iSoul Time has three dimensions

Category Archives: Wondering

literature: lyrics to new hymns and some revisions to old hymns, poetry, and stories

In the beginning is reality

In the beginning is reality. That is, reality precedes us. We discover reality. We don’t invent reality. “Wonder is the only beginning of philosophy.” (Socrates in Plato’s Theaetetus 155d) “For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.” (Aristotle, Met. 982b12).

We wonder about reality. That leads to questions, to queries. Wonder is not skepticism. Wonder does not doubt reality. Wonder affirms reality but wonders about it. What about this or that? The wonderful story of the Virgin Mary’s question to the angel of the annunciation illustrates this:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Mary wondered rather than doubted. (cf. previous post here.) The angel was strange enough but this was stranger. Could further information be provided? Yes. We are encouraged to ask and seek: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Jesus in Luke 11:9)

We begin but reality has already begun. So we begin again. That is, we begin in the middle. We begin with questions. Socrates has many questions. He shows us how to keep asking. He knows nothing before his questions are answered. “The theologian always begins in the middle” (Stanley Hauerwas) and the philosopher does, too.

Church and ethnos

Most Christian congregations have an ethnos, a term from cultural anthropology for people with a common national or cultural tradition. Congregations are usually part of a larger network, denomination, or hierarchy, which has at least one ethnos. (Eastern) Orthodox autocephalous churches are national churches, which include the ethnos of their nation. The (Roman) Catholic church incorporates multiple national churches, each with its own ethnos. In places such as the U.S., a Catholic parish reflects the ethnic background of the parishioners, usually Italian, Spanish, Irish, or Polish.

Protestant denominations reflect their national origins. Lutherans have a Germanic or Scandinavian ethnos. Presbyterians have a Dutch, Scottish or Swiss ethnos. Anglicans have a strong British ethnos, which includes the Queen. Many denominations adopt the ethnos of the country they reside in, so for example American Baptists have an American ethnos. The Messianic congregations springing up have a Jewish ethnos.

A church ethnos reflects the way that Christianity is a universal religion that does not replace the ethnos of its adherents. The original Christian church had a Jewish ethnos but as Gentile believers became dominant, Christianity acquired the ethnos of the nations. The apostolic decision that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or keep the Jewish law affirmed Gentile national customs and laws.

Some worry that a church ethnos may be excessive or even idolatrous. While that is possible, church and ethnos have been together for centuries without significant harm. The excesses that have been pointed out, such as the Russian Orthodox under the Czars or some Lutherans in Nazi Germany, have come and gone. And the Lutheran Confessing Church was a witness against an excessive ethnos in the church.

Merry, marry, Mary Christmas

The word “merry” is rarely used anymore except in relation to Christmas, which reflects the jaded and conventional time in which we live. Busy people aren’t merry, though they might occasionally get plastered or fall over laughing. But in centuries past people could be merry without self-consciousness about it. The birth of a baby was a cause of joy and merriment. In times with high infant mortality, life was cherished while it lasted.

Did Joseph marry the virgin who told him she was pregnant? “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 1:20) So they lived together as if they were husband and wife. But when was the wedding? When did they become one flesh? The text doesn’t say. For all we know, Joseph accepted the social stigma of living with a single mother of questionable morals.

Who was and is Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God? The “handmaiden of the Lord”, “blessed among women”, who found favor with God. The mother of the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord, the Son of God. A teenage girl was all that. A redeemed and saved child of God, with life everlasting and a home eternal in the heavens. And the mother of Christmas, a very merry, marry, Mary Christmas.

Synopsis of the Gospel

A previous post here gave a summary of the Gospel. The following comes from Rev. David Harper’s blog entry, The power of story:

Here’s a synopsis.

1. God created humankind in His image for fellowship and partnership, entrusting to us stewardship of His earth. (Gen. 1:28)  

2. Because of sin, in which we all participate, our fellowship with God and one another has fractured (Gen. 3:1-19, 4:8; Rom. 3:23).

3. God sent His Son, Jesus, as the promised Messianic King and Son of God, come to earth in human form to become one with us. (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:4ff.).

4. By his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin, and secured our justification by grace, (1 Cor. 15:3ff.). He has broken the dominion of sin and evil over us (Col. 2:13-15), restored us to right relationship with the Father, and made us the firstfruits of His new creation. (James 1:18)

 5. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do the works that Jesus did, enlisting us in His plan and purpose to make the whole creation new. (John 14:12ff, Acts 2:1ff, Eph. 1:9-10, 3:8-12

6. At his return, Jesus will complete what he began by the renewal of the entire material creation, and the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8: 18ff.).)

For more from Rev. Harper, see his website Things New & Old. One thing he is known for is expressed in his talk on Three Streams, One River.

Basic Gospel Message

Vic Scaravilli is a Catholic who put the following on his website here. I’m reposting it (with permission) and note that Evangelicals would agree that this is the gospel, with some nuances about baptism.

The Basic Gospel Message

By Vic Scaravilli

God loves each one of us. He loves me and He loves you with an unconditional love. You are precious in His eyes.

There is something that has kept us separated from God, something that has kept us from experiencing His love in our lives. That something is called sin. The result of sin is spiritual death. We have all sinned and never can be perfect.

Does that mean we can never know and experience God’s love? No, because God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for each one of us. Jesus is the only bridge that takes us from our sin to the love of God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for everyone.

This is called salvation. It is the free gift of eternal life that is completely given to us by God’s grace. Salvation is the life in Jesus that begins now and will be for all eternity.

The free gift of salvation must be accepted in order for it to be our own. We must experience an internal conversion experience that changes our hearts. Once we accept Jesus into our hearts and allow Him to come into our lives, we begin to experience His love.

In order to become children of God, we must be born again. The sacrament of Baptism forgives your sins, gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, restores the grace lost by Adam, and makes you a member of His family.

This is the gift of salvation. We have the opportunity of eternal life because of what Jesus did for you and me. All we have to do is personally accept it by faith and be obedient to Him. Baptism and conversion are required to begin this process.

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.

Creation of ubiquitous light

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1, has attracted many commentators over the centuries. Recent scholarly work attempts to place it in the context of ancient Near East writings. (Near East is the European moniker for what Americans call the Middle East.) That however undervalues the unique, nuanced text of Genesis.

Creation ex nihilo is analogous in some ways to the creation of an axiomatic system such as Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. Before the first postulate (“A straight line segment can be drawn joining any two points.”) one should not assume that any such straight lines exist. “Let there be a line such that …” is the act of creating a line.

Similarly, in reading Genesis 1 we should not assume that before something was created, it existed or it existed in the way that we know it. Things we take for granted today, such as light, had to be created. This requires a close reading of Genesis 1 as a step by step process in which as little as possible is assumed to exist before there is some indication that it does exist.

Genesis 1 begins with some of the most famous words ever written:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

In regards to light, the second verse says there was darkness but no light, at least in the earthly world (we’re not told about the heavens of verse 1). Light is created in verse 3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Where was the light shining from that was created in verse 3? And what time was the light shining? The text answers the second question first, in verses 4 and 5: “And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The light of verse 3 was separated from darkness to produce daylight, that is, a time of light. Before that separation, light and darkness were commingled in time. That is, at first light was ubiquitous in time. After the separation, light was concentrated in time, which is what constituted Day, that is, daylight.

Several verses later the text reads about the fourth day (Gen. 1:14-18):

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

For centuries people have found this passage perplexing. How could there be light on earth without the sun? Why was the sun needed if there was already light on earth? To start with, there was light on earth before the sun; that’s what the text says about day one. There was also evening and morning, nighttime and daytime without the sun.

Again, where was the light shining from that was created in verse 3? The answer is given in verse 18, which says why the sun, moon, and stars were created: to separate the light from the darkness. Prior to this light and darkness were commingled in space. That is, at first light was ubiquitous in space.

The image is that of the creation of ubiquitous light, which is then separated from darkness in time, and later separated from darkness in space. The separation of light and darkness on the fourth day produced stars, including the sun. The stars were not created from nothing at that time but were made by concentrating the light in space. Stars are a concentration of light that was already there.

This answers another perplexing question, which is asked since the speed of light is known to be finite, and some stars are many light-years away: How did the light get from the stars to the earth so quickly? The answer is that the light was already on the earth because light was ubiquitous in space before the stars were made. Concentrated darkness was lacking, too, before the light and darkness were separated.

In order to explain how starlight got to earth in a short time, it is sometimes asserted that God created light in transit. That is a different view than the one presented here, and one that lacks support in the text of Genesis 1. There are those who say Genesis 1 is just poetry and so can be interpreted any way you want. I have no patience for such a low view of poetry or anyone who plays fast and loose with the text. The close reading above shows that the text of Genesis 1 makes sense on its own terms.

One-sentence summaries

One could use the common one-sentence summary of the Muslim faith to describe other monotheistic faiths and monistic ideologies; for example:

There is no God but Yahweh and Moses is his legislator.

There is no God but Yahweh and David is his psalmist.

There is no God but Deus and the Pope is his bishop.

There is no God but Gott and Luther is his reformer.

There is no God but Dieu and Calvin is his polemicist.

There is no God but Jesus and Wesley is his evangelist.

There is no God but Nature and Newton is his scientist.

There is no God but Evolution and Darwin is his scientist.

There is no God but Matter and Marx is his revolutionary.

 

I give thanks

I give thanks that “God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

I give thanks that “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Ps 19:9).

I give thanks to God for providing salvation and life everlasting, even for me, who am not worthy nor able to do the least to begin a new life in Christ.

I give thanks for the blessings of this life — for health, for wealth, for a wife. I give thanks for a mind to think, hands to work, and a spirit to worship the Creator, Savior, and Redeemer of mankind.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you most humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies that our hearts may be unfeignèdly thankful, and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you, in holiness and righteousness, all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical

This post is about the words catholic, orthodox, and evangelical and what they mean. The first question is whether only one branch (denomination) of Christianity can legitimately use any of these words. The answer is No; many churches can use them.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed includes the words “In one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. So any church that accepts this creed has some claim on the word catholic (as well as the word apostolic).

Catholic means universal so any church that identifies with the universal church (whether as part of it or the whole of it is another matter) has a claim on this word. This includes every branch of Christianity, though the Church of Rome has taken it their moniker.

It is similar with the word orthodox. Any church that considers its doctrine to be orthodox Christianity has a claim on this word. That covers every branch of Christianity, although the churches of Eastern Christianity have taken it as their moniker.

The word evangelical simply means “pertaining to the gospel.” Any church which promotes the gospel has a claim on this word. That covers every branch of Christianity, though some Protestant churches (especially revivalist ones) have taken it as their moniker.

We could say that the words catholic, orthodox, and evangelical have generic and specialized meanings. Their specialized uses are usually capitalized. No one branch of Christianity has a monopoly on any of these words, though it sometimes seems so.

 

Million-dollar parable

You’re broke. You don’t have enough the pay the rent at the end of the month. If your car breaks down, you can’t afford to have it fixed. Your bank account is almost empty. You’re at the end of your rope.

Then an old friend stops by, someone you knew in school who happens to be very wealthy. He says he heard you’ve been having a hard time so he went to your bank and deposited a million dollars in your name. You can hardly believe it. You thank him and he leaves.

Then you start wondering, Is this for real? So you go down to the bank and ask for your balance. The clerk gives you a slip of paper with the balance and, sure enough, it says there’s a million dollars there. You take that slip of paper home and keep it with you. Sometimes you take it out and read it to remind you this is for real.

It starts to sink in and you tell others what happened. You think of all the things you can do with the money now. You can take your family on a vacation. You can pay for your kids to go to college. You can even give some money away.

You keep in touch with this old friend — after all, friends like this are good to have. You thank him every time you meet. You tell others about this friend’s generosity and how you didn’t earn a penny of it. You’re very thankful that your life has turned around.

This changes your life but it didn’t have to. You could have told your old friend, I appreciate your concern but I believe in earning my own way in this world — I don’t want to be dependent on anyone else. Thanks but no thanks.

Or you could have gone down to the bank and told them, There’s been a mistake — take that million dollars off the account. You don’t want it, you don’t need it, you’re not going to keep it.

Either way, the gift is for you. The million dollars is put on your account. Your finances are secure — unless you reject this gift. And if you keep it, your life will be changed.