CCC Blog

Freedom!

One of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther’s more famous written pieces was “On the Freedom of a Christian,” from 1520.  In it, he asserted that through faith, we are “servants to none.”  Nothing else can be added to our faith as a requirement for God’s satisfaction.  We are, after all, justified by faith alone.  We are free, therefore, from all constraints other than faith.  And yet, once justified by that faith we are “servants to all.”  We are free to give and serve – not because in doing so we merit any favor from God.  Rather, we are free from any compulsion to be “good.”  We seek the “good” simply for the mere joy, pleasure and fulfillment it brings.

 

In my morning devotions, I read a reflection this week that offered a similar take on Freedom.  From the Jesuit tradition, it uses different phraseology than Luther, but strikes a similar chord.  That Freedom is associated with faith and turns us outward and not inward.  

 

If life’s purpose lies in getting what you want, as our culture insists, then freedom becomes a very big deal.  Freedom, we think, is what allows us to exercise our “inalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness.  With this view of freedom, it’s easy to feel threatened by constraint.  Our instinct is to resist it with all our might, for it impedes our ability to live the life we think we want.  Yet to maximize this kind of freedom requires that we minimize or even eliminate serious relationships.  For the more we rely on others or others rely on us, the less “free” we are to go wherever we wish to go, pursue whatever we wish to pursue, and do whatever we wish to do. 

 

Love, by definition, constrains us.  And in a society devoted to personal self-fulfillment, the cost of love often seems too high.  Surprisingly, freedom is a very big deal in the Gospels too.  However, here it means something quite different.  When Jesus says, “The truth will set you free,” (John 8:36) he does not mean free to pursue personal happiness.  When St. Paul says, “For Freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1), he does not mean we now have permission to satisfy our every impulse and whim.  Quite the contrary.  In the bible, the “free” person is the one no longer plagued by the burdensome quest for money, pleasure, possessions, social status and political power.  Rather, that one is “free” to pursue relationship; to pursue love.  With Christ.  And with one another. 

 

May we all seek this freedom!

Posted by Michael Karunas with

God In All Things

As you know, I recently spent some days up north in Michigan at the cottage that has been in my family since 1973. Since a child, I have spent some portion of every summer there, on Crystal Lake along the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. One of the things I love about being there is the simple fact that I get a lot of reading done! I always have a stack of books I’m trying to work through (both chosen and recommended) and for whatever reason, I read “very well” there. This year was no different. One of the four books I read was The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan priest who was also trained as a psychologist. Many in our congregation know the works of Rohr, not the least of whom is Don Martin. He “introduced” me to Rohr in 2012 and since then we have shared a similar respect for his writing. 

 

I find Richard Rohr to write very accessibly when it comes to theology and   spirituality. One of the things he does in “The Universal Christ” is to make the distinction between pantheism and panentheism. Pantheism is the believe that everything is a god – the rocks are gods; the trees are gods; the sun is a god, etc... Pantheism has always been looked down upon in Christian history. For, as we know, there is but one God and, as the 10 commandments tell us, we shall have no other god before God, but Panentheism is the belief that God – the one, true God – is revealed in all things. That in creation, God infused the Spirit into all matter, so that the divine presence is in rocks, trees, sun, etc...

 

It is always easy for me to recognize the presence of God in all things when I’m up at my “sacred place” on Crystal Lake. The sunsets, coming storms, forests, and water all speak to God’s majesty. There is even a family of bald eagles that has taken to nesting near our cottage. I certainly hope each of you has a special place like mine where you feel the presence of God in a close and personal way. As the Sufi poet Rumi put it, “We should all have a place on earth where we kneel to kiss the ground.”  

 

 

But the more important challenge is to believe that the presence of God is close in every situation and location, wherever we find ourselves. This means that God is revealed even in those places and situations that are uncomfortable at best and painful at worst. And that God is, furthermore, in everyone - which means even in those people different than we are and, if we are honest with ourselves, those with whom it is difficult to find connection or even be around.

 

The ability to see God in everything and everyone is something that seems especially important today and that those who give themselves to that effort are ones the world needs now more than ever. May we all strive to do just that.    

Blessings… Michael

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Room for Doubt

Jesus famously said to the disciple Thomas, “Do not doubt, only believe” (John 20:27).  From that point forward, doubt has had a precarious relationship with faith.  And Thomas was given the notorious moniker “Doubting Thomas.”  Jesus had appeared to the disciples in the evening on the first Easter Sunday.  Thomas, however, was not with them and so missed the event.  When the rest of the disciples told him what they had experienced he proclaimed that unless he himself laid eyes on Jesus and touched his wounds, he would not believe.  So Jesus appeared a week later and after revealing himself to Thomas uttered those famous (or are they infamous?) words. 

We think of doubt as being associated with skepticism and having questions; needing more (more evidence, more time …) before we can get on board with something.  While this is fine, Jesus didn’t say that exactly.  Doubt is the English translation of the Greek word “a-pistos” in John 20.  The reason for writing it this way is that the prefix “a” in Greek is a negation that means “the absence of.”  So the word “atypical” for example is what we use to refer to something that is not typical.  It is the absence of being typical.  And “pistos” in Greek is the word used for faith.  So what Jesus  literally says to Thomas is “Do not have the absence of faith, but have faith.”  Or, “Do not not believe, just believe.”  The issue for Jesus is not having questions or desiring more of something.  The issue is having no faith at all!

 

Furthermore, the word in Greek for faith (“Pistis”) is a derivation from the word that means “to persuade.”  Taking things a step further, then, Jesus is really saying to Thomas, “Don’t have an inability to be persuaded, have an ability to be persuaded.”  It is as though he wants Thomas to know, “Of course, you will never have all your questions answered.  And you may not get all the evidence you are looking for.  But don’t lose the ability to be persuaded by what you do have.  For there is enough here – in the testimony of your brothers, for example – for you to believe.”

 

We tend to think of doubt as weakness – at least when it comes to faith.  Doubt is an indicator of a lack of faith.  But that is not true for Jesus.  Doubt is actually part of faith.  The absence of faith at all is what is should be feared – the inability to be persuaded.  When we are locked into one way of thinking, or one way of seeing things, we are most likely closing ourselves off from the real places God desires to be encountered, because we have determined ourselves to be unable to be persuaded by what is there. 

 

It is the lot of being human that we will probably never has as much as we would like before making the decisions that matter most.  In this respect, doubt will never be far away from us.  But Jesus also says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe.” (John 20:29)  This is a reminder that there is always enough evidence around us to persuade us to believe in a God that turns suffering into hope and perpetually gives new life.  The question is never “Will God do it,” as much as it is “Will we see it.” 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

The Significance of “Not being Afraid”

“Do not be afraid!” Are there any more comforting words in all of scripture?  Throughout the New Testament the voice of God speaks these four words repeatedly through the mouth of Jesus – or through those of angels when speaking about Jesus. More often than not, they are spoken when big news is about to be delivered. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to inform her that she was to give birth to the Son of God, he began by saying, “Do not be afraid.”  When Jesus gave his final address to his disciples, the night before his crucifixion, he said, you need not be “afraid,” for I have overcome the world.

 

Furthermore the gospel of Matthew is book-ended by two such utterances of the phrase. In Matthew 1, Joseph is preparing to dismiss his fiancée Mary. Already engaged but not yet having consummated their marriage, she is found to be with child. This doesn’t sit well with Joseph, and he plans to end the relationship; but in that moment an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him, “Do not be afraid” to take Mary as your wife; and in Matthew 28, as we heard this past Sunday, an angel greets Mary and Mary Magdalene at the tomb of the resurrection with the words “Do not be afraid.”  From the beginning to the end – from Christmas through Easter – “Do not be afraid” gives us a framework within which the story of salvation is told.

 

It is noteworthy that in Matthew 1 and 28, the people encountered only had part of the picture in view. Joseph knew Mary was with child, but that’s where his vision stopped. Similarly, Mary and Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb assuming Jesus was gone because bodies put in tombs stay in tombs. In both cases, because of their limited vision, they were prepared to follow their own plans for the future.  Joseph prepared for a life without Mary. Mary and Mary Magdalene were content continuing in their sadness and grief. In neither case would we blame any of them for the feelings they might have been experiencing. Had Joseph felt betrayed and angry, and had the two Marys felt depressed and downtrodden, we would understand. Yet in both cases, the words “Do not be afraid” signify a reality greater than that constructed by feelings.

 

The words “Do not be afraid” indicate that everything we see from our perspective is not all there is to see; and that the full picture of what we see at any given time is not the full reality of what God sees. “Do not be afraid” is God’s way of saying that regardless of our feelings in any given moment, God’s plans transcend even the deepest of our emotions. St. Ignatius said that the way things seem to be in any given situation in life is not necessarily the way they really are. That is what I hear when I read the words “Do not be afraid.” Even if we don’t have the full picture of the future in view, it is okay, because God does, and not only does God have that full picture in view, God sees a role for us – a vital one – in the unfolding of that future. After all, Joseph was needed to provide protection and provision for Jesus as he grew, and Mary and Mary Magdalene were needed to proclaim the resurrection to the rest of the disciples. 

“Do not be afraid.”  These are not just  words to invoke comfort, but the power, presence, and providence of God – and our participation in the work of God.  From the beginning of our lives.  To the end of them.  And beyond…  

Blessings… Michael

Posted by Michael Karunas with

12345678910 ... 2122