Coffee Time

Time passed by is time lost, time gone;
Time flown by is time no more. Time
In which we could have earlier known
Soft whispers of each other’s lips, the
Warmth of each other’s embrace.

Yes, such is our loss; but just as
Coffee cherries must need time to ripen
In order that its flavors may strengthen, sweeten,
So might we have been prepared
For a brew, a break, in a time, as this.

So, fret not my love. Let us
Savor each sip, take our time,
Drink in each other’s sweet and bitter;
We have not lost time, but gained,
To take in each cup’s goodness at our pleasure,
And perhaps bring home the whole bag of beans.

The Eucharist makes the Church

“One of the most interesting lines in Sermon 227 says the following about consuming Christ’s body and blood: ‘If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive. You see, the apostle says, We, being many, are one loaf, one body (1 Cor 10:17).’ The comment sounds innocuous enough, but it contains two fascinating elements. First when we talk about transubstantiation, we think of the tea teaching that the bread becomes the body of Christ. Augustine says something rather different: You become the body of Christ; you become what you eat. We could perhaps say – somewhat anachronistically – that, for Augustine, transubstantiation meant that the Spirit changed our substance into the body of Christ.

This would seem like a peculiar understanding of the Eucharist. What did Augustine mean when he said, ‘You are what you have received’? To find an answer to this question, we need to turn to the second fascinating element in Augustine’s comment. In the second part of his statement, the Bishop of Hippo quotes the apostle Paul: ‘The bread is one; we, though many, are one body.’ This is a quotation from 1 Corinthians 10:17. The NIV translation renders verses 16b and 17 as follows: ‘And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.’ The word ‘body occurs twice in this passage. The first time, it refers to the eucharistic body. (‘[I]s not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?’) The second time, it refers to the ecclesial body. (‘Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body.’) Of the three bodies frequently referred to in the Great Tradition (the historical, the eucharistic, and the ecclesial), Paul takes the last two and places them beside each other; he links them together. He maintains that when, by faith, we share in the one eucharistic body, the Spirit makes us one ecclesial body. As Augustine would put it, we become what we have received.

Or, as de Lubac famously phrases it, the Eucharist makes the church.

Hans Boersma; Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry

We are divided when we neglect the taking of the Lord’s Supper together.

Art and Craft

These days you feel my absence more than presence;
I confess, yes, these days I’m not
The most present, or pleasant, not
When trying to master the paradoxical arts
Of juggling but not clowning around,
Standing firm and yet waltzing well,
Seeing far without tripping.
Still, no excuse; so I promise
I’ll do my very best in this one craft –
Laying down brick by brick of a kiln
In which we can stoke a dependable flame
Which will keep us warm together, so that even
In coldest nights we have a little heat and light
For song and chatter, time together.

Re-Forming Worship

A Survey of Words

A survey of common Greek words in the Bible which is related to the idea of worship surfaces the following four groups of words:

Prostruneo – Usually to denote an act of homage

Latriaen – Acts of devotion, being devoted to

Leiturgeio/Leiturgeiousai  – Concerning priesthood and ministry

Sebomai – Fear and reverence

Homage to a Benefactor. Devotion to the Father God. Priestly and ministerial rites governing the approach to a Diety. Fear of the greater Power. Together these sum up the attitudes of worship. We recognize that we owe all to the God who has created all things; we are devoted to the Father who so loved the world that He gave His Son; we draw near to Him corporately in a meaningful and ordered liturgy which expresses our orientation towards Him; and we fear Him who is able to kill not just the body but the soul as well, Him who speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.

Homo Adorans

Even before we get to these words, we need to recognize the primitive desire that all man have in worshipping a greater power. Homage, devotion, liturgy and fear are all common to the religious instincts of man everywhere, be it to wood and stone in ancient days or to ideology and archetypes of modern times. To paraphrase Alexander Schemann, man hungers to worship, and as Peter Leithart and James Jordan would put it, we are ‘homo adorans’ – creatures which worship.  The challenge we have today is to restore this anthropological insight in a day when man worships all sorts of things but at the same time would deny that he worships anything, and we need both the Bible and sociological insight to bring the point to a secular age, and convince man that there is no other God worthy of the worship of man.

Spirit and Truth

We often talk about the memorable phrase that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman – that those of the new covenant worship ‘in Spirit and Truth’ – so that it is understood as worshipping according to the Bible in an enthusiastic and Holy Spirit filled manner. The reason we do so is often to balance between reason and emotion in worship, fearing that on the one hand we would be dead word reciters or on the other hand burst into an uncontrollable ecstasy of tongues.

But perhaps that is not what Jesus meant. Perhaps he is not a 21st century church goer trying to figure out what is good in the Charismatic  Church phenomenon while fearing that we are slipping away from Bible-based liturgy. Perhaps he is more concerned with the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit which very soon He was about to pour out on all flesh after the Pentecost, having ascended to the right-hand of the Father. Perhaps he was more concerned with doing away the Old Covenant and ushering in the New. Perhaps he has another perspective that we moderns have failed to read, a perspective that is centred upon the historical works that God does in bringing about His salvation plan, rather than finding a compromise in the worship wars of the 1990s and the 2000s.

Old and New

My reading (and not a novel one) of the ‘Spirit and Truth’ is really about the in-breaking of the Spirit in the New Covenant, bringing about new revelation to the 1st Century Jewish sect later called Christians, and bringing truth of God’s redemptive plan to all man.

So at the heart of Spirit and Truth worship is the Gospel, which reveals a reversal of what was considered ‘once’, and what was considered ‘forever’, in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the OT, the priests are mortal and die. In the NT, Christ is the invincible and immortal priest who lives forever. Priesthoodness is no longer ‘once’ as in the OT, but ‘forever’ in the NT. An opposite movement is seen in the matter of sacrifices; In the OT the sacrifice ritual is repeated over and over again, to be perpetuated forever; but in the NT the sacrifice of Christ is once for all, ending all future sacrifice. Sacrifices are no longer forever as in the OT, but once and final in the NT.

This says a lot about what lasts, and what is once for all, in matters of worship. And it has sociological consequences. If we do not worship God in Christ, who is the once-for-all sacrifice who ends all sacrifice, we end up forever searching for sacrifices, falling into the cult of the tragic hero whose legacy must be upheld by continual death and sacrifice. We are forever bound to a debt that cannot be repaid, and are forever in need of new Messiahs to perpetuate the order we cherish, a never-ending works righteousness that only ends in endless sacrifice and bloodshed. Witness the idols of nationalism, the Cultural Revolution of China, the cult of the capital-driven technologist today, etc – the never-ending demands they have on the human body so that we finally reach their various visions of utopia are real. The price is paid in blood, sweat, tears, the resources of the earth, all laid on the altar of continual sacrifice.

Only in Christ are we free to embrace the abundance of a communion that is not threatened by circumstances, not overcome by the world. We have been forgiven and called into the Kingdom of God in Christ. Non-Christian systems of worship and social organizations require a continual production of temporary heroes to perpetuate the values we hold dear, creating a cycle of continuous purging, refounding, revolution, scapegoats etc. The Christian vision of renewal in worship and social organization is instead anti-sacrificial, but upheld by prayer, repentance, trust in God’s timing, and obedience to be in communion with God through the rites of simple rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The falsely messianic and apocalyptic are peddled by those who do not believe that the sacrifice of Christ is once and final – the Messiah is already on the Throne today, and we await the leaven of the Kingdom to fill the whole loaf of the world.

As such, Christian liturgy needs to remember its continual posture of waiting and receiving, instead of a adopting a posture of mobilizing and organizing. There is indeed a place for mobilizing and organizing in the Church to do the good works God has given to us, but this should not take the place of the liturgy, the time which we devote to our waiting and receiving from the one and only Priest who lasts forever, who gives abundantly to us the once for all sacrifice He made on the cross. It must recognize that the Pentecost has already happened and the Spirit has already been poured out, God’s redemptive plan has already been revealed in Christ. As much as this is all astounding news should continually overcome our own agendas and force us to respond to the God of the gospel, we have to retain the posture of waiting and receiving. Worship must not mainly be a time of drumming up the emotions and rallying the congregation, nor is it merely a reciting and affirming the creeds and long held traditions. It is, at heart, a recognition that the Spirit has been poured out and the Truth has been announced, and we are to wait upon the Lord of the Spirit and Truth so that we may receive from Him His gifts which refreshes His Spirit in us and further imprints the Truth in our lives, so that we may become more and more what we shall be. Only then are we living sacrifices, enacting reasonable worship.

In a round-about way, this does actually address the concerns of the worship wars, which was often about tone and tempo and tune and tenor – the chord played and the word spoken must help us be better waiters and receivers upon the Lord of Spirit and Truth, not performers for men manufacturing revolution and novelty. The New Covenant is new and radical enough, and to try to ‘improve’ upon it is to return to mortal priests and endless bloodshed unto false gods.

Reasonable Acts of Worship – the Return of Form to Worship

Logikos/Logiken in Romans 12:1, which is translated as reasonable worship, is meant to point us to toward being aligned to the mind of God, reasonable in accordance to the doctrines which Paul had staked out in Romans 1-11. For Paul, the Christian existence is living sacrifice not in the sense that we replace the sacrifice of Christ (who had to literally die and rise again; this we cannot do other than through the sense of saying that we do put our sinful flesh to death and live unto the Spirit, having become one with Christ), but rather that we have our whole lives become thoroughly given over to God and pressed into His image.

The Romans 12 vision of worship is a vision of life aligned to the mind of God. So how should this inform the way we order our ‘worship event’ on Sunday mornings? Or perhaps, the question should be posed in a more pragmatic manner – how does the worship event on Sunday help us to live a Romans 12 vision of a life of worship?

If we do not see a link between the two, then perhaps we fail to understand the basic point that we are all homo adorans. Perhaps an example in the opposite direction may help – the contemporary view of the worship event is often an intense mystical encounter with the Divine Other. Adopting this perspective and frame for our worship services does shape our vision of life – we become more prone to grand revelations founded on hyper-emotional experiences, giving primacy to the individual’s feeling and emotion as the ground of truth and being in our analysis of what is true and commendable. When we teach our people that an encounter with God is recognized by emotional intensity and mystical feelings of transcendence, we give them the frame for perceiving what is true in their Monday to Saturday experience.

Sometimes we fail to recognize the insidiousness of this mystical view of worship in creating frames for recognizing what is true in the world. Some churches do, and over-react by formulating liturgies which are overly logo-centric and therefore hyper-determinable. This is often paradoxically accompanied by a liturgical theology which emphasizes attitude over form, so that form is left simple and stripped down but purity of heart and attitude is given a rhetorical premium, which is then filtered into the minds of the congregation as another angle to the mystical view of worship. If I were just earnest (read emotional) on Sunday morning enough, I would have gained communion with God.

What may therefore be needful today (and I suggest this as a may), is to restore the  notion that form in worship as just as important as attitude. A proper restoration of the importance and awareness of form can help to counter the mystical and emotion-centric view of worship which is aimed at encountering the Divine through an agony of the inner being, which is closely related to the earlier point about the posture of worship not being revolutionary, mobilizational, and novel. These are experiences which are tightly bound up with one another, which we would do well to avoid.

Let the anguish of the heart and overflowing joy come from convictions of the Spirit and the imprinting of the Truth. And to do so we need to return to prominence form in worship – forms which serve to promote a postures of waiting and receiving, forms which serve to keep the Romans 12 vision of life in view, forms which focus our attention of the forever High Priest who has provided the once for all sacrifice.

And so we move away from wanting to drum up an exciting individual worship atmosphere and instead adopt practices which inculcate penitence, reflection on the gospel, prayer, receiving, and waiting upon the Lord. Instead of trying to turn the worship session into an other worldly experience we should make it a prism through which we see the world ahead of us afresh through God’s eyes and practice how we are to live in it. Instead of merely being focused on the text of the Bible and the preaching of the preacher (of course, nothing diminishes their importance at all, to avoid misunderstanding), we seek forms which also places our attention on the Saviour memorializes His sacrifice.

Nothing short of a ‘Re-Form’ is recommended here. And the following link  illustrates how awareness of form helps support a Romans 12 view of life – https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2015/03/worship-and-world.

Geographers

Once I sought
To be a cartographer of ideas, to
Fill this canvas with undulating features
Formed out of the cranium of long dead men:
Rivers which are never twice the same,
And landscape dotted by teleological oak trees.

These days, the metaphor fails.
The maps are still relevant, only this time
I scan for routes to our next favorite spot –
Some shaded grove or secluded walk,
Paths tracing some winding way
To pleasant views whispered of in lore.

I know; it seems more grounded compared
To those tall mountains on which supposed wise beings sit.
Well, they can wait
While a fellow novice geographer stands ready
To run the length of land to sea
And chart a whole new world with me.

The Myth of the Natural Man

Many things today are labelled as social constructs, be it gender, religion, economic structures, race, tradition, etc. This is quickly followed by the advice that because they are socially constructed, there is  no reason for them to be there, and we should hasten to remove the political and institutional structures which enable them to exist in their current form.

What then, is not is a social construct? Or, better yet, what is the opposite of a social construct? A ‘natural, autonomous, spontaneous expression of the self?’ Has there ever been such a man, untainted since birth from the influence of society, raised without contamination from tradition and human institution, a pure and chosen priest of the religion of the natural?

The myth of a natural man is well and alive today. I am looking forward to diving back down into Bruno Latour.

 

Mission in a Galatianist Age

‘We are not what we think we are. We think we are new, shiny, modern, sleek, very different from all that came before. Looking at our world through the lens of fleshly stoicheia and their destruction by the Spirit, we see ourselves differently. Alongside the novelty of modern culture – and there is novelty aplenty – there is much that is very, very old. There is much that we have borrowed from pre-Christian stoicheic order and re-established in the Christian era. A Galatianist church has formed a Galatianist age.

The churches of the West face a rare, if not unprecedented, task: we confront a civilization once deeply Christian that has attempted to leave the Christian era. It’s effort to progress beyond the Christian era has been – perhaps inevitably – a retreat, a turn back to the things of childhood, bright lines separating nations and races, sacred boundaries around the religious institutions of art, systems of pure reason. We confront a world that follows stoicheic patterns, but stoicheic patterns have been modified by the influence of the gospel. In attempting to transcend the ambiguities of the Spirit in flesh, it has reverted to flesh, with often horrific consequences.

Like Jesus, we need to identify the pressure points, the sacred boundaries  on which the modern cosmos is built, and then find ways to transgress those boundaries. We need places to eat with sinners, to eat with one another. We need to identify the sacred dens where the brigands gather, so we can enact God’s indignation at sinful flesh. I suspect we will find many in that temple-pocked capital city of ours. We need to follow J.G Hamaan’s lead in telling parables at the expense of the intellectual, political, and cultural Pharisees. Above all we need to remonstrate with each other. For we have all become timid Peters, in desperate need of a shock from Paul.’

– Peter Leithart, Delivered from the Elements of the World

 

You Are What You Love

“To recognize this is to appreciate something about the mechanisms of temptation: not all sins are decisions. Because we tend to be intelletualists who assume that we are thinking things, we construe temptation and sin accordingly: we think temptation is an intellectual reality, where some idea is presented to us that we then think about and make a conscious choice to pursue (or not). But once you realize that we are not just thinking things but creatures of habit, you’ll then realize that temptation isn’t just about bad ideas or wrong decisions, it’s often a factor of de-formation and wronfly ordered habits. In other words, our sins aren’t just discrete, wrong actions and bad decisions; they reflect vices. And ocercoming them requires more than just knowledge; it requires rehabituation, a re-formation of our loves.”

You are what you Love, James K.A Smith

Let the Nations be Glad – the Caliphate

“IN 781 Timothy (I, Patriarch of the Church of the East) was invited to take part in a debate at the court of al-Mahdi, the third Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, on differences between Christianity and Islam. As was to be expected in the circumstances, Timothy was at a distinct disadvantage; he even used the word ‘futility’ to describe the debate. Yet the discussion focused on substantive issues, and it is clear that the caliph was well informed about Christianity and took Timothy’s arguments seriously. The caliph asked, for example, how someone so learned could say that God married a woman and begot a son. Timothy replied that no Christian would say that. But, said the caliph, did you not say that Christ is the Son of God? True, Timothy answered, but how this could be is beyond our grasp; we can only speak in analogies. As light is born of the sun and the word of the soul, so Christ who is Word is born of God before all worlds.

The First Thousand Years, Robert Louis Wilkin