A Yo Yo for Your Sake


Human Morality

Unfortunately, Christians often co-opt the Bible to justify philosophical axioms, such as, “it is good to be humble,” or, “it is wrong to boast;” “it is good to be nice,” or, “cruelty is evil.” You get the point. We take the Bible, which turns human morality on its head, and we use it to justify the way that we think people should be. But in Paul’s teaching, there is no “way to be.” On the contrary, there is a teaching to follow, and for that teaching, boasting can be as useful as humility and cruelty as helpful as kindness. Everything depends on our premise and the reference for our actions. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 10.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/4238933/marcboulos-20160825063002-9316.mp3

(Episode 136; 2 Corinthians 10); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Vicious” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

No Thanks to You

Is it possible to do something good without allowing yourself to take credit? I’m not talking about haughty expressions of socially encouraged self-deprecation. On the contrary, is it possible to do something good while knowing–with absolute certainty–that you are not good and that you do not deserve any credit? What is a selfless act? Some would say it is impossible. Thankfully, with God all things are possible. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 9.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/4175871/marcboulos-20160818050957-4654.mp3

(Episode 135; 2 Corinthians 9); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Dreamer” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

Love, Bullies and Mean Teachers



In one of my recent posts, I wrote about turning the other cheek in the grand context of war and peace. However, I still struggle with this idea on a personal level—especially when the news is filled with stories of children mistreated by parents, teachers, and peers. No parent wants their child to suffer abuse, yet, Jesus allowed himself to be abused until death. Does this same rule apply to a child? Should I expect my child to “turn the other cheek” when facing a bully or a cruel teacher? These were questions in need of answers, and so I turned to Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1-4)

There is no arguing with Paul on this question. Governing authorities exist because God allows them to exist. If we resist, we will face the consequences. There is no nuance—there is simply what is. Do what you are supposed to do and the authorities will not bother you.

But what happens when the authorities are corrupt? What do you do when the people who are there to protect you are mistreating you? No one knew the answer to this better than Christ. As I said before, he allowed himself to be abused, even until death. This is not a popular strategy—nor is it one that I am particularly fond of for my own children.

A parent’s first reaction when their child is being bullied is to assume that he or she is innocent. Our culture shields victims from any kind of shaming. While this can appear to be a good thing, it also ignores the possibility that the victim might have contributed to their own situation. This is a very touchy subject in this country—a person is all or nothing in the United States, innocent or guilty. In contrast with American culture, in the Bible, everyone is unrighteous. Period. Innocence and guilt do not factor in.  Was my child aggravating the bully? Is there something wrong with my own child’s behavior? Bullying experts do not include these questions in their lists of parenting tips. That is why everyone hates lawyers—lawyers have to ask the tough questions necessary to establish the possibility of guilt on both sides. Our culture of presumed innocence places enormous pressure on victims to maintain an ideal imposed on them by society or their parents. Children are never given space to consider how their mistakes may have contributed to their suffering. (It is important here to draw a line between normal adversity and predatory abuse. In this article, I am talking about normal adversity.)

Normal adversity consists of things like a teacher who is tough or critical or a fight on the playground. This is just life…sometimes your child will run into situations that are difficult that will inevitably bruise their ego. Not everyone is going to think our children are all sunshine and rainbows and this is a hard pill for parents to swallow. Criticism and adversity can help children grow to be better students and people. If a kid gets into an argument on the playground, or gets ridiculed and teased, it’s good for them to know that the world does not revolve around them. While as parents we have a tendency to tell our kids they are the center of the universe, it is on the playground where they learn that this is not true—sometimes they have to turn the other cheek and put others first. That is if they—and the parents—accept it.

It is tempting to point to examples of predatory abuse as a reason to shelter our children from normal, healthy conflict. As humans, we are constantly searching for the exceptions… circumstances that are unforgivable and relieve us from all culpability. For example, when I was eighteen, I was in an abusive marriage. For many years after the divorce, I assumed it was my right to treat the men in my life like crap because I had spent so much time on the receiving end of abuse. This is not what the Gospel tells us to do. I cannot control the behavior of others, but I can control my response to it. We are not judged for being abused—we are judged for our response to it. While this doesn’t mean we allow the abuser to escape the consequences for his/her actions, it does mean that we must forgive and move on. We are not eternally excused for our behavior because something bad happened to us…and this is what our children need to learn.

“Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (13:5-10)

A key theme here is respect. Respect for authority, respect for the position. I have said this before—in the military, I served under plenty of people I didn’t like. But there was always the expectation that one would respect the rank and give that person their due, even if they were a straight up jackass. I did just that—until one day a supervisor of mine went too far and I had had enough. Then I asked for a change in leadership for myself. The supervisor was reprimanded and I was put under someone else.

Turning the other cheek is not up for debate. The law is “love your neighbor.” If the person in authority is not following this law, you should not be “standing up for yourself” when you report them; you should be appealing to God’s teaching for mercy. In this situation, it is important that you do not become self-righteous about it, or oppose them just because they make you uncomfortable, or because you have a point to prove. After all, I was not much better than the supervisor who abused his power. I was doing plenty of things that I should not have been doing and I had put myself in a position to be mistreated. I felt good because I stood up for myself, which is what the world says I should do. But this was self-righteous. I thought this made me better than him. In other words, while I was right to oppose his behavior, I was wrong to stand up for myself.

The rule “love your neighbor” is the only thing worth standing up for. It covers all of the basics of the Ten Commandments and more. Don’t infringe on other people—govern yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, unless they are causing harm to the community. So when my child faces a bully at school, they do need to stand up…not for themselves, but for the teaching. Not to make people agree with the teaching, but to make sure that whatever they do serves the teaching. When a victim is asked to stand in harm’s way because other people might get hurt by a bully, this is correct. It may mean that they suffer more harm, but they are doing it out of love and for the sake of others. If you are standing up for the teaching, you are defending something more important than your ego.

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (1:11-14)

Snap out of it, Paul tells us. The day of judgment is coming, so let us follow the law and behave ourselves accordingly. Let’s not argue or bully each other or stand up for others to give ourselves a sense of inflated importance. Follow the law and submit to its teaching.

The Bus Keeps Moving



People tend to overestimate their own importance while ignoring–or at least underestimating–the value of others. This problem is keenly felt in the church at Roman Corinth, where Paul uses the success of others to realign the self-view of his disciples. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 8:16-24.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/4119722/marcboulos-20160810172052-5917.mp3

(Episode 134; 2 Corinthians 8:16-24); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Peaceful Desolation” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

True Equality is Not Fair



On some level, people recognize the importance of being fair. We know that our laws should treat people equally and we understand that no one should take more than their “fair share” from anyone else. From the moment we step on the playground as kids until the day we calculate our retirement pay, we live and operate in a world that frames equality in terms of reciprocity. But what if equality could not be achieved by fairness? Worse, what if true equality meant cheating everyone? Would we still demand equality? Fortunately, it’s not what we demand, but what St. Paul commands, that truly counts. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/4059934/marcboulos-20160804055328-4759.mp3

(Episode 133; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Secret of Tikki Island” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

The Story of God’s Will



Life coaches love to talk about having confidence in their clients and the importance of building self-worth and self-esteem. Fortunately, for the church in Roman Corinth, Paul does not view his followers as customers and he definitely does not have confidence in them. On the contrary, Paul’s boldness is in God’s teaching at work in his children. St. Paul’s hope is not in the ability of his disciples, but in the power of the teaching to manifest its fruit on its own terms. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 7:8-16.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/3995726/marcboulos-20160728064115-1722.mp3

(Episode 132; 2 Corinthians 7:8-16); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Nonstop” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!



Most leaders motivate others by boasting of their accomplishments. They talk about past goals they have achieved, they reflect on how effective they were at leading others to meet those goals, they praise others for their efforts, they explain the virtue of their future goals, and they repeat the message over and over again to motivate their teams. But what if your leader only spoke of his failures and sufferings? What would you think of him? How much confidence would you have in his leadership? What if he kept repeating his message of failure? Would you remain loyal to him? Would you follow his instructions? Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 7:1-8.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/3935521/marcboulos-20160721060048-8305.mp3

(Episode 131; 2 Corinthians 7:1-8); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Super Power Cool Dude” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

Religion or Science?


science and bible

Growing up, we were considered a religious family.  I was never sure what that meant exactly, other than we had relatives who were Orthodox priests, we went to church every Sunday and holiday, we participated heavily in church functions and we were always told to love God (and the Saints) and pray. Having a grandfather who was a priest in Palestine and a great-grandfather who founded the church in our family’s village in Egypt meant that we came from a long line of “holy” people. As I said, I was never sure what that meant.

I remember being socially indoctrinated in church.  It was who we were.  We thought about how to make it better all the time: we went to church programs, we had church dinners, we did church social activities. It seemed like our whole life revolved around church, family and religious identity.  But that’s just it, it was about church and identity–NOT the Bible, NOT any teaching. Church was like a community business project decorated with religious symbols. Even Sunday School was less about the Bible and more about the teachers themselves and their personal views and experiences. No substance.

As I matured and began to consider “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” I found the rational mind I inherited from my father was drawing me toward science and engineering.  This disposition led me to question the validity of religion and the empty loyalties we were trained to embrace as children.

As a child, I liked going to church. It was where my family and friends were. I enjoyed singing in the choir and I appreciated the social benefits.  However, by the time I started high school, I had lost interest. Time was a major factor. I also found my social needs were better met with my school friends. I didn’t really care for church anymore, and to be honest, I no longer believed in God.

Faced with social pressures in our extended family to maintain appearances (and the fact that my parents would have knocked me upside the head if I didn’t go), I continued to participate–not because I was learning and growing, but out of duty and loyalty to my family. As far as I was concerned, everything people in the church believed, ranging from absurd and fanatical to sentimental baloney, was useless at best, but mostly irrational and divorced from reality. I rejected all of it.  I knew deep down that I still needed to be good to my neighbor, but I realized that attending church was not going to help me understand what that meant.

In college, I took a class on the Old Testament.  It was taught by a Jewish professor.  I don’t remember everything from the class, but I do remember we talked a lot about the book of Job.  What was interesting to me was that this professor talked about the Bible as a piece of literature, poetry almost.  This was not the first time I had heard anyone present “the Bible as literature,” but as someone now studying chemistry and engineering, I appreciated the professor’s methodical approach. He took the Bible seriously and had the same respect for the words on the page as a scientist does for lab data. There was substance.

Around the same time, my older brother was embarking on his own journey through Orthodox Seminary. Growing up, we knew he would be a priest from a very young age.  He loved everything about church.  He loved to chant. He loved to read. He loved to be an altar boy. He loved everything about being Orthodox.  For the same reasons I rejected church, as a religious person, my brother did not make any sense to me. As a teenager, I’m sure I rolled my eyes at him often, but that was who he was and he was not concerned with anyone’s opinion. Like my scientific mindset, this trait of his was also inherited from my father.

Eventually, my brother started attending seminary, and slowly, he began to change. About 8 months into his first year, I had a phone conversation with him about religion, the Bible, the church, etc. At one point during the conversation, I remember saying to him, “This is the most logical you’ve sounded about religion since I’ve known you.” It was the first time I had a discussion about the church that did not require me to shut my brain off. He made sense. He was talking about data and describing things in such a way that my logical mind could actually comprehend.

Let’s be honest. In the modern world, science and religion do not naturally coexist.  I work in a science and research lab for a large American corporation. The majority of the people I work with are atheists, agnostics, or religious by default (i.e., their wives make them go to church).  Quite frankly, I can identify with them.  In our field, you must apply logic and reason on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, modern Christianity is communicated as the polar opposite of this discipline. The stuff that passes for religion today makes the average scientist’s skin crawl. This is what most scientists think about religion: once a week people go to church to learn how to ignore reality so that they can feel good about themselves and about life.  They don’t care to learn anything about the Bible (or anything else) unless it can be adapted to make them feel reassured about what they already believe.

I remember once having a conversation at happy hour with a woman who considered herself “religious.” She seemed proud of herself because she didn’t have to listen to “father’s sermon last week” because it was the same thing he said last year. As long as she could “check the box” that she had attended, all was good in her world.  I asked her why she went to church. Her response was “because it’s what you do.”  I asked her if she actually wanted to learn anything, and well, you can imagine the look I got.  She already knew everything her priest would say. There was nothing for her to learn, so “it was all good,” she was fine.

“It was all good.”  Ironically, this statement is also symptomatic of a common dysfunction that plagues many scientists.  Arrogance.  On average, most scientists probably have higher IQs than the general populace. Does this mean that they know everything? Does this make them wise? After more than 20 years in my field, I can tell you that scientists do not know everything and they are very often unwise. They willfully ignore data or lie about it. They steal other people’s work. In the pursuit of wealth, they can be ruthless and petty in their dealings with each other. Scientists believe that they know everything because they know something concrete and certain about a very narrowly defined area. Worst of all, like religious people, scientists gravitate toward flaky interpretations that are easily adapted to serve their personal agendas. Scientists are often as far away from the ideals of their profession as Christianity is from the teaching of Jesus Christ. But “it’s all good,” right? All I have to do is be a good person. I don’t need the Bible to tell me that, do I?

As an adult, I continue to go to church out of duty and loyalty.  I am thankful to have my brother around, through whom I discovered the writings of Fr. Paul Tarazi, an important biblical scholar who introduced my brother (and many other clergy) to the hard science of Scripture. To be honest, Tarazi’s school (which my brother calls the Antiochian school) is the only reason I still consider myself a Christian in the modern world. Now, instead of being asked to believe that the Earth was created in six days, I am challenged to be less petty, less cruel, less materialistic and much more honest with myself about the data, at work and at church. Trust me, Scripture is not a self-help program. It is not magical. It does not feel good and it is not inspirational, but it is definitely (and painfully) true.

I am by no means an expert in the Bible.  I try to learn from my brother and his colleagues about the Bible and how to live my life correctly (which I fail at every single day) and how to love others. Yes, love is an actual hard discipline, not a feeling. Loving others means serving others, or, as I am often reminded in church, in the actual words of St. Paul, love means being the “slave” of others. Ugh. The Bible’s version of love is a difficult pill to swallow. But I try to study, to grow and to learn despite my failures.  I’m thankful to have teachers available through sermons, books, podcasts. Most of all, I am thankful for the teaching.

Life is Not Gray


No Gray Areas

People resolve the tension of diversity either by clinging to fundamentalism or by embracing relativism. Unfortunately, both approaches share a desire to be right: to have the right ideas, to associate with the right people, to know who is clean and who is unclean. The relativist, like the fundamentalist, is fine with “everyone,” so long as “everyone” agrees with them that everything is relative. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul admonishes his disciples to separate “righteousness and lawlessness” but also warns the church that when God says “be separate” or don’t touch what is unclean, he is not talking about people who disagree with you.  Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 6:11-18.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/3874740/marcboulos-20160714071546-5574.mp3

(Episode 130; 2 Corinthians 6:11-18); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “District Four” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It



We human beings love having an excuse; or having the opportunity to blame someone else for our problems; or having the freedom to blame our failures on unforeseen circumstances. Unfortunately for us, according to St. Paul, no matter who you are, no matter what you do in life, no matter where you come from, no matter what is happening to you, no matter what others do to you, no matter what you think, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to remain steadfast in your trust of God’s teaching. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss 2 Corinthians 6:1-10.

Listen: http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10240/3816908/marcboulos-20160707070047-3310.mp3

(Episode 129; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10); Subscribe: http://feedpress.me/the-bible-as-literature; “Dead Drop”€ Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http:// creativecommons .org/ licenses /by/3.0/)