Prodigal sons and rejected stones

prodigalson

Eve Tushnet:

“The Church should be the place for prodigal sons and rejected stones, at least as much as it’s the place for elder brothers and other respectable types. The early Church promised that those who gave up family or marriage to follow Jesus would find a new family, a new home, with fellow Christians as their brothers and sisters. Is that what happens to lay people who strive to live celibately today? 
 
From what I’ve seen, we’re mostly left alone. If you’re straight or people think you are, and you’re not yet married, you may get urged to spend time with the young adults’ ministry or the singles’ ministry or one of the other (necessary!) meet markets of the Church. I like these ministries and I like that they matchmaker. I don’t think they’re the catchall solution for unmarried lay people, though, regardless of sexual orientation. And so, people who genuinely want to serve the Church come away feeling exhausted or confused. They’re pretty sure God doesn’t want them to lead loveless, barren and miserable lives, and yet they have little sense of where they might give and receive lasting, sustaining love outside of marriage. The people who are already serving often feel unwanted or excluded; the people who aren’t already embedded in an ecclesial community have no idea where to start. This is an immense waste of love.”
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the Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request

Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage:

“Kathleen and Thomas Hart refer to the ‘paschal mystery’ of marriage – the process of dying and rising as a pattern of life for married people. Each day we must die to our own desires and rise as a servant. Each day we are called to identify with the suffering Christ on the cross, and then be empowered by the resurrected Christ. We die to our expectations, our demands, and our fears. We rise to compromise, service and courage.

In this sense, a true Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request. Rather than saying in effect, ‘Will you do this for me?’ when we invite another to enter the marriage relationship, the real question should be, ‘Will you accept what I want to give?'”

Thomas goes on to apply this principle to the distinctly Christian shape this gives to the sexual life of Christian husbands and wives:

“Sex gives us a capacity to give to someone in a startlingly unique and human way. And yet sex is often used to take, to demand, to coerce, to shame, and to harm.

Honestly ask yourself these questions: Is sex something I’m giving to my spouse, or withholding? Is sex something I am demanding, or offering? Is sex something I am using as a tool of manipulation, or as an expression of generous love? If God looked at nothing other than my sexuality, would I be known as a mature Christian or as a near pagan?”

one of the biggest truths about love

“A couple of years ago I received a poignant email from a man who said, among other things, that he did accept the Church’s teaching and was trying to live up to it. But he still wondered: What happens if I change my mind? What happens if, years from now, I look back on my celibate life—will I regret it? Will it seem like an enormous waste?

I think it depends. If one’s celibacy is purely rule-following, then yeah, once you no longer believe the rules I think probably you’ll regret the sacrifices you made to follow them.

But if you pour out your love for others in friendship and service, if you offer your struggles and your need for surrender as a sacrifice to Christ, if you love God and those around you as deeply as you can in the best way you understand right now—I think even if you change your mind later, that won’t be something to regret. One of the biggest truths about love is that it’s never a waste of time.”

Eve Tushnet, HERE.

two kinds of suffering

“I sometimes use this analogy when I speak: ‘If one of you walked out of this meeting and a guy with a mask walked up to you in the dark parking lot, took out a knife, stabbed you in the stomach, took all your money, and left you in an unconscious state, you would call him a mugger. Someone would call the police, and they would try to find the perpetrator.
But if you left this meeting, drove down the street to the local hospital, and a guy with a mask came to you in a brightly lit room, took out a knife, cut your stomach open, took all your money, and left you in an unconscious state, you would call him a doctor and thank him for helping you. One is a mugging, and the other is surgery.’
Suffering is a lot like that. There is therapeutic suffering, and there is destructive suffering at the hands of evil people. The key is to be able to tell the difference between the two and to apply the right kind of experience to each.”

to illustrate incomparable mercy

John Cassian (360 – 435):

“And if we may illustrate the incomparable mercy of our Creator from something earthly, not as being equal in kindness but an illustration of mercy:

if a tender and anxious nurse carries an infant in her bosom for a long time in order sometime to teach it to walk, and first allows it to crawl, then supports it that by the aid of her right hand it may lean on its alternate steps;  presently leaves it for a little and if she sees it tottering at all catches hold of it and grabs at it when falling;  when down picks it up, and either shields it from a fall or allows it to fall lightly, and sets it up again after a tumble;  but when she has brought it up to boyhood or the strength of youth or early manhood, lays upon it some burdens or labors by which it may be not overwhelmed but exercised, and allows it to vie with those of it’s own age – 

how much more does the heavenly Father of all know whom to carry in the bosom of His grace and whom to train to virtue in His sight by the exercise of free will. And yet He helps him in his efforts, hears him when he calls, leaves him not when he seeks Him, and sometimes snatches him from peril even without his knowing it.”

The spiritual origin of worldly action

Rodney Stark, in his book Cities of God:

the Christianization of the [Roman] empire was not the result of ‘reactions to public calamity,’ but to religious influences per se. That is, religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable!

…The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as ‘Love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and ‘When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.’ These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created ‘a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.’

It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin.

A great nation of righteous laws

Christopher Wright, in the New Bible Commentary, on the 19th chapter of Leviticus:

The chapter is remarkable for its breadth and depth of moral insight. It touches on the thoughts of the heart and the actions of the body, private and public behavior, and almost every major area of social life in a community. The application of some of its legislation would transform the lives of millions in today’s world. And the deeper one reflects on it, the more it seems that many Christians come nowhere near the standards it presented centuries before Christ (let alone Christ’s own development of it in the Sermon on the Mount).

Far too often in the Christian community, the Old Testament law in general, and Leviticus in particular, is dismissed much too quickly as irrelevant (that OT law doesn’t apply to us anymore, right?), impenetrable (how do you make sense of the maze of priestly codes and types of offerings?), and simply, sometimes humorously, random (regulations regarding mildew? commandments regarding the mixing of fabrics?).

Perhaps the best argument against this assumption is simply to get people to read the 19th chapter of Leviticus, which is rich, relevant and wise. Are all the laws found there immediately clear in their purpose and relevance to us today? Of course not. But this chapter is also remarkably clear, and should function as a sign to us that this book is not just some dusty collection of confusing and confused prohibitions. Rather it rewards study, and upon such, (like the rest of the book) shows itself to have both an inner logic, and a theological and social richness that is extraordinary.

That may seem like an overstatement. Yes, big chunks of Leviticus are slow reading and often dry. But if we push through, this ancient culture and more importantly it’s astonishing God, is still there to be found. He is still speaking.

Jesus’ testimony about the law should have pointed us in this direction. Indeed, as Wright notes, Leviticus 19 stands as a clear source behind the Sermon on the Mount. But Moses’ words as well should give pause to any of us who want too quickly to dismiss the law on our way to other things. Moses’ words on the law in Deuteronomy 4:6 – 8 point to it’s wisdom and utter uniqueness:

Observe them [the decrees and laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?