Religion Archives

On Wednesday evenings around the country, many churches hold mid-week services or children’s programs, or bible studies. Sometimes, all three. A few weeks ago, a pastor was leading one of those Bible studies when a visitor came into the church and sat in on the group. He was welcomed to join in. He requested to sit next to the pastor, and so he did.

An hour passed by with readings from the Bible and discussion, perhaps about what the text meant, perhaps about how to apply it personally. Even, perhaps, asking for the visitor’s thoughts, though I would imagine that the group, not wishing to create an awkward situation, probably didn’t push him to participate in an unfamiliar setting, content to let him listen in, and yet willing to let him speak should he want to.

I don’t know what was discussed, or what the passage was that was the topic of the evening, but the visitor later said that the people were very nice to him. So nice, he said, that he almost … almost … didn’t do what he had come there to do. But in the end, he did, and when he was done, the pastor and 8 others had been shot dead.

Dylann Roof had come there to start a race war; to start an uprising that would supposedly boil over into a full-blown conflict.

At this point, we can only guess what he imagined the sequence of events would be leading to that war. Certainly he had seen the news reports about riots in the streets in other cities when a white man killed a black man, so it’s conceivable that he thought his actions would create the same situation, only more violent, because unlike many of those other instances, these would be killings that were obviously pre-mediated, with no other explanation than hatred. He wouldn’t have any self-defense case. He wouldn’t be a cop who may, or may not, have thought his life was in danger. No, nothing would be murky about this. This would be a clear cut case of racially-motivated murder, possibly causing an even more violent reaction than those previously.

But all his plans were taken apart piece by piece, because of who he targeted. He targeted those who believed that you should love your enemies, and pray for those that hurt you. He targeted those who believe that the merciful are blessed. He targeted those who are told to forgive as freely as they themselves have been forgiven.

He targeted a Christian Bible study. And while he was committing those acts of hatred, of malice, of evil, he had no idea that he was also opening up the floodgates of the love that those he killed professed. Those that survived, and hundreds of others in Charleston, though undeniably hurting, expressed that love to him. A reporter covering the crowd that stood outside the arraignment had a difficult time keeping his composure in the face of such love.

Inside the proceedings, instead of acrimony and hatred, surviving family members expressed the forgiveness that the evil had certainly not expected.

I would like to note that the faith community in other cities with unrest – Baltimore, Cleveland, and others – did take a stand and tried to calm and heal the tensions in their area, sometimes meeting with gangs to come to a truce, sometimes with special services for those in need because of the riots. But because there were riots, they got the headlines, and the tweets, and the Facebook posts. But in Charleston, riots didn’t happen, so they didn’t mask what good things were happening.

So now it can be seen, and it is surprising, amazing and, dare I say, perplexing many who see the love of God in action. It’s been there, perhaps in the background, not grabbing the front page, but it’s been there nonetheless.

There are those that believe that God, or even just religion, isn’t necessary to express this kind of love. We can, so the idea goes, work this up within ourselves without any help, because the capacity is clearly there in people. I would say that, yes, the capacity is there, because we are made in the image of God, and since God is love, we too have that ability. But while we, within ourselves, might be able to approximate the appearance of such a love, it is but a dirty reflection of what is truly possible. If, instead, we let, not our love, but God’s love shine through us, that’s when you’ll see what it really looks like, and it will be surprising, amazing, and perplexing.

Some will ask, “Where was God? Why wasn’t He protecting His church?” That question has been asked many times, in many situations, throughout history. Perhaps one of the earliest examples of an answer to this comes from a man who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Through a series of events, over the course of years, he became second in command of the biggest economic power of his time. And in that position, was able to return good for evil, and save his family from a major catastrophe. You may recognize the Biblical story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. Or you may recognize the musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Either way, when his brothers felt extremely uncomfortable in the presence of the one they hurt, Joseph forgives them, telling them that, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…” We don’t always get to see the big picture – we may not live to see the big picture – but for those who trust Him, God uses the evil to work out the good. Dylann Roof intended to start a race war. He failed because God’s people let Him shine through them.

If you’re wondering how such forgiveness and love can really happen, I have a suggestion. Somewhere near you, very likely, is a church. Now, you don’t have to jump in completely to their Sunday service. You might just want to test the waters. Try getting your feet wet at, perhaps, a Wednesday night Bible study. One of those almost stopped a gunman filled with hate. Imagine what it could do for you.

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    Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

    The state of Indiana has come under fire for passing their version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA, as it’s called, was passed in response to court cases that eroded First Amendment protections of the exercise of religion. Religious freedom used to be judged on a case-by-case basis, considering whether each law had specific exemptions for religious groups. Charles Schumer, Democratic Senator from New York, introduced a bill in 1993 to set a standard on how religious freedom cases should be considered; using the same standard that another First Amendment protection – freedom of speech – was adjudicated. I’ll get to the details of that standard in a moment. The bill passed the US Senate 97-3, and by acclamation in the House. Bill Clinton signed it on November 16, 1993. Today, that same action at the state level is being called “bigoted” by Democrats.

    States have been doing this ever since a Supreme Court decision said that the federal RFRA didn’t apply to the states. Most of the states that have one use language identical to the one Clinton signed. But while religious freedom used to be supported by Democrats, the rise of a particular protected class (and reliable Democratic voting bloc) changed all that; homosexuals. Once again, as we have seen so many times, politics trumps everything else for the Left, even, apparently, the Bill of Rights.

    The fear being stoked is that this will allow Christian businesses to turn away gays just for being gay. Here are a couple of articles that are lists of frequently asked questions about the Indiana RFRA, and they explain, no, that sort of discrimination is not protected. If a Christian denies service to someone simply because they are gay, on the grounds that it’s a sin according to Christian doctrine, you would have a tough time proving those religious grounds in court. According to Christianity, we are all sinners. None of us are perfect. So that business owner would have to deny service to everyone, including him- or herself.

    Participation, one way or another, in a same-sex marriage ceremony has been the typical cause of contention. And all of the examples that I’ve seen that have been taken to court are regarding business owners that would bake cakes, take pictures, or arrange flowers for a gay customer for any purpose other than a same-sex wedding ceremony. This is most definitely not discrimination against gays because they’re gay. It is, however, a religious objection to a ceremony that the business owner does not wish to participate in.

    Read the rest of this entry

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      The Great Canon (continued)

      So, some selected passages from tonight (Tuesday’s) canon. (tonight’s link is to Tuesday’s canon, and is the translation we used in our service tonight)

      (from the 3rd ode)

      In You, the Destroyer of death, have I found the Fountain of Life, and now from the heart cry out before my death: “I have sinned. Be merciful and save me!”

      I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned against You, but be merciful to me, though there is no one whose sins I have not surpassed.

      I have imitated those who in the days of Noah indulged themselves and like them I deserve to perish in a flood.

      (later, ode five)

      The midwives, though instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male infants of the Hebrews, obeyed their God instead. Now that you, my hopeless soul, have been spared death like Moses, like him also be nourished on the wisdom of the Lord.

      By killing the oppressive Egyptian, Moses severed his bond to Pharaoh. But you, O my hopeless soul, have not even begun to attack the wickedness of your mind. If you have not accomplished even this much, how can you expect to pass through the time of repentance, which alone can drive away our sinful passions?

      (ode seven)

      You have heard of Absalom and how he rebelled against his father David, and know how he defiled his father’s bed. So why do you still imitate his wild impulses and his love of pleasure?

      By following Satan your freedom has become enslaved to your body, O my soul, as when on Ahitophel’s advice, Absalom revolted against his father. But Christ has scattered the Enemy’s counsel that you might at all costs be saved.

      Solomon was mighty and full of wisdom yet did wrong before the Lord when he turned to idols. And you, my soul, resemble him in your evil life.

      Solomon was carried away by gratification of his lust. Alas, he who loved Wisdom now makes love to prostitutes and finds himself estranged from God. But in your every thought you have imitated him, O my soul, through your disgraceful love of luxury.

      Thwack.

      The parallelism I noticed to night is interesting. The text of Ode one from Monday night, is logically connected to the Ode one of the following night, not the next ode on the same night. Kinda of an inducement to pay attention, eh? An example of that? Here is the last stanza from Ode nine of Monday night,

      After He had fasted forty days in the wilderness, hunger revealed the Lord’s human nature. Therefore, O my soul, do not despair if the Enemy attacks you, for it is only through prayer an fasting that he shall be defeated.

      and here is the first of Ode nine of Tuesday:

      The Devil showed stones to Christ which He could turn into bread, then led Him to the top of a mountain to show Him at a glance all the kingdoms of this world. O my soul, fear the Devil’s craftiness: watch and pray to God at every hour!

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        Where in the World (was Mark Tonight?)

        At the Great Canon of St. Andrew. The Great Canon is, to put it mildly, a penitential 2×4 swung by a gorilla hitting you right between the eyes. An introduction can be found here.

        Here are the first few meditations from the first (of 9) “odes”:

        Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.

        Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance.

        Having rivaled the first-created Adam by my transgression, I realize that I am stripped naked of God and of the everlasting kingdom and bliss through my sins. (Genesis 3)

        Alas, wretched soul! Why are you like the first Eve? For you have wickedly looked and been bitterly wounded, and you have touched the tree and rashly tasted the forbidden food.

        The place of bodily Eve has been taken for me by the Eve of my mind in the shape of a passionate thought in the flesh, showing me sweet things, yet ever making me taste and swallow bitter things.

        Adam was rightly exiled from Eden for not keeping Thy one commandment, O Savior. But what shall I suffer who am always rejecting Thy living words?

        It’s not unrelenting. For example, from tonight as well, “Thou art the good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect not me who have gone astray.”

         

        Most if not all slavic and OCA Orthodox churches will be doing the Canon every evening this week through Thursday night. If you have the time and ecumenical inclination and wish a spiritual penitential push, visit and worship with them. You will be welcomed.

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          Christmas and Meaning.

          One reflection here. For myself, I think a more succinct way to put it is, the meaning of Christmas is Easter and the Resurrection.

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            Better You Than Me (continued)

            Change of plans. I was going to write about Mr Yannaras next essay. But on reflection I ended my remarks on his essay prematurely last night. What were some of the points he made (discussion below the fold): Read the rest of this entry

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              Better You Than Me

              So. In the next few essay’s I’m going to begin a small series commenting on my reading the book (of essays coincidentally enough) by Christos Yannaras titled “The Meaning of Reality: Essays on Existence and Communion, Eros and History”. My plan is to go through this book essay by essay. Some essay’s I’ll separate a precis post (summary) and follow that with one or more posts with remarks refering back to that post. What follows (below the fold) is the remarks on the first essay titled, “A Reference to Alyosha Karamazov”. This is short (3 1/2 pages) and I’ll perhaps to combine summary and remarks in one post. This opens with a quote from the Brothers’ Karamazov (from which, obviously, the character Alyosha is drawn).

              • I understand it only too well: it’s the innards and the belly that long to love. You put it wonderfully, and I am terribly glad you have such an appetite for life,” Alyosha cried. “I have always thought that, before anything else, people should learn to love life in this world”
              • “To love life more than the meaning of life?”
              • “Yes that’s right. That’s the way it should be; love should come before logic, just as you said. Only then will man be able to understand the meaning of life.”

              And so we begin (below the fold) Read the rest of this entry

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                So you want to see some sermons?

                This coming Sunday, every Bible believing pastor, priest, and rabbi in the U.S. should preach on what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, and then send a copy of their sermon (anonymously) to the city of Houston.  #AnniseParker #Houston #PastorsSermons #BathroomBill

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                  The "Tolerance Police" Claim Their Next Victim

                  I mentioned the case of Brendan Eich a little while ago. He’s the genius that basically invented JavaScript, which web programmers are very familiar with and have been using since 1995. He co-founded Mozilla, the company that produces, among other things, the Firefox web browser. He was going to be the company’s CEO recently, until someone noticed he gave $1,000 to the Proposition 8 effort in California to keep marriage to mean one-man-one-woman. He was run out of the company for what I called a Thought Crime. He was eminently qualified to be the CEO of the company, but because he had the politically incorrect idea that marriage should mean what it’s meant for millennia, he was pressured to resign. There were no allegations that he had ever treated someone badly because of their sexual orientation, but he had, according to some, the wrong idea about marriage, and therefore he was unfit to be CEO of the technology company he helped create.

                  That’s what I want to stress here. In every other way, he was qualified for the job, but he had opinions that some disagreed with, and they created an atmosphere where Eich could not function in that job. That, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely what the word “intolerance” means. The irony is that those who created that atmosphere would very likely consider themselves the tolerant ones. The sad part is, they are unable to see intolerance in themselves because of the way they have redefined the word “intolerance” to mean “disagreeing with me”.

                  That was exhibit A. Exhibit B showed up a couple weeks ago when twin brothers Jason and David Benham were green-lit to host a new show on Home and Garden TV – HGTV – about fixing up dilapidated houses for families in need. Who in the world could be against that?

                  Well, in a radio interview, David Benham said this, and made some people mad.

                  Read the rest of this entry

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                    Thought Crimes

                    Charles C. W. Cooke calls it fascism. I think that may be a little overwrought, but there’s no escaping the reality that, if you think something politically incorrect these days, your job is in peril.

                    Another day, another witch hunt — this time in duplicate. “Twin brothers David and Jason Benham,” CNN reports, “have lost their opportunity to host their own HGTV show.” On Tuesday, the pair was gearing up for their new role; by sundown the next day, the network had announced tersely that it had “decided not to move forward with the Benham Brothers’ series.” And that, as they say, was that.

                    HGTV’s mind was allegedly changed by a post on the blog Right Wing Watch, where the duo was described as being “anti-gay” and “anti-choice.” That post, David Benham told Erin Burnett yesterday, “was too much for them to bear — they had to make a business decision.” How sad. Certainly, the Benhams hold some heterodox views. They are not merely opposed to abortion and gay marriage, but critical of divorce, adultery, Islam, pornography, “perversion,” the “demonic ideologies” that have crept into the nation’s “universities and . . . public school systems,” and the general culture of “activist” homosexuality, which, David contends, is inextricably tied up with a wider “agenda that is attacking the nation.” But so bloody what? They were tapped to host a home-improvement show, not rewrite the Constitution.

                    It matters not, however, to the "tolerant" Left, for whom that word now means "agrees with me". Redefining long-understood definitions seems to be their stock in trade, along with the word "marriage".

                    Future students of language will wonder at the period in our history in which it was said with a straight face that diversity required uniformity, tolerance necessitated intolerance, and liberalism called for dogma. Of late, we have been told that Brandeis University is simply too open-minded to hear from a critic of Islam, that Mozilla believes too vehemently in “freedom of speech” to refrain from punishing a man for his private views, and that a respect for the audience of a show about duck hunting demands that we suspend a man for expressing his religious views in an unrelated interview. “Never,” David Benham confirmed in an interview with CNN, “have I spoken against homosexuals, as individuals, and gone against them. I speak about an agenda.” Later, he added that “that’s really what the point of this is — that there is an agenda that is seeking to silence the voices of men and women of faith.” Say, now where might he have got hold of that idea?

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                      Does the Pope Shop at Hobby Lobby

                      No, but he does seem to be watching their Supreme Court case.

                      Pope Francis and Vatican officials on Thursday told U.S. President Barack Obama they were concerned about "religious freedom" in the United States, an apparent reference to the contraception mandate in Obama’s health care plan.

                      The talks included "discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church" in the United States, including "the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection," a Vatican statement said.

                      Obama’s 2010 healthcare law, widely opposed by Republicans, includes a provision that requires employers to cover the cost of contraception in their health insurance plans.

                      Catholic and other religious groups say the mandate forces them to support contraception and sterilization in violation of their religious beliefs or face steep fines.

                      Just wondering if all those Democrats who have been falling all over themselves over the Pope when he seems to be saying something they like (whether or not he’s actually saying what they think he’s saying) will take note of this rather obvious political stance.

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                        I don’t know how much the Vatican’s Chief Justice holds sway in terms of official church policy, or how much his opinion reflects the position of the Catholic church, but I thought I’d pass this along.

                        In an interview with Polonia Christiana magazine –and transcribed by Life Site News — Cardinal Raymond Burke said that Obama “promotes anti-life and anti-family policies.”

                        “It is true that the policies of the president of the United States have become progressively more hostile toward Christian civilization. He appears to be a totally secularized man who aggressively promotes anti-life and anti-family policies,” Burke told the magazine.

                        The former archbishop of St. Louis stated that Obama is trying to “restrict” religion.

                        “Now he wants to restrict the exercise of the freedom of religion to freedom of worship, that is, he holds that one is free to act according to his conscience within the confines of his place of worship but that, once the person leaves the place of worship, the government can constrain him to act against his rightly-formed conscience, even in the most serious of moral questions,” Burke said.

                        Burke took a swipe against Obama’s Affordable Care Act over the law’s birth control mandate, saying “such policies would have been unimaginable in the United States even 40 years ago.”

                        “In a democracy, such a lack of awareness is deadly,” Burke told the magazine. “It leads to the loss of the freedom which a democratic government exists to protect. It is my hope that more and more of my fellow citizens, as they realize what is happening, will insist on electing leaders who respect the truth of the moral law as it is respected in the founding principles of our nation.”

                        Since this was transcribed by Life Site News, you know there’s an abortion angle, and there’s just a bit more at the link.

                        The freedom of religion vs. freedom of worship is a distinction that I’ve heard elsewhere, and it’s good to hear it given voice by someone at the Vatican. These days, it’s almost like you lose that First Amendment right upon leaving the church building. You don’t, even if you own a business (i.e. Hobby Lobby). This is a serious concern.

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                          Vocabulary Bleg

                          So, in Sunday’s service (St. Basil Liturgy now that we are in Lent) the phrase “God is [..] adorable” appeared. The word “adorable” in its original meaning actually came from Christian contexts meaning “worthy of adoration” but now mostly is applied to small mammals meaning “very cute”. “Oh, he’s so adorable” is not usually applied to God but to kittens, small seals, and babies.

                          Which brings to mind the question, is there a word in English that means “worthy of adoration”? If so what is that word?

                          I think “venerable” has gone through a similar degradation, and similarly I don’t know a word meaning “worthy of veneration” in the English language.

                          Do you?

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                            Wedding Cakes and Conscience

                            Is it un-Christian-like to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding? If so, isn’t it then hypocritical if the baker doesn’t look into every other wedding ceremony to see if any sin is being committed?

                            No, says Russel D. Moore. The two questions are completely different issues. The former defies the Biblical definition of marriage. He discusses the difference, complete with citations from the apostle Paul, in "On Weddings and Conscience: Are Christians Hypocrites?"

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                              This issue has been in the news before, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen an opinion from this high up in the Catholic church.

                              To deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians who are Catholic, such as Secretary of State John Kerry, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, “makes perfect sense” because it is a discipline that goes back to St. Paul, “the very first years of the Church,” said Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and now the chief justice at the Vatican’s highest court.

                              In an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo on Dec. 13, Cardinal Burke explained that it is necessary to protect the Sacrament, the Communion wafer offered at Masses, from “being profaned, being violated by someone receiving unworthily,” someone “who knows that he or she is unworthy and yet presumes to come forward and to take the Holy Eucharist.”

                              For our Catholic readers, what’s your take on this?

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