find in other biblical traditions, God is the Source of everything. We use the term "God" to mean the Father, the One who created all that exists. That's really our starting point; we can't begin to comprehend anything "before the beginning" in what is God's territory of understanding and knowing. All we can do, soberly and with gratitude, is work with what God has revealed to humanity. The Bible tells us that God illumines the world via His one unique, only-begotten Son, the Revelation.

My wrestling match, from the day in 2011 when I willingly entered the Orthodox church, was between two possibilities. I already agreed (with Jack and the Orthodox, it became apparent) that God is not boxed into a nature that He must somehow share with two other beings known as God.

What I saw was my need to make a choice. First, I had accepted with Jack's help the concept of God being Jesus' Father by bringing the human Jesus into existence at a certain point in history, planned from before creation but not taking on any reality (not coming into the story) until nine months before his birth.

The second possibility I began to recognize was of God being Jesus' Father by some means incomprehensible to any creature (a total mystery to human beings where we are right now on the spectrum of existence), but related to the illustration we have of a man fathering a son--that God, the unoriginate, uncreated Creator of all, lives as a multiplicity of Identities, who have been, are, and ever will be complete, perfect Persons acting in perfect concert with one another, in the willing communion of Love which is God's highest Name, God's essence or nature. These Persons from before eternity share the nature of God, the same nature that human beings can become partakers of (2 Peter 1:4).

This second option involves the fullness of the story that the Orthodox believe the Bible is written about, regarding the Person Who was with God in the beginning, as the Apostle John tells us, through Whom all things were made. This Word by which all was spoken into existence came, not from nowhere, like I did as a created thing, but from somewhere, from the Father. No one has seen God at any time, but this Word has made God known, has enlightened the world. He did so by "being made flesh," "becoming flesh," "taking flesh." That Messiah which had been prophesied and illustrated throughout Jewish history came from the Father and, by the action of another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, along with a human woman, was born into the line of humanity. Jesus is a combination of God and Man, a combining for the purpose of interaction, which is a rescuing action for mankind in his present, fallen state. 

Jesus in Orthodox Christian understanding is not a bizarre creature, split down the middle in the throes of belonging to two separate nature boxes, as the Western Christian tradition might cause one to try and picture. Rather, Jesus embodies the attributes of God's Nature along with the attributes of man's nature while remaining one sovereign Person, the One willed from before time by God to join these two natures into perfect concert with one another. In the same way God personally wishes to be "one with" each member of humanity, as He is in absolute unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so His Son became an illustration of perfect unity between two natures, in harmony becoming as one while ever identifiable in the two.

And so we find me using language alone to try and express God in a nutshell. Forgive me; I know it can't be done. But I hope these paragraphs are helpful in delineating the two options I faced. After much deliberation I chose to study in the stream of Orthodox thought and practice, not, I hope you can see, because I found Jack's wording to be totally wrong, but simply because, knowing where it likely came from (a reaction to Western thoughts), I saw I preferred the fuller, deeper-digging task I had discovered. 

Next post I wish to discuss two possibilities for understanding how and why Jesus "taught his Jewish disciples the true meaning and significance of what they had already learned as first-century Jews who had been taught the Scriptures in the synagogue."

Installment 6 is here.

6/24/2016

important things 4: Christianity's origins


The wonderful thing about this next part of Jack's article and talk, The Two Most Important Things I Have Learned--(I'm now responding to Point II)--is how clearly Jack expresses two differing understandings he has held on the nature of Christianity and its origins. This opens for me the opportunity to respond to what appear to be very solid points of thought, his specific ideas which have grown over decades and which alternately differ and dovetail in certain places with some of my own.

I'll start by looking at the introductory sentence about Jack's original understanding:
 
"Twenty years ago, my understanding of the origin of Christianity would have gone something like this: Jesus, the incarnation of God, came to earth to teach his disciples how to live as God wanted them to live."

I'll call this Jack's old picture.

If someone were to ask if my old picture used to be the same, I would answer yes and no. I did, similarly, believe Jesus to be the incarnation of God. It might be profitable to unpack that statement. Behind it, for me twenty years ago, was this presupposition: Within the nature of the one God exist three Persons.

I long believed the above claim, because it was an explanation of what I had always been taught. There were Bible verses to back it up. Besides, lots of things in life seemed to happen in threes.

I had grown a bit uncomfortable with my particular Trinitarian presupposition, however, after debating with people from non-Trinitarian groups. During our exchanges I couldn't help observing that, to support their views, they pulled out books by revered teachers of their views. To support my views, I also studied writings or listened to talks by revered teachers of my views.

I hadn't been able to ponder for myself what Jesus' incarnation truly means.

When I came into the Gutenberg group 16 years ago, I heard Jack processing his own presuppositions and ideas. He sought to interpret the Scriptures by using reason and delving deeply (with humility) into possibilities. I loved this refreshing approach. It blew away my one-sentence Trinitarian understanding. While they kept unfolding during the time I studied under Jack, I didn't mind waiting for his latest updated insights. I trusted they were leading me to the closest understanding possible of Jesus' incarnation.

While I did believe Jesus to be the incarnation of God, I don't think my understanding of the origin of Christianity hinged, as Jack's seems to have twenty years ago, on Jesus "teaching his disciples how to live as God wanted them to live." Learning to live God's way was certainly important, but my life experience had already given me an insight into Jesus' interaction with his disciples. Especially relevant to me were Peter's interactions with Jesus. Peter had recognized his need to do specifically what his Master--the Master he had betrayed and then been forgiven by--gave him to do. I wasn't looking, therefore, for general instructions on Christian living (nor do I think the apostles were looking for general instructions on Jewish living; they knew them). I was, 16 years ago, more interested in being freed from a lot of practices and expectations--you might call them rituals and doctrines--that I had known in my familiar, before-Gutenberg cultural Christian experience, which appeared to be missing something. These familiar ways of operating and believing were, I came to recognize, either empty and worthless or partial and lacking something deeply significant.

In all my years, encountering people from Catholic churches to nondenominational churches and several types of groups in between, I had observed those influenced by their peers to act and interpret, and also those improvising new ways to act and interpret. Being naturally an introvert, I noticed the more extroverted people often calling the shots regarding church life; they were flashier and braver than I, and often I resented them for this. I especially cringed when two groups of extroverts quarreled about issues I found tiresome.

Coming to Gutenberg was, again, refreshing, due to a lack of flashy improvisations. I was more than ready to discover alongside other studious people the original intent of the biblical authors. I longed for the significant, deep truth embedded in Scripture.

And so we see that my old picture of Christianity's origins was similar to Jack's--in that I believed Jesus to be God's incarnation--but was different (if I'm understanding him correctly) from Jack's in this sense: I did not consider the apostles' encounter with Jesus to have been "about" Jesus teaching them generally how to live (perhaps how to get along) in this world.

The basic sense I get is that Jack believed long ago that if he was in the right church he would be able to follow its practices and know he was doing all he could for God, so he could have peace of mind. I, on the other hand, by young adulthood sensed that all was not right with any church I had encountered. (And by this I don't mean I was discouraged because every church was made up of sinners. On the contrary, I found myself to be a great sinner, and yet I wanted to follow Jesus. I actually quit going to church until I had children, because, frustratingly, church wasn't "about" us all being sinners wanting to follow Jesus; it was more about doing things right and feeling good about ourselves, as in any social group.)

Regarding his old picture, Jack points out two ramifications he considers important: "(1) There was a faithful impartation of the Truth from Jesus to his apostles and to the original Christian church; and (2) the revealed Truth that was incorporated in the life of the original Christian church is currently reflected in those universally held doctrines, practices, beliefs, and perspectives of traditional Christianity."

These ramifications were not on my radar, because my life experience did not teach or show me that the Truth had been passed along very well. Something had gone wrong, somewhere, because life in the churches I knew often didn't make sense. Before I "found" Gutenberg, I figured all I could do was settle and do my best with what was offered, seeing as I wanted to follow Jesus, study the Bible, and raise my children with an awareness of these things, and somehow I knew God would show me the way.

So I came into the Gutenberg community from within my old picture, which showed me Jesus as God's incarnation, as well as a very broken church history, in some unknown-to-me fashion or another.

Eleven years after that, I was basically an adherent of Jack's new picture. As I've mentioned, I had studied the Bible under Jack's tutelage and trusted where his ideas were leading. At this date I would have started off comments about Christianity's origins using words similar to his: "Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, brought into existence by God, his Father, taught his Jewish disciples the true meaning and significance of what they had already learned as first-century Jews who had been taught the Scriptures in the synagogue."

My mind had changed from my old picture, which had been based on: Within the nature of the one God exist three Persons. I now accepted a new picture, that Jesus was, as I heard Jack saying it, the perfect Man who perfectly expressed God to his followers. I believed that, in this certain sense, Jesus was God. But I no longer believed Jesus existed within the nature of the one God as part of a Divine Trinity.

I had no clue that this understanding, my new picture (from Jack), would turn out to be a perfect preparation for me, when I unexpectedly launched into a serious consideration of Orthodox Christianity.

Obviously Jack was in a different spot, having read some early Church Fathers and dismissed their understanding as "enamored by and influenced by ancient pagan ideas, especially Platonic ideas." Jack believes their intellectual efforts "were less an attempt to understand the teaching of the apostles on its own terms—as the teaching of Jewish prophets who were articulating what God had revealed—and much more an attempt to understand Christian doctrine, practices, and religion in terms compatible with Hellenistic paganism."

For my own reasons, I came to need to dive into that universe of thought built upon the Scriptural interpretations of these ancient Fathers, rather than to continue my immersion in the Gutenberg understanding built largely upon Jack's Scriptural interpretations.

Because this post has grown so long already, I'll post next time on what happened as I wrestled between these viewpoints.

Here is Part 5.

6/17/2016

important things 3: beginning to respond

Now, in truth, the question of what I have learned is not for me to answer. It is for someone else to answer—notably God. ~ Jack Crabtree


Introducing his article and talk, The Two Most Important Things I Have Learned, Dr. Crabtree humbly shares the above-quoted insightful recognition. Jack sees that those things best proclaiming a person’s understanding are what he or she does and who he or she is. I applaud and can attest to this man's commitment to studying the Bible so as to conform himself to its true understanding. This truly appears to be the focus of his intellectual life. Such commitment and focus have been, as long as I've known Jack, what he does and who he is.

In his introduction Jack lists four things about which his perspective has dramatically changed, the first of which is the Christian religion and its origins. I'll address this topic next post. In Section I he discusses the power of culture. The following are my observations on that.

Regarding culture, I basically agree with Jack. One’s culture is an enormous influence, and this influence is very difficult to recognize.

During the five years I’ve spent away from the Gutenberg community I have gained a perspective of myself that I simply couldn’t see while within the group. I now recognize my strong desire to be accepted by intellectual people. Academic minds are highly valued in our culture and throughout the world. As far as it goes, this isn’t a bad thing. People with PhD.s are often a real treat to talk with. Plus, the great minds of science, theology, literature, and the arts make contributions of inestimable value to society.

I don’t wish to criticize Jack’s insight regarding culture. I wish merely to point out the perspective I’ve gained regarding Gutenberg’s academic, intellectual culture in which Jack has worked on biblical interpretation and in which he received insights regarding historical Christianity. His insight, showing him the fact of people throughout history reading the Bible through lenses provided to them by a culture they are tempted to fear, might also apply to people reading the Bible who, like me, are tempted to fear what people of academic and/or intellectual giftedness think of them. This problem might lead to a somewhat blind acceptance of one’s teacher’s insights regarding Christianity.

I’ll take my point a step further. Within his remarks about Christianity and culture, Jack asserts that the follower of Jesus “must learn to trust his reason when it has been cut loose from its tether to other men. He must give heed to his intelligence as it receives counsel from the Bible and the Spirit of Truth.” My experience in the Orthodox Church provides me with another caveat, one that I believe comes down from the apostles. Before trusting his reason and intellect (with or without cultural influence), the apostolic understanding implores a man to recognize his need for transformation, for the renewing of his mind (nous in the Greek; see Romans 7 and 12, and elsewhere).

Absolutely, the man who follows Christ must receive counsel from the Spirit of Truth in order to interpret the Bible, but, as writers throughout the scriptures warn, he needs to “test the spirits” and make sure God is the Spirit informing his fallen, darkened intellectual understanding and guiding it along the true process toward healing. Without doing this, a man on his own is at great risk of descending into folly and self-deception. How often have people in many cultures seen this happen?

This series now continues with Christianity's Origins.

6/07/2016

important things 2: preparing to respond


As I analogized last post, my wish is to spread across our shared table the sheets of ideas Jack Crabtree expressed a couple years ago in his paper and talk, The Two Most Important Things I Have Learned and (not without trepidation) to scrutinize them. My response will lay out the different ways I'm seeing things about faith from a five-years-new Orthodox Christian perspective.

Before I start, I'd like to share five important aspects of where I hope to be coming from:

1. These are just my observations.

Conflict is something I have a lot of trouble dealing with. I want to say I would rather run than argue, but the truth is I argue too easily. When the little furnace of emotion begins to ignite, I often rashly speak. And yet I truly do wish to (calmly, rationally) dialog about the most important things in reality, or I wouldn't be writing this. I know talking about belief in God--just stating it in most contexts--is asking for trouble, for argument, for pain. And so I want to state and repeat throughout this endeavor that I am making observations about Jack's ideas in comparison and contrast with Orthodox views. I'm not trying to coerce others to share those views.

When Tim and I sit down to talk finances, there are always moments when one or the other of us hits a sore spot regarding our different ideas about spending the money. This can't be helped, but we still love each other. Something like that scenario is what I hope for here.

2. Presuppositions are okay.

As someone from Gutenberg recently said, we can't very well exist without presuppositions. Each of us needs an operating framework for daily living. In my response I hope to point out presuppositions I've observed and how those might influence ideas (Jack's and mine).

One more thought on them for now is that throughout the gospel accounts we find people encountering Jesus and having their presuppositions shaken. The woman at the well in Sychar (Photina, as the Orthodox remember her) was amazed when Jesus spoke to her and even moreso when he told her things about her life he couldn't have known. Her amazement kept her talking to Jesus, kept her from fleeing when he exposed her presuppositions and made new claims for her to ponder. That element of surprise Photina experienced has been shared by just about everyone, I've noticed, who came into some form of contact with God in the Bible. I have to remind myself that it is part of faith's territory.

3. Culture is powerful.

I know I'm not shaking anyone's presuppositions with that statement. As someone who only ever was made to feel at home in the culture and community of Reformation Fellowship and Gutenberg College, I have sensed myself carrying that culture with me and rejoicing whenever I discover a similar spirit to it along life's way. I think I've really observed these past five years that, even though the prevailing cultures we inhabit shape and pull us in varying ways, there is a culture (of love) which can't be overcome, and perhaps it can't be completely defined or described, either, but when it shows up it is hard to deny.

4. Jack is right.

I can't tell you how many, many times over the past five years I have stepped back and marveled, when the "new" interpretations of scripture I've been exploring completely concur with those of Jack and his colleagues. Other times, it's been more like hearing the same note Jack "played" in his surmisings about things said in the Bible, yet in a more complex and deeper sense, sort of like a single horn compared to the full orchestra.

And so I want to emphasize in my response that I have observed Jack coming so close, right up to the doorstep, or right onto the station platform. Like the archeologist piecing together shards of bone, he has studied at the true "site" and is simply working out how this or that piece he's found might fit into the complete picture.

This is all to say that I have nothing on Jack as a scholar, philosopher, and imaginer. I might be terribly far wrong when I point out where I think he is missing something. I'd really like such errors in my thinking to be pointed out. (It happens fairly often, actually, in the studies I've done with Orthodox people--they will point out such errors on my part in critiquing Jack; this is how I've come to appreciate Jack's efforts even more than I did before.)

5. I am wrong.

Hopefully this follows from what I've already said. While I might never like to think so, I take a long time to truly get things. As an observer by nature, I tend to try and express what I think I'm seeing. This helps in reaching even tentative conclusions. It's like climbing a ladder or stepping onto the hiking trail. One rung, one effort at a time. If this is the wrong trail or a too-rickety ladder, I want to find that out.

But--and here's another observation--I need help in the process of seeking the truth. Sometimes it's really hard to see that one is shunning help and climbing the unsteady ladder alone. Hard for me, hard for Jack. For anyone. There's no sense, of course, in accepting help from an uncaring helper, from someone who chooses to remain stubbornly blind yet wishes to guide others. This was never the case for me with folks at Gutenberg/RF. And so I ask your help, and I hope for your consideration of the loving helpers I think I have discovered.

Next post, I will, really truly, begin my response to Jack's treatise.

Part 3 has arrived.

5/27/2016

important things: a response to Jack Crabtree's ideas


Introduction


What a joy it was for me recently to find a message by Dr. John (Jack) Crabtree detailing his underlying biblical beliefs. What a great opportunity to engage this friend of many years in a comparison of our two sets of views about God and the Bible, and perhaps one day to develop an open, continuing dialog.

What's so helpful about dialog? Like sitting down with a loved one to examine a home's finances, it can be hard to make space for and to get to. But the hope is that two or more people going over the messy details of budgeting, spread across the table for all to see, will bring to light several aspects of financial reality and dispel misunderstandings about the same between them. My hope is this can be true (seeing as I've seen it happen in the past) among friends in the household of belief about God.

In order to make clearer the reason I was glad to discover Jack's message, let me give you some background.

In 1999 I was attending a nondenominational evangelical church. One day someone from church handed me an article, Appeal for Radical Biblicism, by a man named Jack Crabtree from Gutenberg College. The paper dealt with Bible translation issues, but its main point was a challenge for Christians.

Jack was appealing to believers in God to become less reliant on their own assumptions about what the Bible says and to diligently seek to know what the Bible really says--what the original authors intended it to say.

I read and reread Jack's Appeal. I showed it to my husband, Tim, and to friends and family. I was amazed to have discovered a local academic author who made such statements as, "The radical biblicist is never fully content with the present level of his understanding. He is always keenly aware that his current beliefs may need correction." I wanted to follow this sort of thinking about the Bible.

Soon Tim and I switched churches. Our shared hunger for depth of study and a life involving the search for God's truth brought us to Reformation Fellowship, the faith community where Jack Crabtree taught alongside a few other tutors from Gutenberg. We began an eleven-year adventure in intellectual, academic inquiry that I treasure to this day.

I would still be studying with Jack and his associates, except that in early 2011 my life changed. Through my family's involvement with Gutenberg, I gained the insight that I needed to seriously consider the claims of a Christian group I knew very little about--the Orthodox. This recognition came as quite a shock. And yet it has led me on a serious, educational journey into Orthodox Christianity, the most amazing part of my faith adventure so far.


I'm not the only one who might say this. I know nine people besides myself who were involved to some degree with Reformation Fellowship/Gutenberg before taking a serious look at, and then joining, the Orthodox Church. Of these, four (including my daughter) are Gutenberg graduates, one is a current senior, one a current freshman, two more attended for at least a year, and the other is Tim.

Despite the interest of many students and friends of Gutenberg, I am unaware of any discussion, or even critique, of Orthodox Christian views within the broader community. Some of Jack Crabtree's articles, including a talk he gave to one of Gutenberg's graduating classes, seem to hint that he is disturbed by the Orthodox trend.

Since becoming Orthodox I have met twice with Jack, on friendly terms, to try and discuss what happened in my case. It's been difficult to express the changes in my understanding, not through any fault of Jack's, but because of my own faulty communication skills. The best I could do, last time we met, was to tell Jack I now think he has holes in his paradigm. This was my way of saying I think he, the radical biblicist par excellence, holds current beliefs that may need correction. At the same time, I recognize my own current, continuing need for correction in my understanding of the Bible and the faith which was given to mankind by Jesus. I'm not seeking to correct Jack, any more than he is or has ever sought to make me believe any certain way.

But I'm a believer in serious discussion and dialog among Christians, especially those who've shared numerous conversations over the years as part of their search for truth. I wish to examine Jack's 2014 paper, The Two Most Important Things I Have Learned, from the viewpoint of a radical biblicist, as well as from the understanding informed by my study of and immersion in Orthodox Christianity. In fact, I see no difference in the essence of these two viewpoints. Both are getting at the same thing: the process of coming to worship and know God in truth.

My task will take time and no doubt several (if not a whole lot of) blog posts, as I explore Jack's article start to finish. I invite any and all readers to respond to what I say. Especially if you are or have been from the Gutenberg College/Reformation Fellowship community, I welcome your questions, comments, and critiques.

Now available: Part 2.

4/10/2016

off highway 36



The waxing gibbous moon smiled in a dark California sky. Beneath it I journeyed quickly up a damp, tree-lined path to my "cell". This was a monastic apartment, one of four in a cabin honoring four apostles. Mine was named for John, who is remembered as an evangelist and theologian. I lay down on the cot provided by four dear women monastics for my weekend pilgrimage and snuggled in under many blankets (not living monastically at all, really, in this comfort, except for having more time to enter into prayer than I usually receive).

It was my final night of three at St. Xenia's Skete near Wildwood, off Highway 36. There'd been abundant variations of March clouds, downpours, wind, and sun (and there would be snow the next morning). Inside a crimson, forest church the prayers began early, the last ones ending past dusk. I'd been fed abundant portions of simple, healthy food. I had met beautiful hens, a mellow rooster, and a rescue dog of shepardish parentage named Noble. Noble likes to guide hiking pilgrims up a hill on the logging road, and he appreciates a carrot for a treat on the way home.




Three nights I'd lain on my cot in wonder. The moon peered in the window. Two women friends in their own apostolic cells breathed evenly at rest.

Partly I slept, partly I marveled. There was space here which was a sensation. With surprise I recognized it as one I first experienced last summer, the day of my surgery in the hospital in Oregon. That July Monday our priest, Fr. Daniel, came to my room before the orderlies arrived to take me. Fr. Daniel prayed the Orthodox prayers for a Monday (which address angels, those beings circling the throne of heaven ever hymning God), and he listened to my confession to God of my sins.

Now I was fully recovered from anesthesia and fluid drains, my stitches were long ago absorbed and my scar had faded to pink. I lay on a cot in moonlit March hours before Monday prayers, in my forest cell named for John the apostle, in joyous recognition. I recognized that same sensation from July, from, actually, during my surgery: one of extreme donation toward mankind, of identity yet of pure self-lessness, of love in amazing abundance. That's the closest I can come to description, and it doesn't scratch the surface.

Many people might explain this as my fantasy. How can I blame them? I am, most obviously, not an apostle, evangelist, or theologian. The longer I live the more uncool I become. A simple-eating rescue creature, one who meanders ahead, falls behind. I'm scared in the moonlight and grateful for shelter.



It is good that Thou hast humbled me. It is very good. In the instant of surprise, of recognition of heretofore unimagined beauty, a brush with kindness, the breath of angels.

4/01/2016

from an unsafe practice


I like to think of myself as kind and pleasant and safe to be around. Certainly sometimes I am, but also sometimes I'm not. Just ask my family.

A few weeks ago I blogged about Tim's and my friend who is staying in Victoria's old room. At the time I thought of myself as expressing something uncomfortable fairly pleasantly, but thinking back on it I've recognized I was criticizing this man we've known a long while.

He did act strangely at first, but after three weeks he suddenly came out of it and was his old self. Of course, if he'd been developing Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, improvement wouldn't have happened. We three have gone along now, with little ups and downs, pretty well. But nagging at the back of my mind has been my talking to people about my friend without his knowing. This wasn't kind or pleasant or safe. I was ignorant of how things would develop, but that really isn't an excuse. One recent morning I faced into my need to repent to God and apologize to our friend.

I told him I had talked to people and blogged about this stuff behind his back. He took my request for forgiveness very kindly. He mentioned that another friend had worried about his trouble speaking there for a while. He said he was ultra-focused at the time on several things. (I wouldn't be surprised, though he didn't say it, that he was somewhat anxious about coming to live in our Orthodox home. He may have worried Tim and I would try to coerce him to convert.)

This friend is a musician; he belongs to a symphonic band. Now that we're past this awkward phase in our household with him, I listen gratefully of an evening to scales and arpeggios escaping beneath the guest bedroom door. I'm grateful for his ability to focus and to forgive. I hope we'll dwell harmoniously, despite missed notes, a little while longer.


3/04/2016

there you were


I stopped in my tracks. You'd found an interesting landing.

Earlier we sparred (as in my imagination many birds and I do; taunting me along the river path, they dare my switching camera on, just so they can flip a tail and skedaddle). You passed above me, youthful wings outstretched, intent, it turned out, on napping.

I spotted you--the rest of my kind oblivious, but they hadn't seen your earlier searching, I suppose; they missed your invitation--you settled back. You tucked one leg out of sight. You yawned.

I didn't think I captured that. What fun, checking later, to see I did.

You're funny. Drainpipe neck; teardrop body; scissor bill. Yet I love every cascading feather. Did you know one of your forerunners--a female, I like to think--used to fly over my house (this was years and years ago), used to meet me on my jogs (when still I did such things), used to encourage me raising my children? Such an inspiration. A gift.

I pattered closer. You looked my direction and then continued posing. I sidled up to pause underneath the tall lamp. I don't have the greatest camera, so thanks for allowing better access.

The battery warning light flashed on my camera. Of course. The camera turned off, chiding me to replace the AAs. I'd forgotten to bring more along.

But I've learned you can turn the camera back on and it will have forgotten, for now, the warning it just proclaimed. I resumed our photo shoot, grateful.

You remained in nap mode, half asleep. I tiptoed beneath you, the rest of my walk awaiting. I turned back to find you silhouetted against our bright orb now visible. I drew near again.

You made a few pebbly statements. "Hello," I replied, using the same bright inflection I give my kitty, and also my grandson. Those innocents in this world who grant me access.

Thanks for your inspiration.


2/19/2016

proud


On a walk the other day I thought about why I like spring best. Spring comes slowly, from "nothing." From the brown, the gray and lifeless. It begins to peek through, to clarify the surroundings.

Not that there isn't beauty in empty, gnarled branches reaching skyward. Even without spring we're never left orphans.

Reality is interesting in its feast and famine aspects. Seasons aren't distributed in micro-balance, with a layer of winter, spring, summer, and fall for each day. Nope. We receive a time for this, a time for that. Now is the time when green begins to stir.


In other areas, those amid the world of humanity, now is a time in our land for posturing and speeches. We don't receive, politically-speaking, a daily balance of governance and changes in such. We get seasons. Some of us (probably most of us at different times) feel orphaned and almost never see beauty in these.

I can only imagine the courage needed to put oneself out there and run for office, seeking to serve our country's people. As with many other types of career, this one demands (so people say) a voice that is confident, fearless, proud. Let us have no peeking through the brambles in order to clarify.

I'm just not so sure being proud is the best way to serve the people.


Almost home the other day, I walked into a blustery moment. The wind grasped dead leaves that had clung all winter to trees along River Road, tossing them past my blowing hair and into swirls above. The rustle, the swish, the decaying leaf-scent, each of these spoke beauty. Even though they lacked a flash of color -- even while only the temperature hinted spring.