Sunday, April 22, 2012

What it Actually Means to Avoid the Appearance of Evil, in Light of The Life of Christ

Growing up in the Church, there are various phrases that I constantly have heard, which I now know are completely faulty, and the result of taking scripture completely out of context.

One of those terms is "avoid the appearance of evil". Essentially this is used to urge "good Christians" to not do anything that may make them seem like they are sinning, pretty much so that they can maintain a flawless reputation. Ok, so I have some sarcasm going on here. I am aware that this is generally well meaning advice, but it completely misses the point for a couple reasons.

First, that is not what the text is even saying: in Greek, the phrase should actually be rendered something like "abstain from every form of evil". And in the broader context (Paul writing a letter to the Thessalonian Church about proper interpersonal conduct within the community), the passage is talking about living purely, and avoiding things that are clearly not of God. So, this verse is not trying to tell people that they cannot comfort a member of the opposite sex in a time of need for fear of  "giving the wrong idea" to other people, or that a Christian cannot be in a bar or club for fear of people thinking they are going out and getting wasted (granted, judgement and moderation is needed in all things).

And there is something else that completely blows the typical interpretation out of the water: the life of Jesus. It is very clear that He took no pains to avoid "appearing" as if He were doing something wrong. Indeed, he was often accused of sinning when He hung out with prostitutes, "sinners", traitors (tax collectors, as they were seen by their fellow Jews), and lepers (Jesus would have been considered ritually unclean because of contact with a diseased person). And the irony is that it was the people who were avoiding the appearance of evil who were condemning Him- the religious leaders who "drew a fence around the law", so that there was no chance of even looking like they were sinning.

An even more poignant example of Jesus' disregard for maintaining appearances is His dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well. There are a number of fascinating things going on there...

1. Men were strongly discouraged from socializing with women who were not their wives. (And some of the most conservative teachers of the Law even discouraged that!) This was especially frowned upon when they were alone.
2. Samaritan women were thought to be unclean from birth. Jesus would have been thought to be violating Mosaic Law.
3. In Jewish Literature, the meeting of a man and a woman at a well was often associated with romance. And some ancient accounts show that even asking a woman for water could be interpreted as flirting with her.
4. This is probably the most obvious: the people of her town would have known of the woman's promiscuity. Seeing a man talking to her would undoubtedly send "the wrong message".

My point in all this is Jesus cared much more about reaching "sinners" than He did about seeming like one.

As Christians, we need to have the same approach. We need not to guard our reputation at the cost of another person's well being. And, sometimes, trying to seem pure is a greater sin than seeming like you're sinning.

We don't need to avoid the appearance of evil. Rather, we must avoid evil itself.

Candlelight Easter Vigil at a Greek Orthodox Church- A Poem

As mentioned in my latest post, I had the wonderful opportunity last weekend to attend an Easter vigil at a Greek Orthodox church. And, for my poetry writing class, I ended up writing a poem about it. I thought I would share it here, and that someone may appreciate it. So, here it is.

Candlelight Easter Vigil at a Greek Orthodox Church

Christ gazes down on me,
an icon on the domed ceiling
and the room goes dark,
like His tomb.

The gathered saints hold candles,
illuminating their worship,
reflecting from the angelic
robes of the priests.

A chant echoes prayerfully:
“Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison”
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

I smell the rose petals and
bay leaves, strewn across
the floor, left over from
a ritual this morning

The scent of melting beeswax
mingles with the incense smoke
as it floats, with a blessing
toward the believers.

This place smells like
it is truly a house of prayer

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Experience at an Eastern Orthodox Easter Service

It is about 3:00 in the morning, and I just got back from a most wonderful experience: a candle light Easter vigil at a Greek Orthodox church. Yes, I just got back. At this point, many people would be ready to judge me as crazy for enduring a "long and boring, emotionless cermony-ridden service". And, having grown up in a very "low church" environment, I probably would have thought the same myself a couple years ago. But this is most certainly not the case. It was absolutely beautiful and inspiring. 

The candle lit darkness filled with the melodious chanting of hymns such as "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those within the tomb bestowing life", and the accompanying Greek translations is a scene I will not soon forget. The mood of the room was contemplative, prayerful, and everything was full of tremendous symbolism. It was extremely different than the highly emotional worship I am used to, but no less powerful- in some ways more, in fact. There is something profoundly impacting about an experience that has a great deal of background and tradition. And what especially struck me was that it truly felt like a place of prayer- and it smelled like it too, with the scents of incense and beeswax candles.

This experience was very profound for me. One of the main reasons, I think, is that recently my faith has come to a place where emotion has taken a backseat to intellect and practicality. God uses my mind to communicate with and guide me much more than He uses my emotions. This has even come to a point where emotionally driven corporate worship does not resonate with me, and does very little to help me worship God. I clearly see God move in many other ways, but this is not one of them. The Eastern Orthodox service gave me a refreshing opportunity to engage in a worship experience that was not emotionally driven, and as a result inspired me tremendously. And it gave me a deeper understanding of what it means for God to "inhabit the praises of His people"; even though this was a radically different environment and tradition from what I am used to, I could tell God was there.