Relaunching Images From The Journey

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a photoblog in 2009-2010 that was an offshoot of this blog. 

The primary reason I entered photography was to stop and discover the innate beauty of God’s world — to explore the “extra” in the ordinary. The photoblog was a place where I could reflect on some of these images.

Ten years later, my life is full. And in its fullness, I’ve neglected the habit of pausing, observing, and reflecting. It’s time to make a change. As part of this change, I’m restarting the photoblog.

St Paul says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” My hope is the photoblog will become that place again in my life.

So why use a photoblog and not just use social media? I currently post a lot of photos on both my professional and personal Instagram accounts. But social media is designed for self-promotion and images stream quickly by in one’s feeds. 

A photoblog seems to be a more conducive platform to slow down and reflect. And while this might seem sappy and overly romanticized, I like to see my blog posts, both here and in the photoblog, as similar to messages in a bottle in the vast ocean of the internet. I don’t know if anyone will ever see my posts. But perhaps a serendipitous Google search may bring someone here at just the right time in their life’s journey. 

So I’m relaunch the photoblog. If you’re interested, you can find it at imagesfromthejourney.com. I’ve also created a link in the “My Photography” page of this blog.

Waxing Nostalgic – My Blog

The Offramp Splash PageAs my time at the Vineyard and professional ministry drew to an end in 2003, I began blogging. Originally, several of us who left the Vineyard and started a faith community started blogging through our new community’s website, “The Offramp.”

Some of those blogs remain, untouched for several years. I keep them on the righthand bar and visit them occasionally. They bring memories of good times with good friends. For example, here’s a post by Debbie from June 2008. It highlights a walk she had with Chris, who was eight at the time. Reading it again reminded me of simpler times with younger kids, being part of their lives as they discovered and interacted with the world around them.

I have enjoyed my blogging experience. Back in 2010, I wrote this about my blog:

“I began this blog in March 2003 as our family left professional ministry and embarked on a journey of theological exploration. This blog has recorded our joys and struggles as we explored a different form of Christian community. It has allowed me to deconstruct and reconstruct my theology and wrestle with my new identity outside of professional ministry. It has marked special events in our family’s life. And recently, it has recorded our family’s journey into the Holy Orthodox Church.”

That post in 2010 was my last post on this blog. Or so I thought.

After joining the Orthodox Church, I struggled with what I should post on this blog. Entering the Orthodox Church signaled the end of our faith community and our exit from the Emergent Church/Home Church conversation. I was also experiencing difficulty with some aspects of Orthodoxy, but didn’t feel it was appropriate to openly post those struggles. As an Ortho-newbie, I became aware that I had less and less to say.

I was also struggling with depression, unable to reconcile years of calling, training and experience with no longer being in ministry.

So I sensed the need to go silent, to immerse myself in Orthodoxy and to let God bring some much-needed healing.

So after much prayer and thought, I said goodbye to my blog in May 2010.

Two years passed and I began sensing the need to write again. So in April 2012, I revived this blog. I will admit that I haven’t posted consistently the past four years. Months would pass between posts. Life had changed and its ebbs and flows would drift me back to this blog and then pull me away again.

I know my decision in 2010 was the right one. But looking at that two-year gap brings pangs of regret. There were significant moments that I wish I had processed and recorded on this blog.

There were vacations, celebrations, holidays and daily life. My firstborn, Michael, graduated high school in 2010. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. And it symbolically transitioned our family into a new phase as our first child stepped across the threshold into adulthood. Dan died in December 2010. I miss his voice and laugh. Danielle entered high school. Michael was admitted to the emergency room with a collapsed lung, which scared the hell out of me. Maribeth moved from California, and our family still misses her dearly. Chris saved and bought himself a bike. Michael, Danielle and Chris generously collected their monies and bought Cathy a bike for Christmas. And at the end of 2011, our family bought our first house, packed over 20 years of our life and moved to Pomona.

The other night, our family had a fun dinner at a local restaurant. As we were leaving, our kids walked out to the car ahead of Debbie and me. As we strolled out behind them, she leaned over and said, “Everything’s changing.”

This is something I’ve been sensing for months and has only been heightened as my fiftieth birthday draws near. I’m sensing the need to prepare for the next phase of my life and for whatever it brings. As I pray and ponder, there seem to be a couple of important facets to this preparation. First is redeveloping my intimacy with God. I mentioned in an earlier post about this urge for intimacy that occurred earlier this year during Lent and has only grown.

The second is remembering my past. I have started reading through my old journals as well as rereading my old blog posts and those of my friends. I believe I’m compelled by more than nostalgia.

White KeysThe recent activity on this blog is the expression of those two facets. I’m making room to pray and reflect. The activity and noise from daily life easily obstructs the internal currents of the soul. Writing clears the debris and increases my sensitivity to my inner life. It’s not always a pretty picture. But it is a necessary task.

I genuinely don’t know how this blog will develop in the months or years to come. Thirteen years of my thoughts, my reflections, and my life have been recorded here in over 700 posts. In some ways it has become an important part of me. And if I’m right, it will play an important part of my future. We shall see.

Quotes on Prayer

Here are some great quotes on prayer that are worth reflecting upon that I extracted from Fr Stephen’s post on prayer:

Prayer is a matter of love. Man expresses love through prayer, and if we pray, it is an indication that we love God.

Only if prayer is living communion with God does it make sense to strive for unceasing prayer. The commandment to “pray always” is tantamount to saying: “Live!”

Indeed prayer is the sound (whether spoken or not) of God within us.

Milestones

Well, this is interesting. I’m quickly approaching three minor and one ginormous milestone.

First, after posting several iPhone Photos to my Flickr account this evening, I realized that I’m one image shy of 100 posted iPhone Photos. When I began the endeavor, I didn’t predict how fun it would be to take photos with my iPhone everyday. Not every photo is great. But learning to look constantly at life with different eyes is a wonderful exercise. You can view the entire set of iPhone Photos in my Flickr account HERE.

Second, I’m quickly approaching my 75th image on my photoblog, “Images from the Journey.” This has been a more serious endeavor of developing my skills at digital photography by trying to capture the beauty in the world around me along with some simple reflections about the image.

Third, this post is my 599th post on this blog. I know 600 is a random number, but it’s the nearest 100th and I thought it worth noting. I began this blog in March 2003. A lot has happened in the past six years. But as we say in the Orthodox Church, “It’s unto our salvation.” And quite frankly, I wouldn’t change a thing because I’m actually enjoying the person into which God is making me.

So what’s the major milestone? I think I’m going to save that one for the 600th post! See you then.

Lenten Reflection

Steve Robinson points to a great Lenten reflection worth reading. Take a few moments and enjoy it HERE. Here’s a little sample.

“This Lent I am going to attempt to walk through life like I walk through church in hard soled shoes, or in the kind of shoes that squeak on the polished wood floor. I am going to try to walk softly, deliberately, prayerfully aware of the noise I am making, prayerfully aware of how my actions resonate with and disturb others; I will be quietly ashamed and a little embarrassed.”

New Photoblog

images-from-the-journey

I love looking at good photography. Images can communicate in ways that words cannot. A few years ago I bought a Canon PowerShot A620 with the intention of developing basic skills in digital photography. I admit that I’m not great, but I’ve had a lot of fun taking pictures. Recently, I was gifted with a Nikon D40x. The move from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR is very exciting for me and has injected me with a lot of enthusiasm to take my basic skills to the next level.

So… in anticipation of the photos I’ll be taking, I’ve started a simple photoblog. I’ve already posted  a couple of images that I took over the last couple of years on my PowerShot. I’ll probably be posting several more of these older shots during this time that I learn to use my Nikon as well as learn to use Pixelmator and Capture NX2.

Fr Stephen & “The Habit of Prayer”

Ahhh… prayer. Who doesn’t struggle at prayer? And underneath that struggle are all sorts of motivations and compulsions, most of them probably unhealthy and distorted.

Fr Stephen has a great post about prayer. But those who read this blog know that I love virtually everything Fr Stephen posts. I was going to post an excerpt from the post below, but all of it was so good and I couldn’t decide what part to post here. So… go read it HERE. Enjoy.

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Fr Patrick & “What is the Divine Liturgy”

Fr Patrick has a wonderful post on the Divine Liturgy. There are a couple of good lines that stand out for me.

The first one is the quote by Elder Zacharias of Essex:

“The Divine Liturgy is the highest form of prayer in which a sacred exchange takes place. Mankind offers to God ‘his temporal and limited life (in exchange) for the eternal and infinite life of God.’”

Couple this quote by one of Fr Patrick’s:

“Not all prayer is of the same depth—or height.”

This is so true. I’ve been a praying Christian for over 20 years. And no matter how much I pray, my prayers are always a reflection of my own spiritual maturity or lack thereof. In other words, my personal prayers cannot be any larger than who I am. In my earlier years of immaturity, I used to think that written prayers were a sign of spiritual deadness and only spontaneous prayers carried the essential “passion” to be effective.

Now that I’ve grown up a bit, I’ve incorporated Daily Hours and written prayers into my prayer life over the last several years. I cannot explain the added depth and height of praying prayers that have been written and prayed by men and women of greater spiritual maturity and wisdom.

And now participating in the Divine Liturgy every week at St Peter’s adds an even greater dimension. I’m truly entering into the highest prayer of the Church. By praying their prayers, I’m not only being trained in how to pray, but I’m praying in unity with the rest of the Church. I’m participating in actually being part of Christ’s Body, crying out in one voice prayers inspired by the Spirit.

The final line that leaps from Fr Patrick’s post is:

“The Liturgy is better experienced than understood.”

There are events in human life in which experience far surpasses any kind of rational understanding. And one of those moments is the Divine Liturgy. While some knowledge of the Divine Liturgy is helpful in order to participate in it more fully, I have found it much more beneficial to allow the movements of prayer, worship, theology, and beauty to wash over me like waves at the beach.

For those who are interested, Fr Patrick will be posting more on the basics of Divine Liturgy in the near future. These posts will be under the category “Orthodox Christian liturgics.”

You can read Fr Patrick’s entire post HERE.

Father Patrick is Blogging!

Our priest, Father Patrick, has started a blog. He posted his first post today. I’m very excited about what he will write. Every homily he has delivered has been “out of the park.” I am amazed at his ability to make simple some very deep spiritual and theological concepts. The other day, I listened to him explain the Trinity in five minutes in a simple, yet non-simplistic way, that maintained the essential theological nuances. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

So stop by his blog and encourage him to write.

(The picture is of Fr Patrick preparing to baptize our friend, Christina.)

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David Feliciano and “Orthodoxy Is For Everyone”

My friend, David, who has been very instrumental in my family’s progress into Orthodoxy, has a post worth reading called, “Orthodoxy Is For Everyone.”

I was with him during the time he initially began exploring Orthodoxy and I had the privilege of attending his and Nicole’s Chrismation service. At the time, I believed I was following God’s calling as an evangelical pastor, so I wasn’t really offended by David’s conversion. I believed that he had his calling and I had mine. Sure he may have believed that he was entering into the fullest expression of the Church and Faith. But I had the surety of my calling. What I didn’t realize then, but do realize now, is that I needed to take a few more turns in my own journey with Jesus to prepare me to enter Orthodoxy. Somehow, Jesus used my obedience to my sense of calling to prepare for where I am today.

And while I haven’t been received into the Orthodox Church yet, I want to echo David’s words:

“My own experiences and beliefs about this living and ancient faith/tradition is that it IS for everybody. It is only foreign in the sense that it is radically Christian and holy, and I believe that it truly is the fullness of the gospel (i.e., the fullness of Jesus’ message and tradition).”

Oh, and Thank You, David, for embodying this radical Christianity and helping us to enter this wonderful Faith.

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Fr Stephen Freeman & “An Orthodox Hermeneutic”

Christ is risen!

Fr Stephen has written a post worth reading called, “An Orthodox Hermeneutic.” In my short and limited experience with Orthodoxy, I have to admit that a lot of what he says makes sense. Personally, I no longer adhere to Sola Scriptura since it strips Scriptures out of the very context that created them and gives them meaning — the Church and its Living Tradition. In addition both modern biblical scholarship and the teaching from the pulpit are examples of what happens when Sola Scriptura runs its course — every person has an interpretation of Scripture.

Yet, at a deep level, I also struggle with some of what Fr Stephen says. I have my own pet biblical interpretations and some of them are not embraced by the Orthodox Church. In those moments, I have to ask myself, “Can I honestly hold up the interpretative conclusions that I have reached from my limited study before 2000 years of the Church’s Living Tradition and believe that I’m right and they’re wrong?” You see, it boils down to pride rather that correct interpretation. Here’s a bit from Fr Stephen’s post:

“Thus it is that the Church itself is the proper hermeneutic of Scripture – having been written by Christ, ministered by the apostles, not with ink, “but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” Thus, to a certain extent, to say that the Scriptures are the Church’s book is a tautology. Either the Church is that epistle, written in the fleshy tables of the heart, or it is not the Church at all. It is partly for this reason that Orthodoxy sees the interpretation of Scripture as something that does not take place apart from the Church nor without the Church, but in the midst of the Church, which is herself the very interpretation, constantly echoing the Word of God in her services, sacraments, and all of her very life.

“It is, of course, the case that there are things to be found within the Church that are not “of” the Church, but are things to be purged, to be removed, to be met with repentance. Indeed the life of the Orthodox Church is only rightly lived as a life of constant repentance. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 50 (51):17.”

 

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Bright Week

As a newbie to Eastern Orthodoxy, I’m trying to learn stuff as fast as I can. Well, this week is Bright Week. For Orthodox, Bright Week begins a time of celebration that lasts until Pentecost. And during this period, because of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, Orthodox do things a little different. Below is a list of things that are done during Bright Week. I first heard this list on the Orthodixie pocast. Mark was able to find these items through the This Side of Glory blog.

  • During Bright Week, our prayers in church and at home are sung and not read as we sing all week the feast of the risen Christ: Christ is risen!
  • During Bright Week, we do not read from the psalter at home or in church for the prophecies have been fulfilled: Christ is risen!
  • During the entire Paschal season there is no prostrating or kneeling permitted in church or at home for we stand with the resurrected Christ: Christ is risen! [Ha! I did remember that one. Hooray!]
  • During the Paschal season we begin all of our prayers at home and in church by singing the troparion of Pascha: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”
  • During the Paschal season and extending to Pentecost, we do not pray “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth…” for the Comforter comes on Pentecost. Christ is risen

Christ is Risen! Truly he is risen!

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And We’re Off!

Wow! What a great weekend. Holy Week has finally arrived for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Friday night was the Little Compline with the Canon of St Lazarus. Then on Saturday morning, we gathered for Lazarus Saturday. When Fr Patrick began this special Divine Liturgy with “Blessed is the Kingdom of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit both now and ever and unto ages of ages,” I felt this powerful rush of excitement and anticipation. Lent has been escalating to this moment. And with Lazarus Saturday, Lent ends and Holy Week begins. A hymn that we sang during the service and throughout the weekend services brings it altogether so well:

“By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion,
You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God!
Like the children with the palms of victory,
We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death;
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!”

On Saturday night we returned to church for the Great Vespers for Palm Sunday. At the end of the service, we venerated a striking icon of Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb. Then Fr Patrick anointed our foreheads, palms and the back of our hands with oil.

This morning was Palm Sunday. A special feature of today’s service was a procession with palm branches out of the church and down the sidewalk. What a sight! And such incredible joy! Also the Lenten fast was lifted slightly, allowing fish, wine and oil. (During Lent, Eastern Orthodox fast from meat, dairy, wine and oil.) Coffee hour was crowded and bustling. In addition to some normal Lenten food, those who prepared coffee hour also brought some delicious salmon and several bottles of wine. It tasted so good! The anticipation of the coming week was palpable. We sat around talking and laughing and our family was one of the last ones to leave. Our family is making great friends at St Peters.

Our plan was to go home afterwards and get chores done, but my parents called. Yesterday I told my mom about our family’s decision to explore Orthodoxy during 2008. I wasn’t sure how she and my dad were going to react. My mom called wanting to get together today to talk. Debbie and I shared with my parents about the fullness of Christ’s life that we’ve been experiencing in the church. Both were positive and my mom admitted to a deep yearning for something more in her relationship with Jesus. After our talk, we went shopping for the girls’ Pascha dresses.

Then we bolted down the 210 Freeway to meet Mark, Barb and Maribeth for an enjoyable dinner of good food, talking and laughing. God has blessed our family with such great friends. And right now, my life feels so deep and rich. I feel like I’m drinking deeply from a well of crisp water.

The rest of this week will be very, very busy. There are two services (morning & evening) every day until Holy and Great Friday. Debbie and the kids are hoping to make it to some of the morning services before the kids start school.

By next weekend, we’ll be going full steam ahead. Three services on Holy and Great Friday followed by an all-night vigil of reading Psalms at Jesus’ tomb, all accompanied by a strict fast. On Holy and Great Saturday morning, we’ll experience the Paschal Vesperal Liturgy of the Harrowing of Hell. (What a great name for a worship service!) During this service, we’ll witness some of our new friends receiving the sacraments of baptism and chrismation as they join the Orthodox Church. Then we go home, sleep, cook and return at 10:30 that night for a candlelight Rush Service followed by Paschal Matins and Divine Liturgy. Then around 2 am, we break our Lenten fast together with a grand feast! Then we go home and sleep some more and finally gather for an afternoon Agape Service where one of the Gospel accounts is read in as many languages as possible, followed by a party in the park.

I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years. But this year will prove to be one of the fullest, most meaningful, most joyous Easters we will have ever experienced. Glory to God!

Oh… and by the way, this is my 500th post since I started blogging in 2003. Yeaa!

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Fr Stephen & “Is Hell Real?”

Fr Stephen has a great post today about the “reality” of hell. Throughout much of my Evangelical life, I had simply embraced the assumption that heaven and hell were places. It wasn’t until I began my theological deconstruction and reconstruction several years ago that I began to realize that neither were places at all. Heaven is something much more. In fact, one of the many beautiful things that has drawn me to Orthodoxy is their understanding of heaven and hell. Here’s a quote from Fr Stephen’s post:

“But in Orthodox spiritual terms I would say that hell is a massive state of delusion, maybe the ultimate state of delusion. It is delusional in the sense that (in Orthodox understanding) the “fire” of hell is not a material fire, but itself nothing other than the fire of the Living God (Hebrews 12:29). For those who love God, His fire is light and life, purification and all good things. For those who hate God, His fire is torment, though it be love.”

The very fire of God — his light, love and purification — is heaven or hell. for those who love God, his light and love are heaven! But for those who hate God (and this is the amazing thing), his very love and light are hell!

Some thoughts from one of Fr Stephen’s subsequent comments from the same post are also worth noting:

“I don’t think of them [heaven and hell] in terms of places but in terms of our relationship with God. We use place metaphors for that’s what we know, but the reality of heaven certainly transcends anything we currently think of as place. I do not mean to describe them as merely figurative either.

“But neither can they be somehow compared as having a comparable existence. It might seem like something for a philosophy class, but it is also something for a theology class, at least as we know theology in the Orthodox Church.

“Literalism is the bane of Scriptural understanding. Not that there aren’t plenty of “literal” things described. But many times we have to push beyond the literal to arrive at the truth. At least this is the case in many of the Eastern Church fathers.”

Heaven is not a destination that I hope to get to when I die, nor is hell a destination I want to avoid. Rather, heaven is ultimately my participation in God, who is the fullness of being, life and reality. 

Take a few moments and read Fr Stephen’s post in entirety HERE:

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Fr Stephen and “Salvation by Grace”

Fr Stephen has a wonderful post about the Orthodox perspective of salvation as transformation rather than a forensic salvation. One of the points he makes is that because salvation is transformation, it takes a lifetime and requires constancy. As Fr Stephen puts it, at its core, a life of transformation requires “just showing up.”It’s a great post and you can read it HERE .It’s this kind of stuff that attracted me to Orthodoxy in the first place.

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Still Thinking about Scripture

Since posting on the Orthodox view of Scripture, I have found myself thinking a lot about the subject. Also, thanks to those who commented on that post. The comments have posed some questions for me that I’m hoping to resolve over time.To move forward in this process of resolution, I will be posting responses and thoughts to a book my friend, David, gave me to read. It’s called, The Mystery of Christ, by Fr. John Behr. Fr. John teaches courses in patristics, dogmatics and scriptural exegesis at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.I began reading the book casually, but I’ve decided to start over and use Fr. John’s book as the material for some blog posts over the next few weeks. His book challenges us to approach theology as the early disciples did — by viewing Scripture retrospectively with Christ’s passion as the primary hermeneutic. He writes in the preface:

“But it is a stubborn fact, or at least is presented this way in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that the one born of Mary was not known by the disciples to be the Son of God until after the Passion, his crucifixion and resurrection… Thus, to speak of the ‘Incarnation,’ to say that the one born of the Virgin is the Son of God, is an interpretation made only in the light of the Passion.”

I have enjoyed and have been challenged by what I have read so far in Fr. John’s book, so I’m looking forward to blogging my responses and thoughts to it over time. If you would like to read a synopsis of the book, there is a three-part review at Oozerdoxie (a collection of Orthodox bloggers who also post at theooze.com ):PART ONEPART TWOPART THREE

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Orthodox View of Scripture

I was reading a new blog post by Fr. Stephen that is challenging the way I view Scripture. If you’re really interested, you can read the whole post HERE . But let me give you a quote:

The Scriptures, as used in the Orthodox Church, are decidedly the Church’s Scriptures, and cannot be rightly read apart from the liturgical and ascetic life of the Church.“Literalism is a false means of interpretation (hermenuetic) and is a vain attempt to democratize the Holy writings. If they can be read on a literal level, then everyone has equal access to them and everybody has equal authority to interpret them. Thus certain forms of Protestantism, caught up in the various modern theories of the Reformation, sought to do to the Scriptures what many sought to do with their governments. Kill the princes! Kill the priests! Everyone can be his own king, his own priest. Smash the images and any claim to authority. Of course these extreme forms always failed quickly, to be replaced by some version of moderation.“Thus the Scriptures are not purely democratic – some interpreters are more equal than others.”

Fr. Stephen’s post causes a “Yeah!… Hey, wait a minute!” reaction in me. One of the things I have struggled with as a Protestant is how anyone with a Bible can interpret it and make it say whatever they want it to say. I’ve lost count of how many small group discussions I have attended where I have inwardly cringed when someone said, “Well, what this means to me is…”And a similar dynamic occurs at the academic level, where attempts to discover the author’s original intent based on critical study can be incredibly diverse and even contradictory.The legacy of Sola Scriptura in western Protestantism is tragic. Anyone can believe Scripture says what they want it to say and then find someone to validate that belief. I mean, just watch any National Geographic or History Channel special around Easter or Christmas. All it takes are a few talking heads with letters behind their names to concoct some ridiculous theory to explain the biblical stories. Or skim the titles at any Christian books store and you’ll find Scripture being used to support basically any topic.So, I find myself agreeing with Fr. Stephen’s idea, “Thus the Scriptures are not purely democratic – some interpreters are more equal than others.”But I also find myself reacting to his ideas. As one who has spent my entire adult life learning to interpret and teach Scripture, the idea that “The Scriptures, as used in the Orthodox Church, are decidedly the Church’s Scriptures, and cannot be rightly read apart from the liturgical and ascetic life of the Church” is a very foreign, and quite frankly, frightening concept to me. Or, his statement later in his post, “The authority to speak about Christ is given to those whom He has chosen and ordained” really stirred up some reaction in me.Now I’ve learned that when I react strongly to something, the first questions I need to ask are “Why am I reacting so strongly to this? What is this exposing in me?” In this case, the answer is very obvious: Pride. I don’t like to be told what to believe. I like the fact that I have learned the skills to interpret Scripture and wrestle with Scripture to yield interpretations different than the popular versions of Christianity.Now it’s not all pride. Part of it is a response to having been taught false ideas by well-meaning Bible teachers in the past. Part of it is having been trained in seminary to approach theology with a critical and even a skeptical eye. But a good part of it is pride — my interpretations are the result of my hard work, my study and my skill.So I know I need to do several things: First, I know Fr. Stephen’s post rings true. Scripture must be read, studied and lived in the liturgical and ascetic life of the Church. So probably the most important action our family must take is finding a parish in which to immerse our lives and to begin experiencing Scripture.Second, I need to seek some counsel about whether it is possible to merge both a liturgical life in Scripture with a “critical” study of Scripture. Or to come to grips with the fact that they may be diametrically opposed to each other.Third, I need to bring my exposed pride before my Lord so that he may save me from it. I need to deal with the possibility that not everybody, including myself, has the equal authority to interpret Scripture and that I may need to yield to those whom God has ordained to teach me. This scares me more than I want to admit. And once again, I find myself praying, “Lord, have mercy.”

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Intro to Icons

 One of the things I want to understand better as we explore Orthodoxy are icons. Although I’ve read a little bit about icons, I know virtually nothing about them. And yet I sense that they will provide my family with a depth of spirituality that we’ve been lacking in our evangelical lives.I came across an article by Susan Cushman, via Father Stephen , that in my opinion, offers a wonderful introduction to icons and their spiritual beauty. The article is called, “Icons Will Save the World,” and not only contains some ideas worth exploring and thinking about, but also links to some books that seem promising.In her article, Susan Cushman quotes Henri Nouwen, who explains why he chose to meditate on icons rather than on the artistic masterpieces of Michelangelo or Rembrandt. He writes:

“I have chosen icons because they are created for the sole purpose of offering access, through the gates of the visible, to the mystery of the invisible. Icons are painted to lead us into the inner room of prayer and bring us close to the heart of God.” 

Personally, when I look at icons, I sense that they are doors, but doors that presently remain closed to me. But like doors that promise to open into rooms filled with light, warmth and unknown wonder, I look forward to the day when they will swing open and snatch my breath away with what lies behind them. And beyond that, to learn to see humans and the entire creation as icons of God.But some may ask, “Why are icons so important?” Simply put, icons are expressions of the Incarnation. The invisible and boundless God became visible and embodied. This is a powerful declaration. In Genesis, God spoke over his newly formed creation, “It is good.” Yet through Christ’s Incarnation, he declared even more loudly over a broken creation, “It is still good!” The Incarnation climaxed God’s mission that began in Genesis 1 and which Paul summarizes in Ephesians 1:9-10:

“With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” 

Heaven and earth are still meant to be fused and merged together. Human beings are this reality as we become the temple of God, his presence on earth. But it doesn’t stop with human beings. All things on heaven and earth are to be reconciled together and gathered up in Christ. And icons are one way in which this occurs. Icons of Christ, his Mother and the Saints somehow merge heaven and earth together. And as we enter into communion with God through them, we can be envisioned and energized for a life pleasing and worthy of Christ. As Susan Cushman states in her article:

“The icons are visions of what we can become if we allow God to penetrate every aspect of our lives. Those who attain this God-likeness to the fullest extent recognized by the Church are saints. Their lives, their stories, lift us up to be all that we can be — as we are transformed by God’s grace and love.” 

I have much to learn in Orthodoxy. But I excitedly anticipate a liturgical life, a sacramental life, a iconographic life — and ultimately through them, an Incarnational life.And even though icons are presently a mystery to me, I resonate and long to experience the last sentence of Cushman’s article:

“No wonder the Church celebrates those wise bishops of the Seventh Ecumenical Council who proclaimed iconography to be an ordinance and tradition that is not something extra, something added to the life of the Church, but as Chryssavgis says, a necessary expression of the reality of both God and the world.” 

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Stanley Grenz Quotes

Here are a couple of quotes from Stanley Grenz’ book, Theology for the Community of God. Some cool stuff to muse upon as we think about God’s Story.

“The church is a people who covenant together to belong to God – that is, to be holy, to be set apart from the world for God’s special use. As this holy people, we are to proclaim in word and action the principles of the kingdom, showing others what it means to live under the divine reign. But more importantly, as Christ’s people we are to show forth the divine reality – to be the image of God. To be the people in covenant with God who serve as the sign of the kingdom means to reflect the very nature of God. The church reflects God’s character in that it lives as a genuine community – lives in love – for as the community of love the church shows the nature of the triune God. En route to the consummation of his purpose, therefore, God calls the church to mirror as far as possible in the midst of the brokenness of the present that eschatological ideal community of love which derives its meaning from the divine essence” (p. 483).

“Only in our Spirit-produced corporateness do we truly reflect to all creation the grand dynamic that lies at the heart of the triune God. As we share together in the Holy Spirit, therefore, we participate in relationship with the living God and become the community of Christ our Lord” (p. 484).

“The fellowship of Jesus’ followers is not merely a loose coalition of individuals who acknowledge Jesus, however. Rather, it is a community of disciples who seek to walk together in accordance with the principles of the kingdom. As Christ’s church, we desire to live out in the present the final reality that will come at the end of history, namely, the reconciled community. This forms the ultimate reason why the goal of evangelism is disciple making. The Spirit directs his great creative work toward establishing the eschatological community, a people who are bonded together by their mutual obedience to the God revealed in Jesus. It is their commitment to living as Jesus’ disciples which facilitates the mutuality that characterizes the community they form” (p. 504)

Don’t you just love it!?