Splitting hairs or Splitting Reality?

I would encourage any American who sees themselves in the independent middle between the two major U.S. political parties to read Farhad Manjoo’s TRUE ENOUGH: LEARNING TO LIVE IN A POST-FACT SOCIETY.  I had mentioned the book in a blog a few weeks ago:  True-ish, Truthiness, and True Enough

“In this book I’ve explored how modern communications technology has shifted our understanding of the truth.  I argue that new information tools haven’t merely given us faster and easier access to the news, but that they’ve altered our very grasp on reality.  The pulsing medium fosters divergent perceptions about what’s actually happening in the world – that is, it lets each of us hold on to different versions of reality.”  (p224)

Manjoo gives examples from recent political events to show that “reality is splitting” for liberals and conservatives in America.  He examines some common political beliefs of the left and right, offers what evidence he could find from his research about “the truth” of the situation and then comments on how both the left and the right choose to believe what they want to believe and whom they want to believe no matter what the evidence might show.  His claim is that the modern media exacerbates the problem as partisan commentators repeat partial or distorted truths, or harp on one truth while ignoring everything else that is known about a situation.  And in the modern information age where everyone quickly becomes overwhelmed by the amount of information and the number of voices, people more readily turn to listen to those that are espousing views they already agree with.  People aren’t searching for the truth, they are looking for evidence that confirms what they already believe.   Thus on the right many choose to believe that John Kerry was not a war hero, on the left they believe that Bush stole the election from Gore, and a sizeable group of American conspiracy theorists still believe that the American Government or military staged the 9/11 attacks using missiles in order to justify going to war with Iraq.   In each case, when evidence is used to pick apart the beliefs held, “believers” hold to what they believe and don’t trust the evidence offered even when they can’t refute the evidence.   This is the sense in which “reality splits” and people see what they want even while looking at the same evidence.  Manjoo offers some psychological and sociological reasons from research studies  as to how the human mind works  regarding what we choose to believe and why; the bottom line is we really do pay more attention and give more credence to those things which reaffirm our already held beliefs. 

“Selective exposure, selective perception, the cult of fake experts, and the end of objectivity in the news: these are merely pistons in what has become, today, a powerful engine of propaganda, one that drives all the recent examples of our society’s unfettered departure from ‘the reality-based world.’”   (p 227)

Among the sociological findings regarding our selective listening:

  1. “We’d rather listen to the other side’s flimsy attacks on our side than our side’s flimsy attacks on theirs.”  (p 43)   This has an interesting effect in campaigns: our voting decisions seem wiser when the opposition presents weak arguments for its side.    Saturation type advertising can be counterproductive if it isn’t presenting compelling reasons for independent voters to change their minds, but might work to keep the party faithful, loyal.   However, Manjoo points out that liberals and conservatives react differently to campaign advertising according to studies.  Republicans  prefer to hear even flimsy messages that support their ideas  rather than listen to the weak arguments of Democrats, while the Democrats find the flimsy arguments of Republicans to be convincing evidence to vote Democratic. 
  2. “Republicans and conservatives are more ideological in their political posture…” (p 46).    Studies show Republicans prefer selective exposure – they don’t want to know both sides of the argument and prefer to hear only the view they agree with.  I’m guessing this is true because the conservative mind by nature tends to eschew change, so they want to know what is right with their ideas and aren’t looking to change them, whereas “liberals” by nature are more open to (or looking for)  new ideas and so are also less ideological bound and more willing to explore new/different ideas.  (see my blog What Biology Says About Your Politics)
  3. Studies show news anchors and “experts” can sway public opinion 3-4 percentage points on an issue.   Thus the battle to make networks more conservative or liberal can have an effect on elections.    But also, “…’reality’ splits when people selectively expose themselves to different facts, or when they interpret the same evidence in divergent ways.” (p 107)  So choosing to watch only one “biased” network will cause one to have a totally different view of reality than those who watch other networks.
  4. Studies show “each of us thinks that on any given subject our views are essentially objective…  then we think that reasonable people ought to agree with us.  And to the extent that people disagree with us, we conclude that they are not reasonable – they’re biased.”  (p 152)
  5. Studies in education show  “That American society prizes style over substance…” (p 116).   I consider this to be one of the most negative factors in American politics.  We continue to confuse entertainment with substance and so will continue to be attracted to entertaining/stylish/attractive candidates over people with substantive ideas who aren’t as good looking.   (Yesterday’s news: Connecticut GOP chooses former World Wrestling Entertainer Linda McMahon as their senate candidate). 
  6. Studies show that “Society works better  when people trust one another.” (p 222)  Unfortunately now we have “particularized trust” – we trust only those who agree with our point of view and so we are willing to blind ourselves to the negative aspects of the political views we hold.

Manjoo’s descriptive tour of America notes the effects of video news releases (manufactured “pseudo-news”; stories told from a point of view – even sales pitches – but presented as “news”; PR firm created videos intended to influence/deceive but offered as objective information).    Not only has it become easier to create news stories and releases, but the effect of millions of blogs/tweets/txt messages/etc means messages even false or pernicious ones spread the word at the speed of light.   This only furthers peoples’ distrust of information that they don’t like or don’t agree with which further enables people to hold to different realities.   In the end Manjoo sees the current effects of the information/communication age continuing for years to come.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:5-7

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (b)

Genesis 9:5 For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. 7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”

“…I will surely require a reckoning…”    Though God’s heart was grief stricken by seeing the wickedness in humans, God had not before the flood laid down many laws for the humans to follow.   If He hoped they would use their free will solely for the good of one another, the humans had totally disappointed Him.  But when God was totally distraught with the humans, He suddenly brought judgment on them and wiped out all by His chosen remnant.  In this text God clearly lays down that there are rules to be followed, and that humans will be held accountable for their behavior.  If the humans before this law were held accountable for what they did, now God clearly warns of consequences for human behavior – His judgment.  “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:12-13).

“…of every man’s brother I will require the life of man…”   The prohibition of killing one’s brother comes too late to save Abel.  It also is the first suggestion that brotherhood means responsibility for one’s brother, and that all men are brothers.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed…”    This is the first retributive justice law prescribing the death penalty for those who commit murder.  Was murder in fact a common form of violence that God so hated before the flood?   Is it possible that God realizing that the human heart is full of evil concludes that murderers must be stopped or they themselves will wipe out humanity even though God has decided never to wipe out the human race again?  God sees the need for greater restraints on humans – more laws, more severe punishments.  God respects human free will, but imposes more consequences for the choices humans make.  God rejects Lamech’s 77 fold law of vengeance (Genesis 4:24) and imposes only one death for each murder committed.   Because this law is given long before there was the 10 Commandments, some commentators feel this is a universal law established by God, and not the Law of Moses which is obligatory only for Jews.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed..”    It is up to humans to cleanse themselves of murderers.   God’s command shows that we do share a common humanity and are social beings.   Whatever happens to any one individual is the concern of all humans; we are social beings and have social responsibilities.  Humans must enforce this law and execute the killers.  We each have a responsibility for and to all other humans – to protect life, to maintain the peace, to enforce order.  We are not simply individuals – we have a relationship to and responsibility for all other humans and for human civility.   We have a responsibility to establish and enforce justice.  We have a responsibility to rid ourselves of violent evil.   Humans must police themselves to maintain order and to punish killers.  The commandments of God at this point regarding murder are punishment more than deterrant.  (Is God at this point recognizing the reality of His free-willed humans – they can’t be stopped from doing evil but can only be allowed to experience the consequences of their choices?)   God’s commandments do impose on humans a social order for the common good.  In Genesis discerning right and wrong arises not from democracy but from revelation.  

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.”    The rationale for the death penalty somehow is related to our being in God’s image and likeness.  “… for God made man in his own image…”   The rationale for not killing other humans is an issue of human dignity – each of us is made in the image of God.  We are not to deface the image of God on earth.   There is an intrinsic value in every human being.  The prohibition on killing is not only a matter of self restraint; it is a matter of recognizing the God-established value that each human possesses.  Genesis rejects a purely utilitarian evaluation of humans.  The value of a human is not determined by his or her net worth, nor by how much he or she contributes to society, nor by what value society attributes to them.  Each human conceived has value because each is in God’s image and likeness. 

What does justice require?

St. Isaac the Syrian  (d. ca. 700 AD) said that Christians cannot come to understand the teachings of Christ “through the discipline of the justice of the Law.  In the latter there is ‘an eye for an eye” and “a stripe for a stripe’, and so forth.  But the grace of Christ commands, ‘Overcome evil with good,’ that is, ‘whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also…”   For Christians Christ’s commands and teachings of love supersede the legal demands of justice of the Old Testament.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed..”     There is a logical problem in this statement.  If we are to take the statement absolutely literally without imposing a rational interpretation on it, wouldn’t this lead to the ultimate extinction of everyone?  Every executioner who sheds blood would also have to be executed by another human who in turn would be guilty of bloodshed.   This is another lesson in learning that a literal reading of the text is an interpretation of the text.  The text itself does not tell us to be reasonable; it simply gives us the Law.  We need to interpret the text in order to understand it.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”    Though the verses preceding this one focus a great deal on capital punishment for murderers, here God turns to what seems to be His real concern – that humans be fruitful and multiply.   Despite setting strict laws for dealing with murderers, God’s main focus is not on setting (arbitrary) rules for humans.  God is mostly concerned with the humans having abundant life – being life giving and life protecting.  As the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8-17 (a)

The 1st Episcopal Assembly: An End for the Beginning?

The inaugural Episcopal Assembly of the canonical Orthodox bishops in North America met this past week in New York.  This is a new effort initiated by the Patriarch of Constantinople to bring canonical order and unity to North America (and other regions of the world where no canonical unity has been established). 

The Episcopal Assembly issued an end statement which you can read.    It gives a brief summary of what they believed they accomplished. 

The opening address was given by Archbiship Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese, and outlined what the official hope and opinion of the Constantinople Patriarchate was regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  Archbishop Demetrios was the Chair of the Episcopal Assembly.

A rousing speech defending the legitimacy in America of the Orthodox Church was given by Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and one of two Vice Chairs of the event.  Metropolitan Philip rejected the notion that the Orthodox in America are “diaspora” from the old world and defended the Church in America as legitimate and established and asked the old world patriarchates to recognize this as fact.

The Episcopal Assembly acknowledged that there is doctrinal and liturgical unity among the Orthodox, but what is lacking is Episcopal unity (thus ecclesiaastical unity) in the geographical region of North America.  It is the lack of Episcopal unity that the Assembly was most directly addressing.  The bishops acknowledged that there has existed some inter-jurisdictional cooperation especially on the local level and through SCOBA (the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America).  They are trying to solve the canonical issue of Episcopal unity.

Their first work is going to be to create a registry of the canonical bishops, priests and local communities.  They also plan to form committees to work on the issues of concern of the Episcopal Assembly including liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical and legal.   The Episcopal Assembly did acknowledge the work of SCOBA for the past 50 years and sees themselves as the successors to this work.  The bishops decided that Canada should be treated as a separate Episcopal Assembly from the United States, and Mexico will be moved to join the Episcopal Assembly of South America for cultural and linguistic reasons. 

Finally the bishops wrote:

We call upon our clergy and faithful to join us in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations” (Article 5.1) …

This invitation to join the bishops in this important work of the church should be considered seriously by clergy and laity alike.  The Church as the Body of Christ consists of all of its members, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can work together to accomplish the Great Commission which our Lord Jesus Christ has laid upon us (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Christ, the true Head of the Church

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The spread of Orthodoxy to America is supposed to be part of the work of the Orthodox Church, not just the result of the blowing winds of history which have scattered seeds to our continent.   We are not diaspora but disciples.  Let us hope that the Episcopal Assembly takes up that truth as they move forward.   Perhaps this will represent the end of the beginning of Orthodoxy in America, and now we will be able to behave as Church, not as diaspora or daughter Church, but as the fullness of the faith which the local church always is in Orthodoxy.

The Gospels: God’s Judgment of Jesus

Icon by Dmitry Shkolnik

One of the unusual aspects of the Four Gospels is that while an inordinate amount of the writing is devoted to the last week of Christ’s life (His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection), relatively little explanation is offered in the Gospels themselves explaining the theological significance of these events.  Notions of the atonement, relating Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to the human condition including sin and mortality, are much more the themes of St. Paul, who in turn spent little time writing about the details of Passion Week and the Resurrection, but rather focused on their theological implication for the entire human race.

One idea that came to me while reading CFD Moule’s BIRTH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT is that the Gospels are written in such a way as to reflect both the growing disputes and antagonisms between Jesus and the other Jewish traditions prevalent in His day as well as the growing partisanship pitting Christians against the Jews who rejected the messianic claims of Jesus’ disciples.  The Gospels are probably trying to convey the sense that neither in direct disputes with Jesus nor later in history in arguing with the disciples were the Jews able to fully refute His messianic claims.   The Gospels offer a plethora of evidence to uphold the claims of Jesus to being God’s chosen One:  miracles, the voice of God, events that fulfill scriptural prophecy, Jesus’ unique and particular use and interpretation of the Torah and all Jewish scriptures, Jesus’ own teachings and wisdom and commands, Jesus’s prophecy and prediction about what was to happen, even the witness of demons and non-Jews!   As the Gospels have it, the evidence is overwhelming, and really only those who perniciously and defiantly reject God are not convinced by the truth presented in the Gospels. 

In the end, the Gospel tradition presents the Jews as unable to refute Jesus’ Messianic claims, and yet unwilling to admit to the truthfulness of these claims.  So, almost as a means to avoid cognitive dissonance, the Jewish leaders plot to let the Romans take over the situation.  By turning Jesus over to Rome and accusing Him of political crimes, the Jewish leaders never have to fully deal with their inability to refute Jesus in discussion and debate over the Scriptures.  Jesus is executed by Rome, and the Jewish leaders can take the safe route that “if God had chosen Jesus or really wanted Him” God will save Him.  Obviously at the crucifixion God does not save Jesus from criminal execution, which thus safely closes the case for the Jewish leaders – “we may not have been able to overcome His clever arguments, but God has judged Him.” 

The twist in the story of course is the resurrection.    For though Jesus is condemned to death as a cursed criminal and though for all practical purposes the disciples are scattered – sent cowardly into hiding — suddenly and completely unexpectedly (despite Jesus’ own prophecy) news emerges about claims that He is risen from the dead:  God favored Him after all and has judged Him as righteous, chosen and favored beyond anything the Jews had imagined to that point in their dealings with God.

The Gospels present the disciples, including the women disciples,  not at all looking for the resurrection.  The women go to the tomb to anoint the corpse:  they are surprised as anyone to discover the empty tomb and do not in fact interpret the empty tomb as a sign of the resurrection until itis explained to them as a sign by the angelic visitors.  Even at that point, the women remain unsure  and the men disciples are equally doubtful about their witness.    Everyone, including Jesus’ own inner circle of followers is totally astonished by the news of the resurrection and they all have to scramble to understand what the resurrection might mean.

All four Gospels are written following this same basic format: even the followers of Jesus do not know exactly what they are looking at or for.  Jesus does tell people to believe Him, or if not Him, then believe the works that He does.   He tells them even to believe God – none of the evidence He offers convinces anybody of anything.  Christ also tells a parable in which someone rising from the dead will not be enough to convince those who stubbornly choose blindness rather than seeing the truth. 

Emmaus: Christ reveals Himself in Scriptures & in the Breaking of the Bread

The Gospel tradition seen in this way is thus not so much offering a theological understanding of the implications of the death and resurrection of the incarnate God.   This understanding will become clear through time.   The Gospel tradition seems more geared toward dealing with those who for whatever reason refuse to accept the witness of  Jesus, His works, or His disciples, by asking everyone to consider what was God’s ultimate judgment of Jesus?    The Gospels bring us to the point of challenging us to believe in Christ based upon how He was judged by God, not by His enemies or even by His disciples.    It will remain for the Church to then explain how we should live together in this (unbelieving or even hostile) world as disciples of the Risen Lord.    As believers, we must now read again and often the teachings of Christ to further study them as Jews studied Torah to understand the will of God.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

“…lifeblood…”    Right after Abel made his animal sacrifice; he is murdered by his brother Cain.  Here after Noah’s animal sacrifice God speaks to Noah about the sacredness of blood, each person’s blood – life is sacred.   This law for all mankind demands an absolute adherence to the sanctity of human life.   God lays down a rule that if anyone or even if any animal sheds a man’s life, the murderer shall be put to death.  God does not want Cain’s sin to be down played or accepted.  Murder is punishable by death.  But this certainly reflects the fact that everything has changed on earth and none can live together in peace.  God has accepted that the human heart apparently cannot be washed clean of its wickedness, but now He lays down a law forbidding murder.   God does not prevent murder from happening (and His Son will suffer the consequence of His decision!), but His law demands that humans must control themselves.  And if a human can’t control himself and kills another human, the rest of the humans by God’s command are to deal with the killer.   This will become the foundation for Old Covenantal civil society.   God does not offer nor promise to deal with human wickedness such as murder.   Humans are to practice self-control.  But if they can’t control themselves, then humans must band together and take control of the person who refuses to practice self-control.  This is God’s expectation of humanity – humans must begin to police themselves because God has ordered it.   In the New Covenant, in the new order, in the new world instituted by Jesus Christ however, on the cross He does not demand Old Covenantal justice, rather He prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He inaugurates a new Kingdom not of this world, nor of its values, not even of the ones from the Torah.

“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”     God forbids the eating of flesh with blood still in it even before Moses exists and he is given the law from God to teach to the people.   Genesis puts this law as one of the first laid down by God for all people – not just for observant Jews, for the law is given before Abraham or Moses lived.  It is interesting that in Acts 15 when the Apostles are considering what religious laws Gentile converts to Christianity must keep, they adopt only three rules mandatory for all Christians and one of them is the Genesis 9:4 prohibition against eating meat with blood still in it:  “abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20).   They do not require all 613 laws of the Torah, nor even the Ten Commandments!   This same set of rules is repeated in Acts 21:25.   To be a Christian, you do not need to be an observant Jew – no requirements for keeping Torah nor kosher.   But Gentile Christians were expected to recognize the universality of certain moral laws.

“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”    One lesson God may have wanted to convey to the survivors of the flood is that life is still sacred.  They get out of the ark and witness the mass devastation which has taken place – all flesh has been destroyed.  But God doesn’t want the survivors to misunderstand the events.  All flesh was destroyed because of the distortions brought about by wickedness.  The destruction of all flesh was not a pronouncement that life has no value, nor that God favors ethnic cleansing or endorses mass murder.  God affirms the value, the sanctity of life by telling the humans the blood is holy, life is sacred.  God wanted the survivors of the flood, and all who read their story to learn that sacredness is still part of creation.  They may no longer be living in the Holy Paradise of Eden.  They may no longer be residing in the antediluvian world of Noah’s forefathers.  This however has not changed the holiness of life itself.  Meat eating is allowed, but humans must recognize the sacredness of all life and the sanctity of every human life.  God wants the humans He has saved to understand this most significant lesson.  The significance of the story is not that there is now law governing human behavior; the importance of the story is that life is holy, and in the face of the destruction of all life by the flood, humans must be told that God still sees life as sacred and He expects His chosen humans to do the same.  God will say that He will never again destroy all human life to rid the world of evil and sin; nor does He command His humans to try this method to perfect their world.

Already in this Genesis text we seen an understanding that a price to be paid for human holiness and perfection is human blood.   The rest died that the righteous might survive.  This idea is repeated in the Passover Story of Exodus where too some die in order that others may live.  The theme finds its fullness and complete meaning in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, where again a death was necessary for holiness and perfection of humanity to be attained.  In the New Covenant however, it is God who dies rather than God who purifies humanity through the death of some ungodly humans.  The death of the ungodly cannot perfect humanity, whereas the death of the perfect God-man reveals the purity of humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:5-7

The Anniversary and the Appendicitis

What do an anniversary and appendicitis have in common?

Normally, not much, but occasionally they happen on the same date, as was the case for me and the 25th Anniversary of St. Paul Parish.   The Anniversary was 25 years in the making, and those who planned, worked for, set up, helped, attended, participated and enjoyed the event did a fantastic job.    It was a true and wonderful celebration of the parish’s 25 years of mission and ministry in the Dayton area. 

The 25th Anniversary was a day to rejoice in and before God for all of the blessings we have received.  To the surprise of many and disbelief of some, the event was not a fund raiser (no tickets sold, no free will offering suggested), but free to all who joined the event.  The parish paid for the event from its budget – monies freely tithed, offered and given by the parish members.  No ads were sold in commemorative books.  Some in the Orthodox world in America may find the way we did this odd; I personally find it to be part of what is wonderful about St. Paul Parish.    Freely we have received, freely we have given, blessed by the Name of the Lord!  You can see some photos of St. Paul’s 25th Anniversary event at http://www.stpdayton.org/pictures.htm?albumid=5475078600280502753 and a few photos of the decorated hall before the event at  http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/sets/72157624146988000/

As it was, an acute appendicitis took me out of the celebration and to Miami Valley Hospital where the emergency appendectomy began about midnight.  So I missed what others so enjoyed, but again what is beautiful in my eyes about St. Paul Parish is the community understands what has happened at the parish is a result of the labor of the community.  The event went well and went on, and to be honest it was the labor of the people, not my work as the priest which made this possible.  I didn’t serve on any of the Anniversary Committees and attended none of the meetings which took place to plan it all.  The people labored and entered into the joy of their labor as blessed by God.   The parish worked as community, as the Body of Christ, rather than as a function of the clergy.

So, I am thankful to God for the community of people He has brought together as the St. Paul Parish.    I see the 25th Anniversary celebration as a sign of the maturity of the parish and its commitment to community.  Now my hope is that base which has taken 25 years to establish will be the foundation of the continued edification of the parish.   We began as a mission with the intent of building a church; we have built a church, now we must embrace our mission.

New Iconography

Sunday, May 23rd, began for me with great hope and potential but also with a serious problem and fear.  The day was the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the existence of our parish.  It was also Pentecost Sunday and 3 converts were being Chrismated and received into the Faith.  This was to be followed by the Parish Anniversary celebration.  My fear and problem was I had an acute pain in my side, which eventually caused severe chills.  I was not sure I could even begin the Liturgy, let alone get to the celebration.  As those present know, with the help Deacons Steve and Marty, Holy Communion was distributed and the Pentecost Liturgy was completed –  the truth is the people must be the Body of Christ for the offered bread and wine to become the same.  This is not the work of the priest, but the mystery of the local church.  I am grateful to God for all who offered prayers for me, and were patient with me as I could not exactly contribute to the celebration.

God wanted the people to rejoice and certainly created the proper conditions for all of this to happen.   Despite the fact that the parish has a shy introvert for a priest, and despite my feeling ill on Sunday, God worked through the people of God to bless the day with a wonderful celebration.    Thanks be to God!   My own congratulations, gratitude and praise go out to all of those who made Pentecost Sunday and the 25th Anniversary of the parish to be the wonderful event that it was for the community:  not only those who planned this over the past few months, but also those who were there from the beginning to bring us to this point in history which was 25 years in the making.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:1-2

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

The world after the flood is not a return to Paradise, nor even a renewal of the world immediately after the Fall.  No longer are humans to be vegans, for God now puts into their hands the lives of every animal to be used as food.  Humans have a new relationship with all other animals, not a renewed one.  The Flood story in the P-Source (see Source Theory) did distinguish between clean and unclean animals; no such distinction is made at this point in the text.  The ideas of kashrut (kosher) are not here established by God.   However, God does place a serious limit on human blood lust.  The permission to eat meat comes with a very controlling law.  Humans are not to eat meat with its blood in it.  Humans are not to eat raw meat, nor eat an animal while it is still alive.  Unlike carnivorous wild beasts which tear flesh and limbs from their victims, humans must prepare their meat and show all due respect to the blood.   The life of an animal is in its blood.   The direct connection of each animal to the spiritual world is in its blood.  Once again dualism is rejected.  The physical blood is life – it is the very point of connection with the non-physical (spiritual) world.  The text clearly shows that the physical world is sacred; the physical blood is life not mere cells, but is life.  The distinction between the physical and the spiritual is intentionally blurred by God.

God’s very first command to the people of the new world cleansed of sin deals with food just as it did in the original creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2.  His first prohibition endeavors to get humans to respect life.    We may eat meat, but the permission to do so is connected to a command to respect life.  Wasteful slaughtering of animals is not blessed.  Humans are to show appropriate recognition and respect for life, even animal life.  The idea of the sanctity of life was never mentioned in Paradise, though probably assumed as all in Paradise was holy; only now when the killing of animals is permitted does God pointedly reveal the truth of the sacredness of all life.

Eating animal flesh while approved by God belongs only to the world after the flood.  It did not belong to Paradise nor to the world before the flood; Biblically speaking, it is not completely natural to us.  Eating meat is not an eternal value but belongs to the world which is passing away. Many find it a delicious pleasure to eat a good steak, yet eating meat is not an ultimate good but one approved originally for this fallen world only.   It is a pleasure of the fallen world.  Fast periods acknowledge that meat eating belongs to this world, and really will not and cannot commend us to God or bring about our salvation.  There is nothing wrong with eating meat, but in fasting we deny that flesh eating is of eternal value and we admit it belongs only to this fallen world – and we do not live for this world alone.  Man does not live by bread alone (Luke 4:4) and neither does he live by and for the eating of meat!   Our roots and our true home are in paradise and our goal is God’s heaven.  We acknowledge in fasting that we belong to another world, a world beyond this fallen, carnivorous world; the ultimate values and good in the world-to-come do matter in this world.   Fasting challenges our love for flesh eating – our “blood thirstiness” and says these carnivorous pleasures belong to this world.  We can enjoy eating meat with thanksgiving, but we also must realize that this is part of our appetite in and for the fallen world.  Despite our Paschal feasts with their lambs and hams, the foretaste of the Kingdom is the bloodless sacrifice we receive in the Holy Eucharist.   Denying ourselves in the present world is a good that can lead to life in the world to come.

“…as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”      In Genesis 2:16-17, God gave permission to the humans to freely eat of any of the trees of the Garden of Eden – with the firm exception of one tree.  In doing this God imposed on the humans the one and only rule of Paradise.  This one law we understand to be spiritually promoting self-control, self-denial, abstinence or fasting.   God saw that it was good for humans to have access to the abundance of the fruits of the earth, to enjoy the abundance, but also for the humans to learn a limit, to learn that discipline is an important aspect of being “not God”, of being human.   Now in Genesis 9:3-4, God is vastly expanding the food supply for humans.  No longer are humans limited to eating the earth’s harvest of fruits and vegetables, now every animal is added to the food supply.  The end result of being expelled from Paradise because of our sin, of having the world being overwhelmed with destructive sinfulness, is that God increases the food supply!  Humans are now far less “deprived” than ever, at least when it comes to edible resources.  The world is no longer paradise, but God opens up to humans an entirely new food source in which many humans will delight and for which many will crave to enjoy.  However, while increasing the palatable pleasures for people, God once again in the midst of abundance imposes a rule of self-control and abstinence.   We can eat meat to our heart’s content, but we are not to eat it with its blood still in it.   Certainly in the over sated and over fed modern existence, this should give us pause.  What does God know that we don’t understand?  Why does God offer abundance and then tell us to practice self control?   Medical doctor Peter Whybrow in his book, AMERICAN MANIA: WHEN MORE IS NOT ENOUGH, offers a health warning to Americans: “In times of material affluence, when desire is no longer constrained by limited resources, the evidence from our contemporary American experiment suggests that we humans have trouble setting limits to our instinctual craving…. there is considerable evidence suggesting that unchecked consumption fosters our social malaise, eroding our self-constraint and pulling the cultural pendulum toward excessive indulgence and greed”  (pp 7-8).   In other words, abundance does not seem to satisfy, it seems to increase the craving for more.   We seem to need some external reminder that enough is enough and too much is too much.  No wonder America is dotted with so many fast food places and diet and weight loss clinics.  Certainly the recent economic collapse and crisis was fostered by the greed, “more is not enough.”   People craved ever greater profits and wealth and were willing to set aside all human caution and wisdom to pursue wealth and profit no matter what the risk and how unsustainable  the effort.  And recent signs are that many are impatient with the current economic situation and eager to be able to try to climb that slippery but steep slope of greed.  As one person said to me totally straight-faced, “we are not being greedy, we are just trying to make as much money as we possibly can.”

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (b)

Stewards of God’s Spiritual Gifts

God bestows on the members of His Church gifts of the Holy Spirit for us to use for the building up of the Church and for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) This is the problem of the Israelites who found that the bread from heaven could not be preserved from day to day. Each day they had to present empty and open hands to receive that day’s gift. And of course this need for constant renewal applies to all the gifts we have, really all gifts of the Spirit when understood deeply, for the preacher or teacher or counselor or artist or writer, may find himself repeating what he has said or drawn or written before and doing so with ever decreasing sense of purpose and élan. Holiness is a flickering flame which passes through and illumines each of us. It is not our possession. The Creative work of God is a great river of light flowing down from Eternity, from the Eden above and to and through us…Always through. That is so important, isn’t it? We cannot dam it up and try to make ourselves a little personal supply. Still less can we think to bottle it and sell it. It is passing through us for the sake of others as through them for our sake and it is only as we let go and give to others that again there is a space for God to enter as He wishes, again and always. How wonderful when we enter the flow of the spirit!

                The river of God sets my feet to dancing

                the river of God makes my heart sing…

(Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, Theology of Wonder, pg 61-62)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:1-2

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (c)

Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.

“Be fruitful and multiply….”   God’s first words to humankind after the flood are to repeat to them what He had commanded when He first created them in Genesis 1.  Does God understand that creation is beginning totally new or just that creation has been renewed?  This new world order is not like Paradise, nor even like the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled and exiled; animals will now fear and dread the humans, not live at peace with them.  In Genesis 2 Adam named the animals which showed he had power over them, but the animals did not dread the human.  After the deluge, the animals which Noah had helped preserve from death in the flood are to be human food.  Is this why God wanted Noah to preserve the life of all the animals because He knew in the post-flood world they would be human food? 

Except for the brief time when the animals follow Noah into and out of the ark – when Noah was shepherding or rather animalherding all wildlife – never did the humans demonstrate their “dominion” over all other creatures.  Now human “dominion over” is to be replaced by dread in the animals themselves.   Humanity failed to do God’s will, and in the connected world of creation the animals suffer from the failure.  Soon in Genesis, humans will practice warfare where not only will animals dread the humans, but humans will dread other humans as they each attempt to lord it over, enslave or eliminate one another.

God blesses Noah and his sons which will present a textual problem later in 9:24-25 when Noah wants to curse his son Ham for lewd behavior but instead curses his grandson Canaan, perhaps because Noah doesn’t want to curse one who had been blessed by God.  Such tensions in any one human reveal that humans have the capacity for both good and evil.   God has learned to work with this fact as is witnessed in the Gospel description of the behaviors and attitudes exhibited by the Twelve Apostles.

“God … said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply … Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”     In the modern world we commonly separate our spiritual lives from all else that we do:  We go to church, we do our prayers,  we give to the poor, etc.    All of these “spiritual” activities are somehow separated from our “regular” lives where we:  watch TV, go out to eat at a restaurant, exercise, do housework, have sex.   We live a very dualistic life and are quite comfortable with it.   The Genesis account knows of no separation between the religious/spiritual and the secular/profane.  Everything in Genesis is God’s and everything is part of God’s creation.   From the beginning God spoke to the humans about what they could eat, and about their sexual lives, and about work.  All that happens to the personages in the story is religious – there is nothing they do which is in any sense unrelated to God and to their spiritual lives. The challenge for all humans today is to reconnect all the disparate elements of our lives so that we experience wholeness in life again.  How we behave at work, what we eat at supper, what interests we have, what skills we have, what friends we have, what knowledge we hold, what property we own, who we marry, how we treat our neighbors, are actually all related to God and to our relationship to God.  God speaks to the first human beings not about heaven or hell (neither is mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis) but about this world and our relationship to it.  Genesis 9:1-17 represents the longest speech from God to any human beings up to this point in the story.  God speaks about life, death, eating, law, procreation, environment, and anthropology.   Nothing that we humans do is outside of God’s interest.  To fail to see ourselves and our daily lives in relationship to God is to live exactly like the people of Noah’s day did before the flood.  Jesus taught, “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:37-39).   Have we learned nothing by reading the narrative of Noah and the flood?  What are we doing today?   How should we be living?  What difference did Jesus think the Noah story should make in our daily lives?

“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth”      Humans were created by God in Genesis 1 to have dominion over all of creation.  Humans were originally envisioned to live at peace with all animals – none were carnivores.   This is very much what Isaiah envisions for God’s Kingdom: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25).   But following the flood human rule is accomplished with and through fear and dread. The world though “restored” by God is a different world where carnivores dwell.  God has promised never to destroy all of life on earth again, but He will allow the humans to slaughter animals even if He will not.  It is no wonder fear and dread have come upon the animals – God has lifted His protection from them and left them at the mercy of the violent and vile humans!

“…into your hand they are delivered.”   The lives of the animals are placed at the mercy of the humans.  God who saw the wickedness and violence of the humans before the flood, now entrusts the lives of all his creatures to these same humans.  One has to wonder, Why?   Has God seen a change in humanity which makes Him think humans can be entrusted with behaving responsibly toward the rest of creation?   Or, is it possible that God is revealing a deistic tendency and is simply withdrawing from creation?  Or is God putting full responsibility on the humans to make us fully accountable for all we do?  The story is perhaps preparing us for the great and awesome Final Judgment.  It does not offer a very satisfactory explanation as to why humans have delivered into their hands the lives of all other animals.   Humans have not proven themselves very good stewards of God’s generosity.  God seems determined to place ever more responsibility on the humans.

Next:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

25 Words for St. Paul’s 25 Years

We had a wonderful Anniversary celebration.  It was not a fund raiser, we charged nothing for the catered meal (rather it was paid for from the parish budget), and we sold no ads in any commemorative book.  We celebrated, gave thanks to God, and enjoyed the fellowship of each other as joint members of the Body of Christ.

In honor of the 25th Anniversary of St. Paul Parish, I composed a 25 word prose poem.  

Light Streaming in to St. Paul Church, Dayton, Ohio

Some beheld  an idea,    a hope,

Which became an OCA mission,

Then Orthodox parish, building

the local Church, embracing the

future of Orthodoxy in America.