Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.” What were you doing when you were 12 years old? I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were. I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band. I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission. My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304. This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Continue reading “Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304”

Millstones and Innocents

Saint Agnes of Rome

Agnes, Martyr of Rome, 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.”  What were you doing when you were 12 years old?  I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were.  I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band.  I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission.  My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304.  This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith.

Known as one of the most heinous periods of Christian persecution and lasting for 10 years, this attempted purge of all Christians out of the life of Rome affected our little Agnes.  She was caught up in this tumultuous time.  She was imprisoned for her faith and tortured as she would not renounce her faith and turn to Rome’s pagan pantheon of gods.  Ultimately, our Agnes was killed for her faith to Christ:  some say she was burned alive and some say she was beheaded.  In the end, she chose her faith and peace in Christ despite all worldly pain and suffering it caused.  Our little Agnes was only 12.

I am struck by this child in that here I stand, caught up in my own stresses and worries and frustrations.  I am easily irritated by those situations I cannot control.  I am easily disheartened when events do not turn out as I anticipated, when people do not behave how I expected, and I am disappointed.  I then think to my life as a 12 year old and how different I was compared to Agnes!

Jesus said in our gospel that each of us should be humble like the children who were surrounding Him.  He said that we should welcome the children into our house and into our hearts.  We should welcome those innocent people who desire to be like Him, who love Him with their hearts and their smiles and their lives.  Jesus went on to warn us that if anyone acts as a stumbling block to those little innocents that we should have a stone tethered to our necks and tossed into the sea and drowned.  That is a gruesome image coming from our peaceful Christ.  But I believe those are powerful words striking to the core of how we should respond as believers in Him to those who are seeking salvation.

Those innocents could come in the form of children, much like those children who are in St. Luke’s right now.  They run and play and cry and whine.  But they are Christ’s, and I have been reminded of that fact each time I am with them and teach them.  And yet, those innocents could also be those guests and visitors who are seeking and searching for something they cannot yet name.  We must also be to them as Christ commands us to be, loving and accepting and welcoming them into our home, the church, as He welcomes us into His Kingdom.

I pray that I never forget the life of little Agnes, caught in a brutal and troubled world when she was but a child.  I pray that when I am overwhelmed by my life, that I remember hers and thank her for her sacrifice.  And, finally, I pray that I am humble as Christ has taught me and welcome all innocents into His house and allow His grace and peace to shine through me to them.

I’m suffering… Where’s the protection??

guardianangel

1 Peter 13-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice,[a] even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,  so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Although you have not seen[b] him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

There are a couple of phrases that stand out to me  The first is, “you…who are being protected by the power of God through faith…”  What does “being protected” mean?  I question this because, at the time that the gospels were written after Jesus’s death and resurrection (about 60-70 AD) , Christians were being persecuted for their faith.  We study the lives of the martyrs who suffered for their faith.  So that brings me back to this idea of “protection” and what it means if there are so many who were being persecuted.  It doesn’t seem, in OUR language, that the word protection means the same thing now as it did then.  I mean… we wear a seat belt in our cars for protection.  Kids wear helmets when riding their bikes for protection. Some people carry guns for protection.  So what does Peter mean when he says protection?

I think to help answer this, we need to look further in the text.  He says, “in this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…is tested by fire – may result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  So…looking at the beginning of this passage, Peter talks about protection, and now he speaks of suffering.

Sorry, but now I’m REALLY confused!!

I think back to what I’ve been studying in my Church History class.  We recently studied the first Fathers, hermits, and martyrs from about 100-300AD.  These men and women suffered for the devotion to their faith.  The were tortured for days, months, and some for years.  The Diocletian Persecution was one of the most brutal events against Christians in the 300s.  So if these Christians were persecuted and suffered for Christ, how were they protected?  And what does that mean for us?

We, in this country, don’t suffer persecution for our faith as they did.  But we do suffer.  We go through illnesses and death of friends and family and feel that loss; we endure our own illnesses; we go through divorce; we go through financial hardships; we endure tragedies much like Arkansas and the south is suffering now in the wake and aftermath of these tornadoes.  There are all kinds of suffering going on, and not all of them physical and for the sake of Christ.

I believe there is a distinction we should make here that the protection Peter speaks of is not a protection of our bodies but a protection of our spirit, our soul, that part of us which is connected to God.  That is what He protects.  Though our bodies may hurt and our feelings, our emotions, can be devastated by pain and loss, that connection we have to the Risen Christ is never broken or harmed.  As Peter says, it is protected “by the power of God through faith.”

Now.  We know our spirits are protected by God and are kept safe.  So now that brings me back to suffering.  When we endure hardship, pain, loss, confusion, we forget all the trivialities in our lives and are consumed by what we are going through.  We forget about and ignore the gossip and whisperings happening at work.  We forget about which teams are playing in the next baseball game.  We don’t give a second thought to the details of the next booster club event.  All the recognize is that we are hurting, and that suffering brings clarity.  An analogy I can think of is going to the gym.  When a person first starts working out at the gym, they might be able to do 5 or 6 push ups.  The more they work out, they stronger they become.  After working out for 6 months, they can probably do 40 or 50 push ups.  That number might have been unheard of 6 months prior.  Another analogy is think back to when we were in our teens and twenties.  Some of the issues we faced then seemed insurmountable at the time.  Now, in hindsight, those problems might be a drop in the bucket compared to things we’ve seen or endured since then.  And to hear a teen or twenty year old speak of their “problems”, well, we just might want to scoff at them and say, “Trust me, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”

But that suffering that we physically or emotionally endure, according to Peter, strengthens our spirit, strengthens our faith in God.  Suffering in our lives and realizing our faith is becoming stronger also does something else for us.  The martyrs that I spoke of had narratives, information that they wrote about in their letters to their friends and families.  These letters were also shared with communities and passed down from generation to generation.  The anguish that the martyrs felt and their faith that remained strong despite their persecution helped to give guidance and strength to others.

We participate in this offering of strength now.  As we suffer through various trials in life, we share those burdens with one another.  We pray for one another.  We offer counsel to one another.  Because one person whom we love is facing the illness of a child or going through the loss of a parent or enduring a difficult divorce, we suffer with them.  We hurt with them and cry with them.  We pray for them.  And our spirit, I would hope, is also strengthened as well.  Our cries to God on their behalf protects our spirits and helps us to understand and remember the grace of God and the salvation of Christ.

While we do not want pain and suffering, I pray that when we must endure it, we remember the love of God and sacrifice of Christ, forget those trivial portions of our lives that really do not matter, and seek the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ who will love us and pray for us.  And when we see someone hurting, I pray we follow in the steps of those who have come before us and share their burdens by offering counsel, love, and prayer.

Where Are You Going?

Leaving the Church

“Donald Miller”

This name has spawned a bit of backlash recently.  Why?  He wrote a blog post about why he doesn’t attend church much, if at all, anymore.

I read his original post here.

I then read his follow-up post here.

I then read some responses to is blog here …

and here …

and here …

and a really good one here

and another one here

Clearly, this Donald Miller has struck a nerve.

But if we abandon all that we don’t like or remain with those who align with us 100%, we will end up alone or, worse, lukewarm.

Sorry for all the jumps.  This Donald Miller, I admit, has struck a nerve with me as well.  It’s personal.  And it’s important.

And just like I was for 16 years…he’s wrong.

“My thoughts…your thoughts…”

Logic vs Emotion

 

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1 Corinthians 13:12 NRSV.

We arrive with knowledge of God, the One, through Aristotle’s methods:  “…as is possible for us in connection with sensible things” (29).  Alternately, we begin to know God as Augustin posits “only insofar as God illumines the intellect” (29).  Awareness, knowledge, of God comes to us through logos and rationale or faith and self-revelation.  There is a third possibility of knowing God, according to the Middle Platonist, which is only achieved in the next life (47); this concept echoes Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”

Because we cannot fully know the mind of God, we adapt our analysis and study and look to analogies or metaphors.  In our finite, limited understanding of an infinite Being, we see what God is not, so we might arrive at what He is.  Our analogies may be flawed:  “They are comparable to reflections of objects seen on the surface of water, with the distortions and limitations of reflections” (83).  However, “logic teaches us to reason rightly so as to gain knowledge” (86).  Application of a metaphor assists us to comprehend the One.  As we gain clarity, that clarity is in two distinct categories:  practical matters and theoretical knowledge (99).  When aptly combined, we achieve theoretical wisdom or sophia where “the highest part of [our] nature is fulfilled” (100).

However, this fulfillment cannot occur until the self is emptied or purged through kenosis.  We must employ “the procedure for getting rid of our lower souls…to gain knowledge.  We presently are between our higher souls and our lower souls” (54).  “There is no intimate knowledge of God without such moral…change in the knower” (29).  We must be changed first by faith, then the acquisition of knowledge will continue to purge self so that faith in knowledge will grow.  Justin Martyr stated, “that such knowledge is not possible for anyone using only one’s natural capacities.  It is only by faith in God’s revelation by the incarnate Word that such intimate knowledge of God is possible…”(27).  Justin’s concept is contrary to Aristotle’s understanding of sensible things.  However, it was Epictetus who envisioned the kenosis process:  We have by nature been endowed with the faculties to bear whatever happens to us without being degraded or crushed…One can complain about such misfortune or bear whatever comes without degradation by seeing its necessity and yielding to it courageously and magnanimously” (43).

Ultimately, to achieve the theoretical wisdom or sophia and behave as the Cynics, “the wise person in action” (41), we must empty ourselves, use rationale as well as faith, and employ metaphors to comprehend what the mind cannot conceive.

Allen, Diogenes and Eric O. Springsted.  Philosophy for Understanding Theology.  Louisville:

Westminster John Know Press.  2007.  2nd ed.