Friday, August 15, 2003

St. John on malice or remembrance of wrongs continued...

The man who puts a stop to anger has also wiped out remembrance of wrongs, sinceoffspring can come only from a living parent.

A loving man banishes revenge, but a man brooding on his hatred stores up troublesome labors for himself. A banquet of love does away with hatred and honest giving brings peace to a soul, but if the table is extravagant then license is brought forth and gluttony comes jumping in through the window of love.

I have seen hated shatter a lecherous relationship, and then afterwards remembrance of wrongs stood in the way of restoring the relationship. Now this is amazing, one devil cured by another. Still, this may be the work of divine providence rather than the work of deamons.

Remembrance of wrongs is far removed from sturdy, natural love, but like a flea hidden on a dove, may live next door to fornication.

St. John has had a profound impact on our group. It seems as though we usually com together very chatty and talkative. When we finish the reading, we are left silent, staring deeply into ourselves. It is a time for the diagnosis of our individual conditions; a time for the shockwave to run through after the bomb has detonated. Slowly, we all come to and enter into discussion. Usually the first thing we ask is: "How did he say to get up this step?"

I should note that we all started reading this book with varying degrees of skepticism. We have been reminded over and over that it is "addressed to monastics, whose path is very different from our own." We have found this to be true to an extent. While there are things we may never have application for (like being banished to a prison for monastics), we have begun to cling very tightly to St. John's Ladder in any way we find applicable. Having listened intently to St. John's prognosis and ralizing its stinging realitiy, we are desperate for the cure. We are desperate for real change, real transformation.

So there we sit...varying in ages 20 to 30; varying in religious backgrounds from charismatic, to Catholic, to Buddhist; varying in interests from philosophy to surfing, and yet, contrary to common evangelical opinion, this 6th century monk has offered us something that transcends all of the fluff we bring. He has given us something that is relevant in the most immense way. He has taught us that the condition of the soul and man's desire to find healing will never be irrelevant.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2003

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you an important message…

Hello Blogosphere…or at least the tiny huddle of people who read my blog!

A dear friend of mine recently wrote a paper regarding the 7th Ecumenical Council. I would like to ask that anyone who can to please read and comment on it. Please feel free to be honest and if necessary blunt in your comments. The paper can be read by going here. The site is hosted by a friend and me and we would be happy to post any sort of “counter” paper if any one desires. Other than that please either e-mail me or leave your comments here on the Munkee. Again, I really appreciate any response you can offer on the paper.

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Warm summer nights and beatings from St. John.

As many of you know and some do not, almost every Sunday evening for the past 2.8 years a group of guys gathers at one of the our homes to read and discuss some spiritually oriented text. Initially, the group was entirely Anglican, but in the last year the groups demographic has changed a bit. Four of us became Orthodox; two remain Anglican; we added an Evangelical, another Orthodox and a fellow from the Disciples of Christ. The mix of guys makes for good, solid, intimate interaction.

We are currently working our way through The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St. John Climacus. This last Sunday night we read steps 9 (Malice) and 10 (Slander). It’s a good thing we’re reading this as a group because I couldn’t get through it alone! It is such potent medicine that I feel the need for someone to hold my hand through it. St. John’s defining of malice or remembrance of wrongs is cutting:

Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour. A dark and loathsome passion, it comes to be but has no offspring, so that one need not say too much about it.

I must be honest and say it was terrifying to read this chapter, for it cut very deep and exposed a black infection. Yet, the feeling of exposing and cleaning out such vileness was almost sweet. I think it was sweet for the simple fact that I have been working through this with my father confessor. Had I not already confessed this malice, it is possible that this reading would have passed without me giving any heed, save that I would see its application for others.

As a Protestant I witnessed my soul drifting toward complacency of this nature. I was able to give up most of my “blue collar” sin, but the deeper less obvious things such as malice and slander I had written off to a cure somewhere in eternity. I had written many Christian virtues off to eternity mostly because I had been given no example except Jesus. He obviously is a very good example, but He is God. When I was exposed to the saints throughout the ages (i.e. St. John), not just Bible stories but people who have lived in the last century or who are among us NOW, I found something to strive for. A witness that salvation is transformation.

More to come…

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Friday, August 08, 2003

“Basil is engaged!”

Well, we had a “countdown visit” with our midwife Monday night. Upon carefully and firmly palpitating Sara’s belly our midwife declared, “He’s engaged!” In other words he’s locked and loaded. He’s in the chute. We have a green light. We’re clear for take off. Red team go...red team go (swat team)!!! C’mon buddy everyone’s waiting for you. Wait, strike that last comment. You can come when my Digital Camera arrives from E-bay.

Pray for Basil’s dad. He’s a bit spun around.

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Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Dormition of the Theotokos

Okay, this is the fifth time I’ve tried to say this without writing a book. The Dormition Fast brings back great memories of struggle with the teaching and tradition of the Church. Just when I thought I had begun to have peace and gain understanding in regard to the Theotokos…WHAM...a hearty helping of tradition that at the time seemed very contrived. All of that ranting to say I am growing more and more to love the Theotokos as I’d never thought possible. Not that I understand it beyond she is the mother of Christ our God and our greatest intercessor, but isn’t that amazing enough!

A peaceful Dormition Fast to all.

Extra Credit* One book that really challenged me, ground on me and in general made me uncomfortable, but ultimately helped me greatly was Mary the Birthgiver of God by St. John Maximovich. Another significant help was a pamphlet from St. Athanasius Academy written by Fr. Alexander Schmemman. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of print. Perhaps they’ll give me permission to post it here.

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Friday, August 01, 2003

Christianity Today, March 2, 1998

Should We Give Up on Government?

Christians are flirting with libertarianism, but it is not a biblical

Ronald J. Sider & Fred Clark

Like many Americans these days, John Stagliano loves his country but hates
his government. The entrepreneur and self-made millionaire views government
as a necessary evil at best and, at worst, a restrictive and regulatory
nightmare intent on usurping his personal and economic liberties.

Stagliano's antipathy is directed not only at the current Congress or
administration, but at government itself. He is a major, outspoken
contributor to the Cato Institute, an influential libertarian think tank.
Groups like Cato have moved political debate away from discussions of good
government versus bad government. Their presumption is that government, by
definition, is bad. So the debate becomes big government versus small

G. K. Chesterton said, "The poor object to being governed badly, while the
rich object to being governed at all." This is especially true of rich
people like Stagliano, who makes his fortune in an industry that is
particularly prone to government "interference": pornography. Stagliano
produces and directs hard-core sex videos. His company, Evil Angel Video, is
one of the leading players in America's $8-billion-a-year trade in sexually
explicit material.

Fatal attraction
Perhaps it is not surprising that libertarianism is an attractive philosophy
for a millionaire pornographer. What is surprising is the extent to which
libertarian ideas have begun to influence politically active Christians,
especially evangelicals.

We evangelicals are experiencing an adolescent growth spurt in our political
engagement and thinking. Still heady with the zeal of newfound political
activism, we haven't yet demonstrated the patience or discipline for
sustained political reflection, for engaging the centuries-long conversation
on Christianity and politics, on statecraft, and on the proper role and
responsibilities of the civil authorities instituted by God.

Nature abhors a vacuum. To the extent that we have failed to adopt a
biblical, Christian understanding, we have instead adapted to the prevailing
ideologies of our secular culture. This ideological vacuum has left
evangelicals particularly susceptible to ideologies shaped by our
individualist, modern culture and the logical conclusion of individualistic
liberalism: libertarianism.

Libertarianism permits only an extremely limited role for government in
maintaining civic order and providing national defense. It is attractive for
its simplicity and its "one-size-fits-all" principle of individual liberty.
This pro-choice-on-everything framework clashes with the Christian
insistence that what one chooses also matters, and that some choices must be
limited or prohibited for the common good. The trump card of unlimited
individual liberty leads libertarians to many conclusions traditionally
opposed by Christians and social conservatives, including support for
abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and unregulated markets in
pornography and narcotics (hence its attraction for John Stagliano).

Can libertarianism be reconciled with the Christian understanding that
government is "instituted by God" as "God's servant for your good" (Rom.
13:1, 4)? To their credit, some Christian libertarians take great pains to
distinguish their views from those of secular libertarian thinkers. The
problem, of course, is that it is difficult to do so. Evangelical Doug
Bandow of the Cato Institute asserts, "Libertarianism is not synonymous with
libertinism," but he has a hard time explaining why. His libertarian
colleagues David Boaz and Charles Murray, or Massachusetts governor William
Weld, still seem unconvinced. Michael Uhlmann, a Catholic fellow at the
conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, finds the very idea of
Christian libertarianism puzzling, owing "more to John Stuart Mill than to
anything distinctly Christian."

The influence of libertarianism has led many evangelicals to adopt a starkly
antagonistic view of the responsibilities of government and the church, the
public and the private sectors. Operating from this either/or perspective,
some argue that since individual Christians are commanded to care for the
poor, it must not be any of the government's business. But such a conclusion
requires that we dismiss the large body of biblical teaching that says the
government has a responsibility to care for the poor. It also ignores
centuries of biblically based Christian thought and teaching on the distinct
but complementary roles of state, family, and church (exemplified in the
Catholic idea of "subsidiarity" and the Reformed concept of "sphere

Critics of government programs, such as Marvin Olasky, are right to point
out the ways in which government has sometimes failed miserably to meet its
responsibilities, but it does not follow that the state therefore does not
have any such responsibilities. It is also true that some of the best work
empowering the poor is being done by faith-based nonprofit agencies, but
that does not absolve other actors—governments, neighbors, relatives—from
fulfilling their respective, God-given responsibilities as well.

What's a king to do?
We should be extremely cautious in giving up on government. Before we do so
we ought to examine the long history of Christian political thinking that we
would be rejecting. It should give us pause that Augustine, Thomas Aquinas,
Luther, Calvin, and Wesley all taught that the emperor, king, prince, civil
magistrate, or elected officials were the servants of God, ordained for the
common good.

The past century of Catholic social teaching and the Reformed tradition of
Abraham Kuyper offer rich, instructive perspectives. These Christian
movements were both unflinching in their opposition to state socialism and
deeply suspicious of state intrusion into other areas of civil society. Yet
they were equally adamant that government, under God, has a legitimate and
necessary role to play, including doing justice for the poor and the
disadvantaged. Kuyper, a theologian and a politician who was elected prime
minister of the Netherlands, said in a speech, "God the Lord unmistakably
instituted the basic rule for the duty of government. Government exists to
administer his justice on earth, and to uphold that justice."

"The poor object to being governed badly,
while the rich object ot being governed at all.

Our task as evangelicals—because we are evangelicals—is to study this rich
Christian tradition in the light of biblical revelation. Scripture is our
bottom line, and our understandings of the role of state (as well as church,
commerce, families, and individuals) must be shaped by biblical principles.

Throughout the Bible, God held leaders responsible to actively seek justice
for the poor. Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king: "Give the king your
justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son. May he judge your
people with righteousness, and your poor with justice" (vv. 1-2, NRSV). The
two key words here, justice and righteousness, pertain both to the legal
system and to the economic order. The prophets condemn those who deprive
people of the land that would enable them to earn their own way (see Isa.
5:8-9) and call on the king to correct such injustice. "May [the king]
defend the cause of the poor of the people…and crush the oppressor" (Ps.

Nehemiah 5 offers a fascinating example of using government power to correct
economic injustice. The nobles were taking the lands of the poor and selling
their children into slavery. Nehemiah, the top government official,
denounces this abuse and compels the rich to return everything: "Restore
them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards,
and their houses and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you
have been exacting from them" (v. 11).

The king's responsibility for justice means more than merely maintaining
unbiased courts; the just king also strengthens the weak, heals the sick,
and binds up the crippled (Ezek. 34:4, 16, 23). The king must seek justice
as God does (Ps. 72:4)—and remember, it is the Lord "who executes justice
for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them
food and clothing" (Deut. 10:18).

Interestingly, these norms apply not just to Israel's rulers, but to rulers
everywhere. Daniel 4:27 calls Nebuchadnezzar to bring justice and mercy to
the oppressed. Proverbs 31 directs King Lemuel (probably a northern Arabian
monarch) to "defend the rights of the poor and needy."

None of this means that the government is the only institution or agency
responsible to empower the poor. Individuals and congregations are commanded
to share sacrificially with the poor. We also need a vast array of
nongovernmental institutions in society that lift up the needy. Often, in
fact, these intermediate institutions will do the job better than
governmental agencies.

But it is simply unbiblical to claim that government has no responsibility
to seek justice for the poor. Government is God's servant for good. Part of
its God-given task is to make sure that the poorest have the resources to
earn their own living.

Ronald J. Sider is president of Evangelicals for Social Action. Fred Clark
is the managing editor of Prism magazine.

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