The return of the transformers

The Evangelical Orthodox Church realized very early that there is a tension, an energy, between the things that change and the things that do not. It realized early that, for the Christian testimony to remain the same; it must change. The saying of fr. Alexander Schmemann “the Church must change to remain the same” is in a way our core “slogan”. It is not our slogan because it sounds good and kind of paradoxical, even though that is true. It is our “slogan” because Jesus Himself is the Metamorphosis Symbol of what this paradox entail.

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Monarch Butterfly emerging from it’s chrysalis

It does not mean that we change into something else. It does not mean that we become static and jaded. It entails that Jesus, in His resurrection, transformed us with Himself into the person we were intended to be. The change that happens to us is a restoration, a return to our “unchanged” origin before the fall as it were. Death does not have the final word but has become a doorway into life eternal. We change (i.e die) to resurrect into  who we are supposed to be. As a part of His body we are apart of His resurrection in the most real possible way, every day. The resurrection is evidence of the continuous  transformation and restoration of the whole world, the metamorphosis that is taking place everywhere. The transformation within our heart.

Life abundant is now the default mode rather then just “getting by” until we die. Life is possible once more. And life is found where there is energy. Energy is found where there is tension. Tension is found where there is proximity. And proximity is found where there is covenant. So let us be true to both our name, Holy Covenant Evangelical Orthodox Church and our borrowed “slogan”, they are both expressions that re-minds us of the transformation, the metamorphosis that is taking place in our lives right now because of Christ’s resurrection.

 

Christ is risen from the dead. Trampling down death by death and on those in the tomb bestowing life!

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Saving Face

In the light of the golden gate that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday we can identify the shadows that are present as well. The beginning of Holy week is a microcosm of the whole lenten journey. It is a bright sadness. The ones who have journeyed through lent in honesty can now see the end of the journey. But the vision we end up seeing might not be what we expected when we set out some 7 weeks ago. Tears tend to clarify the vision. For some reason the destination we are heading towards looks like a cross, a death rather than the jubilant celebration of overcoming sin and darkness. Much like the disciples we might have expected a conquering of the forces that is oppressing us. We thought that clinging to Jesus, following Him as His disciples would eventually lead to the physical enforcement of true justice. That we could skip the cross section of our walk by trying to obey the law.

Head in Hands

To be fair, Jesus entering into Jerusalem is the beginning of the culmination of a very physical enforcement of true justice, but not like we expected. Not like we anticipated it to look. It is physical in a different way.

It is the physicality of it all that presents us with the reality of the depth of our depravity. We thought that He came to throw the Romans out. Instead He is thrown to the ground. We thought that He would ban capital punishment and torture. Instead He is unjustly tried, tortured and killed. We thought that He would bring the biggest army ever seen to enforce justice, instead He walks the way of pain alone. We thought that He would whip evil out of the world. Instead He is whipped. We thought that He would stop the shedding of blood by one final battle, instead His blood colours the ground red. What is going on here?

The physicality of it all becomes a testimony against us. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that my sin and my shortcomings are just thoughts, that they are “spiritual” only. That my sin is somehow separated from any physical reality. Jesus suffering and pain forces me to face myself and the reality of my sin. I am part of the mob shouting to have Him killed every time I close my heart to the suffering and lonely. The least of these are still dying.

It might begin as a thought but if left to grow, that sinful thought will eventually manifest itself in physical reality. Either by doing what is wrong in the light of truth or by ignoring to do what is right in the light of truth. Christ receives blows from my hand every time I sin. The least of these are still crying.

Jesus road to the cross this week forces us to face the reality about ourselves and if we are being truthful, that reality might not look that great. In our efforts to manage the parts of our lives that we try to hide we forgot that nothing can be hidden from His sight. How is that possible? How can Jesus possibly know our innermost struggles and secrets? How can He know our shame? Because He is the victim of it. He physically carried it. His suffering brings light into the darkness because His body is bruised for our transgressions. Through His body reality is revealed.

When He faces the forces of darkness and sin He is facing the things that I have been trying to hide away, keep under lock and key. The things we have done in trying to avoid shame and saving face.

Jesus taking the humble path as a servant is truly astounding because in doing so He lets us know that He is not after shaming us. He is not after to “get us”. He is not enforcing justice from “above” in a way that we have to be afraid of. No, Jesus comes from below to carry the shame we could not carry. He meets our heart in the secret place when that is what we need. All we have to be is honest so that we may encounter our true self and the reality of our situation.

Instead of trying to save face we have to encounter our true face because when we do we will encounter the Face that saves.

Food issues

As a former chef and culinary adventurer I often draw inspiration from the world of food to explain theological points. It turns out that I’m in good company doing so. Jesus Himself used everyday food and drink to reveal the theological point, namely Himself.

There are many theological points out there. History have a way to accumulate them as she walks down the path of eternity. In a way there are as many theological points, belief systems and interpretations of faith as there are people. It would be somewhat obnoxious to think that everyone that has ever lived will eventually recognize one universal truth about reality, yet this is what Scripture gives witness to in several places. (Rom 14:11, Eph 1:10, Phil 2:9 – 11, Rev 5:13)

As generations affected by scholasticism, as children of reason, critical thinking and opinion we have succumbed to the idea that it is the idea/opinion/interpretation about a particular topic or thing that must take precedence in terms of understanding it. In the West we have come to view knowledge as information only. For instance, if two or three (or more) people agrees upon the idea about a particular topic it is that agreement that forms the basis for their activity together.

Unknown

If we disagree about the idea then we no longer can have true fellowship since the fellowship were based upon information and interpreting the rules regarding this information in the same way.

So how will we arrive at a universal recognition of reality?

By Reality presenting Itself as a Person rather than an idea only.

This reality (rather than idea) is what separates Christianity from other beliefs. Yet within Christianity we have launched so many different ideas about how to interpret this mysterious reality that we no longer eat at the same table. The irony of christianity is that the way of salvation that was reveled through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, The theological Point, is being used as one of the prime issues that divides the Church. This does not come as a surprise since both Eucharist and the Church (and the rest of life) is sacramental in their nature. A family can not thrive if they do not occasionally eat together. As the Eucharist goes, so goes the Church and vice versa. They need each other intrinsically. With four or five different major ideas about the Eucharist it is only a natural consequence that the Church is cutting Herself short of Her full potential.

The ideas about the Eucharist took a logical journey if you compare them to major Church splits. (I’v e kept this section brief as not to focus to much on our points of divison)

It began in the 7th century with a lack of communication and common language between Rome and Constantinople that got worse and worse and culminated in the great schism in 1054. The Eucharist was used as the method to enforce the split. Prior to this the Eucharist was received as the body and blood of Christ by the unified Church as the mystery it is, Someone Real you receive in faith. Ideas about the Eucharist were non prevalent. It was a reality to enter rather then an idea to understand.

In the empirical Roman Catholic environment there arose a desire to explain the mystery and the doctrine of transubstantiation was birthed. Maybe this desire was motivated by wanting to define the Roman Catholic Eucharist as separate from the Eastern Orthodox? Maybe it was motivated by wanting to enforce more uniform liturgy and expresson, maybe both? Maybe for some other reason, for whatever reason the Eucharist was now subject to philosophical argument and definition.

Not surprisingly the reformers rejected the idea of transubstantiation because of it’s attempt to exactly describe how the Eucharist works by saying that the bread and the wine turns into, literally, the flesh and blood of Christ. With Calvin in the lead and reason as their sword they launched the idea that Christ was only spiritually present in the Eucharist forming the doctrine called receptionism. This understanding of the Eucharist is quite different from Martin Luthers sacramental union but a logical consequence of the same.

Many other groups most chief maybe the baptists, have adopted the doctrine that was introduced by Zwingli, namely that the Eucharist is primarily something done as a memorial. 

The Church has not agreed upon the Eucharist for quite some time and the Church find herself in a place of division, this is not coincidence. As long as we believe that we will all agree upon a common idea about the Eucharist we miss The Point of the mystery of the Eucharist. The Point is that it was never about ideas of how to interpret, it was always about receiving The Point in faith, having It become a part of you and you a part of It.

All ecumenical dialogue will be found in want until we actually approach the table together, having confessed to one another and forgiven one another for past wrongs, and receive of the body and blood of Christ in a mystery.

As The Point He is the only one that can bring unity. It is in front of Him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. It is He Who can open the scroll.

A month or so ago I asked a question at a ecumenical forum: “Is there is any hope for the Church to receive the Eucharist together in any foreseeable future and what would that look like?”. The Roman Catholic representative answered basically that we shall hope for that, that is why we are in dialogue but that there are many obstacles. The evangelical representative answered that: “You can come and receive the Eucharist at any anyone of our churches, I’ll hook you up this weekend if you want. To us it’s a none issue.” These comments shows how far apart we are in our understanding of the Eucharist and I don’t propose that we partake of the Holy Sacrament if we understand it to be fundamentally different in terms of what it actually is. What I am proposing is that we pursue a point through relationship where we recognize that we have to step out in faith and share the meal that has the power to transform our understanding of who we are and Who He is by us partaking of His body and blood. Let’s submit to one another in love.

At some point talking about recipes and techniques must evolve into the actual enjoyment of the food, right? What we can learn from food is that no matter how much we talk about it, we won’t truly get to know it unless we eat it, taste it and it becomes a part of us. (Something we truly get to appreciate when we fast in Lent..)

Jesus Himself descended to earth so that we might know Him, not only have information about Him, then the Old Testament would have been enough.

The unity of the Church can not begin with everyone agreeing upon every little technicality about how to prepare the food or what exactly the food is because things like that are all wrapped up in our action. It must begin with an acknowledgement that we receive food from God as gift in a personal way and we enjoy it the most when in company with others. We are dependent on it for life. It becomes part of our being. Not until we surrender to His Reality will we be able to see further than our own interpretation of it. With this being said I have one more comment:

Let’s eat after our fast, acknowledging that all good things, life itself comes from God.

The legacy of the Newsboys generation

Here we are, here I am. Trying to find my way through the spiritual climate laid down by previous generations. Realizing that Christianity is only one generation from being forgotten I am deeply interested in finding a way to accurately hand down the faith to future generations. I am also very interested in letting those future generations in on some things “not to do.”

To be honest the generations here in the West from the Great Awakenings and on handed down a deeply personal, albeit somewhat misguided faith at best; and a heavy handed, ingrown and legal faith at worst. As part of the “Newsboys generation”, being raised in the Western church in the 80s and 90s, I to will not be able to hand down the faith totally accurately either… (Surprise!) We are shaped by our context and some of the spiritual environments we have moved in haven’t been very good. We have also made decisions of darkness which keeps us and past generations from fully handing down the faith. But I believe it helps to acknowledge this, be honest about it and do the hard work of confessing our shortcomings to future generations so that they don’t have to repeat our mistakes right away. We must remember that the Holy Spirit moves throughout and beyond time and is so much greater then our mistakes. IMG_1276

So what are some of the things that we as a 80s -90s generation have struggled with in the formative years of our faith? What are some of the things I need to confess to be able to gain vision of where I find myself so that I may help others see a path? What are some of the logs that have marred my and my generations vision?

Stillness – We often thought we thrived on noise. Big productions, big and spectacular bands that would stir both emotion (imagine that emotion is a kid in a car) and passion (now passion is the kid driving the car…). In deeply personal and often very loud “encounters” with God, filled with emotion turning into passion we decided then and there what we should do with our lives rather then discovering who we are. In the noise of everything we forgot to be silent before the awesome God and truly listen. We forgot our identity in the pursuit for a purpose, to matter.

Humbleness – When we had felt the “true call” on our life by God we often chose to believe that we could change the world because God was with us (who can then be against us). We went on SMTs, we started charitable organizations, we became pastors (often worship and arts pastors), we wrote books about creative worship, the emerging Church and experimented with all kinds of art forms in the sanctuary. We produced records, movies, Christian dating sites and much more. We also left our local Churches for “greater things”. Many of us left the Church altogether. As we started to have children we started to choose our Church based upon our preferences rather than asking how we could incarnate our faith and serve others. We believed that it was up to us to make the world a better place. We confused our passion with the will of the Lord.

Reverence – We also forgot how to and who to revere. When the protestant movement threw out the awareness of the presence of the saints in the Church we eventually lost our touch with how to approach them. We thought that an acknowledgment and reverence of their mystical presence in our midst meant that we worshipped them (as taught by our parents and grand parents). In this legacy we lost our ability to properly revere and take care of our parents and elders. Fed by individualism as creed we started to revere or despise our own image in the mirror in the morning.

Gathered together these struggles created an environment of confusion where the most assertive and marketable idea prevailed. Church became dangerously close to looking like a business with salvation as it’s prime product. This product could be purchased by living the “Christian life”. We didn’t like that our parents put on a happy Christian smile when that didn’t reflect reality all the time, but we ended up doing much of the same just because that is what we knew.

Many of us are still confused because this simple, marketable, slim fit, version of the Christian faith is simply just not enough. The questions we have are deeper and bigger then the current “American mainstream Christian theology” can answer. The truth is that we are tired of the product environment that we were raised in. Unlike our parents we do not want to stick to a product our whole life unless the  truth about this product is revealed to us. Unless the product takes us on a journey towards truth.

If you are a Newsboys generation Christian like me then I encourage you to face these three struggles. Go through the labour of being honest about struggle and sin. If we face our sin in truth, we will encounter His face of love. And His face is what we were after all along. Begin the journey, go through Lent in stillness, humbleness and reverence and I believe you will see the path you can show future generations to go.