Sabbatical 2016 Feed

How cynical

A good excerpt from Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book 1 when he and his brother visit a funeral parlor for an appointment:

Well, not quite, for on our side, right on the edge was a box of Kleenex.  Practical of course, but how cynical it seemed!  Seeing it, you visualized all the bereaved relatives who had come here and wept in the course of the day and you realized that your grief was not unique, not even exceptional, and ultimately not particularly precious.  The box of Kleenex was a sign that here weeping and death had undergone inflation.

My Struggle: Book 1

My Struggle: Book 1My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marvelous. Of course I'm partially influenced by its reputation, but I really did enjoy it. And it's not the type of book I usually enjoy--real life reflections with little plot or story. But I guess my own recent exercise in memoir drew me to the depth of introspection. Now I'm eager to move onto the next volume.

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The day that didn't feel like a sabbatical

Sebastian up about 5:30, so I 

Cook a warm breakfast and do the dishes

Took Sebastian to daycare and ran an errand to Ace

Texted with church staff about responses to the morning's news

Mowed the lawn, weed-eated, and pruned shrubs

Packed for our upcoming trip (including doing some laundry and handwashing)

Spent more than four hours finishing laying pavers for our new back patio

Ran to pick up dinner

Did dishes again

Cleaned out the fridge

And messaged some people

Is it bed time yet?

Come, Lord Jesus

The final chapter of Sergius Bulgakov's The Bride of the Lamb is around 150 pages long and is entitled "Parousia, Resurrection, and the City of God."  The chapter contains a thorough rebuttal of penal-law eschatology (which dominates Western theology) and presents a rich and at times beautiful eschatology rooted in the doctrines developed earlier in the book.

Rejecting the penal-law notions he concludes "To frighten theologically is a fruitless and inappropriate activity.  It is unworthy of human beings, who are called to the free love of God."

All of humanity is the Body of Christ and all humanity is resurrected.  

Earlier this year my cousin debated on my Facebook page against my universalism and wasn't interested in doing any reading to inform herself about the topic.  Here is one of the great defenders of orthodox theology stating this ancient Patristic doctrine.  Universalism is nothing new.  Origen believed that even Satan would be reconciled to God (Bulgakov considers that topic and doesn't settle on an answer).  To believe that all humans are saved is an ancient and orthodox teaching of Christianity.  I'm always surprised of when something I proclaim is considered heretical when it, in fact, isn't.  There are "heresies" I do believe, universalism just isn't a heresy.

"Heaven does not exist in its fullness as long as and insofar as hell exists," he writes.

But Bulgakov's universalism has some interesting features.  

We must therefore conclude that the very separation into heaven and hell, into eternal bliss and eternal torments, is internal and relative.  Every human being bears within himself the principle of the one and the other, depending upon the measure of his personal righteousness.  Since no human being is without sin, there is no one who does not have the burning of hell within himself, even if only to a minimal degree.  Conversely, there is no human being whose soul is not illuminated by the light of paradise, even if only at a single point or by a distant reflection.

According to Bulgakov "eternity does not have any relation to time" but is a qualitative state.  "Eternity is not an inert immobility but an inexhaustible source of creative life" (thank heavens, for Dante's image at the end of Paradisio has always horrified me a little).  In the resurrected state we maintain our freedom and our creative ability, because we are the image of God.  Our encounter with the love of God will be our judgement, which is a self-judgement.  We then must expiate the sinful parts of ourselves and all will draw closer to God through the on-going process of deification, which is really becoming human in fullness.  "Creaturely eternity is becoming, growth, ascent from glory to glory."  And:

Every person has his own prot0-image, which corresponds to his personal idea.  Originally, every human being is a living work of art, the artistic image of a personal spirit that comes out of the hands of the Divine Artist, the Creator of creation.  It is in the image of these proto-images that our bodies will be resurrected.

I was reminded of Grace Imathiu's beautiful end to her sermon at the Festival of Homiletics that in the resurrection God will look at her and say, "You look like me!"

Bulgakov also rejects notions of individual salvation.  We are a communion with all humanity.  He writes:

The destiny of everyone is connected with the destiny of all; everyone is responsible for all.  One certainly cannot accept the incongruous and monstrous idea that, having received and become absorbed in their "reward," the righteous immediately forget their brothers suffering in hell. . . this banishment into the outer darkness strikes all human beings in a certain sense, though in different ways and to different degrees. . . .  Hell is therefore an affliction of all humanity.


The idea of two humankinds, divided and separated from each other at the Last Judgment, does not correspond to the fullness and connectedness of reality.  Humankind is one.


All are saved with all, just as all are condemned with all and all are responsible for all.

To love God means one must love all of humanity.  And to love humanity one must love the world we have created, which will participate in the new creation, which is not a starting over but a fulfillment of the first creation as we draw closer to whom God has always intended us to be.

A beautiful sentence ended the penultimate paragraph, "In this world, everyone finds himself with all and in all, in creation and history, in the kingdom of grace and glory, in the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit."

Then, the ultimate paragraph was an example of some of the (to liberal Protestant me) stranger ideas the book contained that didn't resonate with me, and which I've largely skipped in my blogging:

This is the most general and complete revelation that we have of the Church as humanity in Divine-humanity.  And if this is the case, then is not the Most Pure Mother of God Herself in Her glory this personal head of the Church, the personal humanity of Divine-humanity?  Is She not the Heavenly Jerusalem, which returns to earth from its heavenly home in the parousia of the Mother of God, in order to become here the spiritualized tabernacle of God with men?  Is She not Sophia herself, creaturely but entirely deified, the peak of all creation, more venerable than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim?  Is She not the glory and the joy of the saved peoples at the marriage feast of the Lamb?  Is She not that perfect union of the divine and the human in which all creation, both the angelic choir and humankind, rejoices?  She, the Spirit-Bearer, is Spirit and Bride, manifesting in Her very being the image of the hypostatic Spirit of God.  And about Her it is said in the final words of the New Testament:

"And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come.
And let him that heareth say, Come!
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"

The Bride of the Lamb

The Bride of the LambThe Bride of the Lamb by Sergei Bulgakov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A thick and dense book that requires much skimming (partly because the argument for a point will drag out far longer than necessary) but filled with some surprising ideas and a rich perspective on Christian theology.

I have enjoyed as I've carried this book to appointments when someone has asked, "What are you reading?" and I answer, "Russian theology."

Note: I've blogged about various sections as I've read the book.

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"Welcome Home"

St. John's

I had never attended an Orthodox worship service before this morning.  Since I've been reading much Orthodox theology during my sabbatical, I figured I should attend a service.  My friends Michael Heller and John Greise went with me to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, which is atop the hill just to the east of our house.

When we arrived the Matins was still underway and very few people were in the congregation.  One woman came over to the pew we had selected.  We weren't sitting, because you stand through most of the service.  She greeted us and asked what had brought us there that day.  I told her I was the Senior Minister of the First Central Congregational Church and was on sabbatical this summer, attending other churches in town.  She said, "Well, then, welcome home."

Beautiful words also rich with meaning that the Greek Orthodox are the ancient apostolic and universal church.

She then gave us pointers on the service (including that the cross above the iconostasis when lit indicated the times to stand).  She also brought us some further reading material. She was quite hospitable--any congregation would be pleased with such a member to welcome guests.  She also chatted about members of my church she knows.

The Divine Liturgy is not very participatory, though if you were Greek and grew up in the tradition, it would be easier, though most members did not follow along, even on the parts for the people.  The service was in both Greek and English and was at times difficult to follow (and I do know ancient Greek).  Much of the service is performed by the priest in the sanctuary facing away from the congregation and uttering prayers that one cannot hear, though they are printed in the worship book.

I must confess that I was underwhelmed by the service.  I had expected to be lost in the mystery of the Divine Liturgy, but that was not the case.

We went for a Greek lunch following worship.

This Week in Sabbatical News

I've obviously not had much to blog about this week.  I've continued my reading of Bulgakov and have done some writing this week.  But otherwise I've been focused on domestic projects.  I've repaired plaster in our basement stairwell ahead of painting that space at some point in the future.  And this week the materials were delivered for our back patio--a project long in the planning and finally arriving at execution.  The stairwell will lead to the new patio.  The last couple of days I've been digging out the ground where the patio will go and hopefully Michael and I can get it mostly installed during this holiday weekend.  I very much look forward to the landscaping and decorating of the backyard after the patio, though much of that will probably wait till spring 2017.


Last Sunday Michael was doing some work on the carriage doors that will enclose the bottom of our back stoop (yes, that's never been 100 % finished), so since I was in charge childcare I decided Sebastian and I would have a fun day together.  We first went to Fontanelle Forest where he enjoyed playing in the woods.  He particularly likes picking up rocks and there were so many rocks.  We then went to the Florence Mill to see chickens and ducks and buy some fresh produce at their Farmer's Market.



This morning I read an interesting article on how the Battle of the Somme, which began 100 years ago today, influenced Tolkein's great epic.  I think I'll sit on my porch a while and read some Owen and Sassoon to mark this day.


I intend to spend some time today working on my Creighton philosophy class for this autumn. I am teaching Philosophical Ideas: Foundations of Science for the first time and need to start creating my syllabus and setting up the web portal, all of which I'll be working on the next few weeks.

Pride Parade

This morning Sebastian participated in his first Pride Parade (last year he was so little and it was so very hot).  Our family walked with First Central.  Here are some photos.

Our toddlers from church. Sebastian wishing everyone a Happy Pride.  And Michael and Sebastian in front of our decorated church bus.

2016 Pride Church Toddlers
2016 Pride Church Toddlers
2016 Pride Church Toddlers

"All humankind is the body of Christ"

Bulgakov writes that the Church is creation's "inner entelechy."  Interesting.

He rejects the traditional understanding's of apostolic succession as made up, but understands why the idea developed in the early church around the Eucharist.  

Why limit the sacraments to seven? he wonders.

The Roman idea of a vicar of Christ on earth is "an obviously unsuitable conception."

He pointed out that some of the sacraments, like baptism, don't occur simply in the moment but "take place over an entire lifetime."

He agrees with Pelagius on some points, for example "To recognize that human beings, even after the fall, are capable of moving freely toward grace, or of doing the natural good, represents a positive contribution to Christian anthropology."  But he thinks Pelagius and Augustine were both one-sided and that the Western Church took a wrong turn by drawing too close to Augustine.  I agree.

Bulgakov writes, "All humankind is the body of Christ" this because "Christ's Incarnation and the Pentecost are universal."  He continues, "The Church does not judge those on the outside but keeps silent about them, leaving them to God's mercy."  And "We must say that, ontologically, these boundaries do not exist at all.  To admit them would be to limit and diminish the power of the Incarnation and of the Redemption."

The Gem

Despite my disappointment in the Saunders County Historical Museum they possessed one gem which fascinated me--a parka.

The parka was owned by Fred Hirsch from Yutan.  He served in the Spanish-American War and this was his military parka.  But Fred did something interesting with his parka--he drew pictures on it.  Pictures of what he saw in old Havana.  A fascinating piece of folk art.  Here are some photos.