Thursday, May 26, 2011

Parents for A Great Generation

Over the past couple of months, I have been listening to the Teaching Company's American Identity. It has been excellent. The professor giving lectures is from the UK (not University of KY-but Great Britain for my wildcat-centric friends), but currently teaches at Emory University. You can tell that he loves America and because of his background he has a unique perspective. In fact he often points out characteristics of America with Europe with the statement: "This is unique to America, they don't do this in Europe."

Each lecture is a short biography on an American that has been instrumental in the defining the nation. These are not the usual suspects but people that have shaped the character and course of this nation.

In listening, I have gained a new respect for the men and women at the end of the 19th century during post Civil war America. These are people that I have known little about but they truly are amazing individuals.

What is interesting about the people is that they share a very similar trait. They are all the children of abolitionists.

Why would that trait create a generation of Americans who would leave such a large impact of their country and world? I am convinced that the character of their parents made the difference.

  • Their parents uncompromisingly stood for high ideals that were often unpopular and dangerous, even in the North.

  • Because of these ideas and standards, the parents created a network of other like minded and influential people. Their children were exposed to these people who helped shape their character, provide role models, and later create opportunities for them.

  • These parents consistently proclaimed a hopeful vision of the future and what was possible to accomplish.

  • Their beliefs flowed out of intense faith in God and His image that He imparted to man.

As a parent, I want to give my children the best atmosphere for success in this life. What can I do to mimic this previous generation of American parents. Here’s my thoughts:

  • Stand for something! Make my children aware of these beliefs. Integrate them in our life and talk about them around the dinner table.

  • Deepen my faith in God and make my family a little church.

  • Develop relationships with adults that have vision and passion then expose these people to your children.

  • Create hope.

  • Do things that inspire them to dream and believe in the impossible.

Questions: What do you think? What are you doing to inspire your children and form them into the leaders of tomorrow? Please comment below.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Egyptian Christians - the next Darfur?

Since the early evangelism of the Apostles, Christianity has permeated Egypt. It was vibrant and produced many saints and great theologians that the Church continues to honor till this day.

The expansion of Islam in 641 brought subjection of the Christian population of Egypt, and it slowly became a minority as Islam began to dominate.

Miraculously Christians have maintained their faith in Egypt for the last 1300 years. Oppression has ebbed and flowed over the years, but recently the Christian minority is under greater attack.

Unfortunately this gets little coverage in Western media, which is sad. Americans did a good job bringing to attention the oppression of Tibet, Rwanda, and Darfur, but the plight of Christians in Egypt remain unnoticed.

A friend and fellow church member has done a great job trying to bring this issue to light. He is a Christian with Egyptian roots and has family that still maintains their faith in Egypt.

Please follow his blog for more information:

Pray for the Christians of Egypt.

How did the other issues of oppression become top of mind for the West? What can be done to get more press on this issue? Comment Below

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Give to Those Who Don't Deserve

This morning, the sermon at church was on the story about the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida. The sermon was excellent, but led a different direction than I expected. The focus was on the man healed, his response, and whether he deserved the healing. The man never offered thanks to Jesus, never concerned himself with Jesus' identity, and the account finishes with with him apparently accusing Jesus before the religious authorities.

How many times is it easy to question the need of those who ask for our charity and assistance? The conclusion is that none of us deserve the gifts of God, it is all mercy. So we should hold no judgment of those we call to help.

St. John Chrysostom's 21st homily on 1 Corinthians was quoted for support and it is excellent and convicting. The portions of the sermon that address this issue of giving and judging are found beginning in section 8 and continuing to the end. The full text of St. John's sermon can be found here:

Here are a couple excerpts:

And whereas Paul suffered hunger that he might not hinder the Gospel; we have not the heart even to touch what is in our own stores, though we see innumerable souls overthrown. “Yea” saith one, “let the moth eat, and let not the poor eat; let the worm devour, and let not the naked be clothed; let all be wasted away with time, and let not Christ be fed; and this when He hungereth.” “Why, who said this?” it will be asked. Nay, this is the very grievance, that not in words but in deeds these things are said: for it were less grievous uttered in words than done in deeds. For is not this the cry, day by day, of the inhuman and cruel tyrant, Covetousness, to
those who are led captive by her? “Let your goods be set before informers and robbers and traitors for luxury, and not before the hungry and needy for their sustenance.” Is it not ye then who make robbers? Is it not ye who minister fuel to the fire of the envious? Is it not ye who make vagabonds and traitors, putting your wealth before them for a bait? What madness is this? (for a madness it is, and plain distraction,) to fill your chests with apparel, and overlook him that is made after God’s image and similitude, naked and trembling with cold, and with difficulty keeping himself upright.

And the next reminds us to personally participate in charity rather than solely using the institution of the Church as a proxy for our almsgiving. The laity are to do the work of the ministry while the clergy are their to assist and equip.

But what is their constant talk? “He hath,” they say, “the common church-allowance.” And what is that to thee? For thou wilt not be saved because I give; nor if the Church bestow hast thou blotted out thine own sins. For this cause givest thou not, because the Church ought to give to the needy? Because the priests pray, wilt thou never pray thyself? And because others fast, wilt thou be continually drunken? Knowest thou not that God enacted not almsgiving so much for the sake of the poor as for the sake of the persons themselves who bestow?
The whole sermon reminded me of popular radio host, Dave Ramsey, and his consistent greeting whenever asked "How are you?". He always answers, "Better than I deserve!"

That's true for all of us. Perhaps gratitude gives birth to generosity?

Read St. John's sermon, and comment below.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Have you seen the commercials? If you have a TV and a watch sports then I am sure you have. These are the Dos Equis commercials for the "Most Interesting Man in the World." I must be in the demographic they are targeting, because every time I see one, I want to be this man.

Clips of him rescuing people, climbing mountains, and doing adventurous things are on every scene. The narrated statements are hilarious because they increase his mystique and degree of "interesting".

His tagline says it all: "Stay Thirsty My Friend."

Here's several quotes that are my favorites:
  • He lives vicariously through himself.
  • It is never too early to start beefing up your obituary
  • He never say’s anything taste like chicken… Not even chicken.
  • His mom has a tattoo that says, "Son".
  • Running in place will never get you the same results as running from a lion.
  • Find out what it is in life that you do not do well, and then don't do that thing.
Granted these are humorous, and tongue in cheek, but part of me can't help wanting to become like this man. There is even a ring of truth to some of these statements. I've joked with friends that this should be my life goal.

Is becoming interesting a worthy goal?

Maybe not, but the most interesting people I know and encoutnered in the pages of Scripture and history could qualify for this moniker.

What qualities make a person interesting?

1. They take risks

2. They do things other people won't do.

3. They live intentionally.

4. They are focused.

5. They are aggressive (mostly with themselves).

6. They struggle.

7. They love other people.

For me one of the great benefits of biography, history, and the lives of the saints is that I am introduced to great people, that are sources of inspiration and guidance.

These interesting people were like us but they refused to coast through life. Nothing was on auto-pilot and their intention and purpose captivated the rest of us.

Question: What can you do to keep from coasting through life? Who is the most interesting person you know and why?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Tabernacle

Of all the posts I have written for this blog, one of my most popular is the one on the Tabernacle. As a Christian, we read those OT accounts of liturgy and sacrifices and know that somehow they are fulfilled in Christ. That is what that post was designed to accomplish.

Since that time, whenever I stumble over a Church Father that addresses many of the passages I grab it and digest it to use later. Recently in teaching through Genesis and the life of Moses, I finally read St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses. If you have not read this, I promise you that it is accessible to the general audience and you don’t need an advance degree in religious jargon to understand.

Gregory like many of the Fathers of the Church read Scripture slightly different than we do today. Today we often read scientifically, meaning that we only look for the literal, historical meanings. We brush aside anything that seems to allegorically because we fear its lack of objectivity, and it seems too slippery to give us certain answers.

The Fathers read Scripture with the understanding that there are multiple layers of meaning such as images that lead us into the knowledge of Christ and His Church. Some passages present insights into the spiritual journey by images rather than didactic teaching like we might find in the Proverbs or Epistles. Even others use images to present a glimpse of the purpose and goal of all things.

What is more difficult for us is that often one passage can contain all such levels of interpretation. When Gregory looks the tabernacle for Christ, he calls this the view from above. When he looks to the tabernacle for instruction on our journey, he calls it the view from below.

Here are some things he sees “from above”

  • The pillars [that uphold the tabernacle and ark] are the heavenly powers which are contemplated in the tabernacle, and which support the universe in accord with the divine will. [These power] are sent to help those who will be heirs of salvation.

  • The Ark of the Covenant is the Face of God. By the face, he means the essence of the Godhead, which no man can see and must be covered and this is represented with the angelic wings protecting the seat of the ark.

  • The lampstand with seven lights are the rays of the Holy Spirit as seen in Isaiah.
  • The throne of mercy or seat of the ark is the place of Christ’s sacrifice (Rom. 3:25)

  • The altar of incense is the adoration eternallly given by the heavenly powers.

  • The skins dyed red are the Passion of Christ.

From Below:

  • The pillars are the support of the Church which are the apostles, prophets, teachers, etc.

  • The altar of incense is the Divine services of the Church whereby we enter into the perpetual adoration of the Godhead.

  • The laver is the baptismal font which provides the cleansing needed to be united to God.

  • The courts where the people are present are the unity and love of the believing community.

  • The skins dyed image is our own crucifixion which is the mortification of the flesh and the ascetic way of life.

He truly mines these passages for every possible aspect of the life of Faith. His words illuminate the Scripture, but it is a way of reading that assumes that reality is full of meaning. Our own stories contain images of Christ, perhaps not to the same degree as the revealed text, but Christ is present throughout.

Does Gregory’s approach confuse or help you? What kind of question would you ask a commentator like Gregory? How does it change how you view your own story?

Monday, May 02, 2011

What is America?

In a previous post, I discussed the need for us as Orthodox ministering in the U.S. to begin to understand what America is so that we might incarnate Orthodoxy in American clothes.

I need to clarify some things. I don't envision Uncle Sam presiding over the Divine Liturgy or jumbotrons with rotating icons. This is not about becoming politically American or adopting our Hollywood/entertainment culture. Our liturgy, doctrines, and lifestyle have stood the test of time and are trans-historical and trans-generational.

My intention is regarding ministry and how we take the gospel to the streets and neighborhoods of our countrymen.

So back to the question that I asked in the last post: What is America? What are the true, good, and beautiful characteristics of America that should be adopted as we take the gospel throughout our country? It is easy to pick on the sins and excesses of our country. By now, they should be obvious to all, but can we identify what we love and what is good?

Here's my list:

America is:

1. Entrepreneurial: The more I have thought about this, I believe this is our overriding characteristic. We are risk-takers, innovative, future-oriented, creative, and progressive. Because we are a country of immigrants, this naturally follows. Anyone, regardless of whether it was 1600, 1800, or the 2000’s, that is willing to leave something behind to make a better way has this characteristic. This is ingrained in who we are.

2. Individualistic: This can be negative, but let’s look at the positive portion of this. Individuals are radically responsible for their behavior and freedom. Individual achievement is celebrated. We tend to emphasize individual over community, but community is not ignored. De Tocqueville, in his Democracy in America, mentioned that America loves the individual but cooperates well.

3. Competitive: This flows out of our democratic ideals. If speech and religion are free and not enforced, then for ideas to be accepted they must win out in the marketplace. This makes everything competitive in America, even religion.

4. Generous: In spite of our materialism and wealth, in times of crisis and need we step up and are generous. This generosity is not just internal but can extend around the world.

5. Evangelistic: There is a belief that what we have is the best, and should be spread throughout the world, not in the sense of old-school colonialism, but by the acceptance of our ideals. We believe they are applicable to all and should be embraced by all. I am sure there is a correlation between this and #3 (I could not resist the picture below).

6. Transparent: Our ideal is that leadership, government, business, churches, etc. should be transparent. Bribery is not an accepted part of the system. There is no divine right of leadership that places anyone above the law.

7. Optimistic: Even in our deepest depressions, and conflicts optimism always bubbled up because we tend to believe that better days are always in front of us.

8. Orderly: We love organization, systems, and efficiencies. Didn't we invent the day-timer and time-management?

There you go. What do you think? Am I right? Does this change the way we reach out and do ministry? How?


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