Archive for November, 2013

Coming soon….

November 19, 2013









There was a time in my Protestant past when i lived with an expectation-“Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord.” In past decades, the media was filled with studies of Biblical prophecy and interpreters of Revelation. All of them predicted the End.  It gave me a sense that we were in fact close to the Eschaton.

Obviously, the predictions did not come to pass and my apocalyptic sense faded away. These days, when I cruise the TV channels, I see that some of the old “evangelists” and biblical interpreters are still peddling their bogus interpretations, and I must admit that it surprises me. I remember a Old Testament admonition that if someone presents themselves as a prophet, or an interpreter of the future, and their prophecy does not come to pass, then they are a false prophet and should be stoned to death (or at least get a poor TV rating)!

Using stories and parables, Jesus certainly taught that those who follow him should be ever watching and waiting for his return. He often said that the Master would come when we least expected it. Frankly, I don’t hear much about this anymore except when people tell me that when things seem really difficult in life, they wish that the Lord would return to fix it all. I guess he will come with a Mr. Fix-it hat, rather than a crown.

I have to admit that I miss those days when my mind was filled with expectation of the Lord’s return. On of my favorite classical pieces is Verdi’s Requiem. Dies Irae!!! Of course if the prophecies had come to pass as predicted, I wouldn’t be here writing this blog, but much of the recent sadness and tragedies of the world would have been avoided if Jesus had returned as predicted.

There may be little apparent anticipation these days that Jesus is returning soon, but that’s not to say the folks don’t have a sense of expectation.  Let me illustrate: “How many weeks till the next Hobbit movie”? I can’t wait! Will that TV show have a sequel? I hope so.  When will my favorite music group go on tour? I want to be there. What time is the World Series or the Super Bowl.  Will we be out of Church in time?  We anticipate buying a car or a house, going out on a date, getting married, our next meal, buying a new car, getting a new job, Christmas presents, etc.

Having such hopes and expectations for something joyful or entertaining is not evil in itself, but what would our life be like if we had a real, but balanced hope and expectation of the Lord’s return? Abandoning the failed prophecies and distorted Biblical interpretations of the past, how are we to live? Acts 1 gives us a model. The Lord ascends into heaven and the Apostles stand there amazed. Then the angels speak to them, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand here gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same manner as you have seen him go into heaven.” So they left and went into Jerusalem.

So, here is the balance. Yes, He is going to return, and we should hope for it, but let’s get on with the Lord’s business. I think a lot of the prophecies of the past were just “gazing into heaven.” We are to be busy and at the same time live with a hope and an expectation that Jesus could come to us or to the world at any moment. In Orthodoxy, the Fathers talk about the remembrance of death. We moderns recoil from this idea because we live in a culture that denies death and doesn’t want to think about it.The Fathers are not telling us to be morbid or depressed. They are telling us to live with a sense that Jesus can come anytime, in the clouds of heaven, or in the moment of our physical death. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us, and so we should live today to the fullest. If we had this hope and expectation, we would spend a lot less time on the stupidities of life, and more time on what is really important. This hope also keeps us from despair. Hell is a place where hope is absent. If I have the hope of meeting the Lord, then this hope gives me life.

The question now is how we can regain this hope and expectation in a way that it is an ever present existential and spiritual reality? I’m open for suggestions.

In the mean time, how long is it to the Hobbit movie?

Where I am not I, I am more happily I

November 16, 2013

For those not old enough to remember, Popeye was a cartoon sailor who gained super strength by eating spinach. After winning a battle, Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam. I’m Popeye the Sailor man.”  (I guess the speech problem came about because he never seemed to remove the pipe from his mouth.)

Popeye’s  gospel is prevalent and powerful in our culture. It is thought to be quite an accomplishment when I can say “What you see is what you get.”   It can be a boast of self-confidence that I have nothing to hide, that I have no illusions about myself. It might also be an apology that I can be no more. Whatever it means, the gospel of Popeye is often referenced in one form or another. It is the gospel of the eternal search for myself.

I often quote Popeye’s gospel to God. “Look, God, you have to forgive me. I am what I am, and you know how I got to be the way I am. I am a mix of hurt and history, success and failure, soul and flesh. Please, Lord, you have to accept me as I am and forgive me, because I can only be what I am. In fact, I don’t really know who or what I am. Don’t expect any big changes..”  Hmmm…the only thing I lack is a can of spinach, a nice sailor’s suit,  and a pipe.

The Gospel of Jesus is quite different. St. Paul said in Galatians 2:20 that “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”  The Blessed Augustine put it this way: “Where I am not I, I am more happily I.” This is an interesting way to say it, and it is the exact opposite of Popeye. The search for myself is a futile search for there is nothing to find. Popeye’s idea that I should just be happy with what I am never seems to satisfy for very long. I find myself reaching for my can of spinach because I want to be stronger, wiser, and better looking, of course, The problem is,  it doesn’t last long. It does not help me find who I am.

Christianity is not a search for self-identity or self-fulfillment. It is a search for Christ and not only to make him my own, but to realize that the life I now live, I live by faith in Him who loved me and died for me. His life is now my life, and I no longer live, but He lives through me. I don’t have to settle for Popeye’s gospel. I no longer have to search for meaning or struggle for some understanding of myself. When I am not I, I am most happily I.

Don’t misunderstand. St. Paul said that this wonderful life is lived “in the flesh.” Here is the battlefield because my human impulses will rise up against this divine inner reality. Every moment, I can follow my fallen nature, or I can let Christ live in me. Of course, I fail at this, but at least I have a choice. Before my birth at baptism, I could only follow my human nature. Now there is another life in me and when I do consent to what my mind tells me, I know that it isn’t me who refuses, but the grace comes from the One who lives in me.

Popeye had an arch enemy, Bluto. Often, Bluto would always come to spoil what Popeye was doing, and he would momentarily get the best of Popeye. At that moment, Popeye would reach for his can of spinach and he would swallow the whole can in one gulp. Instantly he would gain super strength. With this power, he would defeat Bluto. Then the power of the spinach would fade away.  At the end, Popeye would sing his victory song- I yam what i yam.

We too face our own Bluto and for most of us, he dwells in our human nature. He dreams of freedom and strength.  He longs and struggles for it.. Fulfillment and accomplishment, pleasure and self-satisfaction, fame and fortune-these kind of things Bluto says will help me find myself. It is a hall of smoke and mirrors, but Bluto is insistent. I too need a can of spinach to defeat him, but it will not be found in a search for myself. The right spinach is found elsewhere (the leaves of the Bible is a good place to start chewing).

I am not what I am, and when I am not, I am most happily I. When I let Christ live his life through me, when his life is my life, I find myself. Then there is a peace that passes all understanding.

If it isn’t clear, eat more spinach!