“One night the Master led his disciples into the open fields and a star-studded sky. Then, pointing toward the stars, he looked at the disciples and said, ‘Now concentrate on my finger, everyone.’ They got the point.”(Anthony DeMello, One Minute Nonsense, 135)
In another story DeMello is less subtle about his meaning: “When the sage points to the moon, all that the idiot sees is the finger” (Ibid., 132).
In some sense these two little stories put in context all the previous articles of this series about the Nicene Creed. They also offer us a warning. We must be careful that we do not mistake the Creed for the Reality to which it points, directs, and guides us. The Creed is a symbol of our faith, pointing beyond itself to Continue reading “We Do Not Believe in the Nicene Creed”
For most of us, I suspect, there are moments when the existential questions of life can no longer be answered, ignored, or denied by focusing on our careers, jobs, marriages, families, acquisitions, or accomplishments. Who am I? What is my purpose? What have I really accomplished? How will I be remembered? Will I even be remembered? Where is all this going and what’s it about?
Some will simply chalk it up to a mid-life crisis or the frustrations and difficulties of life. Others will try to reinvent themselves. In those moments we face our own mortality, the passing of time, and the limitations of this world. That we are finite, biological creatures with a beginning and an end, becomes more clear. These are “spiritual” moments par excellence. At the heart of these moments are our longing and yearning for life, not just life as we know it, more of the same, but a life we can scarcely imagine let alone obtain for ourselves.
Every time we say the Nicene Creed we profess the world’s greatest scandal. God chose to become human. God chose to reveal himself through flesh and blood. God chose to enter this world in the usual way, to be born of a human mother the same as you and I were. God chose to live and die as one of us. God chose death as the way to new life. God chose to seat humanity at his right hand. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of this scandal.
The world is full of scandals: moral failings, political debacles, sexual infidelities, economic disasters. The list could go on and on. Scandals come in all sorts, shapes, and sizes. They are the subject of headline news, the content of editorials and opinions, and the topics of gossip, blogs, posts, and tweets. Human nature, human flesh, and human blood are at the heart of every scandal. It is the scandal of being human. The question is, from whose perspective do we view the scandal of being human? Ours or God’s? The perspective we choose, the one we most trust, will orient our relationship with God and determine the way we live and treat one another.
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”
With just twenty-one words the Nicene Creed describes God. Twenty-one words? That’s it? Surely there is more that can be said about God. I suspect there is. Maybe, however, that’s not the question. Maybe the better question is, “At what risk do we say more?” Let’s not forget God’s question to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2)?
How, then, do we talk about God when God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)? Very carefully. Otherwise we risk imaging God and creating an idol with our words and thoughts.
Someone once asked an old hermit, “Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?” “No,” he said. “I prefer to share him with others.”
There is wisdom in the hermit’s words. The Christian life is not about “me and my Jesus.” That’s too small, too easy, and too risky. It can quickly degenerate into “Sheilaism.” In his book, Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah writes of a woman, Sheila, who had taken various beliefs from here and there and constructed a private religion she named Sheilaism. It left her isolated from a community of faith, outside a sacred Tradition, and free to believe a thousand different things before lunchtime on any given day.
The following article was originally written for Reflections Online and published by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. It is the second in a series on the Nicene Creed. Part 1 may be found here.
The earliest creedal statements were short professions of faith, often reflected local concerns, and were not necessarily concerned with uniformity of expression. Within the various statements, however, points of agreement were grounded in the Jesus story. Perhaps, the earliest statement is, “Jesus is Lord.” By the end of the second century such statements were steadily moving toward an increasingly standard expression of the faith.
However, the creeds were never intended to be exclusive or exhaustive doctrinal statements. They are, rather, a concise, formal, and authorized statement of basic beliefs about God. They do not offer details of Jesus’ life, teachings, or miracles. They respond to bigger questions. Who is Jesus? How did he enter this world? How did he leave this world? The creeds point us to the gospels for more details. The creeds simply state a truth rather than explaining the details of that truth. They state what is rather than how it is. The “how it is” is experienced in Continue reading “Who Believes? The Nicene Creed, Part 2”
I can believe a thousand different things by lunchtime on any given day. “I believe the world is round.” “I believe the sky is falling.” “I believe I’ll have the enchilada plate, thank you.”
Some of my beliefs are grounded in facts and reality. Others are based on fears, wounds, and losses. And still others arise from my own imagination, desires, and the reality I create in my head. If I am honest, I must also admit (confess) that sometimes my beliefs depend on where I am, who I am with, and the circumstances in which I find myself.
Some beliefs and truths, however, are so critical, so important, so integral to our existence and relationships that they are worth holding onto and repeating over and over. Take, for instance, the words “I love you.” How many times have we spoken those words to our children, our spouse, our parents, siblings, friends? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? We say the same three words day after day; perhaps even several times per day. There’s not much novelty or innovation to them. They are the same old words Continue reading “Repetitious Believing – The Nicene Creed, Part 1”