Wednesday, March 24, 2010

LOST Gets in on the Act

So I just watched last night's episode of LOST. Evidently Jacob is a Pelagian and the Man in Black is an Augustinian? But Jacob is the good guy (with his heresy) and the Man in Black is the villain. Oh how very trendy of them.

Just think. If I weren't taking a church history class, I might have been able to enjoy that last episode . . .

Getting It Right

I'm sort of studying for my church history mid-term, only I think I've kind of forgotten how, and also? I'm not anywhere near as Type-A as I was in high school and college. (Maybe I was never really Type-A, but I was definitely very driven by grades.)

I'm hoping writing this post will help me get my head around some things and will, in a sense, be a way of studying. (At least, it makes a good excuse, doesn't it?) I feel like I'm still stuck on heresies.

I don't really have a problem with the idea that there is orthodox belief and heterodox belief. Unlike most postmoderns, I do believe that there is a Truth, that ultimately that Truth is Jesus Christ and effects the whole universe. I believe that you can be walking more in line with the Truth, or less in line with it. But, like any good postmodern, I guess I'm not always sure I understand how we know it. I guess what I'm struggling with is not so much that the church leadership in the third and fourth centuries needed to create creeds and formulas by which to evaluate faith and life. I agree that they needed to decide on a Biblical canon, and I feel that their choices of books to go into the New Testament were right, and the things that were left out were left out for good reason.

I'm just kind of wrestling with the whole process of how they got there. My professor says (in his CD lectures--I've never actually met the guy) that, for example, in the case of the Biblical canon, the Holy Spirit, having inspired the canonical books, infused them with a certain authority, and that "canonisation is a recognition of what has already taken place." I think this is true, but how did they know it had already taken place? How did they know that Athanasius' list of 27 New Testament books was correct, and Marcion's edited Matthew, Luke and 10 letters of Paul were not? (The fact that he edited them himself might have been an indicator, I suppose, but still--I'm just saying.)

Or how about this? Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, started teaching that "there was a time when the Son was not"--that is, that the "Son" part of the Godhead had had a beginning, and that Jesus was this dude that God put His Spirit on and basically adopted into the Godhead, but who had not existed eternally like the Father. Athanasius said this was bunk, and that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were co-eternal. Over the course of the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople (dudes--I can even tell you the years of those!), Athanasius' view was vindicated and Arius' was defeated, but what the lectures didn't tell me and the textbook did was that they went back and forth on these issues a few times, with both Arius and Athanasius being condemned and exiled multiple times (although I think Arius died first and got condemned posthumously a couple of times, too).

Or what about the Council of Ephesus? I'm not even talking about the Robber Synod that came on its heels. I'm talking about how the Antiochene bishops got to the council late and the Alexandrian bishops (and presumably any others--if there were any others) met already and decided that they (the Alexandrians) were in the right in their views on the dual nature of Christ and the title of Mary. The Antiochene bishops were understandably upset, so they came up with this compromise called the "Symbol of Union" which sort of agreed more with the Antiochenes about Christ's dual nature, and sort of agreed with the Alexandrians about Mary's title. You can decide these things via a compromise? What if they compromised on the wrong parts? When told of the issues before being told of the results of the council, I frankly thought the Alexandrians were more correct about the nature of Christ and the Antiochenes were more correct about the title of Mary. What if I'm right and Pope Leo or whomever, was wrong?

Or what if I'm wrong? How wrong do I have to be before I am considered a heretic? If I love Jesus and trust Him to get me to the Father and to have died for my sins and forgiven me and to be gradually transforming me more into His likeness, do I still have to fully understand how He is both fully divine and fully human, or how God is a Unity and a Trinity, or whether the Spirit proceeds from just the Father or both the Father and the Son? What does that even mean?

I feel like there's heresy all over the place, still, today, and often I recognise it when I see it, but I don't always. I don't think anybody does always. How much of our salvation depends on our recognising it? Especially if our salvation is dependent on grace and not works? I think it all does come back to the work of the Holy Spirit. I think He does confirm what He has already accomplished or established. But so many people claim to be speaking for the Holy Spirit. How do you really know the difference?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Auntie Times 2

Now that all his grandparents know, I feel like perhaps I can tell you that I have a new nephew! As of sometime today. His name is Patrick David, but not because of the holiday we just had. His big sister, TWCN, was babysat in part by esteemed blog-friend, K., whom I have never met in person, but with whom Dave and Sister-in-Lu have become quite good friends. Crazy connexions develop over the internet. Pretty cool sometimes, too, though, huh?

Congrats, Dave, Sister-in-Lu and TWCN! And Patrick, for that matter.

Thanks, K.!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Speaking of Heresy

My "new" car is fantastic. I am so happy with it. The only things wrong with it are that I have no (working) way to plug my ipod into the sound system, and . . . it has a tiny, well-nigh tasteful, American flag sticker in the lower left hand corner of the rear window.

That's the heretical part of course--that having an American flag sticker stuck on my car would be "wrong." I don't know. I guess I just spent too long in the down-and-out East End of London to be comfortable with iconography that identifies me with one specific ethnic group or nation. Ever since my uncle came out with the album and song "Citizen of Heaven" (what? you've never heard of it? yeah . . . it was kind of like my book: worth it, but obscure) and I realised that was an actual Bible verse, I have had a little trouble being patriotic. (Either that or it gave me an excuse not to be.) Yes, I am an American, and I appreciate the freedoms that I have, and I daresay I take many of them for granted. I just have a little trouble wanting that to be my identity--the thing I'm known for.

When I was a little kid, living in Honduras, I thought the USA was Heaven. After all, we had to fly to get there. Through clouds and everything! Plus, everyone spoke English (i.e., I could understand them) and we could drink water directly from the taps instead of having to boil it first. After we moved back here, however, my attitude started slowly but surely to shift. I guess that happens when you've been exposed to another culture at an early age--even if you spend that early age trying to resist it (stupidly, I refused to learn Spanish). You just realise that there are other people out there and other ways of doing things, and while you may still prefer your way, the lines dividing cultures and nationalities get to feeling really arbitrary and frustrating. At least they did to me.

I've been reading Jeremiah lately. That book is fascinating to me, in part because Jeremiah was so faithful to God, and God was so faithful to him, but he ended up feeling disappointed with how God was demonstrating His faithfulness a lot of the time. Sometimes he just wished God would leave him alone--that he didn't have these words burning a hole in his heart and his tongue that he just had to speak but which got him in heaps (or cisterns) of trouble every time he opened his mouth. I haven't hung out in a cistern lately, and hope not to . . . ever, but there are still some things about this guy that I resonate with, I guess.

The other thing I find fascinating, though, is his message. Here he is, going to the priests and prophets and leaders of a country whose claim to identity was having been hand-chosen by God. They are telling the people, "God's not going to abandon us. Look--His Temple's here. That's His house. He won't let anything happen to that--or to us, either. We are the people of God." And Jeremiah's saying back, "Um, guys? Stop hiding behind this Temple and these religious practices, okay? God knows you haven't really been worshiping Him in a while now--all these idols and stuff instead--and He's getting ready to send in the Babylonians to take you all away for a good long time."

("No He isn't"--"Yes He is"--"No He isn't" . . . )

"So here's what you have to do. You've got to cooperate with the foreign army. Let them in, abide by their laws, go where they tell you, and seek their good, and you'll be spared. If you resist? It's not going to turn out so great for you."

Somehow, the people didn't like this message all that much. And I think I understand why not. For one thing, it sounds heretical. Here they are, the people of God, being told to capitulate to a bunch of heathens. (Never mind that they've been worshiping idols in tandem with God for a long time now.) To make matters worse, the guy that's telling them this is saying that God is telling them to do this. It's another one of those, "God wouldn't say that," moments, like "Go marry a prostitute" (Hosea) and "I'm going to form a child in your womb so it looks like you got pregnant out of wedlock in a culture where that's not okay--okay?" (Mary). Sometimes God asks us to do stuff which is according to His plan, His wisdom, His goodness . . . but it doesn't sound Biblical, if you will.

This message of Jeremiah sounded treasonous--well it was treasonous--and the assumption was that treason against the nation was treason against God, but the fact was, it wasn't. The nation had run away from God a long time ago, and the only way to get any of them back was to send them away for a while and stoke up the fires of repentance and true faith and God-seeking and character-building that God wanted.

I got to thinking about this. I got to imagining modern-day equivalents. I thought about how there are plenty of people in this country who don't believe in God, or believe in different gods, or are open about not caring less whether there is a God or not. But there are also a lot of people in this country who do believe in God and for better or worse are convinced this country once was a Christian nation and that it needs to become so again. I started imagining what would happen if some Christian somewhere began telling everyone that, say, extremist Muslims were going to take over the USA, and that we should let them. It doesn't just sound like we're giving up our national freedoms (which some people seem to equate with, like, the fruits of the Spirit or something anyway). It sounds like we're capitulating to the spiritual enemy. It sounds like by that very action we'd be denying our faith in Christ. Doesn't it?

I'm not saying that's what's going to happen. I'm not Jeremiah. As far as I know, God did not wake me up this morning to tell my occasional blog-readers to get ready for a terrorist influx by giving into it. (And I should probably also say, for any Muslim friends of mine who might be reading this, I am not tarring all Muslims with the same brush, but I think we both know there are people of that faith who want to take over the world by shari'a law, and that such a law does not exactly grant equal treatment to people of other faiths. Certainly such impulses exist within aspects of "Christianity" and Buddhism and Hinduism, too, but extremist Muslims seem to me a little more global with theirs at the moment.)

What I think I am saying is, I think it's easy to mix up nationality and national rights and privileges with Christianity, and I don't think they're the same thing. And while fighting for universal rights and freedoms is likely a good thing, I don't think they, as political constructs and national benefits, are as important to God as they are to us or as we think they are to Him. And sometimes I wonder, if there were to come another Jeremiah, whether we'd think he wasn't the anti-Christ and throw him in a well or something.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Mother of All Tartars

What in the world is cream of tartar anyway? In spite of actually having used it in a recipe that came from the Living History Museum where I used to work, I have a very very difficult time not imagining it as the dried and powdered form of the stuff they scrape off your teeth at the dentist's. Tartar. You know. How did the stuff get its name, anyway? Does it have anything to do with either cream or tartar?

Is cream of tartar what makes tartar sauce, tartar sauce? Why isn't that called "cream of tartar" instead? It's creamier. And how did all this stuff get the word "tartar" applied to it in the first place? Isn't "Tartar" an ethnic group? Not to instigate a racial slur, but do Tartars have exceptionally bad teeth? (I would think if that's how pre-plaque tooth-scum got its name, and we were going with notorious racial stereotypes . . . well, let's just say I can think of another people group whose name we could use instead.) Did the Tartars invent cream of tartar and tartar sauce?

Furthermore, where in the world did the phrase "the mother of all . . . whatevers" come from? Usually it is applied to some enormous, impressive example of something, but I would think that phrase should mean the first example of something. I, for example, am some inches taller than my mother, and not very much thinner than she.

That last musing came from watching a commercial last night in the middle of Lost, where some truck or something was "the mother of all . . . " trucks? Maybe? I don't know. As to why I was thinking about cream of tartar on my commute this morning? The answer to that question is, conveniently, exactly the same as the answer to all the other questions I've asked in this post: I have no idea.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"I See," Said the Blind Man, As He Picked Up His Hammer and Saw

The above is one of the phrases of my childhood, of which there were many, mostly picked up and quoted by my father until the rest of us started employing them, too. This one is particularly quintessential, because it is somewhat rhythmic, repeatable, private-joke-able and contains a really terrible pun. My brother and I picked up the pun skilz. My mother deplores them.

Anyway, I thought of this out of the blue today because what I was really contemplating was the much shorter phrase, "I see." I would like to posit that it does not mean what it sounds like it means.

I think what "I see" is supposed to mean, or supposed to sound like it means, is something along the lines of, "Oh, I get it. I understand." It sounds a little formal or old-fashioned, so maybe leave out the "I get it" part. The thing is, some people still use this phrase, and the ones I know who do, almost never mean, "I understand" or "that makes sense." Or if they do, they don't sound like it.

When someone asks me a question and I answer and explain my answer and they follow up with "I see," they might just be making "I was listening even though I really wasn't" noises. Or they might (which is often the impression I get) actually be meaning something along the lines of "That's a silly idea, Jenn," or "Okayyyy . . . ?" or "I really disagree with that course of action but you seem set on it and I don't feel like arguing, so do as you like, I guess."

Really, I feel that "I see" fits into the category of Ambiguous Listening Noises, kind of like the ever-useful word, "Interesting." Sometimes the one being listened to might call you out when you use one of these stock Noises, but it's generally safer and more socially acceptable to just kind of take a mental note, if one wishes, and leave it at that. Or you could just write a blogpost about it.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

What's Wrong?

I've been thinking of heresy a lot for the past few months. That's enough to block up anyone's blogposts . . . at least, anyone who is having trouble "wordifying" what she's thinking about the heresies.

The triggers for this current train of thought have been legion, starting, perhaps, with an email from Antagonist-Andrew, which I still haven't answered. (Andrew, if you are even still deigning to read my blog, it's not that I'm ignoring you on purpose. It's just that I'm afraid of rambling again.) On the heels of the email came my Church History class, and in the midst of that came some ongoing discussions with Third Jon. (You have met both First and Second John, but you may not know them by these names.)

I think the main thing that kicked off the maelstrom in my head, however, was that question about Constantine. Overall good, or overall bad? If I say (as I said) that overall, he was bad for the Church, then what about the fact (as bryancti pointed out) that the new freedom and power that Constantine afforded the Church also afforded them time to work out doctrinal issues? When you're on the run from the powers that be all the time, there's not a whole lot of time to sit down and codify exactly what you believe. I could make a nice romantic assumption (and statement) that you also don't have time to come up with any heresies, but that's not true, because most of the big Early Church Heresies started floating (and I do mean floating) around before Constantine was even thought of. Lots of those people who got burned at the stake or chomped on by wild animals in the Coliseum were not only standing up for Christ in the face of polytheists who thought they were atheists, so different was their concept of God, but had already faced up to esoteric fallacies about Christ from people who claimed to have something to do with Him.

But I'm struggling. I think it matters that Jesus is the Son of God--that He is and always has been co-existent with the Father and the Holy Spirit--that they are an eternal Trinity. I think it matters that He was/is both fully God and fully human. I think it matters that there is original sin. I think it matters that God isn't a dualistic force and we don't live in a dualistic universe--Jesus came to prove it by sanctifying both matter and spirit and bringing them together in one. I can get pretty heated about this stuff, actually.

I also know that the apostles dealt with some of these very issues--Gnosticism was already around when Christianity got started. They just conveniently tweaked a few Christian ideas and absorbed them. The Apostles Paul and John both wrote against Gnostic ideas. It matters that God finally revealed Himself to us through Jesus, and we don't need some special hidden knowledge in order to be enlightened and saved.

The thing is, though? Sometimes I feel like even the orthodoxies turn into claims that we evidently do need some special hidden knowledge in order to be enlightened and saved. I do believe it's the Holy Spirit who convicts people of the truth and that we couldn't know or understand the Gospel without that enlightenment. But I feel like the way we "orthodox" Christians talk about this stuff? A lot of times our codification of how salvation happens sounds awfully Gnostic if you really think about it. I was listening to an evangelical speaker on a DVD this week, and he was very good, and the things he said about Jesus were true, but at the end he said, "If you believe and if you trust and if you understand such and such . . . you're saved."

Most of my life I have subscribed to that sort of teaching and understanding, and to some extent I still think that's true. But there's another extent to which that just sounds like more of "works salvation" to me--except that the "work" that "saves" us is accurate belief of certain propositions. You have to be enlightened enough to know all this stuff, and believe in it, and regurgitate it, and support the Republican party, and then you'll be saved.

And I just thought it was God-driven, God-initiated, we-never-could-do-it-or-even-think-it-ourselves, grace.

It's okay. I've already been called a heretic.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Firefly Distractions

Maybe I'm not writing anymore because everything's just too serious . . .

So I took another "Which _________ character are you?" online quiz. This is probably not too surprising a result. Because I am, of course, both holy and mysterious. (?)

Your results:You are Derrial Book (Shepherd)

Derrial Book (Shepherd)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Inara Serra (Companion)
River (Stowaway)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Even though you are holy
you have a mysterious past.

Click here to take the Serenity Firefly Personality Test