70 years since Auschwitz

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camp. In 70 years Europe has learned… little. Extreme right wing party’s gains support all over Europe. Their language have slightly changed with a more ‘mellow’ tone to it but the underlying goal remains the same namely that of nationalism. “-This is our country.” The same rhetoric is used. ‘The recent misfortunes of (insert European country) is strongly connected to the high presence of (insert minority group) coming here. Someone else is blamed for misfortunes so that the majority does not have to take responsibility for their own actions that led them to this misfortune in the first place.

We honor the victims of the Nazi death and work camps best by making sure they do not get built again. And we would do well to remember that they did not just ‘appear’ out of thin air. The camps got build upon the idea, a seed that humans are only worth as much as they can contribute to the ‘perfect society.’ The Jews where only allowed to live if they could work. The ones that got murdered were murdered after they had been picked clean from anything that could contribute to Hitler’s Aryan society. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ was the creed in Hitler’s 3rd Reich.  If you did not contribute, you were disposable. If you did not look or behave or think like the majority, you where murdered.  There are plenty of seeds like this in present Europe.

Much of the general public still believe the same lies even though it does not have the same extreme expression as in Nazi Germany. If we work we will have freedom. That somehow our actions, what we do and what we earn will buy us out of our funk. I’m not saying that what we do does not matter, that works does not have a place. I’m just saying that the ultimate liberation of the human person can’t be based upon something that lies within her control. Listening to some of the testimonies from inside the camps you realize that some of the Jews there found freedom albeit not because they worked until they were spent. No, they found freedom, it seems when they where able to forgive their captors and tormentors.  When they surrendered control.

Racism or anti Semitism is so dangerous because it robs the human person of her intrinsic value. A prejudice verdict is made within a courtroom of fear before the accused may testify. A human person is worth to defend just because she is just that, a person. She can’t contribute everything but she can contribute something, herself. It is in seeing that a person has value because who she is, not what she does that we can somehow try to start to forgive our oppressors. Our worth is not based upon what we do but we will become more and more like what we do.

You would think that Europe had learned from the past, that we would remember our history to the extent of not having to repeat the same crimes against the Jews, or other minority groups. But Jews in Europe feel scared to show they are Jews. Mosques in Sweden are being vandalized. The party Jobbik in Hungary is denying the Holocaust; they also recently motioned a bill that would register Jews in government because they say that Jews are a threat to national security. Stand up comedians in France are making light of the plight of the Jews and speaks very derogatively about minorities. Why, because we forget the past. We believe that our worth is determined by what we do. We fear the things we do not know. And we think about ourselves as more important than others.

Christ is a Jew. Christ teaches something different. He teaches us to honor our heritage. He says that we are always loved independently of what we do or how we perform. He loves us for who we are. We do not have to fear the unknown because He is always with us. He also says that we should love our enemies.

I pray that we would heed His voice.

In Christ

fr. Jakob

Where is the Church?

Based upon my own subjective experience of growing up within the evangelical orthodox Church I have been always attracted to the question: Where is the Church? This question is one of the most politicized questions throughout Church history and efforts to answer it have been made many times. One of the most common answers is found within the doctrine of apostolic succession. Where the Church is, is guaranteed by the proven lineage of ordained bishops all the way back to the apostles. Where this lineage can be traced, there is the Church. Given that we can’t trace the physical line in the Evangelical Orthodox Church (the laying on of hands in ordination) I would suspect that I am not very objective in the following text (even though I will try).

I believe in the lineage myself. I believe that it can manifest in the physical what is a reality in the spiritual. I believe that the Church is found where this lineage is found (despite bad popes and bishops throughout history) because I believe that the Holy Spirit is bigger than human frailty. Where I differ from the canonical teaching concerning this is that I don’t believe that the Church is limited to this definition. The spiritual takes precedence over the physical. As I said before, I believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is greater than our definition of that work. Who are we to limit the work of God throughout the ages? Who are we to limit His very body the Church, into a lineage of bishops? After all I think we all agree that the Church is the Body of Christ. It is interesting, almost perplexing that the canonical Church has such rigid defined lines when it comes to Church and at the same gives so much room (and rightfully so) to the things of God we can not know. It is also perplexing that an entity, in this case the Church, can know so many things pertaining to the objective attributes of Herself (where She finds herself, what Her borders are) when Her experience is subjective. She is testifying about Herself when She says the She decides where She can be found and where She can’t be found. Maybe more to the point, how concerned and involved She is with these questions rather than just being the body (and not the head…) Now it seems that I’m contradicting myself because I am involving myself with these questions but I’m not because according to canonical law, I am not part of the Church, I am outside of it and therefor it is easier to look objectively (wouldn’t you agree? 😉 and also, in that case I should be very concerned with these questions because my salvation just might be on the line.

Often I find myself starting my thought process about God just with that, what I think about God. This is not all ‘bad’ after all, He created my mind and thirst for knowledge. But if we aim for the posture of humility, which is the posture that Christ have, then it has to start with us listening to what the Spirit ‘thinks’ about us. The revelation of God needs to be revealed to us by the same Spirit that ascended on Christ. It is not the Church herself that may make the final decision about where She is found, it would not be fitting because it is her Head that decides that by the Holy Spirit. We really need not be concerned with that. It is the Spirit Who defines and sets the boarders of where He moves and Who He uses. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the Church. It begins with God, not with us. “Out of nothing”, right? Jesus said that He could ‘make sons of Abraham out of these stones’ if He wanted to. Throughout Scriptures we have a range of examples in prophets (Nathan), judges (Samson), outcasts (Josef) and anomalies (David was not the oldest of his brothers, Paul was not given the ‘right hand of fellowship’ until after he already functioned as an apostle) who did not fulfill the legal requirements for proper succession but who God used for His purposes anyway. God, through the Holy Spirit maintains the succession despite fallen man so why can’t the Holy Spirit raise up a plant in a barren wasteland if He so chooses? Why do the plant need to fulfill the legal requirements to be named a plant if it shows all the attributes of a plant? God just might have roots of succession that we just not can’t see yet? I believe that the lineage has become a stumbling block for many in terms of recognizing Christ redemptive work in others. If the only problem the canonical Church has with other communions is that they can’t trace their physical line of succession, then maybe that communion is not the problem? Then maybe the Law is not functioning in the way it should?  Could it be that God reveals Himself when we try to see Christ in the other rather than dismissing them before we get to know them because they do not fulfill our limited definition of what the Church is? When we make ourselves the legislator of hidden mysteries then we are boarding on becoming like the Pharisees.

As I said before I don’t think that the lineage of bishops, confirmed by the Holy Spirit is something to dismiss. The Church is found there. We see great emphases on the traceability of Mary’s and Josef’s blood lines. We see it in the diligence of keeping records over who reigned where and for how long. In many regards one can compare apostolic succession to a bloodline of kings inheriting the throne in a royal succession. But the royalty is just one aspect of a thriving kingdom is it not? And the king must rule with love and justice, inviting lost and broken peoples to his land? Even the uneducated, the peasant, knows this, by heart. If this is not the case well then the king and his family maybe a royalty on paper but everyone knows that they are not royal for real.

I believe that the Spirit moves where He wants to and that He is recognized by His fruits. He can’t be contained by our definitions and legislation, praise be to God! If we limit the inheritance of Christ and His Kingdom to a lineage then we tell people that they must believe in our definition of the kingdom before they can hope to belong to it and that makes for a shrinking, nominal Church. It hinders humility towards the mysterious side of the Church which transcends our definitions of her. I think Christ wanted people to belong so that they might believe so that the Church may grow. The bloodline intact, apostolic succession, is one fruit of the Holy Spirit because only He can maintain a lineage that has been so stained by humans missing the mark. It is not the only fruit, other fruits are love (towards other communions and people), joy (in others celebrations), humility (listening to others), patience (with others lack of understanding for Gods mysteries) amongst others. To finish this post I have a short story to tell:

The Prince: Oh, I’m so hungry I wish I could find something to eat.

The peasant boy: Well, I can show you where to find some food.

The Prince: Are you talking to me? You don’t even understand what I’m saying.

The peasant boy: Yes, I do. I understood that you were hungry.

The Prince: Even if you did understand me I cannot talk to you. You are a peasant.

The peasant boy: Yes I am. It must be boring not to be able to talk to anybody. Even though you are talking to me right now if you haven’t noticed.

The Prince: Oh, well. I can talk with other nobles and my parents of course. And I’m not really talking to you. I’m more talking to myself.

The peasant boy: Well, if you are still hungry there is a farmer over there that sells the most wonderful loaves of bread.

The Prince: I cannot really get over there because I have to guard the treasure I carry.

The peasant boy: May I see the treasure? Maybe I can help you in some way?

The Prince: You may not, it is not for sharing or viewing. It is for the betterment of the Kingdom. Anyway I need to go now. So the Prince left hungry while the peasant boy tried to figure out why the Prince did not ask him to guard the treasure for a bit so that he could go and buy some bread.

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

The breath of God

Have you ever held your breath for more than a minute? Have you ever been under water without the immediate possibility of finding the surface? If you have, you have probably noticed a tightened chest and a mysterious kind of pain filling your lungs. Facts are, and forgive me for stating the obvious, we need our breath to live and we need the proper context to be able to breathe. We can’t breathe under water. ‘Pneuma’ is used in the New Testament. It can mean air, breath, soul or spirit  when translated to English. Western scholastic thought have done it’s best to separate the very physiological sense of the word ‘Pneuma’. Enduring Gnostic thought has done its best to pull the spiritual from the physical but as I will describe below this is far from the truth when talking about the ‘Pneuma’ of God, Our physical being need ‘Pneuma’ to live.

Breath is automatic when circumstances are right. Our bodies breathe without us consciously deciding it should do so, when we sleep, while doing other things. While not doing it, our whole being lets us know that we need to. It is one of the physical fundaments our life depends on. Breath is to invite something in, to invite life in. It is also letting go of something, to let go of life. We breathe in and then we breathe out. Both are life-giving motions. If you have eyes to see you see this pattern in all kinds of circumstance. We see it in Church life where we need to be present with God, to worship as community in love in His Sanctuary, to breathe in His presence, to worship at His throne because that is life. Once we have His life in us (His breath, the Holy Spirit), when we know who we are and that we a re loved, we are able to breathe out this life and love into the world. We go out and we become instruments, branches, members that can do what the Son is doing because the same Spirit resides in us. Church life has the same dynamic as breathing. It is not supposed to be forced. It is not even supposed to be chosen (as most people since the ‘Enlightment’ understand ‘choice’ read more on this here: http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/01/15/obedience-and-the-modern-world/), it just is. It is a state of being, we do not  choose to breathe. We may choose not to but that does not last very long or feel natural. We see this pattern in marriage as well. Sometimes you have to retreat as a couple and be with each other, to re-connect in a busy life, to be able to rest with the other. Once we have this stability, from this place of restoration, we are able to breathe out and serve both children, at work and in other circumstance. This pattern surface amongst the prophets in Church history as well, they withdraw, retract into the desert/chamber to be with God, to breathe Him in to later be able to ‘breathe out‘ the message God in public. What has been formed in the unseen is revealed to the world. We see it in study; we take knowledge in so that we later can utilize it in the physical. We see it in writing where every book requires an internal process of the author, accumulating thoughts and information so that he or she can articulate ideas and stories on paper. You probably get the idea, this pattern is everywhere. The trick is not to become stagnant in one or the other of those positions because Breath by its very nature is movement, the opposite of stagnation. By nature it is Life.

When the early Church talks about the Spirit of God, it is this very physiological sense it refers to. The Spirit is understood as the very Power (Dynamis) of life. The Spirit is not something aloof or far away, the Spirit is the very Sustainer of life. The strong wind at Pentecost is the same wind that made man a living being. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters in the creation of the world and is still hovering over the waters of baptism. We are once again invited to access the right context for our breath, to come out of the water. We are invited into the body of Christ once more, where our lungs can breathe the air of Love.

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

From prostitution to prostration

Though I usually do not enter the political sphere of things here in Canada or elsewhere there is a legislative change down the pipeline that I just can’t avoid to mention. It matters too much. There are to many lives at stake. The case I refer to (Bedford vs. Canada) has made the Supreme Court of Canada ask the Federal government to come up with a suggestion for new legislation concerning prostitution, the world oldest form of oppression, because they ruled the current law around prostitution (operating a bawdy house, living of the avails, communicating for the purpose of prostitution) unconstitutional. While the federal government does this, the current laws are in effect.

In the world of advocacy there are two sides crystalizing, and mobilizing, one side concerned with human dignity (I’m not intending to be objective here) are advocating for the criminalization of the buying of sexual services and the decriminalization of the selling of sexual services, called the ‘Nordic Model’. The other side advocates for the legalization of prostitution. I realize that the ‘Nordic Model’ has its flaws but it is just so much more respectful towards the human person than the alternative.

We are talking about a greater problem here. All investigations and stats show that where prostitution is legalized human trafficking goes up. It is an invitation to the oppressor to oppress without consequence. Pornography, prostitution and human trafficking are intrinsically connected. 95% of woman that are prostituted/in prostitution does not want to be. Human beings are being trafficked because there is a demand to buy sex (Super Bowl). Porn producers make porn movies because there is a demand for it and they make money of it. This demand will increase if the law opens the door to such behavior. The advocates of the legalization say that every woman should have a right to decide over their body and this is what I’m saying as well, but I mean something different. A great majority of prostituted woman in Canada are just that, prostituted. They are not prostitutes. They did not choose to live this life. They where tricked, coerced, trafficked, sold, forced, manipulated or had to enter it because there was no other way to provide food for their kids or money for their addiction (very often created by the pimp). But choosing because they wanted it, out of free will and a desire, common, not very many women do that, and we know that. The few women that want this life style has become the excuse some advocates use to hide the abuse. A woman should have the right to decide over her body, that is, she should have the right not to have to sell it. If we view it from a strict legal point of view there are just more woman that would enjoy the right to decide over her own body if it was a crime to buy sex. There are plenty more victims of prostitution then there are woman choosing it out of their own desire to make money on selling their bodies. The possibility of jail time/exposure/public service would make the johns think not only two times but even three or four. And if they do, they have a greater chance of starting to deal with their pornographic addiction before it goes further (“Some men viewing pornography keeps it at that, but all men buying sexual services has viewed pornography.” – Quote from director of a John school). If demand were down it would be harder for pimps and traffickers to sell living beings, mostly woman and children. Even though the Nordic Model is the, so far, best legislation in terms of protecting woman from having to sell their bodies it’s not the fundamental answer. The answer lies within the only true battlefield there is, namely the heart and in particular, the hearts of men.

Our bodies are theology as Pope John Paul said. God can reveal Himself to us through the body. We are created in His image and so we have divine attributes and eternal longings. As Christians we know this. But in the pews of North American churches there sits 50% men addicted to pornography (www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats). There is a big disconnect in knowing that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit in our mind and our bodies behaving like we know this. The problem is not solved by legislation because legislation can’t cut demand down to zero. Legislation, the Law, can only shed light on the problem. Bring the dirt out into the open. It can’t erase the problem. It can’t transform the dirt into flowers, only Resurrection can. It is only Christ resurrection that can make whole the gaps between the heart, the soul, the mind and the body so that we may love truly.

So I advocate the ‘Nordic Model’ as new legislation in Canada because it shines more light than a ‘legalization’ of prostitution. It cares more about the dignity of the body. It says that a human body is not for buying. Personally and many with me believe the body is not for selling either, but one step at a time, we need to take care of the woman, children and men trapped in the prison of prostitution before we criminalize the selling. The body is not made for transactions at all; it’s made for transformation. Transformation into His likeness. Ultimately the body is not a ‘right’ at all, it is a gift and if we keep that in mind then maybe, just maybe, the attitude in our hearts would start to change.

Prostitution is not the world oldest profession; it is the world’s oldest oppression. It oppresses the ones caught in its claws because it makes the body into an idol rather than a temple. It makes the body stand before anything else and this is also what the word means. (Pro – before + statuo – erect, to stand) It would be impossible to worship the body if we truly acknowledge that it is created out of love from God and as a gift from Him to us. If we incarnated that knowledge by asking Christ to heal us, demand would be zero. For this I pray, for this I prostrate myself.

In Christ

fr. Jakob

For all the men and women out there struggling with this idolatry/addiction of the body I want to give you the following advice. Pray for a renewed revelation concerning purity. Reveal your struggle to your spiritual guide/confessor/trusted friend/counselor. Acknowledge your addiction in a safe environment, seek the local church out. Let the Light in because It’s already morning.

More on the subject and links to take action:

www.defenddignity.ca                                  http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JimHillyer

www.covenanteyes.com                               http://www.facebook.com/groups/SaskatoonACTS/279558682145566/

www.joysmith.ca/news.asp?newsID=761

The modern desert

After some prayer and thinking I decided to expound on one of my comments that I made on www.glory2godforallthings.com/2014/01/03/the-difficulties-of-paradise/ . I said that in many ways the congregation of a cathedral/church in the city reflects the community of a monastery/convent in the desert. Unfortunately (I think) this comment was misinterpreted. I do not believe they are the same but belong to the same body, hence they do not contradict each other but complements each other. They also share some aspects. Anyway, I offer the following reflection that came to mind after reading the ensuing discussion.

The other day I went to a gathering of worship here in Saskatoon. The gathering gathers people from about 35 different churches. It’s called Saskatoon Worship Community.  This worship night would probably be labeled as ‘contemporary evangelical’ in style by most people. I attend the monthly worship nights because I have made a point of trying to get to know people in different church traditions here in Saskatoon. I attend because I believe it is important to establish relationships with people you do not fully agree with. This may seem strange but when it comes down to it we do not agree fully with anyone. We cannot even agree within our own self. So I believe it is necessary to practice. I believe that Love calls us to practice.

I say worship because during the evening I both observed and felt a deep desire among the attendees to praise God for Who He is, not what we want Him to be (which is very common, at least within my heart I confess). There is a longing to know Him deeper. Even though the style of music and prayer reminds me more of a secular concert, of secular entertainment, I see the hours of work involved so that more people may be touched by the gospel of Christ. I see young people stretching out in faith wanting Gods revelation.  It is adolescent, it is theologically questionable, it is even kind of ‘messy’, it is loud, it is not how I would shape a liturgy (for it is liturgy) to introduce the good news to a non-believer, but it is honest (as far as I can tell). Maybe I am the one with the longest road to go because I reflect on what is not proper theology? I ponder the proper expression of worship while I see about 500 20 something’s there, attending a worship service rather than posting ‘selfies’, buying legal marijuana in Colorado or getting wasted on some party. Maybe (probably) I have something to learn?

If there ever has been a great ‘desert’ in North American Christianity it is the ‘desert’ of entertainment culture that has been sneaking into every corner of our existence, from our bedrooms to our places of worship. This desert encourages pretense and hinders us to see what’s real. In many ways the movement called ‘evangelicalism’ that spread like wildfire some 100 years ago in North America, changing the culture, (for the better I would humbly suggest) is at this point very much the victim of that very culture it tried to shape (and this is not the first time in Church history this has hapened..).  It is being held captive to political agendas and it is not only that we have screens everywhere. We also have the binge watching of those screens. It is not only that we have capitalistic brands, we, as persons are being encouraged to become a brand in our ‘own right’. To market ourselves. To sell ourselves to the highest bidder (usually a ‘great career’.) The instant access to eternal self-indulging is here. Narcissism is on the verge of becoming our biggest religion, at least if we use the parameter; ‘What activity do I engage in the most.’

I say secular entertainment is a ‘desert’ because it is very hard to find true nutrition and water in such a landscape, there are mirages everywhere. It is easy to find fast food. It is easy to find a church building. It is easy to become online ‘friends’ with somebody. It is relatively easy to learn the songs, hire a ‘great’ worship team, and start a ‘project in Africa’. But it is hard to find a real spiritual guide/confessor, it is hard to truly nurture a covenant friendship. It is hard to remain present in your congregation when you may disagree with your priest or pastor. It is hard to establish solid , longlasting relationships with people in other cultures near and far. Yet, it is the hard things that will sustain us through the desert. It is the ‘slow food’ of love (proper) that will make us able to worship for eternity. This love goes both ways. It needs to be received at the Lords table but also distributed to the world by the Church, His body, broken for you.

I don’t believe that any individual, congregation or denomination is exempt from such a desert. (Orthodox, Catholic or Evangelical) We all have to enter it. This is to face reality. But what’s particularly dangerous with the secular entertainment ‘desert’ is that it claims that it is not a desert. It claims that it is paradise. But as I experienced last Saturday, Christ has entered this ‘desert’ as well, and if I come with a broken heart, a true desire to know Him, He reveals Himself.

So even though I do believe that the modern  ‘evangelical’ church in many ways has lost touch with her roots in terms of what worship is (not an activity or a feeling, but a state of being), she still in her thirst for feeling something in the desert might just lift a stone that reveals the source of life giving water. I believe that I can be a lot ‘better’ in making it easier for people to see what stones to lift and reveal the treasures in the desert that so many are looking for. For what does it say about me as a true person if I have a treasure, food and water and is not willing to share it with someone who is both poor, hungry and thirsty. And what does it say about me as a person if I think that I am not those very things?

In Christ,

fr. Jakob