September 26th, 2013

by himself

Kitty update

The cats are both doing well these days. Despite her cancer, Hera is holding steady at five and a half pounds and has a good appetite. Sometimes, she even taunts Lightning, as if she wants to play. She takes her medicine without too much protest. She especially likes her daily cod liver oil softgel. Every day we have her is a gift.

Meanwhile, Lightning has become much more amenable to being handled. He still protests loudly at being picked up and he absolutely will not cuddle, but he wants to be petted and brushed a lot. He especially likes buttrubs. He will settle in next to my computer on the boxes stacked up elbow height (we're waiting for carpet to be installed, and I had to pack up my books). If he doesn't get enough attention, he will reach out and paw my arm, or jog my elbow with his head.

My two denarii worth

I read a lot of clergy's comments online that dismiss creedal statements generally and Nicene orthodoxy more specifically. They are proud to say that they believe in a different kind of God. Some think defining what kind of God we believe in is impossible or irrelevant. Others just think that what people thought important hundreds or thousands of years ago doesn’t matter, since they’re dead and we’re in charge now. I don’t suppose these folks are a majority of my colleagues, but they are surely noisy.

Among those who don’t make a lot of noise, some call themselves conservative or traditional or evangelical, but that doesn’t mean they’re teaching the orthodox faith. I know some of those guys (and gals). They didn’t see the point of all that Christology or didn’t pay much attention. They forgot it as soon as they learned it – or in the case of those who didn’t attend seminary, never learned it. So, they’re not pushing a different kind of God intentionally, they just assume that God is God and definitions don’t matter.

But you know, it matters what kind of a God you believe in. The gospel only makes sense as an initiative from the God we know through the Bible. And the creeds stake out important territory that was argued over intensely for several centuries. Is Christ really human? How you answer that affects what you offer as the Christian hope. Is Christ really God? Same thing. “Not by Conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God” is not only a statement about Christ, but about the mode in which we are saved, for God works according to his nature.

And, yeah, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot if the people in the pews don’t know all the technical formulae. We are saved by grace, after all, not by good theology. But if people are to know what grace to hope for, it’s important that their leaders know all the technical formulae, and teach a gospel consistent with them. I don’t spend a lot of time (outside of confirmation class) teaching the creedal statements, but I use the ancient creeds in worship, and what I believe about God informs everything I teach about “life, the universe, and everything” (to borrow a phrase).

So, for those of my colleagues who believe in a different kind of God, I respect your beliefs but remind you that you promised when you were ordained to teach this kind of God. If you can’t or won’t do that, then it would seem to me that integrity demands that you seek honest employment elsewhere. And for those of my colleagues who think that the job is about something else and who pooh-pooh theology, let me ask you this: why would anyone want to use a bridge designed by an engineer who thought math unimportant?

Hard words

We're doing the Gospel of Matthew in our Wednesday noon Bible study, and right now we're smack in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. For as long as I've been around religious folk, I've heard people -- both inside and outside the Church -- say that Jesus preached a simple gospel of peace and love typified by the Sermon on the Mount. "If we all just lived by the Sermon on the Mount," they say, "we'd be fine." According to them, this simple peacefest was later corrupted by the likes of St. Paul and others, who wanted to make something difficult and divisive and condemnatory out of it.

Well, that's a lovely idea, but the problem with it is, it's all backwards. All the most flaming threats of hell in the New Testament are said by Jesus, and the smokiest bons mots are in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul and John, in their different ways, tried to make Jesus's words something you could live your life by. Paul and John are always accounting for human frailty. Jesus didn't concede much to human frailty. He frankly admitted that his message was simply impossible to understand or to obey without supernatural assistance. The people rabbiting on about Hippie Jesus and the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount don't know either.

All this comes as a shock to those doing a serious Bible study on Matthew for the first time. The actual words of Jesus are met with disbelief, then by rules lawyering. Like the Scribes and Pharisees of old, modern Christians faced with the Sermon on the Mount try to twist the words around so that some way, somehow, they exonerate what they are already doing or feeling or wanting. But the thing about Jesus's teachings is that they drive you to face the impossibility of keeping the rules. The law is holy, but we can't keep it. There is no way to make a set of rules that you can stay on the right side of -- even if you just make them up yourself. And simply throwing the rules out isn't allowed.

We are sinners. More than that, we are sinners from the core of our being. We corrupt everything we touch. And until you face that situation, you are just playing with counters. That's the point of the Sermon on the Mount. That's what Jesus was driving at. Until you give up all hope of justification by staying on the right side of the rules, you are just a Pharisee. So long as you think you can modify or interpret the rules to fit what you are able or willing to obey, your are just a Scribe. And Jesus said, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."