Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The whim of God and all of his Solomon's

Recently I've come more and more to the conclusion that God likes to blow away my idols for me. The OT is so instructive in this: Build Him a Temple, say He lives on a mountain, try to name Him, you're just setting yourself up for the fall. God will be present when he will be present. He gave to his priests insane rules - sacrifice this chicken like this and no entering this space without a metallic vestment... it's just crazy. God's craziness comforts me, it reminds me that I don't know so much afterall. I want to quantify and qualify, but God will not be trapped. I try to make myself a Temple for God, but of course being the man I am, I cannot help but begin to think that my temple will be his sole and primary dwelling place. Solomon tried this as well, and like Solomon I "build a house for God, and my own house next to it, slightly larger". But God will not be housed by the Wise Solomon, and he will not be housed by me either. As CS Lewis put it so wonderfully "He is not a tame Lion."

I find a great kinship with the figure of Solomon. My life is a blessing and curse of my own design. At times I think I show a great deal of insight and wisdom, but then I come to the conclusion that it was my own, and my fall and those around me is assured. I desire the foreign idols and the foreign women, but God sees the idolatry in my heart, even when it is hidden from the world. He bids me keep his ways, and he will establish my house forever, but I am not David, I have trouble repenting, and I cannot do it. The raging storm will cram the scroll down the mouth of another Ezekiel and I will be humbled yet again. My Temple will be destroyed, and I will bemoan what I have lost concluding that All is vanity, but realizing that there is Nothing New Under The Sun - myself included.

"Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. "My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children's children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore."

- Ezekiel 37.21-28

Monday, February 27, 2006

turn the page

It's funny as you get older (not old, just older) how your perception of permanence and value changes. Once if someone entered and/or left my life then whole thing seemed to have a kind of poetic dramatic element to it. If a friend, even a relatively new one, moved away or declared themselves to no longer be a friend, there was a feeling of loss - lost time, lost emotion, lost expectation - as if you'd shared part of yourself openly only to have it be a bust.

Now people can be invested and divested, imbued and disimbued with meaning with relative ease. I think it's a testament to how callous we are, or perhaps just that I am. But, we cannot escape all parts of our culture, and certainly this one functions as a coping aid in a variety of situations. It's a fine line between maturity/reality and simply not caring anymore. I cannot say that the lines do not blur my vision - perhaps more often than not.

I've been down this road once or twice before, and the directions remain the same, there's a sign post up ahead, and I know what it says, it can't open my eyes. As for destiny, I do not believe it is the God of Love. God heardened the heart of this Saul a long time ago, and the hardened will not listen. He will never listen. He cannot hear it. We cannot hear Him, however much we think we can.

Here I am, on the road again
here am, up on the stage,
There I go, playing star again,
There I go, turn the page.

-Bob Seger

Sunday, February 26, 2006


"Never has so much been written about so little for so few."
- Fr. Alexander Schmemann, former Dean of St. Vladimir's seminary (in a book review).

What a total classic... I'm filing that one away from use down the road. I pray that it is never said of my work.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Some Really Interesting insights on Pope Benedict XVI and Orthodoxy

It's not secret that Pope Benedict is the most Orthodox-friendly Pope for generations, possibly centuries. This report is really thorough and hopeful in tone. I've highlighted some of the key parts below.


1. While still a brilliant theologian at the university, he endeared himself to the separated Eastern Orthodox with his famed "Ratzinger Formula." In Graz (1976), the Roman Church dogmatician shocked the ecumenical world by declaring that "what was possible during a whole millennium can Christianly not be impossible today." Consequently, "on the doctrine of the primacy (of the papacy), Rome must not require more from the East than what was formulated and lived out during the first millennium"--that is, prior to the 1054 Great Schism.
Ratzinger later clarified that his 1976 statement was not meant as a mere chronological return, but as a mutual commitment to confess the essential doctrinal consensus that had emerged as the ecclesial heritage of the first seven ecumenical councils of the undivided early church (through II Nicaea, 787).

2. Also on the positive side was the widely overlooked but significant fact that the papal encyclical begins intentionally with a restatement of the "fundamental contents of the Christian faith." Significantly, here John Paul II confesses the Nicene Creed in its Conciliar-approved original form (Constantinople, 381) — without, repeat without, the infamous clause, "and the Son" (filioque).

The Christological affirmation of the "filioque" clause was added unilaterally at Rome only later, in 447, by Pope Leo I. Still later, again without dialogue with Orthodoxy, a Roman Council approved the amended form of the creed for the Latin Mass. The resulting change in faith and worship has officially divided Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Trinitarians for most of the past fifteen centuries. The Greek East confesses that within the Holy Trinity, the Spirit proceeds from the Father; the Latin West confesses that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

We may prayerfully recall the striking metaphor used frequently by John Paul II to pose the enormous challenge now faced reciprocally by both these worldwide communions:
Ever since 1054, Western Christendom has been breathing on only one lung.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pope Benedict's Christmas Encyclical

MM, thanks for Pope Benedict's first Papal Encyclical. I loved it. As usual he shows a deft ability to integrate various aspects of Christian Theology. He does those of us from apostolic traditions proud. It's rare that such an insightful theologian is the leader of the Catholic Church. Just look at the man's biography! (for those interested, MM posted the web address on my previous post). He makes an excellent argument for one of my recurring points - we need to use our language more carefully and precisely. A prof here at seminary has definately gotten me to see this more clearly.

Here are some parts that really struck me as gems:

"The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!”.[3] Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love —eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur."

"Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized."

"As a community, the Church must practise love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community."

"The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human."

"It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work. Clearly, the Christian who prays does not claim to be able to change God's plans or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Ahh, just finished my second day of strenuous workout since getting back from fat-accumulation (aka: Christmas) Break. This day was a 40 minute run staggered at 2 minute intervals of alternating walking and running pace. The first twenty minutes was a turning back and forth between 2 minute bursts of brisk jogging and leisurely walking. The second twenty I used to gradually work up my running speed until the last 2 minute burst was 9 mph. Total was right around 4 miles in 40 minutes. Certainly not my early college competative best of a 17:52 5-K. Then again, I'm twice the man I was back then, in all kinds of ways. Definately going to fix that.

I remembered all the army running songs that my dad taught me back when I decided in 9th grade to start playing football. We'd head out at 5:30am before he went to work, go down to Carol-Ann Cross park. Dad never insisted that I be good at sports, but he wouldn't have his son be anything but his best. We started by running 1K and walking 4K. Each week we shifted one Kilometer from the walking to the running category until I could run three miles with relative ease. I can still remember the moist new-morning dew smell of Arkansas in the summer. Plenty hot, and even more humid. Lungs struggling to get another breath, just like breathing with my face atop a humidifier. My dad still plugging along, singing the songs from his younger days when he was an officer in the 3rd Infantry. "I want to be an airborne ranger, live a life of total danger, I want to go to Vietnam, I want to kill some Charlie-Kong, am I right or wrong? You're right! Am I weak or strong? You're strong! Sound off! One Two! Sound Off! Three Four!..." okok I'll stop. One obvious must keep in mind that he went through Basic Training during Vietnam.

Dad still cuts a pretty lean figure. The warrior in him has never quite died down. It changed, it got a new occupation, but it's still there. He still has a fire in his eyes and an energy to his step that will doubtless kill him young. It's hard to live long when you're wired for sound 20 hours a day. It's a lot to live up to. I'm often a man of talk and thought - if I even deserve to be called a "man" in the true sense of the word. Dad is squarely a man of action. His convictions are clear, unambiguous, and virtuous of a stripe, even if not entirely consistent or well-thought. He's always gone by the basic maxim that history favors the Willing, not the Wise. Very different than the hippy boys who constitute much of his generation. Fulmer's have never been much for society and its trends in any case, for better or worse. When the leaves fall down we'll be northward bound. Contrarians by training. Outsiders by blood and instinct.

It strikes me that this is a side of my father that will die with my remembrance. While my sisters are probably closer to him in many ways than I will ever be, my exposure was different. I can still remember a young officer in military dress who had tried his hand at being a mercenary when the US military proved too stale for his ambitions. I can remember how mom and dad bought me piles of presents when we were eating a steady diet of beans and chicken so that dad could go to law school. I'll remember the able-bodied mover who, along with my uncle, moved all we had into and out of six different houses by the time I was my sister's age. My first toys were model lightsabers and 1/72 scale British SAS in combat stances. Other kids played Monopoly, we played Stalingrad.

Overall I'll take dad and his follies any day of the week. He taught me first and foremost what it means to make a committment and carry through without question. A type of nobility and love that is to the death. Love is to the death you know. The number of things you are willing to die for is your measure. Anything less that total committment cannot be Love and cannot be called virtue. Few there are who still grasp that concept. We live in a society of cheap thrills, self-fulfillment drivel, and petty merchants. We slander the word "love", applying it lackadaisically to non-committal relationships and temporary feelings without even realizing our vice. We "love" so many things that we forgot what Love means. It's a shame.

Anyhow... 25 pounds are melting off this frame before I go to Europe this summer. you got that Theo? "Twenty-five or Bust".

Write that down...

Monday, February 13, 2006

DC trip, Islam, Christianity, and the "shared prophets"

Well my weekend in Dc was a blast. Lots of hearing about Islam from a Muslim perspective (always the better way to hear about a religion). We had a massive snowball fight outside of Georgetown on O street. Haroon and I took a stairway for some highground while another three under Abood's leadership stacked some snowballs to initiate the ambush.

When the rest of our party arrived they were packing snowballs themselves - great minds think alike. The attackers traded some volleys with Abood and Eysa's unit, and once they dropped back Haroon and I popped up throwing down on their heads. splat-splat-splat-splat. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Finally the two sides began to separate to different sides of the road. The little Asian girls who's stairwell Haroon and I were operating from opened their main door so that they could watch out of the window door at the growing snowball spectacle. Before it was all said and done there were about 20 people hurling snowballs in every which direction.

At one point Abood and Raasi both decided to press the attack. They exchanged a volley: Abood ducked Raasi's ball and then threw a nice rocket which was only narrowly dodged by Raasi jumping sideways into the air - exposing his open crotch to my full firepower. I'd come down the stairs so we were on the levels: he realized too late. Two missiles were already zoning in full speed, a split-second apart. The one from my right hand hit him just below the bullseye, still grazing in the hurt zone and pounding solidly on his inner thigh. Reeling around from that blow, the second round hummed in finding it's target on his back. A crushing blow felt some time afterwards.

Finally when we'd all calmed down we realized that none of us were wearing gloves (since we'd just returned from the conference). It took a good hour to thaw out completely. Luckily I'm not sick (especially considering my lack of sleep all trip).

Other than this pinacle of fun and the conference, we watched and critiqued Mousa's new documentary film - his first major project out of film school. Good stuff, he's got talent. Abood and I wrestled and squashed all competition in the MSA housing unit. Abood even put Farooq in a Lion Tamer ala: Chris Jericho from WWF. That'll be coming soon to a facebook.com near you. We also tag teamed Mousa (Moses), Eysa (Jesus), and Haroon (Aaron) and squashed them between us. We dubbed this move "a Prophet Manwich". mwahhaha. Haven't gotten to dominate in some wrestling or tag-team with my homie Doobs for too long.

Perhaps one of the highest points was my several-hour-long talk with Farooq, who is a graduate of Islamic School in Pakistan, and looking at going back for another 7 years in their seminary in the near future. It's one of those "terrorist training camps" according to our press, hehe. Still, he and I had the most in common. Trained theologians speak a certain language and often have certain conclusions which make little sense without the pre-requisite understandings and definitions to comprehend why they're saying what they do, why they refuse to say what they keep silence on, and why they repeatedly insist on what seem, to philosophically minded lay people, to be relatively unimportant points (namely that you can't use philosophical language for God, or even speak about God's "essence" as such). Good guy, I really wish him the best.

Of course I got to defend the Trinity the required thousand times. So many misconceptions, many generated from Christians themselves, really get Muslims panties in a wad over the concept of the Trinity. Of course, funny enough, it has always been scandalous to Jews and Gentiles, as has the rest of Christ's message. As CS Lewis so aptly put it "Christians cannot compete, in simplicity, with other people who are making up religions." Part of the ring of truth for Christians is precisely that Christianity doesn't sound like a religion that we would have come up with. It's illogical until you understand Christ as the logic of God (Logos tou theou), which judges our logic and consigns our vain way of thinking to the dustbin of man-made flaws. As Paul tells us "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block [skandalon] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:22-24) The fact that we would philosophically have come up with a different way is precisely the point - God's ways are not our ways, and the apex of his entire revelation, himself on the cross, is the ultimate manifestation of that fact.

Then there was the food. I'll report here in about 3 weeks when I finally run off the last calorie from that weekend-long gorge. g-l-u-t-t-o-n-y, sin style. I can still eat a manly #12 Kabob Special from Kabob Palace with hands only. Finger-fooding the green yogurt sauce on basmati rice is no problem when you have these skillz.

What a machine.

One slightly deeper thought did occur on the trip. There is always a mantra repeated by Muslims that they and Christians/Jews "share the same prophets". In fact that's not really true, on two different levels:

1. A figure of faith is first and foremost a literary figure. Sure, there may have been a person to whom this or that story historically corresponds (I doubt it in most cases), but the figures of faith are important not so much in that they lived, but in that they represent something to us. They're a call on our lives and a lesson for us to internalize. As such, you can't really say "we both believe in Joseph" or "We both believe in Jesus, but for us he's only a prophet". That's just labels. We believe in a certain Jesus - the Jesus revealed in the Gospels. We believe in the Joseph spoken of in Genesis and the Moses spoken of in the Pentateuch. It isn't just any old story containing a character named "Jesus". Our Jesus is a specific Jesus who does specific things, namely die on the cross and understand himself as the Son of God, Emmanuel ("God with us"). For Muslims Jesus denies his own divinity (a foresight polemic against Christians? cute), and does not die on the cross. The fact that our character and the Muslim character are both called "Jesus" does not mean that we believe in the same character. Religious characters are basically characters of events, and our Jesus and their Jesus do different things within our respective stories - they aren't the same person, names notwithstanding.

2. The same is true of the other prophets. Plus, they don't include our Prophets as such. Mostly they refer to the PAtriarchs as "prophets" - Joseph, Abraham, Isaac, etc. For Christians these are Patriarchs. A prophet is something like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, or Amos (all lacking from the Quran). A Prophet is a function, one which Abraham didn't really fulfill; neither did Joseph.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

three 3's and two bricks

My sister Libby apparently claimed her spot among the Fulmer clan elites in the seventh grade city championships by hitting three 3-pointers and missing two layups. LOL. Just like her brother after all. Nice work daarlin'

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Those to whom Jesus beckons

A conversation today with a college ministry rep was very enlightening. He was speaking of one of his college groups that he'd come to know more and more over the past year.

The group has no real take-charge leader personality. Most of the ethnic clubs that one would associate with the Orthodox Church at this particular university are much larger than the religiou campus ministry. Further, those who do come are basically, well to put it nicely, a pack of disenfranchised. There are the couple of nerd leaders who kept it going without a leader. Not well-spoken. There are another few. A recent immigrant who mostly speaks of his terrible sinful nature and his near-suicidal tendencies - mostly in very broken English. There is an old lady who thought it was the Bible Study of the priest-in-charge (himself just responding to the non-involvement of other local priests). She's not in college, doesn't understand even now what the organization is, and has no real social ties at all. There is a catholic who finds it interesting but is visibly autistic. What a collection!

But, while my friend admitted that this wasn't his vision for the college ministry at first, he now says unabashedly "I wouldn't trade them for anyone."

I think this kind of thing is normal. So often we're concentrated on converting the learned, the established - those who can dialogue with us and who we think of at some intellectual level as our equals.

But in my experience most (not all but...) of the 'cool crowd', especially at a time like college, has no use for Jesus. Not only might he make them look at the world a different way, but he might even seek to tweak their lifestyles! Nah, the cool ones have studies to do, beer to abuse, women/men to sleep with - no time for this religious crap right now. Alas, while we're ever open to the few who change their minds, it bothers me less and less to think of myself as one day being the apostle to the geeks.

Although I might never have met this description in college, at times in my life I undoubtedly was in their number. And who am I anyway? I've chosen a path of less pay, less recognition, and more on-guard casual friendships. I've chosen to try and cooperate with the ministry of Christ. To seek the lost, to die to myself, and to let Christ live within me.

My friend is right - here are the followers of Christ. These are the ones who can hear Christ openly. Here are the ones who have not necessarily succeeded in the system as it stands - These are the ones who might think that another way is exactly right. It's hard to question the status quo when it's been so good to you; when you're at the top of the pile. But when you've been rejected and when the social Pharaoh's lord it over you, then you can put yourself more easily into the biblical story.

I came to seminary mostly on a faith jump. I'd never visited, I'd never been involved in the larger ORthodox world, and I fund it with a collection of borrows, begs, and gifts. Yet I rejoice daily, even in my more disillusioned moments, that so many people have been put into my life. I've learned that there are other ways, and that I wasn't priest material when I arrived, simply needing my pre-dispositions confirmed. I've learned that we don't have an answer for everything, but moreover I've learned what faith is. It's not necessarily the conclusion to logical deductions as I once thought - it's a choice of the spirit, who blows where he will. The Spirit who will be present when he will be present, and will be abscent when he will be abscent.

Lastly, I've learned that I'm not alone. I've learned that even in the least holy and sinful times there are those with the vision. Those who will live the dire charge of Christ to share in his death, and then share in his life - and not vice-versa. I have learned that I am not the pinnacle of Christian life, and I've learned how much goodness can flow when faith is taken seriously. I've learned to submit to the corporate prayers and to let them judge my own. I've learned to sing the songs of my people, and that their problems are my problems, just as my problems are their problems.