First Take on Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

First Take on Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

Laudato Si ‘Praised Be  as a teaching does more than I would have imagined. I am not surprised by the treatment of climate change, water, species care, GMOs, and/or consumption. A very solid take on all of the many environmental challenges facing God’s creation and human life, and a very clear course of action: “We know that technology based on the use of highly pollution fossil fuels- especially coal, but also oil and to a lesser degree gas- needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

What was most hopeful to me was this line “We still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis” and the treatment of Christian spiritual tradition and spiritual life. “The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experiences, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.” It goes on to say that “A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.”

That’s the crux of our times for the Christian.

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Sergius of Radonezh 

Earlier this year I visited Rome, Assisi, and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, two years prior I visited Rome and Moscow. I have been engaged with evangelical leaders for the better part of a decade and one thing stands out more than others. Whether we are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, or Pentecostal, we are all facing very similar types of cultural challenge. A certain way of understanding human life and I would add Christian life has gone awry.

In the United States you can see this in a growing conversation about the ‘Benedict Option,’ which is a take on what should we do given what we see in the culture and the world around us.

Several years ago I got to ask Oliver O’Donovan what he thought about the current pressures facing the church and he said “it’s to each generation to find a particular way of carrying forth the heart and truth of the faith to the current cultural moment.”

What struck  me about two great saints St. Sergius of Radonezh (the patron saint of the Russian people) and St. Francis of Assisi was the similarities in their lives. Both saints faced uncertain times, both men were men of prayer and peace, both men had a special concern for God’s creation, but most of all they had a deep concern for the life and renewal of the Church, that the bride of Christ would truly be the bride, pure and spotless, holy and right before the Lord.

There’s a famous painting by Giotto (below) that depicts the dream that Pope Innocent III had when he was in the midst of his decision on whether to approve the Rule of St. Francis and legitimize St. Francis and the Franciscans. He had a dream that the church of St. John Lateran was collapsing on itself and that a small man appeared, stopped the church from falling and straightened it again. That man was St. Francis.

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A Church Obscuring its Identity 

That’s the heart of what Christians around the world are facing, a church that could easily hide its nature and identity to the world and even to Christians themselves. For many different types of reasons and stresses, but for one more than all the others, the church around the world is slowly masking the gospel and the heart of what it means to be Christian to itself and the world around it.

Here’s a timely line from the encyclical about our tendency: “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decision, and pretending that nothing will happen.”

We are losing our sense of what it means to be deeply human (technology helps obscure this in part, our participation in sin to a greater part) and that the tendency towards a false narrative of ourselves in almost all of our relationships. You see this tendency most acutely in the culture where words are being used to hide and obscure sin so that pain, divorce, and disaster just happens, there is no reason for it; but without a reason you cannot have repentance, forgiveness, and healing. No reconciliation is possible without repentance for actual sins.

The church has been so far behind the times on questions like the environment and race because the culture inside the church can’t reflect that sort of holiness and wholeness of life needed to engage with power and authority, truth and grace. The culture in the church doesn’t match the vision the Lord has given it to live towards.

The church is supposed to be a place unlike any other. People gather at the local church for Christlikeness, for growth, for sanctification, but we don’t treat our gatherings like this. We don’t have space for this transformation to easily occur, and without this change we cannot equip the saints to be transformative agents in the marketplace, we can’t do the hard work that points to another way of engaging in the problems that are common to us all (i.e. abortion, pollution, the collapse of marriage, inequality, etc.). At the heart of all of those major civic issues is sin of various kinds and shapes, but if we don’t deal with sin and transformation in the inner life we cannot find a full way forward.

Towards a Wholeness Culture 

At the end we need to aim towards a wholeness culture, one that does kingdom living more than it does kingdom ethics. For without the living, the ethics and transformation cannot take place.

We need prayer, dialogue, but most of all love. Love lived out in real relationships, care and creativity that matches the culture of the moment, not a retreat from our neighbors, but a real understanding that our neighbors are worthy to be understood and engaged with. That’s where Laudato Si culminates to, mainly that the church offers the world a ‘civilization of love’ and that we as Christians all need to take steps to plumb the deeps of our common Christian spiritual heritage to live into that vision. 

Now this isn’t a vision of life that is meant for everyone, it’s meant for the church so that it might regain its ability to be salt and light in the midst of the culture. The church has to model a wholeness culture, so that it can easily love its enemies and have ideas and solutions that match what’s actually going within our cultureUltimately  we inhabit a moment in time where greater unity in the church is possible, greater works in the kingdom are possible, and greater transformation is possible as long as the church itself is living into its truest self and truest vision of the kingdom of God made incarnate among us. In short the answer is to follow Jesus more closely and fully. To repent and seek first the kingdom of God.

 

Charleston Shooting Points to a Culture in Crisis 

Charleston Shooting Points to a Culture in Crisis 

On the day Dr. Martin Luther King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, Mahalia Jackson was said to have shouted at him “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

Mahalia Jackson saw something. Something that Dr. King articulated and in a different way something that Pope Francis sees today. Can we see it?

On the same day as we are learning about the Charleston, SC act of domestic terrorism, Pope Francis said, “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending nothing will happen.”

The false prophets of the Old Testament preach peace when there is no peace. Jesus preaches life where we ourselves need to change.

If you look at South Carolina and we learn about the details of a young man who sits in a prayer service and murders the saints of God we can only say that our culture does not have the tools to deal with the crisis we face today. Let me put it more clearly, Christians are not using the right tools for what we face today.

Emmanuel AME is our church, pastor Clementa Pinckney is our pastor, and the prayer group that meet that night is our prayer group.

We cannot afford to be indifferent. We need a ‘conversion’ moment from our Jesus Christ that helps give meaning to the world around us.

We cannot heal without righteous action from the saints of God.

Lord, Dr. King saw a vision, help us see the vision. Dr. King saw a future for a people who without you, have no future. Our future is being our Brother’s Keeper. Our future is in love, empowerment, and hope. Help each of us see one another as the ‘beloved other.’ Bring your kingdom into our hearts, we pray. Amen.

Quotable Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

Quotable Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

Click below for the full teaching: 

http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

  • “The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us, men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.”
  • “Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities- and other religions as well- have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing.”
  • “He [St. Francis] shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”
  • “The world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
  • “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
  • “the climate is a common good.”
  • “It [climate change] represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
  • “The warming caused by huge consumption of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating to farmers.”
  • “As the United States Bishops have said, greater attention must be given to ‘the needs of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable in a debate often dominated by powerful interests.’”
  • “Still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”
  • “We still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis.”
  • “Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.”
  • “For all of our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity, and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.”
  • “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decision, and pretending that nothing will happen.”
  • “Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the Risen Christ embraces and illuminates all things.”
  • “Jesus lived in full harmony with creation and others were amazed: What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him! (Mt 8:27)”
  • “A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.”
  • “Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used.”
  • “In conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism, which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests.”
  • “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world.”
  • “We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrated vision.”
  • “We know that technology based on the use of highly pollution fossil fuels- especially coal, but also oil and to a lesser degree gas- needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
  • “Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide (i.e. the need for global action on climate) will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.”
  • “Some economic sectors exercise more power than states themselves.”
  • “The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experiences, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.”
  • “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”
  • “They all need is an ‘ecological conversion’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident with the world around them.”
  • “No one can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace within him or herself.”
  • “Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good, because lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life.”
  • “That is why the church set before the world the idea of ‘a civilization of love.’”
Interview on Marriage

Interview on Marriage

I have tried to write several times in a way that more accurately represents my heart and prayers for the divide between traditionalists like myself and LGBT persons. So here you go.

Prayerfully, Alexei (the link is below)

https://www.ipadio.com/broadcasts/Foolish_Confidence/2015/6/13/A-Conversation-on-Marriage-and-the-Church

Interview with Bishop David Zac Niringiye

Interview with Bishop David Zac Niringiye

11173344_10100468603242274_7456404272546689840_nKermit Hovey of Care of Creation Inc. interviews Bishop David Zac Niringiye on working for justice and righteousness and the call of God’s people to engage in politics and civil society. Bishop Zac is from Uganda and is an Anglican Bishop. The interview was conducted at the recent Lausanne Creation Care Network, East and Central Africa Conference which was held May 17-21 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya. They discuss politics, the ministry of the kingdom, climate change, power, money, the poor, and more.

Here’s the link below

https://www.ipadio.com/broadcasts/Foolish_Confidence/2015/6/10/Justice-Mission-of-Gods-People-Interview-with-Bishop-David-Zac-Niringiye

For the Life of the Heart

For the Life of the Heart

A major aim of the Christian life is to cultivate the heart, to put aside those previous desires that so easily cling to us and to point on the heavenly attributes, the Christ shaped patterns of life.

It’s become increasingly hard to speak well about gay marriage as more and more progressive evangelicals decide to fully embrace gay marriage, I say increasingly hard because the orthodox community is being robbed of compassionate voices who could have become some of the most winsome for those who are in process but are still very much hoping to adhere to traditional understandings of the scriptures. What frustrates me about this is that the starting point for compassion becomes full acceptance and while full acceptance is true when it comes to one’s humanity, the approach of some progressive evangelicals is functionally to obscure real teaching and approaches to wholeness for those adhering to traditionalist marriage views. 

Here’s a starting point that I think binds people together. As far as I can tell people are complex sexually speaking. Our natural tendencies likely fall on a spectrum. A spectrum that has end posts or ranges for each person, and that can very much vary and adjust in life as we live and enter into various commitments.

One thing that happens when Christians write about marriage is that they often conflate sex and marriage. Apart from sex it is good for two people to love, care, and be in life long and committed relationship together. In some ways it’s understandable that there is some overlap between marriage and sex, because Christians believe that marriage is the one place where sex ought to happen. Yet, it’s as important to remember that a full life is not dependent on sex.

Christianity itself doesn’t emphasize  sex. In fact much of the scriptures talk openly about the need to leave the sexual life and desires you once had in order to acquire a more peaceful, holy, modest, sober-minded, and loving way of life. Christianity is concerned with cultivating the heart for the sake of Christlikeness. That applies to everyone who is a Christian! Scriptures say that the Lord tests the heart and that a humble a contrite heart is necessary to follow him. Jesus loves the meek and lowly. Approaching Christ in this way can only lead to Life.

There is an idea/undertone in Christian culture that portrays sex even in marriage with language and ideas that are closer to lust. Dan Boone, President of Trevecca Nazerene has a post that describes this dynamic far better than I can.

Christianity is striking for how little emphasis is placed on sex and how much emphasis is placed on love, commitment, generational dynamics, and the pursuit of Christ.

Christianity commends celibacy or opposite gendered marriage as an anchor to life. Why is that? In part for our good and in essence I think you would need to say it’s a bit of a beautiful and holy mystery. I say for our good because the Lord commends ways of life that are hard to understand yet ultimately bring Life whatever our starting point. Consistently, love between any two people is encouraged and yet marriage and child raising is reserved for opposite gendered marriage.

Jesus commands each of us to take up our most complex questions, pains, and wounds and follow him. We are called to love each other, to stop quarreling, and to pursue the heavenly fruits, the heavenly vision. We are to cultivate our hearts and lives to these ends.