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Monthly Archives: October 2012

As the father of a 15 month old, I’m quickly coming to realize that being a parent works your theological muscles! There is so much about parenting that requires theological reflection and practice. Everything from education and schooling to bibles made for children.

One idea that I’ve been thinking about lately is how to pass on the faith to your children. When St. Paul talks about “passing on” or “handing over” the faith he’s literally talking about a traditioning. The Christian faith is not something we invent, nor is it something that simply falls out of the sky into our laps. You don’t get to make the Christian faith up, unfortunately. The life of faith has built into it a traditioning, a “handing over”.

Interestingly, the Christian faith is not dependent on having children. The survival of the people of God is not premised upon “being fruitful and multiplying”. Rather, the Christian faith is premised upon baptism. New folks, responding to the gospel and being baptized into the life of the church.

But what does this mean for children, once they are baptized? What does it look like for parents to “tradition” the faith to their children?

It seems to me that we generally understand this to be the job of the parents. But is this necessarily so? When a child is baptized they too are taken up into the life of the church and made a member of Christ’s body. Thus, the faith of the child is dependent, not upon the parents didactic teaching of the faith, but on the passing on of the faith to the child from the whole church. In worship the child learns the rhythms of a life in the hands of God. In the liturgical year the child learns that time itself is God’s very own creation and it’s fullness is found in the life of Christ.

Of course, this isn’t to say that parents don’t play a roll in all of this. Certainly they do. It’s just to say that the parents roll needs to be understood in light of the life of Christ as present in the church.

Yet, this is precisely the opposite message you most often hear (at least in Protestant churches as I am most familiar with). Within the wacky world of Western Evangelicalism you have all sorts of products geared towards children, products meant to teach them the faith. Take my latest annoyance, the children’s bible. This has been a sort of theological conundrum for me recently. What the hell am I to do with this thing? “Little Girls Bible Storybook”? Lord, come quickly! There’s all sorts of problems I see with this stuff. There’s the obvious selection of particular stories, the kind that look and feel good in a storybook. With selection, of course, comes neglect. There’s the sentimentalizing of the Bible: “Aww, look at Noah with his big boat and all those cute fuzzy animals!” There’s the glaring consumerism: Bible’s made and marketed to a particular demographic (i.e. little girls and their mothers) because there is money to be made, obviously. And of course, this all presupposes that the parents will sit down and read these shitty sentimental stories to their children. One-on-one, parent to child discipleship of sorts.

Let’s be clear, though, can we? This hurts our children more than it helps, I think. Children will not be formed in the faith via sentimental and consumerist products. Well, to be sure, they’ll be formed in a particular faith, but it’s debatable how closely this resembles the Christian faith. I’d like to see us recapture the life of the church here. This is where children are formed, this is where the faith is traditioned to children – not the faith of the parents, but the faith of the church.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh here? Unrealistic? Naive? I’m a first time parent, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Part of the work I do at St. Matthew’s involves collaborating with other folks in the neighbourhood who are doing good work towards the same general end as us which, broadly stated, is continually learning to better love our neighbours. One of the other communities which we have managed to connect with and hope to deepen our friendship with is St. John’s Mission (fabulous place, check them out online at the very least). Part of the mission is their Lived Theology School (LTS) which is basically a one-year residential program where students come and study theology, enjoy fellowship, and get their hands dirty by participating in the life of the mission. Every now and then they have a few “open days”, one of which I was able to participate in today. The theme was “Basic Elements of Orthodox Spirituality” which is a topic I was interested in anyways and so it was a joy to attend.

OK, that was a bit of an extended introduction. One of the bits that I found especially interesting was the Orthodox understanding of the stages of sin. This has been written about by various authors and Church Fathers. Outlined below are the stages:

(1) The suggestion or “thought” (or, “impact”).

This is the initial thought that arises spontaneously. Many of the Fathers understood this “thought” to be the form demonic influence takes in human consciousness which tends towards sin. This stage is the first attack against vigilance (or, alertness/sobriety). It should be noted that each of these stages is a further attack upon sobriety until, as we will see, one’s vigilance is utterly defeated.

(2) The coupling or “connection”.

At this stage one becomes aware and begins to dialogue with the thought. Here, one can reject the thought outright or we can entertain it in dialogue. To dialogue is a further weakening of vigilance. One’s attention is “fettered to the object”. The important bit to note about this stage and the prior one is that the Fathers did not consider these stages to be sinful because there is not yet consent.

(3) Consent or acceptance.

Here vigilance is defeated as one delightedly yields the soul to what it has encountered. See for example the teaching of Jesus in the gospels re: anger and lust. It is here, at this stage, that sin occurs.

(4) Captivity.

Full acceptance of the idea occurs and instills itself in the soul, leading the soul to action.

(5) Completion.

This is the accomplishment of an external act which has already been consented to.

(6) The passion.

Finally, consent has become habitual. The Fathers refer to this as the “sickness of the soul”.

———-

It’s all quite interesting. For me the bit that really stands out is the fact that the Fathers did not regard the first two stages (some even included the third stage) as sin. It’s also a sort of inversion of the stages of the Orthodox understanding of the spiritual life.

Thoughts?

John Behr gave an excellent and challenging lecture today at Wycliffe College. It was on ‘Becoming Human’. Basically, it was a run down on theosis or divinization: God became man that man might become God. The premise being that man was created for participation in the divine life. OK, if that’s confusing, never mind. He of course relied heavily on the patristics, particularly Irenaeus for much of this. There is much I could reflect on from his lecture, however, one of the matters that stood out to me most was a hermeneutical point from the gospel of John.

One of the underlying themes of the lecture was that to be human is to die. Christ tramples down death by death and in so doing transforms death into a entrance to life. Baptism, initiation into the Christian community, is itself a baptism into the death of Christ. The call of the disciple is to pick up ones cross and follow Christ. Christ is the true Adam, the spiritual man. We see what God is really like in the death of the man Jesus, and thus we see what it is to be truly human.

OK, to John. The synoptics all have Jesus crying out to the Father on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (ex. Mark 15:34). John does not have this. Instead, John has Jesus calling out, “It is finished!” (19:30). This of course begs the question, what is finished? Behr here makes an interesting note that relates to theosis, and the point that to be human is to die. As noted above, Jesus is the second Adam, the true man. In John, just prior to the crucifixion Pilate proclaims, “Here is the man!” (19:5). Now, the gospel of John has clear allusions to Genesis (i.e. see 1:1 of John – in the beginning…). Behr believes that the proclamation “it is finished!” harkens us back to Genesis 1:26-27, the divine project, the human creature. In the beginning God made man but man was not perfect. Man was an infant and infants need milk. Infants cannot handle meat. Thus, the human creature had to grow up into perfection, into participation in the divine life. For Behr, in Christ’s death on the cross the human project is complete.

To be human is to die, and in death to enter into true life, eternal life. In baptism, in discipleship, the Christian dies and learns to die daily as the apostle Paul says.

Forgive me if this seems incomplete, it probably is. There is much more that could be said here!

The gospel reading this morning was from the tenth chapter of Mark where Jesus has an encounter with a rich young man. During Sunday School the teachers had the children make/draw the thing/person that they loved the most. Then when they came up for the Eucharist they would kneel down at the altar and exchange their most precious item for the body and blood of our Lord. A symbolic forsaking of what they love to follow Christ.

One little girl drew a picture of her mom. A boy gave a piece of Lego.

Then one young boy placed in my hand a Lego figure he had made and taped to the figure’s chest was the word “God”.

An impromptu discussion started on twitter over the weekend amongst a few friends (kudos to Nathan Colquhoun, Joe Manafo, Darryl Silvestri, Ian McLaren, and Chris Lewis). The subject? Naming beers after theologians. Here are a few of my favourites:

Dietrich Bonhopper

Stanley Hauerweizen (also: Stoutly Hauerwas; Stanley Hopperwas)

Karl Barthly Wine

St. Paul the Hopostle

Jürgen Maltmann

Malt Brueggeman

J.I. Pilsner

Ron Cider

Bitter Driscoll

What say you? Got any good ones? Keep ’em coming.