Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Homily 26: The Author and the Ignorant (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Matt. 27:40b

The crowd revealed in their ranting a great ignorance about who the Son of God was and what He was meant to do. They were still looking for the all-conquering king, not the humble man of sorrows. The Messiah was still wrapped up in their conventional notions about power, yet they didn't know what true power really was. The power to break Sin was unfolding before their eyes, but they would not, could not see it.

Their ignorance is still our ignorance. We only think that we understand the Divine mind, the implications of the Atonement, the moving of the Holy Spirit. It is a well established fact (verified again and again throughout Scripture) that the precise spot where we think we understand it all is the precise spot where God seeks to confound us. Wherever we think that we have sight without God, He brings His horror and great darkness upon us. Immediately we think that He is being cruel, which reveals our ignorance even further, for in truth He is saving us from ourselves.

It has been said that human existence is a story "written by the finger of God." If that is true, and I believe that it is, then there is one thing that we must completely settle in our hearts and minds: God is the Author, and we are not. We do not decide how the story goes. We do not get to decide who the hero is or what their heroism will be. We are not privy to the plot, nor do we get to pick and choose our place in the tale. As God etches out our story in fiery ink on parchments of stone, we can either submit to His authorship or submit to our own ignorance and all of the confusion that it will bring.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mythic Eyes and the Mythic Life (as explained by both an orthodox rebel and an Original Orthodox Rebel)

I created a term years ago called "mythic eyes". A "myth" is a story that leads to some truth. If something is "mythic," then it either has this quality or the ability to spot this quality. "Mythic eyes" means being able to see the truths (the reality) behind the visible, physical world. Specifically in regard to Christianity, it is about seeing God in the midst of real life: His invisible attributes (Rom. 1:20) and His glory (Psalm 19). In short, it is a practical and consistent application of II Corinthians 4:18.

This idea did not come to me out of thin air. Obviously, it found its first anchor points in Scripture, but it was first elucidated through the writings of Oswald Chambers. The following is an excerpt from his book If You Will Be Perfect (pp. 223-24). Here he spells out the idea of "mythic eyes" in simple, straightforward terms.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

To be a son or daughter of God is to be free from the tyranny of the show of things. Adam preferred to take the show of things [instead of] the substance; that is, he preferred not to see that the "garment" was not the person. He refused to listen to the voice of the Creator behind the garment, and when the Creator moved quickly, all Adam could do was to hang on to the skirts of the garment, clutch at the show of things, and the human race has been doing it ever since. [...] The spiritual has been bartered because we preferred the natural.

The natural is only a manifestation of what is behind. If we walk in the light...as God is in the light, we see behind the show of things [to] God. We become the offspring of God by a regenerated internal birth, and when that regenerating principle inside takes its marvelous sway over the natural on the outside, the two are transformed into exactly what God intended them to be. That is the full meaning of the redemption, but in order to get there the natural must be sacrificed.

If I prefer to hug my Father's [outer garments], I must not be surprised at finding myself in darkness when He gives it a sudden pull; but if I let my Father take me up in His arms, then He can move His [garments] as He likes: "Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalm 46:2). I am no longer caught up in the show of things. The saints who are alive when Jesus comes will be "changed--in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (I Corinthians 15:51-52): all the show of things will be changed instantly, by the touch of God, into reality.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Homily 25: Unnecessary Divorces: The Errors of both Fundamentalism and the Emergent Church (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God." Matt.22:29

"On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matt. 22:40

Christianity, in coming from and leading to God, is the holistic religion. Everything finds its place within its framework and context. Why, then, do we continually find the need to break it up and apart? Why do we always tear asunder what God has joined together? Many errors crop up in the Church, but what is worse than the errors themselves is the hysteria they create that drives people to opposite yet equal errors. Thinking we've found the center, we've merely found another extreme. Such a circus can be see even to this day.

In the second half of Matthew 22, Jesus is questioned first by the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the Jewish skeptics, the post-modernists of their day. Post-modernism, of course, is nothing new. It is merely the old skepticism rehashed, recycled, repackaged, and regurgitated. The Sadducees were ancient pomos. If you don't believe it, then just look at the question that they posed to Jesus (Matt. 22:24-28). It is philosophically tangled. It is ironic. It is subversive. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and thus their question is deconstructive: it is trying to expose tensions in the resurrection narrative that will reveal it to be artificial. Jesus responds by throwing down a radical notion of his own (Matt. 22:30) that effectively subverts their subversion, and then He quotes the Pentateuch at them (Matt. 22:31-32), the only part of the Old Testament that they liked (similar to how modern day pomos like the gospels but not the rest of the New Testament).

Before Jesus answered the Sadducees, however, his initial response laid down His primary position, His starting place for the whole issue. He exalted both the principles of God ("the Scriptures") and the practices of God ("power of God"). He starts his response by asserting that He holds these two things together. There are many people today (both skeptical and credulous) who will not abide such a union. Some want the principles only, becoming scrupulous scholars and dogmatic doctrinaires. They have systematized the whole with impeccable perfection. God, however, is merely an abstract concept to them, as remote as the furthest star. Despite their tremendous elucidation, one wonders if they truly believe all of their humbug. Meanwhile, others want only the practices, to see angels and demons behind every bush, and fire fall from heaven everyday. They dismiss doctrine as mere shackles, and thus confuse every odd occurrence as having massive spiritual import. Despite their fiery credulousness, one wonders if they even know what they're talking about. The resulting spirituality of the former is a stifling deadness and petrification. The resulting spirituality of the latter is religious insanity and chaos. Both have divorced what Jesus never divorced.

The Pharisees catch wind of the unholy smackdown that Jesus laid upon the Sadducees, and they decide to throw their own hat into the ring. Of course, the Pharisees were the stuffy fundamentalists of their day, again a very old and very common occurrence. The stagnant conservative and the anarchistic progressive are as old as the hills. The Pharisees, being good solid fundamentalists, asked Jesus a very straightforward, simple, yet profoundly doctrinal question (Matt. 22:36). Jesus, in return, provided a very straightforward, simple, yet profoundly doctrinal response (Matt. 22:37-40). Per His usual tactic when dealing with the Pharisees, He attacks their brand of religionism by stating what they already know (vs. 37-38) but then tacking on what they have missed (vs. 39). The Pharisees had "loving God" down pat (or so they thought), but as Jesus pointed out many times before and after this incident, their love towards people was non-existent. Like the Sadducees, in answering their question He also rebuked them.

Also like the Sadducees, Jesus lays down in His answer a twin set of ideas that He holds together in tandem that the Pharisees wanted to separate. He summarized the entirety of their precious "Law and the Prophets" under two commands: love God and then love people. Again, there are many (both credulous and skeptical) who will not abide such a union. For some, the only true command is to love God, to develop the private spirituality of the devotional and the closet. Other people are merely distractions, having no real value in and of themselves other than being teaching tools to learn more about God. They become means to an individual end, no more and no less. Meanwhile, for others, the only true command is to love people, to develop the public spirituality of missional friendship. "Quiet Time" and other devotional trappings are merely stumblingblocks to religious work and activity in the community. Even church becomes a distraction, having no real value in and of itself other than being a convention center to gather more people. The resulting spirituality of the former is an isolated occultism that grows weary of others. The resulting spirituality of the latter is an endless guilt-induced sense of doing that also grows weary of others. Again, they have divorced what Jesus never divorced.

All of these silly, unnecessary divorces that we see back then and still today are fundamentally anti-incarnational. In some way or another, they deny "the Word made flesh". For some, "the Word" in its uncreated exaltation is everything: doctrinal discovery followed by a spiritual introspection that never learns to work itself out "through the fingertips." For others, "the flesh" in its rugged reality is everything: continual immersion and outward activity that has no greater foundation than our own emotional sentimentalism. Both ways are incomplete, and thus are wrong. Both ways have partial truth, and thus are dangerous. Each can bash the others weakness from their own strong point. The former can bash the latter for their "worldliness" and scriptural compromise, while the latter can bash the former for their "insensitivity" and lack of concern for the Kingdom of God. Both positions are right in pointing out the others error. In other words, both positions are right, thus both positions are wrong.

Those who claim to be Christians and those who claim to be "Christ-followers" or "emerging" (or whatever) both need to reexamine what their Master taught. It is not a choice between God's principles or God's practices, not love God or love people, neither is it half and half. The true "Christ-like" life knows the principles of God and thus believes in the practices of God. The true "Christ-like" life passionately and unapologetically loves God and thus passionately and unapologetically loves people. There is no severance or neglect. Both sides of the coin are intimately connected and burning at full capacity. It is the true incarnational life, "the Word" made "flesh". May we from henceforth strive to cease from divorcing the two.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Gloriously Wasteful" (stanzas for artists by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following stanzas are taken from the March 2nd to 5th entries (pp. 30-31) in George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul.

"Gloriously wasteful, O my Lord, art thou!
Sunset faints after sunset into the night,
Splendorously dying from thy window sill--
Forever. Sad our poverty doth bow
Before the riches of thy making might:
Sweep from thy space thy systems at thy will--
In thee the sun sets every sunset still.

And in the perfect time, O perfect God,
When we are in our home, our natal home,
When joy shall carry every sacred load,
And from its life and peace no heart shall roam,
What if thou make us able to make like thee--
To light with moons, to clothe with greenery,
To hang gold sunsets o'er a rose and purple sea!

Then to his neighbor one may call out, "Come,
Brother, come hither--I would show you a thing";
And lo, a vision of his imagining,
Informed of thought which else had rested dumb,
Before the neighbor's truth-delighted eyes,
In the great ether of existence rise,
And two hearts each to each the closer cling!

We make, but thou art the creating core.
Whatever thing I dream, invent, or feel,
Thou art the heart of it, the atmosphere.
Thou art inside all love man ever bore;
Yea, the love itself, whatever thing be dear.
Man calls his dog, he follows at his heel,
Because thou first art love, self-caused, essential, mere."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homily 24: Wind and Chaff (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Jesus said to him, 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'" Matt. 19:21

If we miss the last part of this statement, then we miss the whole statement. Jesus was not offering a sociopolitical commentary about poverty, nor was he delivering some monastic creed and command regarding asceticism. He is merely making a practical application of what he told his disciples back in chapter 16: "deny [your]self...and come follow me" (vs. 24). The rich young ruler's "self" was centered on his possessions, thus making them a potential (and in the end, an actual) barrier to devotion to Jesus. Helping the poor does not make you "perfect" anymore than being wealthy does. Following Jesus it what makes you "perfect," because Jesus is the whole point of our lives. We deny everything so that we may "follow" Him, i.e., place Him first and foremost in our lives. If we do not follow Jesus first, then all that we do for the poor (or anyone else), no matter how noble, will be in vain.

Jesus always demands that we "deny" our "self". What we need to learn from the rich young ruler is that our "self" can take on many forms. For him, his "self" was wrapped up in his possessions. For the Pharisees, their "self" was wrapped up in their religion. For the disciples, their "self" was wrapped up in their notions about  the Messiah and what it meant to even be His disciple, which included notions about being charitable to the poor! People can be equally enslaved to their affluence and their religious sensibilities. Remember the woman at Bethany (Matt. 26:6-13). The disciples rebuked her for her apparent lack of concern for the "poor" (vs. 8-9). Jesus, in return, rebukes them: "You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me" (vs. 11). The woman's priorities were correct, and that is the point. There is only one needful thing, and that is Jesus. All our work and "stuff" is so much wind and chaff without Him.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011