The Genesee Diary - God suffers with us

It has been a while since I last posted on Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary. The speed of life quickened with the end of school just before Memorial Day weekend. With my second son's graduation ceremony, and my parents visiting for almost a week,  there was a lot of cleaning to do before they arrived. Then, I spent last week baking cakes and cookies for the open house we hosted for Jon's graduation.

As you can see from this picture, I am not smiling broadly. I'm about ready to do this:

I figured that I may as well share this since it was splattered all over Facebook. Personally, I prefer my breakdown moments in the privacy of my bedroom behind a locked door, but my emotions do not always cooperate. Pretty, huh?

Life sure passes quickly. Just yesterday, Jonathan was chasing bubbles across the yard and popping them with his mouth because he liked the taste of them. Now he is 18 and about to leave for college. He does not eat bubbles any more either. Now he will have to get used to cafeteria food so he may go back to eating bubbles. 

Two kids down, one to go. It is a little difficult for a mother to take. 

I am happy for Jon although it is sad that life passes so quickly. How will Mike and I handle only having one child in the house? 

Changes in life need an adjustment period so it is good to plan ahead a little. Author and priest, Henri Nouwen wondered how he could carry what he was learning at the Genesee monastery into his regular life. How could a writer, lecturer, speaker, teacher and priest live a life of contemplative prayer while immersed in the fury of his schedule?

John Eudes, abbot of the Genesee monastery when Nouwen lived there for six months, suggested that Nouwen make some concrete decisions about prayer, availability, hours of rising and going to bed. He suggested that Nouwen spend time in prayer twice a day in the morning and in the evening without fail. 

"The only solution is a prayer schedule that you will never break without consulting your spiritual director. Set a time that is reasonable, and once it is set, stick to it at all costs," Eudes said. "Make it your most important task. Let everyone know that this is the only thing you will not change and pray at that time ... Simply make it an impossibility to do any type of work, even if it seems urgent, important and crucial. When you remain faithful, you slowly discover that it is useless to think about your many problems since they won't be dealt with in that time anyhow. Then you start saying to yourself during these free hours, 'Since I have nothing to do now, I might as well pray!' So praying becomes as important as eating and sleeping, and the time set free for it becomes a very liberating time to which you become attached in the good sense."

Eudes also said that if Nouwen was faithful in this Nouwen would "slowly experience (him)self in a deeper way. Because in this useless hour in which you do nothing 'important' or 'urgent,' you have to come to terms with your basic powerlessness, you have to feel your fundamental inability to solve your or other people's problems or to change the world. When you do not avoid that experience but live through it, you will find out that your many projects, plans, and obligations become less urgent, crucial and important and lose their power over you. They will leave you free during your time with God and take their appropriate place in your life."

Through a daily time of silence, I am allowing God to arrange my priorities. I find that life is still busy but more simplistic. In the week before graduation, however, I did let my time of silence slide. This may have contributed to the emotional outburst but I do not think missing my time of silence caused it. Even though I cried at my first son's graduation too, I thought I could prepare myself for the second ceremony. It did not work. Just like every child is different, a mother's experience with each of her children is also different. We experience life together in different ways. We also suffer together in different ways. 

Certainly, the separation of a mother and child is a harsh experience, especially for the mother. However, separation is ultimately necessary if the child is to flourish in life.It does not mean that the mother cannot cry and express her feelings of grief.

In the Genesee Diary, Nouwen shared some of the thoughts he had garnered from Abraham Heschel's, "A Passion for Truth." Heschel writes, "The refusal to accept the harshness of God's ways in the name of his love was an authentic form of prayer. Indeed, the ancient Prophets of Israel were not in the habit of consenting to God's harsh judgment and did not simply nod, saying, 'Thy will be done.' They often challenged him, as if to say, 'Thy will be changed.' They had often countered and even annulled divine decrees."... "A man who lived by honesty could not be expected to suppress his anxiety when tormented by profound perplexity ... There are some forms of suffering that a man must accept with love and bear in silence. There are other agonies to which he must say no."

By protesting and showing how one really feels, a person will experience a much closer relationship with God than would someone who simply submits to everything. There is a time for submission, of course, but true submission and peace often happen after an honest struggle with grief, even agony. Nouwen likened it to Jacob's struggle in wrestling with the angel of God in Genesis 32.

It is in our pain that we learn God suffers with us. 

"Heschel tells the beautiful story of the Polish Jew who stopped praying 'because of what happened in Auschwitz.' Later, however, he started to pray again. When asked, 'What made you change your mind?' he answered, 'It suddenly dawned on me to think how lonely God must be; look with whom he is left. I felt sorry for him."

Nouwen concludes, "This attitude brings God and his people very close to each other, so that God is known by his people as the one who suffers with them." 

Indeed. No matter what personal pain or public agony you are experiencing, God is right there going through it with you. He suffers because you suffer. He loves you that much. 

Maybe now I can look at that second picture with fresh eyes. If God suffers with us, then Christ is in that empty space above my shoulder whispering that everything would be all right. "Let it all out. I'm going through this with you."

There is so much in this chapter "Pray for the World" in the Genesee Diary that I could share more on it. But, because I would like to share more of Nouwen's works with you, I encourage you to buy or borrow the book. It is excellent. I am going to read the last three chapters and perhaps share more, but the next book in our discussion will be "Gracias!"


More on pornography and the human sex traffic trade

Relevant magazine is running an informative article on its website regarding pornography and the human sex traffic trade.

The Justice Side of Porn: How Porn is Far More than a Moral Issue

It is good to see this issue getting more attention. Other blog posts on Yahbut: Abundant Living include:

Opening Pandora's Box: Clergy Porn Addiction. Is Help Available?

Three Lies Porn Tells You

Pastors and Sexual Addiction

One article - the first - is my own paper for a class I took in my master's course on spiritual formation. The second and third articles are references to other articles I have come across on the web regarding the subject matter. The article on Clergy Porn Addiction is one of Yahbut's most popular articles so I try to make reference to this subject as much as I can, even though I am no longer researching the topic.

The new article, The Justice Side of Porn, has some links and names of researchers for those who are interested in this subject.


Christians respond to Moore, Okla. tragedy

My reaction time to the tragedy in Moore, Oklahoma this week, in which an F5 tornado hit the town and demolished everything in its wake, including a school still in session, has been slow. For some reason, I have found it difficult to digest and process. 

The process slowed down even more after reading Who hears #PrayersforOklahoma? on CNN's Belief Blog. This article describes a backlash of negative commentary regarding a Tweet sent out saying that people were praying for those affected by the tragedy in Oklahoma. And, yes, I am angry about the comments. It is at these time when Americans should pull together not attack each other.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

"A prayer is supposed to have a consequence for you," said Elizabeth Drescher, a lecturer at Santa Clara University in California. "It's not an act of magic."
Gervais, an ardent foe of organized religion, was more caustic.
After MTV tweeted that pop stars Beyonce, Rihanna and Katy Perry are sending their prayers to Oklahoma, Gervais responded, “I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money.”
Gervais and other atheists also kick-started a counter-trend, using the hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.
“If all people are doing is praying, it is worthless,” Hemant Mehta, an Illinois math teacher who writes the blog “Friendly Atheist,” told CNN. “If they are praying and donating to the Red Cross, that’s more like it.”
Certainly, my prayers and money go out to these people. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I am not saying this, however, to toot my own horn. I am writing this in response to those who think that Christians are a bunch of lazy do-nothings who have nothing better to do than sit around condemning victims of disasters and Tweeting meaningless platitudes. Here are two examples of Christian groups who are doing much more than Tweeting a quick prayer and writing a check from their abundance so that they can feel good about themselves and brag all over social media.


Salvation Army Responds Immediately To Deadly Tornado In Moore, Ok.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The Salvation Army is on the ground in Moore, Ok. with multiple canteens and personnel coordinating with Local and State Emergency Management to serve first responders and those affected by the tornado. They continue to provide service to hard hit areas from Monday's storms which include Shawnee – multiple sites, Carney area, and Cleveland County.
Meals and hydration are being provided for first responders and those affected. Major Steve Morris, Arkansas-Oklahoma divisional commander has been driving around the affected area. Major Morris states “The devastation is far reaching both in human life, property and livestock loss. The Salvation Army is honored to serve and provide sustenance to first responders involved in search and rescue, coordination efforts and more. And, of course, all survivors will be provided spiritual and emotional care."

Nazarenes on the ground in Oklahoma, will you help?

21 May 2013
...Yesterday afternoon, the Church of the Nazarene started mobilizing relief efforts. Oklahoma City Trinity Church of the Nazarene has been designated the relief resource center for both the Southwest Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Districts. In addition to Moore, which is on the Southwest Oklahoma District, several towns on the Oklahoma District were also touched by tornadoes. Trinity initially opened its doors as an emergency shelter but now is receiving donations for efforts beyond its walls as it coordinates relief services through local Nazarene congregations and collaborates with organizations such as the American Red Cross and Heart to Heart International. They will also be coordinating volunteers to do cleanup as the days progress.
General Superintendent Stan Toler, former pastor of Trinity Church of the Nazarene, traveled to Moore today visiting the destruction zone as well as Nazarenes there. The pastor of the Moore Church of the Nazarene has been located and is safe, but the church structure has suffered significant damage: the steeple blown off, roof damage, and debris all over the churchyard.
At neighboring Norman Community Church of the Nazarene, three parishioners lost their homes. According to Pastor Brent Hardesty, the church is ready to respond to surround these families.
“We will be working with these three families but also want to be involved in the overall response,” Hardesty said.
This is the heart of many inside and outside the affected region. Churches in Arizona have sent over 800 crisis care kits to the scene. Closer to home, the Oklahoma District, West Texas District, and Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene have donated 135 cases of crisis care kits. Nazarenes around the world have donated money to tornado relief, and others have started to make plans to volunteer as a part of the clean up efforts.
There is still time to join in sharing hope with those whose lives have been turned upside down. Donate online here  or send a check to the Church of the Nazarene’s US Tornado Relief Fund. Those interested in volunteering in cleanup efforts should register at Work and Witness  under Oklahoma Tornado Relief and await further instruction as teams are allowed in.  Those who want to send crisis care kits before May 28 should ship them to: Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, 4400 NW Expressway, Oklahoma City, OK 73116, Attn: Tamara Hewes. After May 28, please send crisis care kits to one of the CCK NCM Warehouses

A crisis care kit includes:
1 medium-size bottle of shampoo (12-18 oz.), please tape flip-tops closed
• 2 bars of soap (bath-size or larger)
• 1 medium toothpaste (4.0-6.4 oz.)
• 3 toothbrushes (in original packaging)
• 1 box of Band-Aids (30 or more)
• 1 fingernail clipper
• 1 sturdy hair comb
• 2 hand towels
• 4 pocket-size packages of facial tissue
• 1 Beanie Baby-size stuffed toy
Nazarene churches all over the world collect these items, seal them in gallon-size bags and ship them to Kansas City, Missouri so that the general church can distribute them in disaster situations. Our local church e-mailed a plea for more kits today and my family is going to make some. The last time I checked, a case is a banana crate that holds several of these kits.
Another issue that was addressed on CNN's Belief Blog is the bad theology that seems to come out of the woodwork in crisis situations. One believer commented:
“God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention. … My sympathy and prayers go out to those who get caught up in his demonstrations of (God) ruling the world.”
That response angers me too. How can you serve such a selfish God? You are misrepresenting the God whom Christians love and serve. The Rev. Ian Punnett wrote a good article about this:
May God have mercy on us all.


Church History 101: The Age of Catholic Christianity (70 - 312)

A recent rendition of the Apostle's Creed shows a lack of modern understanding regarding the word "catholic":

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
He ascended into heaven,
He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
And he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy Christian church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. AMEN.

The word "Christian", traditionally reads, "catholic," which means "universal." This is a version which has been gradually replacing the original - and correct - version of the creed. I assume that modern Christians changed this phrase so that they were not associated with the Roman Catholic Church. By doing this, they are missing the point that early Christians intended, and they are not living up to the spirit of the creed.

"Today, with the creed, we confess faith in 'the holy, catholic church.' That is what this period (the first century A.C.E.) gave us - 'catholic' Christianity. It was more than an organization. It was a spiritual vision, a conviction that all Christians should be in one body," Bruce L. Shelley, author of "Church History in Plain Language" wrote. The parentheses are mine.

What happened during the first century, "shaped the character of the Christian faith for generations to come," Shelley wrote. It was a time of intense persecution and phenomenal growth. At first, Christianity appealed mostly to the lower classes, as, Shelley says, we can see by their use of the Greek language. Higher classes spoke Latin. Before the second century, Christianity was being accepted by the higher classes as well. Intellectuals such as Aristides, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch and Melito became the first apologists, which stems from the Greek word for "defense". These apologists wrote to the educated public in order to change the public opinion of Christianity.

Shelley writes that what started out as a "tiny offshoot of Judaism" later became the official religion of the Roman Empire. "Despite widespread and determined efforts to eliminate the new faith, it survived and grew. By the reign of Constantine (312 - 337), the first Christian emperor, there were churches in every large town in the empire and in places as distant from each other as Britain, Carthage, and Persia," Shelley writes.

How did this happen?

It first began with the Jewish people, Shelley writes. "Some authorities tell us that (Jewish people) may have numbered as high as 7 percent of the total population" in the Roman Empire. At times, Gentiles (both Greeks and Romans) were attracted to the Jewish religion and some became circumcised to identify with it. Some, however, did not undergo circumcision but observed synagogue services. The Jews called these Gentiles "God-fearers".

"The preaching of the gospel found its most fruitful response from this group. When Christian preachers made it plain to these folk that, without submitting to the rite of circumcision - which both Greeks and Romans considered degrading and repulsive - they could receive all that Judaism offered and more, it was not difficult for them to take one further step and accept Jesus as the Christ," Shelley writes. "Most of the 'God-fearers' knew the Old Testament well; they understood its theological ideas; they accepted its moral values ... This preparation for the gospel also helps to explain why Christians thought in catholic terms. Like the Jews and their synagogues, Christians had their local assemblies. But from the start they saw themselves as a kind of new Israel, a fellowship of believers throughout the world."

In Roman empire of that time, 'the world' meant 'cities,' so the early Christians began evangelizing in them. After 70 A.C.E, the center of the Christian movement moved to Antioch and then west to Ephesus, modern-day Turkey, and to Rome. Christianity also spread to India.

The expansion of Christianity to the north proved slow, Shelley writes, but historians know that there was a church in Lyons, France, where the great writer, bishop and apologist Irenaeus served. Churches sprang up in Spain and Christianity spread to Britain even though no one knows how it got there.

In North Africa, Christianity spread to Carthage (now Tunisia and Algeria). This is where the first Latin-speaking churches started. It moved west of Egypt to Cyrene and then to Alexandria. In all of these churches, Christians sought to make the gospel understandable to "people immersed in Greek culture," Shelley writes.

"By the end of the third century, no area of the empire was without some testimony to the gospel. The strength of this witness, however, was uneven. The strongest areas were Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, and Egypt, with a few other noteworthy cities such as Rome and Lyons. Village people in most areas were largely untouched."

Reasons for the Gospel's Spread

"There was a divine side to the expansion of the church," Shelley writes. "But God usually works through human hearts and hands, and there is some value in asking what human factors contributed to the spread of the gospel."

Shelley lists four reasons:
  • Burning conviction
  • Christianity met a "widely felt need in the hearts of people."
  • The practical expression of Christian love, and
  • Persecution
The early Christians felt a "burning conviction" in their faith. They were "captivated" by the resurrection and that "God had invaded time ... They knew that men had been redeemed and they could not keep (it) to themselves."

Christianity also met the needs of the people. Shelley says, "Ancient Stoicism, for example, taught that men achieve happiness by the suppression of desire for everything that man cannot get and keep." One could go inward and find God, Stoicism taught. On the other hand, Christians "added a note of grace. Only the active love of God - rather than the individual's self-respect - could make the Christian life possible and direct the believer outward to the needs of his fellow men. Many people came to see that what the Stoics aimed for, the Christians produced."

"The practical expression of Christian love was probably among the most powerful causes of Christian success," Shelley writes. Even Tertullian (160 - 220 A.D.), another Christian apologist and writer, remarked that the pagans talked about how much the Christians loved one another. "Christian love found expression in the care of the poor, of widows and orphans; in visits to brethren in prisons or to those condemned to a living death in the mines; and in acts of compassion during a famine, earthquake, or war," Shelley writes.

The Christians also respected the bodies of the dead. "Lactantius, the North African scholar (c. 240-320) wrote, 'We will not allow the image and creation of God to be thrown out to the wild beasts and the birds as their prey; it must be given back to the earth from which it was taken." Later, churches acquired land for cemeteries.

The last reason for Christianity's success was persecution. "Martyrdoms were often witnessed by thousands in the amphitheater. The term martyr originally meant 'witness,' and that is precisely what many Christians were at the moment of death," Shelley writes. "In instance after instance what we find cool courage in the face of torment, courtesy toward enemies, and a joyful acceptance of suffering as the way appointed by the Lord to lead to his heavenly kingdom. There are a number of cases of conversion of pagans in the very moment of witnessing the condemnation and death of Christians."

"The church is truly catholic only when it is impelled by the gospel to bring all (humanity) to living faith in Jesus Christ," Shelley writes. Many times, I have heard Christians say that we need to return to the days of the early church so that we can be successful, but what they mean is that we need to perform miracles and return to the excitement that surrounded them. From reading this blog post based on Shelley's exposition of the early church, what characteristics do you think the church should return to in order to gain "success" - or to carry out its mission to spread the gospel? It is a good question to consider. I hope this study of early believers inspires you.

Next week we continue our study of catholic Christianity.


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