Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Christian Orthodoxy is a broad stream

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The other day I summed up the question most recently engaging my thoughts this way:

Are these thoughts of you-only-get-one-chance-and-it's-here-on-earth-and-if-you-blow-it's-hell-forever-for-you the only thing that's ever been taught by the Christian church since it's inception?

On that day I looked a bit at what a church father named Origen Adamantus had to say.

In the book entitled The Early Christian Fathers by Henry Bettenson, I found some quotes by another early church father named Titus Flavius Clemens Alexandrius (Clement of Alexandria). I found the information regarding Clement of Alexandria on the site Catholic online to be informative. In around 180, Clement met Pantaenus in Alexandria. Pantaenus taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement studied under Pantaenus, and was ordained to the priesthood by Pope Julian before 189. These comments of Clement's especially interested me:

"the goodness of God is proved, and the power of the Lord, to save with justice and equity displayed to those who turn to him, whether here or elsewhere. For the energizing power does not come only on men here; it is operative in all places and at all times."

These statements from him show that Clement was of the thought that individuals can come to God while here on earth or in the afterlife. 

St. Augustine's comments against universalist thought show me that the belief was common in his time. In "All Shall Be Well" Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann by Gregory MacDonald, I found this quote from Augustine:

"In vain, then, that some, very many, moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, uninterrupted torments of the lost, and say that they do not believe it shall be so; not, indeed, that they directly oppose themselves to the Holy Scripture, but at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give them a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true. For, "Has God" they say, "forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up His tender mercies?"

St. Augustine is arguing against the "very many" of faith who were universalists.  He was saying that they do on oppose themselves to the Bible, but that they see it differently than he did.

The example of the beliefs of Clement of Alexandria, and the arguments of St.  Augustine, show me that there were those in the stream of orthodox Christianity from its beginning who held to universalist beliefs.

Universalism as theologoumena

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I learned a new term today - theologoumena.

I've felt so alone in my recent quest; these thoughts in my heart that the good news is good because it is through the cross that God will bring everyone to Himself.  These ideas that hell does not necessarily mean torment for all of eternity; it may be time limited if the sufferer chooses to repent and come to God. I've been blessed in this belief journey because my husband John has been searching out these same topics.  We've been able to bounce ideas off each other and share references.  I've struggled however, that these thoughts put me outside of the Christian church as I've experienced it these first 55 years of my life.

I came across the word theologoumena while reading from the book "All Shall Be Well" Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann by Gregory MacDonald.

To my great delight I read these statements by MacDonald today:

"Universalism, I suggest, occupies a middle ground between dogma and heresy. It is neither a teaching that all orthodox believers are expected to adhere to (in the way that the Trinity, or the union of deity and humanity in the one person of Christ are), nor one that they must avoid at all costs. Perhaps the most appropriate category to employ is that of theologoumena.  Theologoumena are pious opinions that are consistent with Christian dogmas. They are neither required or forbidden. To see universalism in the category of theologoumena means that one can not preach universalism as "the Christian view" or "the faith of the church", but it also means that one may believe in it and that one may develop a universalist version of Christian theology".

"When I say that universalism is theologoumena I mean simply that it is an issue about which Christians can legitimately disagree within the boundaries of orthodoxy".

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Good News?!

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It kind of sucks when you've grown up in the Christian church and have come to believe something different than today's mainstream Christian church.  Yet I find myself in that very situation.  Nonetheless I still love the church, adore coming together to worship with others who follow Christ, and will never leave my faith.

I'm just coming to see some things differently.

I've never been comfortable with this whole idea of hell presented in the American Christian church.  It's never made sense to me that the very God who sent His son to die for all humanity and who loves us so very much, would stop at the moment we die. He loves you today, but if you've not chosen to come to Him and happen to get in a car accident and die - well then it's too late now, you'll burn forever in eternal torment in hell. Or what about the people who grow up in countries where the dominant religion is anti-Christianity?  They've been steeped in lies and are somehow expected to break free of all that and come to Jesus; if they aren't able to, then eternal torment in hell will be theirs.  That's just never made sense to me. Our lives on this planet earth are so brief in the scheme of eternity.

In the past I've just chosen to ignore all that and figure that God is good and trustworthy and I'll trust Him to figure it all out.  But my heart in recent years has gravitated toward the writings of Bible scholars, speakers, and thinkers who look at the Bible differently in regard to Hell.  I'm attracted to those writers who believe that the cross truly was a cosmic event that saved the world.

I've always believed that if someone extrapolates something different from historic Christian tradition, that it is probably wrong.  My thought has been that if centuries of Christians have interpreted the Biblical texts a specific way, why would they all be wrong? Those centuries of Believers have all had the Holy Spirit within them - so why would they all be wrong? Since these thoughts of universalism aren't what the American church teaches, it has put me in a quandary.

So I've started searching.  Are these thoughts of you-only-get-one-chance-and-it's-here-on-earth-and-if-you-blow-it's-hell-forever-for-you the only thing that's ever been taught by the Christian church since it's inception?

It's this question that has led me to a book entitled The Early Christian Fathers that has been edited and translated by Henry Bettenson.  This book includes selections of writings from individuals who are considered Church Fathers.  One such individual is Origen Adamantius. As you can see from the article I've linked here to Origen's name, he was a controversial figure. Yet he wrote an incredible volume of scholarly works, he was a profound student of the Bible, and an unquestionable Christian philosopher. He was born around 185 AD.  So when I read his writings, I'm reading from someone who participated in church life on the heels of our Savior's death and resurrection.

It's interesting to note that he lived and wrote earlier than Augustine. Augustine  began the tradition that Calvin amplified and expounded.  Those ideas imply that only some people are chosen by God; and those chosen people will come to God through no work of their own.  Yet these same ideas propose that some people are not chosen by God and so are destined for eternal torment.  Jesus said He came to bring the good news - this is not good news!  I'm thinking it is good news that Jesus died for ALL of humanity and will eventually restore all people unto Himself.  When I look at a scripture such as Philippians 2:9-11 stating that the day will come when everyone will call Jesus Lord, along side of the verse from 1 Corinthians 12:2-3 that shows that only the Holy Spirit can allow you to proclaim Jesus is Lord, I become more convinced that indeed Jesus will bring all people to Himself.

There's a segment from one of Origen's writings that has captured my attention and captivated my thoughts.  It is in the part of the book where Origen has been discussing final things, and the final judgement.  Then he says :

"We suppose that the goodness of God will restore that the whole creation to unity in the end, through Christ, when his enemies has been subdued and overcome...(2)...The human race...will be restored to the unity promised by the Lord Jesus...[John Xvii. 22, 23]...(3)...Whether any of those orders [viz. the opposing powers] who act under the devil's leadership...will be able in some future ages to be converted to goodness, inasmuch as they still have the power of free will; or whether a persistent and inveterate evil becomes the long habit their very nature, I leave to the reader's judgment: whether that part of creation will be utterly sundered from the final unity and harmony and not be restored in the present ages of time 'which are seen' nor in the ages of eternity 'which are not seen'. Meanwhile both in time and in eternity all these beings are dealt with in due order and proportion according to their deserts; so that some are restored in the first ages, some in later, some even in the last times; restored through greater and heavier punishments, and penalties of long duration which are endured perhaps through many ages....(4)...[the end of matter.] If the 'heavens will be changed' 5, what is changed certainly does not perish; and if 'the fashion of the world passes' 6 this does not mean utter annihilation but a kind of change of quality.....[cf Isa lxvi.22]...In the end 'God will be all in all'7."

I've linked the footnotes to the verses they represent above as well as those places where he wrote in the reference. (Throughout this post, any time you see colored writing it either links to Bible references or related information). What fascinates me about Origin's thoughts here is this idea that there are the first ages, later ages, and last times.  He seems to present the idea that people may go through punishment after death and at some point realize that they were wrong, repent, and come to God.  This opens up the possibility that eventually everyone will come to Christ.

Opening up my mind to the possibility that the Bible might be teaching that Jesus died for everyone and that all humanity will eventually be reconciled to Him, has changed me.  Having these ideas in my mind makes me feel differently toward people.  There are no more outsiders and insiders.  I have more of a feeling of us all being in this business of life together.  I have a more patient approach to people; a calmness that they will eventually get there.  I Experience a deep inner happiness to think that these people who I like and am interacting with who are not of faith will eventually get there.  This is really good news!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What about when the "right thing" is not so clear?

I hear so much talk about doing the right thing.

Sometimes I find that the right thing is not crystal clear.

My current series of dilemmas in this arena revolve around my work. I have been a nursing home administrator for this facility almost a year. Since I came there have been things that our director of nursing services (DON) does that I do not think are right. These areas of concern involve documentation, interpersonal dealings and honesty.  To my knowledge she is basically good and decent with regard to patient care.  The owner of this building is wholly dedicated to the DON and over the top favors her.

So far I've just tried to deal with her and the situations created to the best of my ability. I've basically sucked up any feelings that I have, and made life work.  I'm constantly working to be strategic and put systems in place that will result in a lack of need for the DON to do things I'm uncomfortable with in regard to documentation. She fights me regarding these systems.  It appears that she has a need to be a savior when things are wrong. I know this sounds crazy, but it's like she does not want things to run smooth and correct, because then she won't be needed to swoop in and save the day through questionable means.  She apparently wants all to know how much she is needed and how much she does for the facility and owner.

I've been praying and praying about the situation.  I've sought to stay grateful for my job and be positive. I do love the business, the leaders with whom I work, many of the staff I've gotten to know, and the fact that we can make a positive difference in people's lives every day.

But I have a lot of questions.  I'm the administrator, it's my license on the wall, this is the building that I'm running for the owner. If this facility is not run right it is to my shame.  I am accountable.  So daily I pray and ask for God to make me smarter than I am. For God to give me wisdom and favor and the ability to set things right and run a good operation.  One where patients and staff alike are treated good and where we are righteous in our actions.

Yesterday things came to a head for me.

There is an evaluative tool used in nursing homes called MDS. The MDS is the hub of patient treatment. Starting in October 2015, in addition to the annual and nursing 3.2 annual surveys from the department of public health, there will be an annual MDS survey.  Auditors will be coming in and making sure that we are following the Medicare guidelines correctly.  In view of the upcoming MDS surveys, my company is holding a 2-day training for MDS staff.  I set up for our 3 MDS staff to attend this training.  My DON left on a vacation this past Thursday.  Before she left she told me that she thought only 1 MDS staff should attend the training and then come back and train the other staff.  I explained that my boss had directed that all 3 attend and that I was in agreement.

Yesterday one of these MDS staff came to me.  She explained to me that the DON had told her that she is her direct supervisor and that she is, under no circumstances, to go to that training.  She directed this MDS person to call in sick those days and then say she got to feeling better, so then go ahead and come in to work at the facility.  She came to me because she said she feels in a quandary; she doesn't want to lie to me but she doesn't want to get in trouble with the DON. She said that we both how this DON is, and that she'll make her life miserable if she doesn't obey her. As I listened the MDS woman began opening up and talking more and more.  It was one of those situations where once she opened up and started talking, she just kept going; it was as if the flood gates were open.

What came out were how afraid she feels of losing her job.  She feels like the DON has made her create inaccurate documentation to make the facility look better.  She knows that as a licensed nurse she is responsible for her actions, yet she needs this job.  She started here around 15 months ago.  Within the first month of employment the DON came to her and asked to borrow $1,500.  She said that she couldn't afford to give her the money but really needed the job so she went ahead and did it.  She had her husband come to the facility when she loaned the DON the money and she's written up a contract that the three of them signed that stated re-payment terms.  She related that the DON was much slower than the re-payment terms but she did finally repay her.

As I listened to this MDS person, I remembered something recently told to me by my supervisor. My supervisor's sister works for me. Not long ago this sister told my supervisor that the DON had borrowed $1,000 and never paid it back.  My employee would not allow her sister (my supervisor) to take action against the DON.  Recently the DON borrowed $1,000 again from the sister. My supervisor told her sister to stop giving the DON money.  The sister said she feels that she must to keep her job. The sister and the DON come from a developing nation where things such as this are allowed.

There's another money situation in regard to this DON.  It involves me.  Within 2 weeks after I started  I was with my supervisor and the owner in the DON's office one day.  The DON told a very sad story regarding another staff person in the building.  The DON said that this person's husband was abusive and she needed to get away from him.  She said that this person needed $4,000 to move out and get started in a new location away from the husband. She asked the owner to front the staff person that money.  The DON explained that the staff person would pay back $500 each payday so that the money would be repaid in 4 months. The owner explained that, as a business owner, he could not do this.  He said it would set a precedent and if he did it for this person, he would have to do it for another. Somehow the three of them all ended up looking at me.  I kind of laughed and asked if they expected me to front the money.  The room was quiet.  So I went and got the $4,000 out of my personal bank account.  The person who allegedly received the loan paid me back $2,000 over the next 5 months and then stopped.  She said that I needed to talk to the DON about the other $2,000.  I got the feeling that the DON had only given this staff person $2,000 and that the DON had kept the other $2,000.  I talked to the owner about it in January 2015 and he said he'd pay me back the $2,000.  I talked with my supervisor about it in February, and she said she'd get the money for me.  I talked with the owner about it again in May 2015. In June the check for the $2,000 was sent to the DON instead of me.  It arrived on a day when I had the day off.  She went and cashed the check.  When I asked my supervisor about it she asked the owner who said the money went to the DON in error.  I asked why the owner didn't just get the money back from the DON and my supervisor said that he thought it would cause problems.  I told her that is his issue but I still need my money back.  My supervisor promised me she'd get it for me.  On July 9, 2015  the owner and my supervisor came to the facility.  After they left my supervisor came back and gave me $1,000 that she said was from the owner and she promised that the other $1,000 is coming.

This means there are three money situations that I know about. How many are there that I don't know about?

Yesterday my feelings of guilt and responsibility overwhelmed me as I listed to this MDS person.  What am I doing here?!  I have a responsibility toward my staff and the patients to run a righteous business.  So I called my boss.  I told her the whole story.  I've mentioned things to her about this DON previously but this time I gave details. I explained how grateful I am for this job.  I told her that with my license comes a responsibility.

My boss was distressed by what I said.

She, like me, has been uncomfortable about this DON. Yet we both struggle due to the owner's total favor and commitment toward her.  I told my supervisor that I've told my husband before that I've known that if it comes down to being between my DON and me, it's me that will be gone.  I recognize how the owner feels.  I'm the 7th or 8th administrator at this facility in 3 years.  I've been here 11 months at this point and have outlasted them all,...but still....I can be gone in a heartbeat.  Yet, when everything is all said and done, I'm obligated to do the right thing.  I can't let my staff suffer and not do something about it.  I choose to do what I think is right and trust God.  My supervisor said she'd get me a meeting with the owner and herself.  She also mentioned something about the company attorney being there to help problem solve how to handle the DON situation.

My prayer is that this meeting will actually take place.
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