Before the Judgment Seat of Christ

  For a Christian ending to our life: painless, unashamed, and peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord. From my childhood, I have memories of the phrase, “Great White Throne of Judgment.” It comes complete with an abundance of frightening images and threats. It is the last possible moment before all hell breaks loose and the preachers at long last get…

Humble and Meek and Middle-Class Morality

  “He Will Exalt the Humble and Meek” There is an interesting historical pattern that has been repeated any number of times across the centuries. A group of the dispossessed and the poor come together within a religious movement. What begins with great enthusiasm succeeds. As it succeeds, those who were once poor and dispossessed manage to gather themselves into some sort of order. They learn to work hard, to avoid disaster,…

The Truth of the Soul

“Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving, forever?” In the classic film, The Third Man, Harry Lime, a racketeer in post-War Vienna, quizzes his old friend, Holly Martins, about the value of an individual life. They are standing in the carriage of a Ferris wheel, looking down on the city scape. From Lime’s perspective, the distance provides a detachment that makes morality obsolete. “Have you ever…

The Work that Saves

“Do not be careless. Pray as much as you can – more frequently and more fervently. Prod yourself – force yourself to do so, for the Kingdom of God is taken by force. You will never attain it without forcing yourself.” ~ Saint Innocent of Alaska Do we cooperate in our salvation? Do our efforts make a difference? These questions lie at the heart of a centuries-old religious debate in Christianity. Classically,…

Shame in the Public Arena

In 401 AD, twenty-nine Saxon “slaves,” strangled each other to death with their bare hands in their prison cells. They chose this death rather than being forced to fight one another in Rome’s arena. Better death than shame. Their “owner,” the Senator Symmachus (famously known as the “Last Pagan”), wrote of them that they were a rebellious “band of slaves, worse than any Spartacus.” In the pages of the New Testament we…

Benedict in the Suburbs

I want to note at the outset that many of Rod Dreher’s suggestions (The Benedict Option) are quite laudable and worth thinking about. This article concentrates on one particular aspect: the acquisition of virtue in the context of American suburban life. Dreher himself mentions the need for proximity and stability. These matters are even more vital than he suggests. Also, it must be said that conservative American Christianity (which seems to be…

A Deadly Communion

  Habits are hard things to break. I quit smoking almost 30 years ago (cold turkey). It was more than difficult and came only after many failed attempts. But, in many ways, such a habit is among the easier to deal with. Far more difficult, and far more deadly, are the habitual patterns of human interaction that mark our lives. They are the single most important source of anxiety, depression and despair…

The Wound of Shame

Shame is a wound made from the inside, dividing us from both ourselves and others. FromThe Psychology of Shame, Gershen Kaufman I have been working on papers for presentations at the Climacus Conference in Louisville, KY, in February. The conference is entitled, “Encountering God.” My second paper focuses on the place of shame in our encounter with God and takes me back to a topic that has never been far from my…

The Morality of Christmas

Morality is tricky business in what is an extremely moral society. I pray my readers to be patient with me as I explain what I think is the problem. First, I will note that morality is all that is left when the most fundamental grounds of a culture have been destroyed. We indeed live in just such a time, hence the rise of a vehemence in the moral life. Second, I will…

Saving Knowledge

I have often used the example of riding a bicycle as an image of knowing God. There’s no difficulty learning how to ride if you don’t mind falling off for a while. But no matter how many years you have ridden, you cannot describe for someone else how you know what you know. But you know it. I also suspect that if you thought too much about riding a bicycle while you…