Art of Persistence

"The art of love ... is largely the art of persistence." -Albert Ellis

Friday, June 29, 2007

Reminding the Theologically Minded of the Obvious

"[R]evelation consists not so much in a disclosure of a sum of theoretical information about a God enclosed within his own transcendence, as it consists in God's act of descending to man and of raising man up to himself so that there might be achieved, in Christ, the deepest possible union and that this achievement might be the basis for extending between God and all the people who believe in him this same union."

-Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Freedom and Salvation

"In the West [the] mystery of freedom was distorted by the necessary but impetuous and exaggerated reaction of St Augustine to the voluntarism of Pelagius. Increasingly freedom and grace were contrasted by describing their respective roles in terms of causality. Can the free will of human beings be the cause of their salvation, as Pelagius claimed? Or is it the grace of God alone, as Augustine said? The latter's intuition - I am a wretch who has been saved gratuitously and so I sing Alleluia - is correct existentially, subjectively, but dangerous when stated objectively as part of a system. [...] The Greek Fathers (and some of the Latin Fathers), according to whom the creation of humanity entailed a real risk on God's part, laid the emphasis on salvation through love: 'God can do everything except force man to love him'. The gift of grace saves, but only in an encounter of love. Grace envelops the individual, the whole person, like an atmosphere ready to seep in through the smallest breach. But only faith in its sovereign freedom can cause the breach to be made. Then it becomes an active opening-up, the beginning of abandonment to the divine life. And for the good of humanity as a whole some are 'set apart', for it is not the isolated individual but humanity in communion, or rather, all human beings together, who truly constitute the image of God."

-Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism

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Biting My Tongue

Occasionally I notice people who are constantly trying to prove that they're not afraid to speak their mind, and the result is that they are unnecessarily grating, argumentative and belligerent. Then I recognize these same traits in myself and am embarrassed.

I'm trying to get better, and sometimes I'm profoundly tested. I'm thinking of the recent visit with an old friend from my Protestant days. Again I recognized some of my traits and was embarrassed. How quick I was to feel that Catholics (or Orthodox if I had known any) who referred to what I would have called their "denominations" as "The Church" were being arrogant and judgmental. How quick I was to prove that I wasn't afraid to speak up for Jesus by subjecting them to my ignorant arrogance.

As I said, I'm trying to get better; I'm trying to keep in mind the effect my words will have on their hearers. So when my old friend graciously admitted that there were even some Orthodox who were Christians, I bit my tongue. When I was repeatedly warned about letting icons and incense become idols, I bit my tongue. When my friend's monologue turned to "the end times", the latest frothy evangelical publishing phenomenon (a book to be either forgotten and completely contradicted, or called 'a Classic' in ten years), or Pat Robertson, I bit my tongue. When I was told that even Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses can be Christians, I bit my tongue. It was obvious that she had a different definition of Christian than I had, than most Christians have always had. For her to be a Christian you only had to to say nice things about Jesus and have good intentions. To say that somebody wasn't a Christian meant that you thought they weren't "going to heaven". This is not charitable. What would have been the point of trying to have a conversation with somebody when almost every word we shared would have to be redefined? Add to this my knowledge of my friend's set jaw and changing of the subject when met with this kind of disagreement, and we have a weekend in which I bit my tongue an awful lot.

There was one time I did speak up. My friend was going on with a not so subtle warning that having too many externals associated with your religion (with 'too many' being defined as more than she had) can lead future generations to a shallow attachment to these externals instead of having a relationship with Jesus. I pointed out that of course some will see only the externals since relationships (the internals) are invisible. But that the knee-jerk reaction of eliminating externals only results in new externals. And we're back to the same scenario in the next generation. A better solution is to do a good job of teaching the next generation about the invisible things that these externals are supposed to point to. My remarks were met with a set jaw and a changing of the subject. So I bit my tongue.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gregory of Nyssa and the Image and Likeness

"If humanity is called to life in order to share in the divine nature, it must have been suitably constituted for the purpose...It was essential that a certain kinship with the divine should have been mixed in human nature, so that this affinity should predispose it to seek what is related to it...That is why humanity was given life, intelligence, wisdom, and all the qualities worthy of the godhead, so that each one of the should cause it to desire what is akin to it. And since eternity is inherent in the godhead, it was absolutely imperative that our nature should not lack it but should have in itself th principle of immortality. By virtue of this inborn faculty it could always be drawn towards what is superior to it and retain the desire for eternity.
That is summed up in a single phrase in the account of the creation of the world: 'God created man in his own image.'"

"If the image could be essentially understood while the original remained incomprehensible, the image would not be an image at all. But our spiritual dimension, which is precisely that wherein we are the image of our Creator, is beyond our ability to this mystery within us we bear the imprint of the incomprehensible godhead."

-translation taken from The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clément.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

History Can Be Beautiful

I was watching this video of the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and I got a lump in my throat. What I found so deeply moving was not the reunification itself, although it was an answer to the prayers of thousands, but the packed cathedral. It wasn't just the old women that we're used to seeing in churches in Russia; this church was packed with young and old, women and men all coming together to celebrate the answer to their prayers without fear of imprisonment, confiscation of property, or death. Who would have thought even 25 years ago that we'd ever see this day?

Marx is dead. Christ is risen!

Grading Tests part 2

My wife doesn't like to be in the same room with me while I'm grading tests. It's tedious, time-consuming work. And the less understanding a student has, the more time it takes to grade the test. By the time I'm finished, I'm usually in a very bad mood (as you can see by the cantankerousness of my previous post on Grading Tests).

But then, after a couple of days, I regain a degree of equanimity and I begin to think about the students. Is apathy really so rampant? Or could there be some other condition that makes it seem as if the students just don't care? My best guess is that most of these students who don't seem to care are just silent victims of ineffective, abusive or burned-out math teachers, and the parade of educational theories that are really more about helping PhD's get tenure than in helping students who need to learn math. I mean, can it really be the case that more than half of the students that are taking time out of their summer, as well as money out of their bank accounts, don't care about the course they're sacrificing so much to take? It seems more likely to me that most of these students have a bad case of learned helplessness, or something like it. It's as if they're thinking, "I never understand much of what goes on in math class. And the more I study, the more frustrated I get. So I'll limit my emotional involvement so that when I get a poor grade I won't want to open a vein."

When a student realizes that they've got half a dozen more math classes before they can get their degree, they've got much more motivation to try to change their attitudes, to pay attention to the fundamentals, to unlearn their helplessness. For that reason, it seems to me that I'll still want to teach developmental math even after I finish my master's degree. I know how to reach those students. But I'm not sure if there even is a way to influence students that are in their last math class required for their degree. What's their motivation?