Ancient Christian parody/mockery- we worship an ass?

In 1857, some early graffiti was discovered in an unearthed guardroom on the Palatine Hill. Known as the Alexamenos Graffito, it is an image which is scratched into the plaster of the wall and shows a man with the head of an ass being crucified, and then a man next to him- his hands possibly raised in prayer.  This graffito is thought to be conceived sometime between 50 CE and 200 CE  and is the earliest depiction of the crucifixion that we possess, with the first Christian depictions not arising until the early 6th century. The text in Greek reads:

ALE
XAMENOS
SEBETE
THEON

which means, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Interestingly enough,  this was a common charge against the Jews and later the Christians in the infancy of the Christian faith.  Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a pagan orator and rhetorician, condemned the Christians in a lost speech, fragments of which are preserved by Minucius Felix in the Octavius. In it he writes

“the religion of the Christians is foolish, inasmuch as they worship a crucified man, and even the instrument itself of his punishment. They are said to worship the head of an ass, and even the nature of their father” (Octavius IX).

Tertullian mentioned that the pagans think “our god is an ass’s head” (Apology, XVI). when he writes

“For, like some others, you are under the delusion that our god is an ass’s head”

Tertullian refers again to this notion that “our god is actually the head of an ass” in Book I of Ad Nationes, where he accuses pagans of being no better and in fact gets a little feisty at the end. [a quip that can’t help but make me smile.

Some of you have entertained the dream that our god is actually the head of an ass. Cornelius Tacitus first launched this fantasy in the fourth book of his Histories where he recounts the Jewish war. Starting with the origins of the Jewish people, he traces the source of their religion and its name. He relates how the Jewish people, hard-pressed for water and wondering abroad in desolate places, were delivered by following the lead of a herd of wild asses thought to be in search of water after feeding. For this reason the likeness of this animal is worshiped by the Jew. This is why I believe that we Christians, being linked to the Jewish religion, are associated with the same image. You in fact worship the ass in its entirety, not just the head. And then you throw in Epona, the patron saint of donkeys and all the beasts of burden, cattle, and wild animals. You even worship their stables. Perhaps this is your charge against us that in the midst of all these indiscriminate animal lovers, we save our devotion for asses alone!” (XI)

He also defends Christians against the charge of a Roman Jew.

There is now a new rumor about our God going the rounds. Recently a most depraved individual from Rome, your city, had defected from his own faith and allowed his skin to be shredded by wild beasts. Every day he would hire himself out for viewing while his skin was stripped. He would carry around a picture directed against us with the heading “Onocoetes,” meaning Donkey Priest. It was a picture of a man wearing a toga and the ears of the donkey with a book in hand and one leg ending in a hoof. And the crowd believed this Jewish man. Who else plants the seed of our infamous reputation? As a result the whole city is talking about the Donkey Priest.” (XIV)

The graffito also represents how contemptible and absurd the idea of a crucified god was to pagan thinking, and harkens pack to when St. Paul remarked that the crucifixion was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” [1 Corinthians 1:23].

The Lord’s Prayer in Old English

Old English” is version of English spoken from approximately AD 450 to about 1100, and was in use in much of England and southeast Scotland. It also known as “Anglo-Saxon”, and is a combination of the Germanic based languages of Old Norse and Old Frisian, and Latin.

Fæder ure

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;

Si þin nama gehalgod

to becume þin rice

gewurþe ðin willa

on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.

urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg

and forgyf us ure gyltas

swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum

and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge

ac alys us of yfele soþlice

*

*

Translation of Old English Text

Father our thou that art in heavens

be thy name hallowed

come thy kingdom

be-done thy will

on earth as in heavens

our daily bread give us today

and forgive us our sins

as we forgive those-who-have-sinned-against-us

and not lead thou us into temptation

but deliver us from evil. truly

Why I can’t sing the song “Lord I give you my heart” anymore.

I was at Church a few weeks ago and the song “Lord I give you my heart” was queued up and was sung by the congregation. Up to this point I had been worshiping and my mind was fairly centered on the adoration of Jesus, but this song caused my mind to become disengaged and spiritually….disentangled. It was an awful, profoundly disturbing feeling.

Because here’s the thing- I like to sing worship songs in Church which allow me to tell the truth. That is, when I am communicating by singing to the Lord, I do not like it when I am put in the position of having to lie or exaggerate my soundness of faith, my motives, my intentions, or my devotion to Christ.  I do not like it when I have to sing promises and declarations to Christ which exceed my promise to fulfill, as that leaves me feeling like a liar- a cause for immediate disconnect from the song itself. It is one of those things that I’m mindful of and sensitive to. I like worship music with theological lyrics. I like psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with words that tell of deep Biblical truths about God. I don’t like singing falsehoods about who I am, what I do, and what my heart’s inclination is to Christ.

In short, I don’t like singing things I don’t mean. When I sing these songs which are about me, I become painfully aware that  I’m declaring things that I can’t and don’t back up, or which my heart is not convinced that it is able to do. I’m also aware that I am singing things contrary to my own nature, and that I’m singing words which confess that I am doing and am willing to do things that I am not able or willing to do. For example, any songs that have the lyrics “I will always love you. I will always worship you. You’re all I want. You’re all I ever needed.  You’ll always be my all. I will always follow you. I’ll never want anyone but you.

I would not say that these are bad songs, or that the writers have ill intent. Rather though, when I consider these in a theological context they strike me as impossible promises for me to fulfill.  To do these I would have to be fulfilling the works of the law perfectly, which seemed to me as a wretched proposition. Because I don’t always love Christ. And I won’t always worship him. And he won’t always be all I want. And he won’t always be all I need. And I won’t always follow him. So why am I singing that I do and will? Case in point-

Lord I Give You My Heart

This is my desire, to honour You
Lord with all my heart I worship You
all I have within me
I give You praise
all that I adore is in You
Lord I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I’m awake
Lord have Your way in me

My desire to honor God does exist, as a new creation in Christ, so I’m fine with that, but the next line is problematic. I don’t worship the Lord with all my heart. Does anybody? I wasn’t worshiping him with all my heart that morning. Nor was I the week before. How about the next two lines? The third line is a bit wonky, as I’m not really sure what it means or how it connects with everything else, but that last line is also troublesome. I adore so many things that aren’t Jesus! I make idols out of sports teams, my family, my intellect., and I give adoration to things that rob Christ of glory rather than give him it. I raze the storehouses of this world for pleasure and peace- turning my affections towards inconsequential trivialities  instead of on my great God and savior. That does not strike me as the actions of a man who can say with honesty and with a straight face “All that I adore is in you”...

Line three of the chorus. “I live for you alone?” I don’t live for God alone. No one does. I can’t sing that with a straight face. I’m not sure how anybody else can. See- God knows our hearts and he knows the extent that we are “living for him”, so why am I declaring to my brothers and sisters that I’m living for him alone when I know that’s simply not true. I feel gross and deceptive when I sing that.  And assuming lines 4 and 5 are connected to line three- that is to say that with every breath that I take and every moment that I’m awake I’m living for God alone, that would be another false statement that I cannot bear to sing forth.

Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who is bothered by that? I’m not trying to nitpick, but rather to make a point that many of our worship sessions are loaded with songs that declare works, deeds, and intents  that our congregants have no intention of ever doing, or are simply by virtue of the nature of their will are unable to do. I don’t know if it makes sense that we’re singing the songs with the presuppositions that we’re only speaking of our best intentions, or in the present tense and not the future tenses. For some of the songs we sing I suppose it makes sense to look at them in the big picture, such as I generally love Jesus even if I don’t specifically do all the time, but that isn’t always the most helpful perspective.

I think this is why I prefer to sing songs that are Christ-centered, because I know that he is able to do them and has done all these things. This is opposed to  songs that are man-centered, because I know I have not done these things. With Christ-centered and Christ-focused songs, I have complete confidence in his ability to do as he says, and to keep his word and fulfill his promises. In this, I can sing those types of lyrics because I have a clean conscience when I do so. I don’t have to embellish or exaggerate my ability to complete and be faithful to the things that I am singing,  but rather I can breathe easily and rest in the grace that where my words and works fail, Jesus’ never do.

What do you guys think? Do you have any problem singing sons with lyrics like “I will always love you. I will always worship you. You’re all I want. You’re all I ever needed.  You’ll always be my all. I will always follow you. I’ll never want anyone but you.”? If not, how to you reconcile that with the reality and truth of the situation- which is that, quite frankly, you don’t?

What other songs do you have trouble singing, for similar-ish reasons?

*Note. The aforementioned post is a deconstruction and reconstruction of something I wrote last year, but with present day application.

Gandhi didn’t like our Christ

 

There is a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. It is, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I say attributed because there are no primary sources for him actually saying or writing this, but rather it has been attributed to him by secondary sources. But assuming he did say it, this quote has been tossed around with reckless abandon as a way to point out the hypocrisy that we believers struggle against as we wrestle with our desire to live as Christ did, and our seemingly inability to. We’re told by Gandhi that our failure to be consistent in our outward moral actions and inward spiritual intent is one of the primary reasons why he himself and so many people don’t take us seriously, and that a failure to practice what we preach is what is driving the masses away.

We need to stop using this quote and we need to be far more discerning when we voluntary subject ourselves to this man’s criticism of our faith and spiritual walk.

Why? Because Gandhi did not like our Christ. When he said that he likes our Christ, he was not referring to the deep affections he had for the Biblical, historical Jesus as revealed in his entirety in both the Old and New Testament. He was not referring to the whole and sum of the blessed hypostatic union- our God who came in the flesh to seek and save the lost by bringing salvation and reconciliation to his people.  He was not referring to the Christ of scriptures who made radically exclusive about how through him alone was the only way to the Father and to everlasting peace and life. He was not referring to the immaculately conceived son of God who died for the sins of the world and then rose again after three days for our justification, sanctification and glorification.

No. Gandhi did not like that Christ. Instead what Gandhi did is something that people have been doing since the beginning of time- he changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things… Gandhi spent his life fabricating a Jesus of his own invention-one who acted and behaved like he wanted him to. He sliced through the scriptures with his metaphorical scalpel and created a cut-and-paste collage of theological agglomeration- a homage to idolatry and absurdity. In this Gandhi picked out and lauded all the teachings that he liked and which agreed with his Hinduism, particularly his belief in Jesus’ non-violence and teachings on turning the other cheek. For Gandhi these were the highest and best manifestations of who Jesus was- a moral teacher who served as our highest example of principled ethics and exemplary friend to all mankind.

At the same time he categorically rejected any of Jesus’ claims to divinity and salvific exclusivity. He did not like our Christ; he liked his own caricatured version of Christ.  Jesus was a good man. A good teacher. A good moralist. But he was not God, and his goodness only went so far as his inclusive claims extended. His Jesus was kind and tolerant of all religions and spiritual persuasions, having understood that there was truth in all religions and that they all led to the same place. If he had been asked by Jesus “who do you say that I am?” he would never have responded “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” There was no place in his concept of Jesus as one who came not to bring peace, but rather a sword, who came to divide and set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother. There is no place in his worldview of Jesus as one who  “is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” or “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

To offer just three quotes from Gandhi

I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all sons of God, but for each of us there may be different sons of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God … God cannot be the exclusive Father and I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus.” [Harijan: June 3, 1937]

It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in Him, would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. [His Own Story. Page 141.]

For, he [Jesus] was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am sure that if he were living here now among men, he would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard his name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which he was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one’s neighbor as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one’s fellowmen. [The Modern Review, October 1941]

Did Gandhi like our Christ? No, he didn’t. Did he like his fabricated version of Christ? Very much so, apparently. For that reason we don’t need to quote this man as if he were in any way any kind of authority over us or as if he had any idea what he was talking about. He was no profound commentator on Christianity. He was hardly an authority on Jesus, had  fundamental misunderstandings of himself and the rest of humanity, and he denied the very essence of what made Jesus our Lord. Why should we care if we do not attain to this falsified version of Jesus?

I do believe we need to be more like Christ, but I want to become like the real Christ, not this fabricated version of Gandhi’s imagination. So next time someone uses this quote on you, don’t accept the premise. It’s important that we hear the message that we ought to be more Christ-like, but I’d rather take an exhortation from John or Paul or  anybody who knows who the real Jesus is, than Mahatma Gandhi. That is where I want my rebuke and chastisement and encouragement to come from- from the scriptures, and not a morally reprehensible, Christ-hating man who denied our great God and Savior and thereby showed himself to have the spirit of the antichrist.

Speaking Truth in Love; A Love Story

A while ago I posted a string of posts about a certain speaker coming to a certain church and saying certain things. It exploded on my blog and Facebook, garnering comments from the left and the right. It was, in many ways, a hand grenade tossed under the pews. People’s feelings were hurt and the emotional toll it took on all sides was profound and pronounced. In retrospect, after a bit of counsel, I see now that while my content and theological objections were immaculate and near perfect in their argumentation, my execution was less than helpful. What I said was true, and the objections I brought to  bear were important and weighty. The fact that few seemed to believe otherwise was disappointing, but ultimately that doesn’t change the fact that there were several ways I could have gone about it, and it seems I chose the one with the most carnage and the highest body count.

One of the comments that was sent my way in the combox was that I was not speaking truth in love. Its an objection that has been thrown my way on a few occasions, and at the time I spoke of my intent to disseminate that charge. In fact this post was to be a deftly handled rebuttal of that charge, incorporating a proper biblical exegesis to demonstrate the shallowness and irrationality of such an assertion. To be clear, I am tempted to assert that at the present time there is no single statement in the whole of the Bible which is so much abused and misquoted as this particular statement, and I believe I could bring this to bear.

While I may still do that if pressed on the matter, I thought a change a pace might be more appropriate, in tone and intent, and instead just share some thoughts that I have about this. What I think “speaking the truth in love” has become, divorced from its context and historical underpinnings, is a concept that has become entangled and conformed to our society’s ideal of loveless love and painless affection. Here’s what I mean. Growing up I would hear a lot about “speaking into my life.” What it meant for me was that I would pick a few people, mostly my peers [ who were as foolish and immature as I was]  but also some older men who I liked and viewed as wise and spiritually mature. These were the people that I allowed to “speak into my life”. That is, I acted autonomously and made the executive decision that these people were the ones who I would give the right to be able to rebuke me. These were people who I would allow to tell me when I need correction- when I was being stupid,  making bad choices,  having a poor attitude, and so forth. They were also the ones whose words carried a lot of weight with me when I sought advice, needed comfort, and who I counted on to help me grow and develop spiritually and emotionally.

There were other people who sought to correct me, to chastise me or reprove me. These people I either ignored or dismissed. After all, I didn’t give them permission to speak into my life. I didn’t allow them to do that. What was integral to the process as well was that I deemed that only those who had a relationship with me were allowed to speak into my life. I was not alone in this- everyone knew that only those who had a friendship and relationship with you were allowed to speak into your life. But these people didn’t have that, and it didn’t matter that they had legitimate scriptural objections to my behavior or attitude, or that they approached me with varying degrees of kindness or bluntness. My church environment and culture, which I would describe as an evangelical, protestant, mainline non-denominational denomination, did little to dissuade me from having this attitude and mindset, but rather encouraged me at every turn. I was the gatekeeper through which any criticism or praise had to go through. My heart was a vault and mind was a fortress, impenetrable and unrepentant unless I gave you a key, and even then I usually fought kicking and screaming all the way.

This was coupled with a very subjective view of what “speaking truth in love” meant. Truth could only be spoken into my life if I felt it was done lovingly by those who I allowed to speak into my life. That is to say, it was a vague, highly personalized and highly stylized love. It was culturally conditioned- having had taken on the character of what passes for love in our society today. It could not be harsh. It could not be emphatic. It could not be overly critical and it could not in any way tear someone down. It had to have the right tone and inflection, and it could not criticize someone else beliefs or presuppositions- mainly because we had abandoned the perspicuity of the scripture and so who were we to stand so firm and nonyielding when, after all, there was a certain amount of right and truth in everything?

Most important of all, any truth that was spoken could not hurt or hinder the unity of the body and our fellowship. This was the overriding precept that governed all we said and did.  Disagreeing too vehemently or vigorously was seen as divisive and not spirit-led. Telling anyone that what they believed was false,  idolatrous, unhelpful or sub-biblical, was viewed as an attack against the body of Christ- an act of aggression against the Church on par with the vilest of sins.  Truth in love was important, and If we had to pick sides, all of us would have fallen on the love side instead of the truth one. More often than not it didn’t matter how you said it- the fact is that you said it. And that was near unforgivable. “Unity! Unity! Unity!” was our rallying cry, even as we were being discouraged to wrestle with hard concepts amongst ourselves. We did not see that unity without truth was idolatry. We did not see that our ecclesiastical body of Christ had become a rotting and fetid corpse, being held together by sinews of timidity  and tendons of superficiality .

Truth could only be spoken in love-, that was true. But more often than not we discovered that the truth was viewed as unloving, and so instead of speaking the truth in love- we just spoke love; vapid, empty, shallow, culturally-crafted damnable love. Love that was dependent on our feelings. Love that was subjective and self-esteem based. Love that was devoid of scrutiny and sacredness, bereft of sharp edges and piercing honesty,  and which did not poke, prod or prick. A so-called love that was common, vulgar, and meaningless. A love which refused to wound and would not expose our self-canonization. The kind of love that was tepid and safe, spoken by people within the designated parameters and imposed restrictions I had placed on them- but in the end cannot satisfy or sanctify. We thought it was love! We really did- but now I see it instead for what it is, a brilliantly disguised form of hatred.

That’s the environment that I grew up in and cut my theological teeth on. That’s what I grew up in, and what I have since rebelled against. I don’t feel that way anymore, obviously. There are a lot of reasons for that.  But ultimately its because I don’t want a pretend love or a pretend unity which does not have as its foundation the word of the living God. I think there is something better than all that. – a true “truth in love” antithesis which bears itself out with weight and glory. An ideal that has as its center the person of Christ and truth of the gospel, foundational and firm, with implications for every arena of life it touches. It’s not an excuse for cruelty and callousness, but rather redeems both even as it brings light to the darkest of situations.  I spoke in love in those posts, literally the phrase is “truthing in love”- albeit imperfectly and not without a certain regret. Even so I know that it is not the same as what has been spoken of in the aforementioned paragraphs, but it is something that I would consider deeper, more painful, more loving and more rewarding.

April Giveaway!

This month’s giveaway features a bible leaf of 2 Esdras Chapters 8 and 9 from the 1595 Geneva Bible. Considered to be apocryphal by Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox groups, it is nonetheless viewed as an important part of genre literature.

In 2 Esdras chapters 1-2, [Also known as 5 Esdras] Ezra prophesies about God’s rejection of Israel as God’s people and its replacement by the Church. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the mid-second century C.E.

In 2 Esdras 3-14 [also known as 4 Ezra or The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra] Ezra engages in dialogue about the meaning of Israel’s sufferings and is granted visions that reveal what God is going to do in the near future on Israel’s behalf. This is a Jewish work written in Hebrew around 100-120 C.E and was written for consolation in a period of great distress [most likely Titus' destruction of the Temple  in AD 70]

The material contained in 2 Esdras 15-16 [ also known as 6 Ezra] consists of oracles of doom against the enemies of God’s people [the Church] and advice on how those enduring persecution should behave. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the third century C.E

As per usual, we are dealing with a small field of potential winners and so your chances should be quite high. To be entered in the draw, all you have to do is answer this question in the combox in a sentence or two;

What was the last theological belief/ concept that you changed your mind on, and why?


Winners will be announced Thursday evening. Thanks all, and may God’s love be with you, always.

Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts

Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts

This is a reposting of an interesting brainpickings article. In it they list a number of curious notes in margins and colophons made by medieval scribes in whatever biblical manuscripts they were writing. [Note; a colophone is an endnote that might include the scribes name, or the place and date when he wrote and finished the manuscript. One could think of it as a scribe's "signature." Leaving a colophon is a  practice that is almost unknown in early biblical documents, but become relatively normal in late minuscules]

“New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.

“I am very cold.”

“That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.”

“Let the reader’s voice honor the writer’s pen.”

“This page has not been written very slowly.”

“The parchment is hairy.”

“The end of the book- Thanks be to God!”

“The ink is thin.”

“Thank God, it will soon be dark.”

“Oh, my hand.”

“Now I’ve written the whole thing; for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”

“Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims you sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.”

“St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.”

“While I wrote I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun I finished by candlelight.”

“As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.”

“This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, ‘The hand that wrote it is no more’.