30 June 2014

St. Francis of the Woods

This past weekend, Mahina and I spent time with my good friend Brad. He’s the newly appointed director of St. Francis of the Woods. It’s an ecumenical  spiritual renewal center in Coyle, Oklahoma.

On a wall in one of the several buildings on the grounds, I found a plaque that contained their mission statement:

This is a place where persons from every background are welcomed. The Chapel and the service of the Divine Liturgy signify our roots with earliest Christian traditions, and the center is named from Francis of Assisi, the most universal figure in Christian tradition other than Jesus Christ. But sincere seekers upon any of the countless spiritual paths are to share the grounds and facilities for worship, study, rest, work, service to one another, to God, and to the center.

John R. C. Adair, Sr., founder
Sept. 2, 1988

I really like this quote. It not only captures my own heart about Grace Gardens, but it’s encouraging to know that there have been others, are others, and will be others who see the world in similar ways.

Mahina and I arrived Saturday afternoon just after a torrential down-pour. It was still sprinkling when we pulled into the drive of St Francis of the Woods. Brad met us a gave us a tour of the south grounds — the small cabins, the Learning Center, the Chapel, the Library, and his home. All of it very inviting.

The Chapel was just beautiful as one comes to expect from Orthodox houses of worship.

The Learning Center has a large L shaped room with a small stage. It has a quiet little space for more intimate conversations. It also has a full kitchen. Saturday night, we met with a group who comes there every other Saturday for a potluck, watch a video, and have a discussion.

The small cabins have just the right amount of space, if you ask me, that sleeps about 4 or 5 people comfortably (you could squeeze some more on the floor in sleeping bags). It’s a great getaway spot. There are a couple of bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen. I told Mahina when we got to our cabin, “The Claire,” that I think it’s just about the perfect size for us. I could see ourselves living is such a space.

The Library was fantastic! So many old books and undiscovered resources that one could easily get lost there. There were section on Orthodoxy (of course), liturgy from various different sources, Jewish mysticism, Jung, Native American spirituality, etc. I could easily see myself spending quite a lot of time there.

That evening, a small group of us met at Brad’s place for an intimate Eucharist service. Along with Mahina and Brad, we were graced with the presence of Helen, Mary Kate, Andre, and Uncle Joe. We then joined the potlock/video discussion at the Learning Center.

The next morning, Mahina and I took a walk through the trail that leads around part of the property. It was a great little walk. We saw signs of wildlife everywhere — diggings in the soft ground because of the rain, deer tracks, a multitude of birds, and even a little turtle leading us down the trail at one point!

We got back and went up the the Chapel for morning prayer, which Brad led. It was a great little service. If one’s never been to an Orthodox service before, well, it’s quite different from a Catholic or Anglican/Episcopal service and yet, much the same. I was asked if I wanted to lead the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. As I’ve never led an Orthodox service before, I deferred until a time when I’m more comfortable with the liturgy.

We then had lunch in the Learning Center with more great conversations.

After lunch, we packed up and went back to Brad’s house. We brainstormed some ideas about retreats at St. Francis of the Woods. Here’s a short list:

  • Yoga Retreat
  • Gong Retreat
  • Introduction into Orthodoxy
  • Buddhist Dharma Talk
  • Celtic Christianity Retreat
  • Centering Prayer Retreat
  • Samhain Celebration (this would be in a Christian context)

Now, none of these are finalized and are just thoughts for now. But Brad’s hope is that many of these will flesh out and become real retreats with many more on the way.

So, if you’re needing a place to retreat from daily life, to relax and get back to nature; or, if you’re looking for a place to have your next retreat, get in touch with Brad and Saint Francis of the Woods. It’s a great place.

(405) 466-3774

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

29 June 2014

Weekly Gospel Reflection — 29 June 2014

Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me. Those who receive a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Those who receive a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.

We have a saying in the Lindisfarne Community, “To be as Christ to those we meet; to find Christ within them.” I like to think that Jesus is saying the same thing here.

What if we stopped for a moment and looked at everyone like this? That is, what if we decided to see Jesus in the face of everyone we meet? And I do mean “everyone.” As it’s election time, that would include Democrats, Republicans, voters, non-voters, members of the House, members of the Senate, the President, etc.

I also mean gay people, straight people, women people, men people, children, “red, yellow, black, and white” people.

That, too, would mean, Muslim people, Jewish people, Buddhist people, Christian people, Pagan people, non-religious people, atheist people, and agnostic people.

And let’s not forget our neighbors and strangers and service or support people.

What if we stepped back for just a moment and looked at people and saw the face of Jesus?

We would have to look past our own issues; our own “...isms.” We’d have to look past their falseness, too. We would have to look past all of the “crud” to get to the “real” them.

Or would we?

When Jesus was “tried” and tortured and killed, he was pretty much covered in crud. And it’s in the midst of that crud that we see him.

In that hurt.

In that pain.

In the passage above, Jesus talks about giving someone a “cup of cold water.” To me, that means easing someone’s suffering. It’s a very hot day. A “scorcher,” as the saying goes. People have no water. No shade. No relief. They’re suffering in unbearable situations.

And someone offers them a “cup of cold water.”

Not a sip.

Not a spash.

A cup.

Not hot water.

Not lukewarm water.

Cold water.

People are offered relief from their suffering. Jesus said that when we offer relief to another’s suffer, we’re offering that relief to him.

But let me go even further…

Let’s also be intentional about alleviating suffering and not just easing it. Let’s be about finding out what’s causing the suffering and working to end it.

And this doesn’t just mean for people. I believe that Jesus’ meaning extends to all life — non-humans and the planet, too.

We have gotten so far of course it seems. We tend to be more concerned about how uncomfortable we’ll be if we give up some things (or get too involved) instead of putting an end to unsustainable practices. As long as we get our steak or bacon, we’re not too concerned about the torture and trauma animals suffer.

Nor do we seem too concerned about the destruction of our wild places. Whether it’s deforestation or toxic pollution in our water, as long as we can maintain our current lifestyle, we’re happy.

But the call to follow Jesus isn’t about living a happy, comfortable life. The calling to follow Jesus is one of self-sacrifice. It’s the call of denying oneself in the service of others (Matthew 16.24).

But notice what happens when we serve others — we connect to the Unity within all things. That is, as Jesus said above, we serve him when we serve others. And when we serve him, we serve G‑d. Therefore, when we put aside our own ego’s we’re tapping into the Life within all life. When we serve others, we’re adding ourselves to the great golden thread that connects all life.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

25 June 2014

NT Eschatology—Conclusion

In this post, we’ll wrap up our very long series on New Testament eschatology. As we’ve seen throughout this study, the eschatology of the New Testament, by and large, finds its fulfillment within the same event Jesus warned about — the Jewish / Roman War of 66 - 70 (73) CE. It’s only when we do one of two things (or both) that the New Testament’s eschatology takes on a different meaning:

  • The Jewish / Roman War if flatly denied as a possible fulfillment.
  • When the letters are believed to have been written after the destruction of the Temple.

Now, these can be in either order and sometimes go hand in hand. Some will contend, “Well, most — if not all — of the New Testament was written after 70 CE. Therefore, they can’t be talking about that.”

Others will contend, “Well, there’s no way the Jewish / Roman War fits all the details of the warning in the New Testament. Therefore, it can’t be the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction.”

Or, a combination of both, “Well, there’s no way the war with Rome fulfills all of the warnings in the New Testament. Besides, most — if not all — of it was written after the fact. So, it’s silly to even suggest it.”

It’s when the War between the Jews and Rome is off the table do all sorts of other speculation creep up. But, as we’ve seen, the Jewish / Roman War fits within the limits set by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament.

While I haven’t mentioned it a lot, Josephus’ book, War of the Jews, reads like a commentary to the Revelation as well as other passages in the New Testament. Here are some examples:

Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain burning with fire was thrown down into the sea. A third of the sea became blood…

The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and the sea turned into blood, like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and springs of water, and they turned into blood.

...But some of them (the Jews — j+) thought that to die by their own swords was lighter than by the sea, and so they killed themselves before they were drowned; although the greatest part of them were carried by the waves, and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that the sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies; for the Romans came upon those that were carried to the shore, and destroyed them; and the number of the bodies that were thus thrown out of the sea was four thousand and two hundred. The Romans also took the city without opposition, and utterly demolished it…

...And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they (the Jews — j+) lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners everywhere, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrefied, they corrupted the air, insomuch that the misery was not only the object of commiseration to the Jews, but to those that hated them, and had been the authors of that misery. This was the upshot of the sea-fight. The number of the slain, including those that were killed in the city before, was six thousand and five hundred.

Then the winepress was trampled outside the city, and the blood came out of the winepress as high as the horses’ bridles for almost two hundred miles.

…But when they (the Romans — j+) went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were :fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is, of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching any thing. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood...

Great hailstones, about the weight of a talent, came down out of the sky on people. People blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, for this plague is exceedingly severe.

...The engines, that all the legions had ready prepared for them, were admirably contrived; but still more extraordinary ones belonged to the tenth legion: those that threw darts and those that threw stones were more forcible and larger than the rest, by which they not only repelled the excursions of the Jews, but drove those away that were upon the walls also. Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color...

The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. God remembered Babylon the great so that he gave her the wine cup of his furious anger.

WHEN therefore Titus had marched over that desert which lies between Egypt and Syria, in the manner forementioned, he came to Cesarea, having resolved to set his forces in order at that place, before he began the war. Nay, indeed, while he was assisting his father at Alexandria, in settling that government which had been newly conferred upon them by God, it so happened that the sedition at Jerusalem was revived, and parted into three factions, and that one faction fought against the other; which partition in such evil cases may be said to be a good thing, and the effect of Divine justice...

I could go on and on. If you’ve never read Josphus’ War of the Jews, I highly recommend it. In fact, I would suggest reading Revelation 6 - 19 and then the War of the Jews. It will be a mind-blowing experience! But I must caution you — the War of the Jews contains some of the most gruesome stories I’ve ever read.

Another couple of books I would recommend for those who want to study more:

Kenneth Gentry, The Book of Revelation Made Easy, American Vision, 2009.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1. The World English Bible (WEB) is in the Public Domain. That means that it is not copyrighted. However, “World English Bible” is a Trademark.

18 June 2014

NT Eschatology—Letters 16

As we wind down this series, we’re finishing up our look at the book of Revelation. In this post, we’re looking at a very difficult passage. One that’s been muddled by a lot of strange speculation and mischievousness. And while it can be overwhelming, I want to just touch on a couple of things.

[And] I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads. Each of its horns was decorated with a royal crown, and on its heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard. Its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave it his power, throne, and great authority. One of its heads appeared to have been slain and killed, but its deadly wound was healed. So the whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. They worshipped the dragon because it had given the beast its authority. They worshipped the beast and said, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

The beast was given a mouth that spoke boastful and blasphemous things, and it was given authority to act for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to speak blasphemies against G‑d. It blasphemed G‑d’s name and his dwelling place (that is, those who dwell in heaven).

It was also allowed to make war on the saints and to gain victory over them. It was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All who live on earth worshipped it, all whose names hadn’t been written—from the time the earth was made—in the scroll of life of the Lamb who was slain. Whoever has ears must listen: If any are to be taken captive, then into captivity they will go. If any are to be killed by the sword, then by the sword they will be killed. This calls for endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints...

This calls for wisdom. Let the one who understands calculate the beast’s number, for it’s a human being’s number. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.

First, contrary to popular opinion, this passage does not refer to our time and computer chips placed on the “right hand” or the “forehead.” As we’ve seen time and time again, the eschatology of the New Testament points to the time of the War between the Jews and the Romans (66-70/73 CE). Therefore, our first place of inquiry should be to that event. In other words, can this passage (and the rest of Revelation) find fulfillment there?


But, like the warning says, “this calls for wisdom.”

The overall question before us in this passage is who is the “beast”?

The monster described here (and later on in chapter 17) has a number of characteristics. We’ll only touch on a few of these.

First, we’re told that the monster rises from the sea. That is, it’s understood to be a foreign power (the “land” beast in the following passage is the domestic representative of this monster) from the viewpoint of John.

Second, it’s reign is limited to “forty-two months.” That is, the monster’s persecution of the “saints” is limited to roughly three and a half years.

Lastly, the monster is said to be an actual person. To help identify the monster, it’s been given a number representing it’s name.

So, who could this monster be?

The monster who ruled the known world at the time was Rome. The person who was the embodiment of Rome was it’s king — Nero Caesar.1

Second, Nero was the first emperor to persecute Christians. This persecution started in 64 CE and lasted until his death in 68 CE, roughly three and a half years.

The infamous “mark of the beast” in verse 18 is actually a reference to another passage in the Bible — Ezekiel 9. There, Ezekiel has a great vision:

Then in my hearing he (the “glory of Israel’s G‑d,” Ezekiel 8.1-4; CEB) called out loudly: Draw near, you guardians of the city, and bring your weapons of destruction! Suddenly, six men came from the Upper Gate that faces north. All of them were holding weapons of destruction. Among them was another man who was dressed in linen and had a writing case at his side. When they came in and stood beside the bronze altar, the glory of Israel’s G‑d rose from above the winged creatures where he had been and moved toward the temple’s threshold. [Yahweh] called to the man who was dressed in linen with the writing case at his side: Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and mark the foreheads of those who sigh and groan because of all the detestable practices that have been conducted in it. To the others he said in my hearing: Go through the city after him, and attack. Spare no one! Be merciless! Kill them all, old men, young men and women, babies and mothers. Only don’t touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary. So they began with the men, the elders in front of the temple. He said to them: Make the temple unclean! Fill the courts with the slain! Go! And they went out and attacked the city.

I know this is a harsh passage and it’s hard for some of us to swallow. But there’s no doubt that John’s alluding to it in Revelation 13. But in John’s version, the marking is reversed. In both places, the mark represents one’s allegiance — in Ezekiel, it’s to Yahweh (cf. Revelation 14.1); in Revelation, it’s to the beast. But where does that allegiance lie? The allegiance would be with Rome and it’s Emporer. And that’s exactly what we find in John’s gospel.

In John 19, Jesus has been flogged and brought before Pilate. Pilate and the Jewish leaders have an argument about what to do with Jesus. It gets pretty heated.

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus away.

Back to the mark. Notice that it can be either the “beast’s name” or “the number of its name.”

Stop and think about that for a moment.

When was the last time we ever heard a sermon or saw a book written about someone being marked by the name of the beast? I don’t know about you, but I never have. Everyone’s just going on and on about the “number.”

To figure out who the beast is, we’re told, “calls for wisdom.” The wisdom is that the beast’s number is actually “a human being’s number.” And that number is “six hundred sixty-six.”

“Six hundred sixty-six,” not six, six, six. That’s important. To figure out how all of this works we have to get a little deep. Some of this may be too much for some of us, but let’s hang on. It pays off (at least it did for me when I was initially studying it).

This type of riddle is known as gematria. Gematria is an ancient system that assigned numbers to letters. A good example of this is the Roman Numeral system. In that system we see that the letter I equals 1; V equals 5; X equals 10; and so forth. In his book, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation,3 Ken Gentry sites several examples of how gematria was used. On page 195, he writes:

In Suetonius’s Lives of the Twelve Caesars we have recorded an interesting cryptogram from the first century. In the midst of his Latin history, Suetonius records a sample of a Greek lampoon that was circulated after the burning of Rome: Νεόψηϕον· Νέρων ἰδίαν μητέρα ἀπέκτεινε (“A calculation new. Nero his mother slew.”). It is interesting to note that “the numerical value of the Greek letters in Nero’s name (1005) is the same as that of the rest of the sentence; hence we have an equation, ‘Nero=the slayer of one’s own mother’.”

On the same page, he quotes another example, this time from the Sibylline Oracles:

Then indeed the son of the great G‑d will come,
incarnate, likened to mortal men on earth,
bearing four vowels, and the consonants in him are two.
I will state explicitly the entire number for you.
For eight units, and equal number of tens in addition to these,
and eight hundreds will reveal the name.

Gentry states, “As the translator notes: ‘Iesous [Jesus] has a numerical equivalence of 888’.”

So, how does “six hundred sixty-six” equal to Nero Caesar (Νερων Καισαρ)? Well, it doesn’t — not in Greek.

But in Hebrew...it matches it perfectly. So why would John use Hebrew instead of Greek? J. Stuart Russell, in his momentous work, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry Into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, explains it thusly:

But if this had been all that was necessary (deciphering the beasts name from Greek — j+), the name would have lain upon the surface, patent and palpable to the dullest apprehension. It would have required neither wisdom nor understanding to read the riddle. The reader must try another method. St. John was a Hebrew, and though he wrote in Greek characters, his thoughts were Hebrew, and the Hebrew form of the Imperial name and title was familiar to him and to his Hebrew-Christian friends both in Asia Minor and in Judea. It might not unnaturally occur to the reflecting reader to calculate the value of the letters which expressed the emperor's name in Hebrew. And the secret would stand disclosed :

נ = 50
ק = 100
ר = 200
ס = 60
ו = 6
ר = 200
נ = 50

 +        360 = 666

Here, then, is a number which expresses a name; the name of a man, of the man who, of all then living, best deserved to be called a wild beast: the head of the Empire, the master of the world; claiming to be a G‑d, receiving divine honours, persecuting the saints of the Most High; in short, answering in every particular to the description in the apocalyptic vision.4

Incidentally, the Lamsa Bible, an english translation of the Peshitta (the Aramaic Bible) by George Lamsa, agrees with the above rendering:

This number represents  the Aramaic letters which spell Nero Caesar, namely 50, 200, 6,  50, 100, 60, 200 (note 1; page 1235).

There should be little doubt. As we’ve seen time and time again, the events depicted in the Revelation do not concern our times. Nor, as some people insist, do not concern the fall of the Roman Empire. How could they? John wrote that the visions he saw “must soon take place” (Revelation 1.1) because the “time [was] near” (Revelation 1.3).  The fall of the Roman Empire was several hundred years in the future from when this letter was written. As we’ve seen, the Revelation is about the then soon coming war between the Jews and the Romans.

Well, I think that about does it for this post. Click here for the conclusion of this series.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1. The reference to the beast causing fire to come down from heaven may be a (not-so-slight) reference to the fires in Rome — the ones that Nero blamed on the Christians.

2. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

3. There are online versions available, too. Please note, however, that there are some rendering issues. You can find a PDF version and an HTML version here.

4. J. Stuart Russell, Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Baker Books, New Edition, 1999), pg. 464. This is probably the best book I’ve ever read on the subject at hand. You can read an online version at Google Books.

5. George M. Lamsa, Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text (Harper & Row, 1985), pg. 1235. This version is available online here. However, I could only find Lamsa’s notes in the printed version.