Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hebrews 10:24

“And let us consider one another to stir up love and good works.” (NKJV)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (NIV).

For many years—most of my adult life really—I read the NIV translation of the Bible. This verse in Hebrews played an important role in how I understood relationships among Christians were supposed to work. That is, I thought we were supposed to spend time imagining ways to spur others on to love and good works: we were supposed to pay attention to how and whether others were loving and doing good works, and think of ways to prod them into doing what they should be doing. In the end, such a reading of this verse becomes nothing more than a license for busy bodying.

Reading the passage in Greek yesterday, I was surprised to discover that the King James tradition provides the more accurate translation. Instead of considering how to spur one another, we are to consider one another into [resulting in] the stirring up [inciting, stimulating] of love and good works. To tell you the truth, the Greek is ambiguous. I can see why modern translators might want to provide an easy solution. It is reasonable to assume that the love and good works are done by the “one another” whom we are to consider, and the preposition (into) implies a causal relationship; so with a little translator’s license we have an easily readable translation that “makes good sense” to modern Protestant English readers. And why not? What else would we consider in others except how to make them better?

St. John Chrysostom read this verse very differently. Faced with the same ambiguity of text, he provides a very different interpretation, one that calls for humility and considering others as better than ourselves. St. John asks, “What is, ‘let us consider one another’? It means if a certain one is virtuous, let us imitate this one. Let us look upon him so as to love…. For from love all good works come.” For St. John, the stirring up of love comes from considering others who are more virtuous than our selves. Of course to do this one must actually believe that others are more virtuous.

The shift in perspective is telling. St. John assumes that we look for what is good and emulable in one another, not for what needs to be fixed—and then to consider how I am supposed to help fix it. And isn’t this our usual (sinful) tendency, to see what’s wrong with one another and to think we know how to fix it. Instead, the writer of Hebrews is calling us to stimulate love and good works in ourselves by considering what is good and virtuous in others.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

High School Camp Out Around Fr. Michael's House

It’s Saturday morning, 8:00 am and the “campers” are just stirring. It probably helped to let the rooster out of the chicken house at about 7:30. Last night went well. The last group arrived at about 8:00 pm, so we had an extended dinner starting at 6:00 and finishing at 8:30. The kid jelled almost immediately, which was great because a few were “outsiders.” They stood around a fire and roasted marshmallows. We threw flour into the fire (it explodes—mildly). The survivalist in the group showed everyone tricks to keep the fire hot and burning and even made a fire using a bow and spinning a stick. Few were impressed, but everyone was appreciative. Having always been a woodsy guy myself, I was one of the impressed ones. Then the kids played capture the flag in the dark until all the boys had banged themselves up falling, tripping and running into things and each other—great fun for all. Tea and soda and cookies. Then we prayed Little Compline in Bonnie’s icon studio—very peaceful. The kids stayed up another couple of hours playing board games. Bonnie and I went to bed at 11:00. (Two responsible adults stayed up just to makes sure that nothing…well, just to make sure.) At 7:00 I started my chores. The survivalist who insisted that his two wool blankets would be enough was shivering on the ground in a tight ball under his two army blankets. I put another blanket on him and he stopped shivering.

Today we are doing a “dig in.” I printed out Romans 1:15-2:11 in a booklet with lots of white space. We are going to dig into it and see if we can’t figure out why the world is such a mess. Lord have mercy!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Prayer and the Acqusition of Things

“Everything we desire pleases us only so long as we do not possess it; and when we get it, we soon get tired of it. Or only what we do not as yet have seems to us good and attractive; while all that we have, even though it is the very best, is either not enough for us or does not attract us” (St. Innocent of Alaska, Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven).

It is so easy to get caught up in stuff. Our hearts and energies are captivated by newer, bigger, better, faster, stronger, more elegant. Our attention is focused outside ourselves so that, although we do not deny God, we just ignore Him most of the time. And yet stuff never satisfies. The acquisition of stuff provides a temporary rush; but the stuff itself, after the brief honeymoon is over, quickly becomes just more stuff. Stuff to clean, stuff to maintain, stuff to store, stuff to protect (after all, you wouldn't want someone to steal your stuff)!

When we feel the pull to acquire new stuff, that’s a good time to practice inner prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” The Jesus prayer turns our focus inward. It makes us look at ourselves and our Lord, and it helps us acquire the Holy Spirit, the only enduring satisfaction. When we pray at the moment we experience temptation, much of the power of the temptation is removed because we are no longer looking at it. In the struggle against sin, attention is just about everything.

And this has always been what temptation does: it takes our attention away from our inner communion with God. It was the case in the Garden, it is the case now. If fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that the temptation in the Garden of Eden is a type of every human temptation. The Serpent is whispering in our minds that God is holding out on us, that there is something, someone, some experience, some stuff, that if we just reach out and take it, we would quench the longing in ourselves. And again and again, we reach out, we take it and eat it and then find ourselves naked. Then we hide and play games to pretend that we aren’t.

Prayer. Simple, inwardly directed prayer at the moment of temptation often makes the difference between peaceful communion with God in my heart, or another thing to add to my collection.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Loving Myself Best of All

I have been having and argument with myself all morning about self love and the impulse to fix systems. I want to change systems because I love others and I do not want those with power to continue hurting and being hurt. I see a practice that oppresses others or that is destroying or may destroy what I love, and I want it to end. “I do,” I protest to myself, “love others and that is my motivation!”

And yet in pursuing my seemingly love-inspired political agenda, I fight, I create enemies, I become angry at the “stupidity, blindness and foolishness” of other, thus bringing the judgment of Matthew 5:22 on my head: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment…and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” Some pretty stiff words from our Lord and Master.

At a loss for how best to love and participate in the political realities of church and state, I find the example of the biblical prophets helpful. The prophets speak the truth and bear the consequence of its acceptance or rejection. They don’t have an agenda, they have a burden. They carry this burden in their hearts and they speak when given the opportunity or when Spirit of God burns so hotly within them that they cannot but speak. And having delivered their burden, they return to their place of prayer; that is, they return if they are able. Often speaking the truth in love has some pretty uncomfortable consequences. But there is no war. It takes two to war. If the suffering servant does not fight back, there is no war.

So therein lies a criterion. When promoting a seemingly just cause and my passions are stirred within me and the beginnings of war rumble in my heart, then I know, I still love myself best of all.