The End of History

  There is a proverb from the Soviet period: “History is hard to predict.” The re-writing of history was a common political action – enough to provoke the proverb. Students of history are doubtless well-aware that re-writing is the constant task of the modern academic world. The account of American and World History which I learned (beginning school in the 1950’s) differs greatly from the histories my children have learned. Some of…

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 Poor, Debts & Your Enemies: Learning to Forgive

He who has pity on the poor makes a debtor of God. (Prov. 19:17) Jesus told a story about a man with a huge debt. He owed it to his master and was unable to pay. When he was dragged before his master, he begged for mercy. Strangely, the master was so moved by the man’s begging that he forgave him the entire debt. This same man, Jesus said, turned around and…

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…

The Sins of Our Fathers – the Epigenetics of Shame

There is a new word and a new idea in science: epigenetics. It is the study of how the environment and experience alters our body – and alters it in a way such that it becomes part of our genetic legacy. It is, to the mind of some, a genetic form of inherited sin. That’s more than I know, and more than I care to say. But it is an occasion for…

The Danger and Shame of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is so terribly hard. On a psychological level, it feels dangerous. The shame engendered by any insult or injury is our experience of vulnerability, and we instinctively react to protect ourselves. That, we must understand, is not a sin, it is an instinct that is a gift from God. The example of Christ, who did not “turn His face from the spitting and the shame,” is also the example of just…

Forgiveness for All the Sundays to Come

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;  (John17:20-21) The Elder Sophrony, together with St. Silouan, wrote about the “whole Adam.” By this, they meant all the human beings who have ever existed and those yet to come. They were, for them, something known in the present tense, a “hypostatic” knowledge of the fundamental unity of the human race. Sophrony described…

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…