On the Trinity and the Sexes

In the forthcoming issue of the Stone-Campbell Journal should appear my book review of Fr. Kevin Giles’ The Trinity and Subordinationism. I cannot reproduce that review here, though if there is a link to it online, I’ll update this blog. However, I can give a brief indication as to its content. Essentially, Fr. Giles is arguing that the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father is a heresy (it is) and that those who would found arguments for the subordination of women to men based on the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, are wrong (and they are). Fr. Giles also reveals the inconsistencies in the hermeneutical argumentation of proponents for the subordination of women to men as these relate to analogies to hermeneutical argumentation for slavery (admittedly, this is a necessary criticism he must make, but it is less substantial than the arguments related to the Trinity because even in the terms of those he criticizes, such an argument is much more tangential).

Had Fr. Giles stopped there in his argument, he would have provided a powerful resource for all those concerned for the Church’s teaching on the relationship between men and women and how this relates to matters of ordination to leadership ministry and other roles of women in leadership. Regrettably for his own argument and the resultant injury to the quality of his work, he does not.

Instead, Fr. Giles has an agenda. He wants to promote the belief that women should be admitted to roles of leadership, especially, for his concerns, positions of ordained leadership ministry. To do this, and this is where his argument falters, he must stress the unity of the Godhead at the expense of its diversity. It is here that we see most clearly the implications that Trinitarian beliefs have for practical Christian living.

Fr. Giles rightly points out that an imbalanced focus on the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) leads to tri-theism. So he wants to stress the homoousios of the Son with the Father–which of course, all Christians should do. But to do so, Fr. Giles has recourse to the filioque clause–which states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son–inserted by the West into the Nicene Creed, and also on the so-called Athanasian Creed which depends on the filioque and has similar tendencies. It is precisely here that Fr. Giles’ argument falls apart.

For all Fr. Giles’ brilliant analysis of the problems of the heresy of eternal subordination, his mind becomes clouded with his agenda. He must prove the validity of the ordination of women to the priesthood, therefore he must stress the unity of the Godhead.

This imbalance leads him to fail to adequately maintain the distinctions of persons in the Trinity. By use of the filioque he turns a trinity into a duality: Father-Son and Holy Spirit. Instead of the eternal subordination of the Son, we have the eternal subordination of the Holy Spirit, which makes of the Holy Spirit something less than fully God.

In stressing the common essence (ousia) of the Godhead, he sacrifices the balance of the distinction of the persons. He rightly stresses the single action of begetting which Father and Son share, but fails to adquately maintain that as Father, God is begetter, and as Son, God is begotten. One essence, two (insofar as the activity of begetting is concerned) persons. Similarly, for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit and the Father share in the activity of procession. But they are distinct in that the Holy Spirit, as God, processes, and the Father, as God, originates that procession. (And this is precisely why the Spirit cannot be said to process from the Son, this confuses the distinction of the persons of the Father and the Son, and makes of the Holy Spirit something different than Father and Son.)

Instead, a proper Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead accomplishes two things: it establishes the equality and common worth of men and women (ousia), while limiting the roles that men and women may rightly assume (person, or, more technically, hypostasis). Ephesians 5.21ff is perhaps the most clearly analogous. The so-called haustafel passage begins with “submit to one another” (ousia) then follows with (hypostasis) “wives [submit] to your husbands as to the Lord,” “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” (Note: I have bracketed the word “submit” in the imperative to wives because literally the word is not there. It reads literally “wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.” The reason for this is that the imperative in the immediately preceding verse, “submit to one another,” grammatically covers the imperative to the wife. This is not interpretation, it’s Greek grammar, as any responsible exegete will admit.) One can also discern this same sort of structure in 1 Peter 3.1-7; Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 2:8-3:13; Titus 2:1-8; etc.

In other words to “deny” (which is a prejudicial word already coloring the argument with presuppositions) the validity of women’s ordination, contrary to Fr. Giles’ assertion, is not to succumb to heretical notions of the Godhead. Rather, it is to affirm, in part, precisely the sort of orthodoxy about the Trinity that Christians must affirm.

This is only one piece of the issue. Those concerned with these matters must also pursue Christian anthropology through the lenses of Christology. But certainly the Trinity is an important beginning point. We are made in the image of God. And so men and women share a common nature, while maintaining unique distinctions. This is why Jesus did not need to be both a woman and a man, to save all of humankind. As a man, he shared the same essential nature men and women share. Salvation is not effected by distinction of human persons. But the distinction of persons is not immaterial, and we humans, as icons of God, must image God with our distinctions. And this means we image God within the limitations given to us as persons. Aquila never gave birth. And Priscilla was never ordained to the priesthood. Yet both were saved and valued in their humanity.


Five Theses in Advent

While I’m no Martin Luther, and, indeed, this is neither All Saint’s Eve nor a Reformation, nonetheless, I continue to try to coalesce my thinking on matters involving ecclesiology. As the Church nears the feast of Christ’s birth, I post the following five Advent theses:

First of all, the starting point has to be that the Church is the Body of Christ. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then it will be an incarnate body, a visible body. The Church must be manifested visibly; it will not be some invisible spiritual body only–though, since those who have died in the faith are not dead but alive, then the members of the Body of Christ also include those who are not visible to Christians in their premortem state. Only the reality of a visible Body of Christ takes seriously the implications of the Incarnation. The only other conception of the Church, that of some invisible entity, is, ultimately, Gnostic, in that in such a conception it is only the intellectual and spiritual that truly matter.

Second, if the Church is the Body of Christ, it must be one. If the Church is one, then there is only one real Church. Making this claim does not limit the grace and workings of God to the embodied Church. God sends the sunshine on the good and the wicked. The Spirit moves where he will. But it is to say that one may and must say, “Here is the Church.” In our present schismatic reality, this point must be strongly pressed, though it be as strongly disbelieved. If the Church is the Body of Christ, it cannot be divided, since Christ is one, and the Trinity is one. The schisms we have witnessed in history and presently are not divisions within the one, indivisible Body of Christ, but divisions away from it. However, as will be clarified momentarily, though schism away from the Church is a grave and serious matter, and the Church rightly both discerns various actions as schismatic and warns of the dangers of schism, it does not necessarily follow that the Church may judge the salvific fate of those who’ve sundered themselves from the one Body of Christ. Christ prohibits Christians from judging the salvation of others, though he likewise bids us discern truth from error, and calls us all to repentance.

Third, if the Church is the Body of Christ, then it is in and through the Church that the salvation Christ accomplishes may be realized. This is not to deny that salvation is ultimately a mystery into which humans may not fully look. But it is to say that insofar as God has revealed the way of salvation to us, it is accomplished in and through Christ alone. Since the Spirit has formed the Church to be the Body of Christ, Christ, as Head of the Church, accomplishes his saving work in and through his Body. If salvation will be accomplished outside of the Church, this we do not know. What we do know is that it must be through Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven, given to us humans, by which we must be saved.

Fourth, since Jesus is the incarnate God, since the Church has embodied existence, then this salvation which Christ works in his body, must be a whole salvation which involves the created world, especially the human experience. Thus, by the explicit teaching of Scriptures, our participation in the divine nature, our putting on of Christ, is not merely some ethical, moral or spiritual reality, though it is these things in part. Rather, our participation in Christ involves, through the reality of the bodily Resurrection, the transfigured elements of bread and wine, the holy oil of anointing, the water blessed in his name, the iconic visual representations of the incarnate Word and his saints, the union of man and woman, and the many varieties of gifts the Spirit bestows. Salvation is not an intellectual or disembodied reality, but encompasses all of human and created existence.

Fifth, if the Church is the Body of Christ and one, then it must be and proclaim the truth of Christ. That is to say, the genuineness of any group’s claim to be the Church (or a part of the Church) rests significantly on whether or not it proclaims the truth of Christ, for Christ himself is the Truth, and departure from truth is a departure from Christ. Christ promised to lead the apostles, and the Church, into all truth. Part of that revelation, by Paul’s own account, is both recorded in the documents that the Church has discerned to be the Scriptures and kept by way of the so-called “oral teachings” of the Apostles. It also, in concert with Christ’s promises, includes those dogmatic decisions of the one, visible Church on matters of faith (for example, the ecumenical Councils). Thus, any group which teaches that which is contrary to Scripture or the ecumenical teachings of the Church, or denies those Scriptures and teachings, may rightly be doubted as to the veracity of its claim to be the Church, or part of the Church. Thus, for example, anyone who or any group which would deny the biblical and conciliar understandings of the person and work of Christ may invalidate, by their own mouths, their claims to be part of the Church. This would include, in part, the denial of Jesus’ divinity and humanity, the Trinitarian understanding of God’s being, the Virgin Birth, the bodily Resurrection, the unending rule of Christ, etc.

More can certainly be said. But I am a bear of little brain, and these will occupy me long enough.

Thinking About Salvation III

Jeff and Tripp are impatient for me to discuss potential notions of exclusivism insofar as it’s tied to my growing understanding of the Church as the human and divine means of our salvation. To be fair and honest upfront, I’m not sure this blog will actually answer that, so much as try to lay some groundwork for my further thinking on the matter. I should also note that I will both draw from and assume much of the thought contained in the essay I’ve already written on the unity of the Church. So, for more detail, you can go there. I will summarize my thought on the Church’s unity, and attempt to draw it together with what I’ve been sorting out regarding salvation.

The point with which we, as Christians, have to start is the ontological unity of the Church. From Jesus’ prayer in John 17 to Paul’s majestic comments in Ephesians, as well as elsewhere throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 Corinthians 1-3, 10-11, 12-14; Colossians 1; etc.), the Church is one. I cannot stress this too strongly. There was not some glorious point in the past in which the Church was one, but then split. The witness of Scripture is that the unity of the Church is based in the person of Christ, indeed, on the unity of the Trinity. There can be no division within Christ, nor in the Trinity, nor can there be in the Church. If the Church were ever to cease to be one, it would fail to be in union with Christ and with the Trinity, and would cease to be. In which case, Jesus’ promise that Hades would not prevail against the Church would be null and void, and make of Jesus a false prophet.

The witness of the earliest Christian writers, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyprian of Carthage, all witness as well to the, what I am calling, ontological unity of the Church.

Now, certainly there are historical difficulties which challenge our thinking on this matter. There are the Monophysite and Monothelite schisms, the Great Schism of east and west, the Western schism between Protestant and Catholics, and the 22,0000-plus schisms worldwide among the Protestants themselves alone. Had these schisms not taken place, and were we not Protestants, then the issue of unity would be a non-issue. Regrettably, however, all of us Protestants now living live within a milieu of schism, nor do we know anything different.

There seem to me to be only about three ways (though each has its own potential variations) to deal with the facticity of the Church’s unity, and the myriad schisms among Christians. One way is to assert that the unity of the Church is coterminus with a specific body, though not denying the salvific and mysterious grace of the Holy Spirit among those outside that body. This is view of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches about themselves respectively. Another way is to assert the unity of the Church but to deny its applicability to any one church or group of churches, which is to assert something like an invisible unity among all believers in all churches. This is the view of most of the Protestant churches. What seems to me to be the only other major possibility is to deny the Church’s essential unity in the present and to assert that this is only a proleptic state reserved for the eschaton.

This last seems to me to be the most problematic of all. It appears to me to wrench what I take to be the straightforward reading of the biblical texts, and, more importantly, divorces the present state of the Church from union with God. More to the point it radicalizes the Church to the point that the Church is each individual, and does not allow for any possibility for real union among believers. In other words, it normalizes schism in the here and now.

The so-called “Protestant” view, while charitable toward those who differ from us, and rightly affirming diversity in non-essential matters, as well as properly humble with regard to truth claims, is not without its own set of problems. Chief among those is an implicit denial of the Incarnation. By making of the Church’s unity something like an invisible state, this view devalues the embodied existence we as Christians have and will have for eternity, in favor of some sort of Gnostic-like state of adherence to a set of beliefs, robust enough to still be Gospel, but small enough so that we can include, if not everybody, most everybody. The problem, however, is one of criteria. If, as Protestants generally assert, each believer, or each community, sets its own standards of belief and practice, how is it that some sort of invisible unity can make any sense? If we all go our own way believing whatever it is that we believe, how is this any better than the state of schism which prevails? We just simply open our arms and affirm our solidarity with those with whom we disagree? But then doesn’t that make a mockery of the beliefs we hold? It seems to me that this view attempts to have diversity and unity at the same time, but the Protestant problem is primarily one of authority. And without a cogent answer to that, and with implicit Gnosticism and potential denial of the Incarnation, it seems a dead end. Considering that Protestant schisms continue to grow, it’s not likely that the proof of the pudding is in the eating here.

But of course, it’s not as though the Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox understandings of ontological and visible unity being conterminus with their respective churches seems any more palatable to the ones considered on the outside of the visible Church. The pluses here, of course, is that it both makes sense of the biblical texts and takes seriously the embodied existence we Christians have as redeemed people, and thus takes seriously the Incarnation, as well as providing the one thing that Protestants cannot provide in their claims–a tangible historic link to the New Testament Church.

This is not to be understated. All Western churches can only trace their history back to Rome. It is through Rome that any Protestants can lay claim to a historic connection to the Church of Peter, Barnabas, Stephen and Paul. Orthodox, insofar as I undertand it, are fortunate in that they go right on back. In fact, the Thessalonian church exists to this day. The historic connection is important. Even we Protestants have to base our understanding of the Gospel and the early Church on historically validated (or validatable) events. Rome and the East go right on back.

However, the problem here is one of criteria. How does one actually “prove” one’s claim to being the Church? I’m not talking here of tracing a certain lineage. Rather, I’m talking about proving one is the Church Christ founded. Apostolic succession alone won’t do it. Some of the worst heretics in the Church could have traced a valid sacramental line back to Peter and the Apostles. (Need we remind ourselves of Pope Honorius, or Nestorius?) Certainly continuity with the Apostles’ teaching is paramount. But how does one discern between rival claims to orthodoxy?

Clearly, the implication here is that, depending on how one answers the question of unity, the undersanding I’ve come to regarding the role of the Church in our salvation will have huge implications for one’s relation to the various schisms we see before us today. If the Church is located in Rome or the Orthodox churches, then, it seems to follow that one must find one’s way to Rome or the East in order to experience the fullness of the grace of Christ. While not denying that grace operates outside the Church, there is a certain responsbility one has to the truth when one discovers it. But perhaps it’s possible to work out the problems of Protestant invisible unity in such a way so as to preserve the understanding of salvation without having to swear allegiance to the Pope, or repent of one’s former heresies as a Protestant when chrismated in Orthodoxy.

Well, I’ve already lengthened this beyond forbearance. So I’ll leave it with that non-conclusion and duck the arrows sure to come.

Thinking About Salvation II

Now, here I am, just barely underway, and that rascally Tripp accuses me of a high Christology, wants me to clarify how the Sacraments (Mysteries) fit in to this salvation thinking, gives an oblique warning about exclusivism, and, as if that weren’t enough, lumps me in with Rowan Williams. (You can look under the comments for the previous blog in this series of thinking.) Rowan Williams, for crying out loud! Hmph. (Or, as Tripp says: Urf.)

Since Tripp caved to the feminine lobby on shopping yesterday, I’ll just have to simply make him wait, since I need to further iron out some of my previous thoughts. High Christology, or just simply the Church’s working out of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, I’ll leave for others to decide, though I’m shy of the label, since it implies that a “Low” Christology (whatever that is) is equally plausible.

Romans 5, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and pretty much the entire epistle to the Ephesians clearly indicate that Jesus Christ is the type of the fulfillment of humanity, in a way that Adam is the anti-type. In Christ the entirety of humanity reaches its end, its culmination, its completion. The bodily Resurrection of the Christ from the dead, was God’s seal of approval on the work of Christ. That is to say, the Resurrection completed the salvation event, and made possible the salvation of human beings. The human nature, which the Son of God took on becoming a human being, has been hypostasized, joined with the divinity of the Son in the union of one person, without confusion, change, separation, or division (per Chalcedon). Thus, the union with God, for which Jesus prayed in John 17, has, in Jesus Christ, become an accomplished fact.

But for humans to receive this gift of salvation, it takes the action of the Trinity. God the Father has sent forth the Spirit, not merely to accomplish the conception of Jesus, but also to bring forth the Body, the Church, of which Christ is the Head. The ministry of Christ is now the ministry of his Church, his Body. This Body was brought forth, or perhaps confirmed, on the day of Pentecost, a week and a half after Christ had ascended to the Father.

Furthermore, as Acts 2:38, and elsewhere in Acts and the epistles, shows, on a personal level, the Holy Spirit is also involved, in baptism. Especially in Acts, but also in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14 (and, of course, 1-3), and all of Ephesians (but especially 4), this salvation is accomplished in the Church. Frequently through Acts, there is the phrase “and x were added to their number.” Without getting too pharasaical with the text, the salvation and the adding are presented together as one complete act. One could say, adding is being saved.

The very first account we have of the Church, in conjunction with the Pentecost narrative, is their devotion to the apostles teaching, to prayers, to fellowship and the breaking of the bread. This breaking of the bread has most often been associated with the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. And clearly, in light of 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, this is among the most natural ways to interpret the text. Be that as it may, Paul emphatically states in the Corinthians letter that participation in the Lord’s Supper is participation in Christ. Though Protestants have disputed the intepretation of the text in ch. 11–where a “face-value” reading of the text indicates the elements of bread and wine are, in some unexplained way, the body and blood of Jesus–the force is clear: partaking of the Lord’s Supper is participation in Christ.

The import of this is that the Church makes possible, on the human level, for one to receive salvation. Baptism is done by the Church (Acts 2), the Eucharist is the locus of the Body of Christ, so that appropriation of salvation and participation in Christ take place within the Church.

Well, Tripp, I hope that touched on the Mysteries for you. But clearly, you can see, I’m still processing these thoughts. Sorry, though, this thing about exclusivism will have to wait.

Now, I need to get ready for worship!

Thinking About Salvation I

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been wanting to write out some of my disordered thoughts regarding salvation as I’ve interacted with the books by Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ and John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion. Now that final papers are out of the way, and I’ve had a couple nights’ rest, I thought I would attempt a beginning.

My understandings of salvation have been primarily juridical, along Anselmian lines. That is to say, I’ve had a great debt of sin, which I have no ability to repay. Jesus, in his vicarious substitutionary death upon the cross, and his bodily resurrection from the dead authenticating the effects of the cross, paid that debt for me. To appropriate the cancellation of that debt, I respond by grace in faith in repentance and baptism. (I’ll leave aside any discussions of perserverance, as I’ll be focusing on this transactional aspect.) Insofar as the Church figured, it was the place you went after being saved. It was important to be a member of a local congregation because that was part of what it meant for you to be a Christian. There is where you received assistance in living out your Christian life, where you served others, and supported “the work of the Kingdom.” That has been my understanding, growing up in the Stone-Campbell churches.

Reading Nellas’ and Zizioulas’ works, however, has capped off a several-month period of thinking about the Church. Yes, in a blog on salvation, I mention the Church. This is what has been so revolutionary for me. Now, let me offer this disclaimer. The following are my own barely-formed thoughts on these things. They should not be construed as those of Nellas or Zizioulas, or of the Church. It is not unlikely that I have misunderstandings through which I still need to work. But here it is at this point.

Salvation, rather than being mostly an individual juridical transaction–you’re now declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s work–is more an incorporation into Christ himself. That is to say, I’m “saved” by virtue of the fact that I, by grace, have been made to participate in the resurrected Christ. Since Jesus assumed human nature, as a human being, though without sin, he is able to incorporate us into himself. This incorporation, by the hypostasis of the divine and human natures in Jesus, enables us, as 2 Peter 1:4 indicates, to participate in the divine nature. We do not become what God is by essence, or by hypostasis (person), but rather share in the uncreated energies of God. In the terms with which I have been familiar, this is the process of justification-sanctification.

Now this is all well and good, but still very Protestant, that is to say, individualistic. I’m still in danger of succumbing to the “me and Jesus” syndrome. And here is where Nellas and Zizioulas, in their different works, coincided in my thinking. The locus of my incorporation into Christ cannot take place apart from his Body, the Church. Or, only through and in the Body of Christ, the Church, may I be saved, and continue to be saved. The Church, by virtue of its being Christ’s Body, in and by the power of the Spirit, is a divine insitution. It is not the amalgamation of tens of thousands of groups. It is one, because it is Christ’s Body, which cannot be divided since it shares the undivided nature of Christ.

Or, to state it as simply as I can understand it at this point, if I want to be saved and continue to be saved, I can only do that by incorporation in Christ, which means incorporation in his Body, the Church.

More thoughts to come.

Conception of the Theotokos

As James notes on his blog, today, 9 December, is the feast of the conception of the Theotokos. Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Virgin Mary, were childless and old. They longed for a child. God answered their prayers, and Joachim and Anna conceived Mary. Mary’s parents died not long after her birth, and she was raised in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Some people “pooh pooh” the idea of Mary having a miraculous start. It just all seems too, well, biblical. How many stories are there of childless couples praying to God? This is just a “pious fiction.” After all, how does Mary’s raising in the Temple fit in with the biblical account of Jesus’ infancy?

But think about it. Isn’t this just like God? More to the point: Isn’t this, as James notes, just so Incarnational? Growing up, my understanding of the faith was pretty dualistic and a tad Manichean. No, no, it wasn’t intentional. It’s not as though my parents, family, and church were intentionally teaching heresy. They would have agreed with the Chalcedonian definition, for example. But being Protestants, we had Maryphobia, and a bit too much love for the rational (as opposed to, not the irrational, but the mysterion). We were anti-Catholic, thus almost all our understanding of Mary was framed in “not like Rome.” So we, in our great reforming, restorationist zeal, wanted to cut what we took to be this caricature of Mary down to size. Including her miraculous birth of barren righteous parents.

Well, I want the bath water back with the baby. Scripture abounds with the importance of Mary and her role and mission in God’s plan of salvation. We Protestants need not back away from that. Even and especially today as we honor the memory and faith of Joachim and Anna. Though Scripture does not mention Mary’s parents, we need not be embarrassed by the rich Tradition of the Church concerning them. It’s never been sola scriptura anyway. Even Protestants have always had “Scripture and–“.

Thank God for the Incarnation! Thank God for Mary. Thank God for the ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna. May we, like them, entrust ourselves and all our lives to Christ our God.

The Fatherhood Chronicles III

While Anna and I were out shopping, we went to Target and I discovered one of the important facts of first-time fatherhood: NEW TOYS! I kid you not. This is going to be great. And all we did was look at the strollers.

I should say, all we did was look at these magnificent specimens of modern engineering ingenuity! Yessir! These things are amazing. First off, it’s not just a stroller. Nosirree, Bob. It’s a combination stroller, car seat, cupholder, rocket launcher, convertible submarine, with preset bottle dispenser, and baby carrying case–all wrapped up in one. Some of these things even have tires that–get this–you can air up! How cool is that?!

The best thing, of course, really, is the price. That’s what sells these babies (no pun intended.) I mean you get all this for $13,999. (It sounds better if you say it this way: “thirteen-nine-ninety-nine.”) And with no money down, no payments and no interest till 2004, this is a deal that really can’t be beat.

Of course, it’s way too soon to buy any of this stuff. But, oh, baby, the day’s a-comin’! And great timing, too! ‘Cuz I was sure getting bored with all the toys I currently have.

The Fatherhood Chronicles II

Okay. This in no way compares to any of Anna’s experiences present or future, but I had a moment of “freaking” yesterday about 4:00 in the afternoon. There I was, blithely working on academic stuff, when I got to thinking: Wow. A baby.

You know how people talk about their lives flashing before their eyes at crisis moments? Well, my future flashed before mine. Before I knew what was going on, I was thinking health insurance, Social Security cards, college fund, Christian catechesis, and . . . A quick phone call to a competent pastor helped me come down from the mental ledge. (Still, this morning while I was in the shower I was thinking again about college funds.)

The reality is sinking in. Adopting out our pets. Selling/Donating many of my books. I mean, one must make room for the baby!

But I am glad–oh, so glad!–that we got the news during this season of the year. Talk about a Christmas experience! “And who for us and for our salvation was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” is terribly poignant for us this year.

More on Mary (and Joseph)

In an earlier post, I gave a few thoughts on Mary. No surprise. With a wife who happens to be pregnant during the Nativity Fast, I’m doing a lot of meditating on Mary.

It’s interesting how docetic my manner of thinking has been about the Incarnation. Make no mistake: I accept completely the Chalcedonian understanding of who Jesus is, God and man. But it has all been so academic. Now I see the beginnings of the experiences my wife is and will be going through, and boy does it give me a more existential glance at Mary. I know that Mary had deep faith, and a purity and humility that “caught God’s attention” as it were. But that surely doesn’t mean she didn’t experience anxiety. Pregnant and unwed (though betrothed). All the dangers and concerns of pre-industrial civilization. I’m only speculating. But it’s encouraging to think that even with her great faith and obedience, she may have been somewhat anxious. And good to know that even if anxious, it did not diminish her faith–or her mission.

Now I grant you without shadow of doubt: Mary is a star player in this Incarnation saga. But, that Joseph is sure garnering my focus this Christmas. So open to God’s leading. Quick to accomplish God’s will. What courage that man had. What faith. Blessed Joseph, to be a father and husband such as you were!

The Fatherhood Chronicles I

Of course, I could actually title this blog, “The Bonehead Chronicles” or “The Honey-I-Bungled-Again Chronicles.” (Now is “bungle” transitive or intransitive? Is it “bungle” or “bungle it“? But I digress.) Yes, within the first 36 hours of (known) fatherhood, I’ve bungled (it).

It seems that men and women, more particularly, mothers and fathers, live in two completely different existential, if not ontological, planes. I get the news Anna’s pregnant, and the “happy, happy, joy, joy” reflex kicks in. I say to myself, “Self, first inform your family. Then tell the whole-wide-freakin’ world!” So that’s pretty much what I did. Anna, on the other hand, is–how shall I describe?–“joyously anxious.” The joy’s there. No doubt about it. But the anxious is a strong part of it. Heck. Now that I think about it–ah, yes, there’s the missing ingredient from yesterday!–I would be, too. This whole thing will all be external to me. Vicarious, as it were. For her . . . well, this is some radically transformative stuff. Physical, emotional, spiritual, it all gets wrapped up in one big ball of “what is going on?”. So, there I go, goofy with giddiness, and tell a few dozen friends.

Now I would be willing to bet that most of, if not all, the women reading this are thinking: “What?! Didn’t he talk to her about sending an email to tell people about it?” (Men, I know we’re slow catching up, but now you’re asking that question, too.) Of course, not only do mothers and fathers exist on two different ontological planes, they also inhabit two different epistemological spheres. So, Anna asked me, “Why didn’t you talk to me about this?” See, in new-father reality (or maybe just male reality), I thought that I had talked to her. I had said something along the lines of “Now that I have told family, I can send out an email to friends.” In fact, I said pretty much this same thing to my sister, when I talked with her, which Anna overheard. (Or, more accurately, which Anna could have overheard since she was in the same room at the same time sitting a few feet away, but may not have, indeed apparently did not.) But anyway, as became clear, this was not talking about it.

So, before two days had passed, I was in the doghouse. Now it’s true, I should have been more thoughtful about this. I should have considered Anna’s anxiousness in the midst of joy. I should have thought about when and how she wanted folks to know. But, having no experience in this sort of thing, I just acted. Now to Anna, sending out an email link to a blog to announce this to our few thousand friends or so . . . well, no pun intended, but this didn’t compute. Why would I do such a thing? (Which, I think translates into male speech as “How cold and impersonal! An email? A blog? What were you thinking?”) Since we’ve already established that I wasn’t thinking, when Anna asked me why I would do such a thing, the thought that came to mind was: “‘Cuz, I’m a geek giddy with giggly good news?” Thankfully, my unconscious ban on thinking was at that moment lifted, and I then–before speaking, mind you–thought, “Though this is a true and trustworthy saying, methinks it would be rude to say it now.” So I just shrugged. (We males and new-fathers-to-be, I think, are good at communicating through shrugging.)

At this point, I had come off my delirious high. I had realized: a) I had not thought carefully about how Anna was experiencing this, b) I had not understood that email and blogging are considered by many to be impersonal and not a good conduit of broadcasting personal joy, and 3) man, oh man, oh man, I have so much to learn.

Just when I was at the point of despair, however, our two friends, Tripp and Trish came to our rescue and arranged to have dinner with us. This took the tension off, and made us feel so much less alone in the big city with a baby on the way. Thanks guys.

(Sigh) Maybe I’ll get better with practice.