I often pray for courage

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAh-AAAAJGY0NjI4ZThjLWE3ZGYtNDAyYy1hYWI5LTNmZGE4ZjYyOTYzOAOne thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid.  To be afraid is doubly an injury to him.  Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful; secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety or fear.  Let us then have the faith that banishes fear.  Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us.

            –From Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld

 

I often pray to God for courage; but, not the kind of courage you might be thinking of in the context of our world.  I do not pray for the courage that we equate with strength.  I pray for the courage to believe completely and fully in the presence of God in my life.  I pray for the courage to have a fearless and unshaking faith and trust in God.  Perhaps it seems odd that minister-types don’t come naturally equipped with an unflinching faith and an unquestioned trust that God is with them; but, we too are human and we too are often afraid.  When I pray for courage, I am praying for trust.  I pray for the trust to know that God is with us no matter how often we try to rationalize his absence or suggest that he isn’t listening.  Even so, it is dishonest to suggest that people of faith are never afraid…we are often afraid.  We are afraid because we are not perfect and we are not capable of the truest faith modeled to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  We are afraid because we live in a world of loud voices telling us to be afraid, telling us that our only hope is found in nations or nationalism.  These voices, trying hard to be louder than God, echo across televisions and social media in an endless stream of terror-invoking cynicism.  They are the voices of human brokenness on full display 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I often pray to God for courage, the kind of courage that embraces vulnerable empathy and humble service amidst the cries of selfish ambition and idolatrous individualism.  I pray for the courage to be faithful to God’s work, God’s call to mission, and to be liberated from the lack of trust that puts my own needs and my own privileged worries ahead of the needs of others.  I pray for the courage that creates a freedom from fear, fear of bills and paychecks and personal lives, etc.  Trust in God is a challenge more than a given in ministry and in life.  So much of our programming begs us to trust only those things we can see and believe only those things we can prove as though our rattled hearts might be calmed by tangibility.  Courage is comfort and comfort is a spiritual state, not a physical one.  Trusting in the grace of God may be intangible; but, it is also eternal and, once trusted, cannot be taken away.

I often pray to God for courage, the courage to trust God and to surrender those things which I cannot control, or handle, or know.  Trusting in God means that mystery is always present and absolutes are far away.  Trusting in God is an exercise in touching the greatness of a larger truth that humbles and inspires the faithful.  The courage to trust is a pathway to the Divine that begins with a simple prayer and ends in a Kingdom yet to come.  I pray for the courage to trust in God through all things and in all things, even in the moments of darkness when God seems so far away.   I don’t have the magic formula to give you; but, I would encourage all of us to do a little more praying for courage and a little less surrendering to fear.

 

Walk Humbly

a6634932f886aeb1c76b746cd625e7a6--inspirational-bible-quotes-typography-posterThere are moments when the reality of my call to the ministry is so overwhelming that I am brought to tears.  The movement of the Spirit in the everyday moments of life is so beautiful that I cannot help but feel so small and so confounded by the way it floods my heart with light and hope.  God calls out to a ministry of all believers, touching men and women of all kinds to the service of the church; and yet, there is, in the quietness of prayerful thought, a singular and deeply individual relationship that occurs for those who approach God in prayer and service.  Some may ask, “How do you know that God exists?”  I can only respond with, “How can you not know when the entirety of creation is so filled with possibility and wonder.”

The call to ministry is a direct tap on the shoulder, a whisper in the ear, from a living and seeking God.  It is a call to surrender the trappings of a noisy and material world and to offer up a sacrifice of humility and service in their place.  More often than not, I am filled with a sense of desire to remain humble, to serve God, and to continually seek out the wisdom and the courage to take one more step toward a new future and a renewed self.  Yet, the call to serve the Church takes place in a very human world that is home to the frailties and the failings of our humanness.  Humility is in conflict with a societal command to be the best and service is often overwhelmed by a reminder that only the strong can survive.  Wisdom confronts a world of cynicism and courage is too often a slave to comfort.  All of us know these conflicts and each of us has only the Grace of God to guide us through them.

There are days, moments, when the calling of God is a reminder of the immense and complex responsibility that awaits those who answer.  The human self sees a mountain of work that still needs to be done while the spiritual self must learn to accept that only God can do it.  What is a minister but a servant to something so much bigger and so much better than his or her self?  Do we ever fully understand what is being asked of us?  It is a question for all who follow Christ as each is asked to “shoulder up that cross.”

God’s world is a beautiful place regardless of our human attempts to control it, harvest it, or sell it.  There is no greed greater than Grace and there is no brokenness more potent than Love.  So, what is the work of people, the role of this ministry of all believers?  Perhaps the answer is in the words of Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  It seems so simple, so straightforward, and yet…

Halfway

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In August, I will reach the official halfway point of my journey through seminary.  Of course, this journey has been much longer than two years.  Last night, as I sat looking out at the rain, I was overwhelmed with just how much has happened in the two years since seminary began.  Lessons have been learned, deadlines have been met, grades have been posted, relationships have been tested, and friendships have been formed; but, nothing has been quite as powerful and transformational as the conversation I have been having with God and with the church.

I am not angry anymore.  That sounds simple enough; and yet, it is the foundation of a new sense of what it means to encounter God.  For so many years, and for so many reasons, I had been so angry at God.  In the rush of the first to years of seminary I had been challenged to examine my faith and to encounter God with deliberate attention and intention.  Then, one day, I began to feel a sense of release.  I realized that so much of my anger was the result of human expressions of faith and not of God.  I started to encounter God through my own eyes, unclouded by the work of other people, and I began to sense the love and the grace that can only be found in the presence of God. In the presence of this Love and Grace my own theological point of view strengthened and I began a process of releasing anger to a power bigger than the pettiness of human brokenness.  Don’t get me wrong, I still get frustrated and I still get angry; however, now it is softened by a deeper sense of empathy and a God-given need to engage the issues of this life with grace and with prayer.

In the midst of this transformation, I began my field work at Calvary Presbyterian Church.  This is a real immersion into the vibrancy of a congregation that is filled to overflow with a sense of God’s love and a call to God’s hospitality.  Much like my home church, they function as a family and they model a humbling dedication to the concept of the Body of Christ.  These folks have pulled me away from being just a bit too inwardly focused and have reminded me to look into the world around me and ask, “what can I do?”  They love God, they love their church, they love the church, and they show it to every person they encounter…even reluctant minister types…Calvary is a place to finally let my wounds heal, to release what is left of reluctance and fear to the God of Peace.  I know that I have been called into their community for the moment and it is a gift I receive with humble gratitude.

I know that this journey has not be easy for my family and friends at times.  My time is scarce and my attention is often interrupted.  I am juggling the pressures of finances, work load, schedules, and school all of which means that there are times when I am not emotionally or physically available to those whose love I depend on.  To them I offer my gratitude and my steadfast love.  

There is still much work to do and so much more to learn.  I pray only that God will grant me courage and wisdom as this journey continues.

 

 

In the Shadows of the Inquisition: A Blog for Church History Class

Image depicting Inquisition methods

Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a noted civil rights leader and prophetic preacher of our time, explained that every time there is advancement in social justice or civil rights, there is a reaction…a Reconstruction.  This reaction is the push back of the status quo against the perceived, or quite real, threat to political or social power.  What does this have to do with a blog post about the Inquisition?  Well, in some ways we can see a linkage between the American thread of progress and reconstruction and the European history of religious tensions and rises in the activities of the Inquisition.  This reaction to religious change serves as a dire warning against our own tensions, political and religious, and the danger they pose to the greater peace of people and nation.  We will come back around to this in a moment.  First, let’s be frank about the prevalence and damage of this thing called The Inquisition.
The activities of the Inquisition, and I am admittedly generalizing the history here, took place over centuries spanning the 12th to the 19th centuries.  Its activities took many forms from torture to mock trials to public executions.  From Medieval times to the dawning of the Reformation, the Inquisition was a dark shadow that loomed over religious tensions and political conflicts.  It was a continuous and violent attempt at reconstruction in the wake of religious reform.  It was also legitimized I some instances by claiming to be a piece of necessary Catholic Reformation aimed at reclaiming adherence to doctrine and practices held sacred by the church.  No matter the legitimization or the reconstruction, it was a constant cloud of fear that moved throughout Europe and forever stained Christian history with the blood of its victims.  
Most people have gained a certain understanding of what the Inquisition was and we are fairly certain that we just “aren’t like that anymore.”  Of course, critics of the Christian faith are quick to roll out the horrors of the Inquisition as an example of the violence cause by religion.  Somewhere between these two extremes lies a sense of truth about where we are and where we have been in ages past.  Deeply held beliefs are a gift from God; however, they are a gift that requires a certain degree of stewardship and grace.  In times of historical, and modern, upheaval lined to a set of deeply held beliefs there is a real danger that reason can be clouded by the powers of fear, zeal, and extremism.  There are times when the status quo, the majority stakeholder, responds to change with violence and with oppression.  The Inquisitions lengthy life span is testament to the power of push back as are its iterations in our modern context.  Calm down!  I am not going to assign the evils of the Inquisition in any general context to the churches of modern America.  I am going to suggest that the pathology of the Inquisition still casts shadows.

We look back on something like the Salem Witch Trials, for example, with a sense of disbelief that something so extreme could be a part of our American story; but, they happened.  Did they happen because an evil force permeated the colonies or did they happen because a burst of expressive women was just too much for the men of Salem to deal with?  Were they a remedy for evil or a reconstruction?  Aside from there mockery of justice as a concept, they were a reaction to perceived threats to social order and to the religious principles of the time.  They were an inquisition. 

 Again, this is a seemingly ancient occurrence.  How could it be linked to anything we know today?  Religious overreaction is something that only occurs in less enlightened periods and among less sophisticated people right?  Hold on there enlightened one.  The assertion that religious reconstruction, push back, or whatever else you call it is a historical concept is simply not true.  

In our modern age, we have seen vast social transformations that affect our understanding of faith.  We have seen a faith system that once used the Bible as a pretext for slavery cast aside this notion.  We have witness the rise of a religious understanding that no longer finds condemnation of LGBTQ people easy, simple, or even theologically sound.  From Civil Rights to Roe v. Wade to gay marriage, we have seen an action that results in a reaction. We have seen successful and unsuccessful attempts at reconstruction, some of which are fueled by the zeal of an inquisitor.  I would like to say that we no longer have these battles in violent ways or that we encourage an open and fear-free public debate; but, there is still a shadow that we see from time to time.

Bombed abortion clinic

As much as we pretend to be free from the oppressive violence of the ancient Inquisition, we have also been witnesses to waves of violence resulting from both Reconstructionist zeal and misguided religious fervor.  Preachers have voiced condemnation, damnation, and violence toward those individuals they dislike and they do so in a feed of social media that reaches too many too fast.  Lone wolf bombers have attacked abortion clinics in an effort to use violence as a tool of their faith as though fear would stop a practice that is contrary to their moral understandings.  Churches stand outside funerals holding signs that read “God Hates Fags” and calling for the death of Americans as a fitting response to God’s judgment on others.  In other countries, we have witnessed the rise of theocracies that use violence and oppression as an accepted tool of power and as a means of maintaining a religious status quo that is forever under attack by a social evolution that has yet to slow down in response to a single drop of blood.  Even here, even now, far too many public figures have claimed the blessing of God for far too many actions.  Even here, even now far too many faces and places claim God’s blessing as though it makes them more authoritative or more worthy than other faces and places.  This, my friends, is what it means to live in the shadows of the Inquisition.  Despite our advancements, there is an ever-present temptation to slip comfortably into the extremes of a bygone age for the purposes of personal or political superiority.  I want to say that history is history; but, there is still this shadow that persists.  Perhaps the only real remedy for the shadow is noticing it’s there.

Dr. Vander Broek

Recevander-broek-lylently, I was asked to record a video reflection for the “last lecture” of Dr. Lyle Vander Broek.  Dr. Vander Broek is retiring this year from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. I have only had one class taught by Dr. Vander Broek; but, it turns out that he has been a major and formative influence on my life and my ministry.  Before I get into that, let me tell you what I know about Dr. Vander Broek from my own experience in his New Testament class.

I would easily describe his teaching style as enthusiastic and utterly joyful.  He is a man who loves the Scriptures and truly loves talking and teaching about them.  In many ways, he has the look of a professor directly out of central casting; so, it would be easy to find him intimidating at first…and I did.  Yet, he has the warmth and the pastoral sensibility of a truly good soul who wants nothing more than to start a conversation about the wonders and revelations we can experience through God’s Word.  He also has a quirky sense of humor that is refreshing when tackling the challenges of Biblical study.  He is, in short, a delightful and loving man who takes his service as an educator and as a pastor to heart.  I know that for me this meant that his class and his feedback made me feel cared for as much as it made me feel informed.  His is the voice of expertise as well as the voice of compassion and all of us can follow his lead as we work toward being ministers and teachers.

9781611641899_p0_v1_s192x300I read Dr. Vander Broek’s book, The Life of Paul for Today, as part of preparation for giving my first sermon/testimony about my own conversion to Christianity.  My pastor recommended it as way to become better acquainted with the Apostle Paul, whose conversion would be the frame for my own story.  This book was like listening to a good friend talk about something and someone they loved deeply.  This short book contains a truly comprehensive look Paul, his work, and his writings.  For me, this book became a friend and a path to understanding a figure who challenges us to be a better people and a better church. Reading this kind of academic treatment of Paul is its own kind of revelation and it leads to meeting the Apostle all over again. As a person who has experienced the power of God’s ability to convert, this book helped me to relate to Paul and to grasp the serious and meaningful responsibility for ministry that comes from experiencing conversion.  If you want to know Paul better or want to meet him for the first time, this is the book you need to add to your collection.

I met Dr. Vander Broek on my first trip to Dubuque.  I approached him after chapel and introduced myself as a huge fan of The Life of Paul for Today.  I remember him smiling and saying something along the lines of, “I didn’t realize anyone outside of my classes read that.”  Not long after that, I had the great honor of being in his New Testament class and listening to some of the most engaging, entertaining, and informational lectures a seminary student could hope to have.  Again, it was clear that this is a professor who loves the subject he teaches and it shows through the joyful enthusiasm that comes across in his voice and his manner when he teaches.  He never avoided our toughest questions and often used them as the launching point for some really wonderful discussions.  In fact, we were encouraged to use our papers, tests, questions, and all interactions as a meas of forming our own views and understandings and not simply to recycle lecture materials.

So, I thought I would close by offering a few things that I learned from Dr. Vander Broek that will be guideposts for me as a minister, teacher, and student (some of these are highlighted in Dr Vander Broek’s last lecture):

  1. The Bible is a constant source of revelation that never ceases to offer new perspectives and renewed hope
  2. Studying the Scriptures is both a communal practice and a deeply personal one which means that your own sense of revelation and understanding is important and has merit as does encountering the Word through Bible study in groups
  3. You bring your baggage with you when you encounter the texts of the Bible
  4. The Bible is self-critical and there are passages in some places that will contradict passages in other places, there are meanings and events that will be at odds with each other and this is part of the revelation and wonder of Scripture that we study and consider
  5. Probably my favorite part of the last lecture is the idea that love is driving force behind history…God’s love is pulling us forward
  6. The Word of God is about love, reconciliation, and justice
  7. Finally, Dr. Vander Broek reminds all of us who are working to be ministers that we mush have a hermeneutical (interpretive) center.  We must work to understand that there are beliefs and priorities that shape our Biblical outlook. This center will inform our preaching and our teaching.

I regret that I did not have a chance to be in more classes with Dr. Vander Broek and I will pray that he has a retirement that is a joyful and rewarding as his classroom.  For now, I simply offer my thanks to a man who has had more influence on me than he will ever know.

If you would like to watch Dr. Vander Broek’s last lecture, go to

https://media.dbq.edu/Mediasite/Play/7c1b3267e9cf43e4bfd080621487b2341d

Program begins at 6 mins 20 seconds.

Peace be with you.

 

Sacred Safety Pins

0-9jzicdodmhkgda85I am not one who necessarily pays much attention to the movements and symbolic gestures generated by social media.  Yes, I alter my profile picture to support cause and I post reminders of awareness days and months; but, that is pretty much the extent of my involvement.  That is until recently.  Despite my best efforts to avoid social media after the election, I found myself scrolling through my news feed and noticed an article about wearing safety pins.  I groaned a bit but clicked on the article anyway.  I was, to say the least, blown away by the potency and the power of the meaning that had been given to the pins.  The idea is simple enough, we are living in a time of great fear and uncertainty; so, in order to show the solidarity of welcome and acceptance, people wear safety pins to show others that they are safe people.  The pins become a small but shining symbol of a refusal to accept the divisiveness and hatred that took hold of this nation as we fought our way through a dark and ugly political season.  The pins are an equally powerful symbol that we will not accept the separatism, cynicism, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or dehumanizing that created a schism large enough to cede power to ugliness.  Even so, I have heard voices of dissention and criticism concerning the safety pin concept from both sides of this debate.  As for me, I think there is something deeply sacred about these pins, these crude little symbols, and I hope that they are here to stay.  They are the kind of small symbol that people of faith know well as a quiet and loving way to tell others who we are and what we believe.

Some of our brothers and sisters criticize the pins as liberal whining about losing the election and I would ask those brothers and sisters to listen for a moment to the real concern that has arisen from this political storm.  This election saw some of the most dramatic increases in hateful rhetoric, action, and organization in recent memory.  The kind of name calling, abuses, and threats we are witnessing from the playground to the political discourse have been terrifying and they have created an unease that now overshadows this nation.  Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBT, and so many others no longer feel safe in their own country.  The rhetoric of this election has grown bigger than the party or the person who first uttered its words and it is now a dangerous cloud of suffering that threatens the peace of our democracy.  This rhetoric has turned into action as we see too many pictures of bloody faces, burning churches, and gleeful superiority.  Our political leaders are worshipping at the altars of privilege and we have been witnesses to a new political faith that was all too willing to sell principles for power.  This is bigger than electoral sour grapes.  This is an America that so many of us no longer recognize and too many of us find frightening and dangerous.  If you mock the statement of the safety pin because you think that we are sore losers then you have not been listening to the tone of your nation for some time now.  We wear it because we want to find some small way to reclaim our hope in a nation that values justice over privilege and peace over power.  We wear it because we are dedicated to the notion that all people are created equal.  We wear it to send this message to others and to remind ourselves that this too shall pass and the arc of history will once again bend toward justice and inclusion.

Some of our brothers and sisters criticize the pins as empty gestures designed to make people feel better about themselves or to lend lip service without having any real skin in the game.  I would ask these brothers and sisters to also take a moment to listen and to hear the earnest hope and sincere pain that lives behind each safety pin.  Movements are often defined by a combination of their symbols and their actions.  In the case of these safety pins, they represent both symbol and action.  Wearing a safety pin is an invitation to ask questions and talk about issues and it is this dialogue that becomes the basis for change.  Wearing this pin is also a reminder to enter the world each day with a renewed sense of dedication to a set of values and behaviors that seek to build peace in the place of pain.  Each pin is a kind word, a handshake, a hug, a “hello,” and a statement that tells others, “I see you, I value you, I welcome you, and I love you.”  There is nothing empty about any of this and I would hope we can remember the power of a red ribbon or a rainbow flag or even a cross to motivate and activate large groups of people.  Of course action is more important than symbols and it is also important to remember that some symbols are actions.

For me, wearing this little pin is a holy thing, a sacred thing, and I don’t care if this movement lasts or not.  I like to think that the Jesus of welcoming strangers and of loving neighbor would pick up a pin and wear it with us because I like to believe that we are wearing them as representations of everything he teaches us.  Yes, I think there is something sacred about these safety pins because I think that there is something sacred about standing up and rejecting the cynicism and division that pulls us away from our God’s call to community.  I think that there are moments when we, as the Body of Christ, are so worn and so beaten down by human brokenness that the only thing holding us together are these safety pins.  We are living in an uncertain and scary time and if wearing a pin can make even one person feel better, can make you or I feel better, then I am going to wear that pin.  I am going to wear that pin and I am going to use it to remind myself that we are better than this, that God is bigger than this, and that hope, love, peace, and dignity are still alive and well in the heart of God’s creation.

 

Idols

**This is another blog post assignment for Church History**

But human beings alone, having rejected the good, henceforth fabricated things that do not exist instead of the truth, and ascribed the honor due to God, and the knowledge of him, to demons and human beings fabricated in stone. -St. Athanasius[1]

 

Reading AthanasiusOn the Incarnation is a journey through the deepest parts of our theological understanding and a fully formed view of the debates and dialogues that fuel our current understandings.  It is, by all accounts, a theological treatise concerning the incarnation of God in the fully human form of Jesus Christ.  In our time, this may seem like a settled issue among the faithful.  We read through the Nicene Creed and rarely pause to consider the painstaking work and debate that formed its beautiful words and framed its powerful philosophy.  Taking a moment to embrace the totality of our history and its passionate cast of theologians makes the encounter with Athanasius really quite moving.  Throughout his discussion of the incarnation, Athanasius makes multiple statements about the human tendency to create and worship idols that ultimately separate us from God.  From the golden calf to the modern worship of material, there is little that separates us from the tendencies of our ancestors.

I suppose it seems a bit cliché to be discussing the idols of our modern world; and yet, it stands to reason that some clichés have the added virtue of being true.  I admit that this is not a new topic; however, I think that we can find in the writing of Athanasius both a stark reminder of what idols do to us and how the incarnation changed our focus.  Athanasius described the actions of idolaters in his time like this:

They fabricated idols for themselves instead of the truth and honored beings which do not exist rather than God…and, much worse, they even transferred the honor due to God to wood and stones and every material object, and even to human beings…[2]

That sums it up nicely and it transfers easily to our own reality.  I am not ruling out the possibility that people still worship wood and stones; but, for the moment I think it is best to stick to what we know well and focus our attention on the worship of the material.  We exist in an echo chamber of messages that tell us how to get rich quick, find the perfect mate, pick the best car, and obtain any number of creature comforts at the click of a mouse or at the end of a toll-free phone number.  Our lives are fueled by ambition, excess, and pharmaceutical treatment of our collective disappointment when we fall short of obtaining perfection.  Yes, brothers and sisters, we are worshippers of stuff and we are addicted to things.  All of us know this in a conscious way and yet we consistently surrender anyway.  These are the easy idols.  These are the idols we can point out and decry because they are so incredibly obvious.  These are not our only idols.

We also worship a host of idols that are much less gaudy but no less dangerous.  We have also become worshippers of anxiety, of busyness, of power, of self-worth, and of each other.  Think about how many times someone has told you how stressed out they are, how busy they are, how much they work and then think about the almost celebratory tone that comes through in those moments.  Our daily lives are consumed by the idea that we must move faster, worry more, work harder, and freak out more than anyone around us lest we be seen as worthless or lazy.  Our value is determined by who makes more, sleeps less, and has more.  Worse yet, we begin to make gods out of the people who have what we want and do what we can’t.  Our obsessions themselves become deities and our ideals become their own idols.  Demons of the mind show themselves to us in robes of gold and convince us that we need to succeed at all costs.  We are surrounded by a swirling multitude of unhealthy little gods that exist in our minds and in our expectations of ourselves and others.  We are worshiping our brokenness and our self-destruction and we are calling it success.

If this idolatry is so normal, then why should we be concerned with it?  Well, every act of idolatry is a moment that turns our focus away from God.  Our obsessions turn our heads downward, away from heaven, and immerse us in our own brokenness.  With eyes cast down and thoughts trained on the material and psychological gods of humankind, we are no longer looking to God as the source of our true redemption.  We are so bent over in selfish obsession that we are no longer able to see that the origin of our self-worth is the Creator.  Self-inflicted oppression removes us from God’s presence and separates us from the very thing that can calm the demons and heal the brokenness.

This all sounds quite bleak.  Fear not!  Athanasius does not simply describe the illness; he also offers the cure.  Through the act of incarnation and the life, works, and death of Jesus Christ, the gaze of humanity is reoriented.  It is no coincidence or act of chance that Jesus Christ was a human being in form.  People had been gazing away from heaven, focusing on themselves, separated from God and, as Athanasius writes, “…since they were not able to lift their gaze to his invisible power, they might be able, at any rate, to know and contemplate him from things similar.[3]  That’s right, knowing that we would be a stubborn and resistant bunch of idol worshippers, God came to us in a form we could comprehend and would notice.  This man, Jesus Christ, through a life dedicated to teaching, healing, and to the transformation of a broken world, gently lifted the faces of humankind up toward the heavens.  Through sacrificial death, Jesus refocused the attention of the world to the love and the reconciling grace of God.  Through his resurrection, Christ fixed the attention of a faltering humanity on the power of God to conquer even death and on the Kingdom yet to come.  If we can focus even a moment of our time and attention on the incarnation of God, our idols begin to crumble.

athanasius1

“For where Christ and his faith are named, there all idolatry is purged away, every deceit of demons refuted, and no demon endures the name but fleeing, only hearing it, disappears.[4]  This is the power of faith to take us away from our self-involved worship of human ideals and to cast our eyes to the heavens where all of our worthiness resides.  Even the demons we create in our minds cannot obscure the light of faith and are chased away by the very mention of it.  The act of incarnation didn’t just rescue us from the influence of wooden, stone, or even golden idols, it also rescued us from the many idols of self that were separating us from God.

I would like to say that this is the end of the story, that all is well; but, we know better.  We are living in a time of idols and we can see the downcast faces turned away from heaven.  I suppose we could surrender to the normalization of this state or even to the cynicism that dismisses is as simple human nature.  But this is not who we are.  Athanasius highlights the incarnation as a timeless act of love and hope.  We are still witnesses to this incarnation and we are still offered the gracious hand of Christ to lift our eyes to the heavens even now.  Our idols are only powerful because we allow them to distract us from God.  The moment we begin to refocus is the moment we let go of idols and begin to reclaim the totality of our faith in God.

 

[1] Athanasius, Penelope Lawson, and C. S. Lewis. The Incarnation of the Word of God : Being the Treatise of St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei.New York: Macmillan, 1946. 95

[2] Athanasius, Penelope Lawson, and C. S. Lewis. 61

 

[3] Athanasius, Penelope Lawson, and C. S. Lewis. 96

 

[4] Athanasius, Penelope Lawson, and C. S. Lewis. 81