Is there a difference between Friend and Neighbor?

In John 15:13 Jesus says “greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Those profound words have moved me and shaped me in my believing and my faith. It wasn’t until tonight that I considered what words the holy text was utilizing to communicate the heart of Christ. The word for “friend” is φιλων.  It is a participle whose root is the word φιλεω, which is one of the three Greek words used in the New Testament to communicate the idea of love. So this phrase by Jesus could be paraphrased like this: that no greater love has any man than this, that he lay down his life for the beloved one.

Now while this may seem to bolster some, who think that we should only take care of our own, we must first consider to whom Jesus was pointing in these words. I think that the only logical referent would be himself who is laying down his life for humanity. The next words in John 15 are “you are my friends if you do what I command you.” Is he dying only for those who keep his commandments or those he had a loving earthly relationship with? I think not. Jesus was dying for the creation he loved, for a humanity that he loved and valued.

The other text that I have been considering this evening is the parable of the “good Samaritan” found in Luke chapter 10. The operative word in this parable is “neighbor.” The Greek word underlying this term in Luke 10 is πλησιον, which is a preposition, which when used with the genitive case indicates “near”…someone or something which is near. When this preposition is used in a more substantive sense, it means a “fellow human” or “neighbor.” When you think about this word, its meaning and usage here, the parable of the “good Samaritan” springs to life much more than from a simple reading. The point of the parable, as the narrative reads is to answer the question of “who is my neighbor.” The commandment, about which the questions comes to Jesus in this text (from the lawyer who quotes it to him) is found first in Leviticus 19:18. It is reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 22:39 as the greatest commandment. It is the second of the two foundational laws, upon which all the law and the prophets rests (according to Jesus): “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul…and love your neighbor as yourself.

Now before I proceed further, I need to address what appears to be an exegetical mistake.  We take the individual corpus’ as single  literary units, so to compare or use Greek words of different authorship to support a single idea that would have them all using the same word to point at the same referent or concept would be potentially pushing the envelope of reasonable exegetical practice. And I understand this, and have held to this principle myself. And were it not that these words and concepts were used so broadly throughout the New Testament text to push us toward selflessness and care for the “other” among us, no matter who he was; I, too, would cry foul.  However, in the context of what I am pointing at, I think that the whole of the New Testament bears this out.

So if we are to love our “neighbor,” who is the one (anyone) near us, and Jesus says that to lay down one’s life for his friend, who is described by him as the “loved ones,” and that there is no greater love demonstrated than this…I would suppose that these two words from our Savior are pointing at a similar referent: others of any sort. That sure does up the ante as to what our lives are to be about.


A Look in the Mirror

Feelings buried deep below what is seen.

When summoned by circumstance, they surface,

Rupturing peace.

More than feelings they are an Identity unknown,

A belonging Disconnected.

A thrashing of spirit accompanies them

Unproductive spinning of genealogical wondering.

Much movement is produced, but no progress.

Pain swallowed in emptiness,

Only an ache remains.

Its anchor is deep within, below what is seen.

By Kelley Mata  ~  January 23, 2010 ©

Maybe we haven’t learned anything from History!

One of the darkest hours of Christian history, in my opinion, was the time of the crusades (approx. 1095-1291).  In fact from the time of Constantine (4th century) forward, the identity of Christian faith was usurped by holy roman empire and the power of the church was held in the power of kings and armies. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls this reality the two crosses.   After Constantine we had: the cross of Christ, on which our redemption was effected, and we have the cross of Constantine that he had put on the shields of his army. Ever since there has been a blurring of what is the Christian cross and an assumption that both crosses point at the same referent, hence the baptism of violence and war at the hands of kings and Popes, alike.

Those who favor waging war in Christ’s name haven’t retained anything they may have read in the Gospels, or the New Testament for that matter.  This was not the kind of Kingdom brought by Jesus.  His words spoke against such action and encouraged us to love our enemies, to do good and to pray for those who do bad to us; to find our identity not in power but in mercy and in forgiveness.  The isue isn’t so much that war and conflict exists (although I wish it didn’t), history has shown that such is an unfortunate but regular reality.  The problem is the attempt at condoning such a reality with Christ, as though he would lay his blessing upon any human conflict.  That, precisely, is the blasphemy!

This morning I read an article in the news that completely befuddled me, I have a hard time understanding how folks think it is okay to put Bible verses on our military weapons. Defense contractor has God in its sights. In this article we learn that the main contractor for the rifle scopes for the military has engraved Bible verses on its scopes for many years, consequently the men and women fighting in our two wars are carrying rifles with Bible verses on the scope. The above article made the point how this could provide fodder for Taliban and others, who already liken these wars to the crusades. While that is a concern and problematic for men and women serving in these places, my frustration is more in line with my earlier statements.

The problem is a misconstruing of kingdoms, a blurring to which even the church has acquiesced in many ways. We have somehow forgotten that Christ is not about war, not about power plays and conflict. It is offensive to me that anyone would think that a rifle scope is an appropriate place to put Christian Scripture, especially scopes heading into conflict in the hands of military. But then again, these days it seems that this blurring has worked in favor of the NRA and gun advocates because a good percentage of Christians have some how become the most “pro-gun people” in our nation.

The point of this article is to assert that the “two crosses” referred to earlier in this post are, indeed, not the same. Nor is the kingdoms (governments, armies, conflict goals etc.) of humanity, the same as the kingdom of God. Governments do good things, which I believe is pleasing to God, but their conflicts are not among those things that makes God smile. We as Christians and as citizens of the U.S., need to learn to differentiate between the two crosses and the two kingdoms at play in this world, then choose which one we intend to follow.

Francis: the Journey and The Dream

While I haven’t yet finished the book (but it won’t take long) but I wanted to take a moment to write a recommendation.  I have, for more than a decade and a half, had a deep and compelling appreciation and fascination with Francis of Assisi.  I wear a San Damiano cross and have a strong desire to visit the chapel at San Damiano before I go to be with the Lord.  I have read several accounts of the saint’s life.  He is quite frankly my favorite saint and an example to me.

I have recently dug a book out of all the book boxes in my garage.  The Title is Francis: The Journey And The Dream by Fr. Murray Bodo. I have not previously heard of Fr. Bodo but I will be looking to read any other works of which he is the author.

while the stories of Francis, his conversion and ministry, are not hard to find, Fr. Bodo tells the story in a way that none of the others I have read do. He brings life, feeling and encounter to what is usually a strict telling of the data. Bodo is a professor of composition and creative writing. That comes through in the very realistic telling of Francis’ struggle up to conversion and the joy that came from choosing Christ in deeper and deeper ways. I am moved when I read these accounts, they are encounters with this saintly founder of the brothers minor.

If you want a great devotional read, and inspiring read…I highly recommend this very inexpensive volume to you. You won’t be disappointed.

Govenor Otter’s speech

Once again I find that I am unimpressed by our govenor (lower case on purpose).  Of all the things he chose to cut education!  Education is our future and should be one of the last things we cut!  Maybe we should take some other measures…let’s begin with turning the lights off at the capital, let’s see the govenor, senate and assembly take a pay cut, lets put all but the most urgent  plans on hold for a bit.  Let’s get creative so that our children continue to get the quality education they will need to make it in this world.  We put up signs encouraging our youth to keep going, get a high school diploma and go to college, then we turn around and cut the very educational process that we are encouraging them to pursue.  Isn’t that somewhat of a mixed message?  This is not the kind of leadership that our state needs in these challenging times.  I certainly hope that this govenor finds himself out of a job when elections come around again!

God without Being: a book review

book cover

I finished the book God without Being by Jean-Luc Marion. Marion is a
professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, whose book is
also published by University of Chicago Press. The book is translated
out of French, which is Marion’s first language. Without a doubt this
book is one of the most dense and obscure books I have ever read. Part
of this, I think, is due to the process of translation but also to the
topic, and of course the author.

Marion is questioning the the standard view of assigning “God” with
“Being” as the most fundamental reality: i.e. at base “God” is first and
foremost a being. While this may seem axiomatic, Marion
demonstrates (successfully I believe) that this assumption is imposed
from our perspective as beings, from the view of one who exists in the realm of “being”.
The beginning of his book is dedicated to considering the role of an idol that captures our
gaze (or conceptual idols that metaphorically accomplish the
same). An idol brings a cessation of our gazing: we cease to scan
the horizon for we have found that which we believe is worthy of our gaze.
But in reality, the idol is an
invisible mirror through which we gaze back at ourselves. Consequently,
from the place of “being” looking outward we are only able to see our own type existence
even in what we assign as deity.

This is contrasted with the icon in whose gaze we exist.
The point in this contrast is that the reality of God, who he is, has almost nothing to do with what we assign, understand or see of God in our gazing, he is outside of our definition.
The identity of God is more appropriately located in God’s
gazing upon us. Marion deals at length with the
metaphysical thought of Heidegger and others whose metaphysics have
contributed to what we understand in our gazing upon God. Marion’s
perspective is to fundamentally see God better viewed as “agape” (αγαπη),
a Greek noun translated as “love” in the New Testament. God
is defined by love, a description which exceeds our definitive understanding. 1 John 4:8 says that
God is love, and Marion examines this in depth.

Marion deals with the words of the preacher (Qoheleth) in
Ecclesiastes and many passages in the New Testament texts, which he uses convincingly
to demonstrate the limit of our perspective and the distance between
our view, that of vanity and God’s view of charity. In understanding
God by the undefinable agape, Marion replaces the egocentric
god defined by being. Ultimately Marion locates this view of God in Eucharist event.
God is the God who gives himself lovingly in the bread and the wine, in
Eucharistic presence. However this is not some repackaged doctrine of
transubstantiation or real presence but captures a view of Eucharistic
presence that is fresh and powerful.

This book might take you a year to work through it, but the insights
mined from its obscure, dense and deep pages will be worth the effort and potentially transformative to your theological perspective. My theology and my epistemology have been irrevocably changed.
I highly recommend this book and will return to it again several times
more in the future.

Timeline: a movie review

One of my new favorite movies is Timeline. I saw it a few years ago and have been lucky enough to run into it several time since; I now own the movie and it is in my top two favorite movies. I suppose part of the reason for the favoritism is that it is set in medieval Europe, which is a time that fills my imagination and my interest. But there is so much that is in this move, aside from being very entertaining, that prompts one to think. I will touch on one of those elements tonight.

In this movie there is very much a pathos that exists…on of “honor” and “loyalty.” This passion is at the heart of what can be described by one heading into battle and yelling “for God and King.” That would not have been unheard of verbally (except in the particular language or derivation of language), nor would it have been far fetched as a medieval sentiment, that was honored and valued.

Today we would look back on that idea and on the idea of a king, to whom absolute allegiance was due, even to loss and death. Yet, at least in my neck of the woods (Idaho), even today I hear similar sentiment with a little different phraseology: Rather than “God and King” it becomes, “God bless America.” It is God and country that demand my allegiance.

In this movie the interesting thing is that both sides claim that God is on their side. Both use this supposed truth to encourage their men to fight hard and to the death. so at to defeat the enemy. Now in the movie, the story develops a clear antipathy toward the English, who are the invaders and “evil” ones. When really aside from a the English leader and a few of his leaders, the majority of the force are simply fighting for their side.

Now, while I am not claiming to be a person who rises above the fray, I am noticing a similarity even with the world in which I live. Our side, the American side, is the side of Justice, freedom and democracy (so we claim), and this give us an advantage because, as we know God is for the just so he must be for us, and such a perspective gives us the right to tramp around the world and establish our version of that rightness…it doesn’t sound too different than what we portray from other eras minus the king and inserting the federal government.

Now don’t get me too wrong…I do not have an issue with a people defending themselves against attack. We have had to do that several times in the last few hundred years and basically I take no issue with that. However, if that were the whole of it, it would indeed be a lot simpler: life that is. But in almost every instance there has been much more “under the cover causes” than one ever knows about in a given situation. Still we operate on what we know. So while the idea of a “just war” exists and very well has some merit (in history and in one of the wars we currently fight), the reality that exists underneath all that destruction and patriotism are issues, profits and agendas that we probably wouldn’t line up to defend; at least I wouldn’t.

While the movie is much more entertaining than the political points it stimulated in me this evening, one of the values of the movie is a group of people caught in the fray of this battle and they are aware of both sides, as well as the history that is unfolding (because they are archeologists and because they are from the future).  However they choose to act and take sides on the basis of relationships.

I mention this to because my 1st grade son came home before Christmas break and posed a question that one of his classmates had posed to his teacher. He asked “what is the point of human existence?” Then he turned to me and sought an answer to that question. I thought and I answered, “relationship, son; relationship with God and with other people.” I think this movie points at that…at least in part.