"The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive..."
-- St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, ca. 180CE
For over a week now, I have been walking around with paradox. Think about that statement. In itself, it is paradoxical. The English treatment of that word renders the meaning: self-contradictory, absurd or contradictory, or having contradictory properties (OED, American Ed., 1997). My journey with this word began when, in a conversation, the person with whom I was having coffee suggested that I was attempting to live a paradoxical life. Ultimately, that sent me on a journey into the origins of the word "paradox" and how it might be true or false regarding the suggestion that my life was a study in contradiction.
As an aside I might mention that I have already given my "two cents worth" regarding making judgments based upon impressions, relationships or simple observation. It's a couple of blog posts in back of this ("Of Corners and Markets," 26 May 2012).
Where I did my seminary graduate studies, one could not get through seminary (or the New Testament and theology courses) without a working knowledge of Koine Greek. This is a hybrid of Classical Greek and was the "street language" of the first century Mediterranean world. It became the official language of the early Church, because the Disciples spoke it. Jesus spoke it. And, it carried all of the early thoughts ideas of this emerging community of faith. The other language of the day for the Hebrew peoples was Aramaic...a hybrid of classical Hebrew. Funny how a language will morph over time. What was once a more relaxed colloquial speech becomes the official language of several cultures. This is certainly true of modern American English. It is a hybrid of the English spoken a scant 300 years ago.
Armed with the core reference books of my craft (theology), I began an exploration of the word "paradox." It led to an interesting conclusion. The term "para" means to be "beside" or, in some cases, "to proceed from the side of." It can also suggest to be "along with...." Hence, we get words like "paramedic." It is a medical professional who is along side of a medical doctor. Their skills reflect the deeper skills of the doctor who may later treat the patient. Paratroopers have special equipment "along with" their other special gear to jump from aircraft. It can go on. Have fun with the multi-volume OED...paying special attention to the origin of the words that begin with "para."
Then there is the root word in the word "paradox." It is the Geek word, "doxa." This term has an origin in Hebrew, which is the word "kabod" (sans the jots and tittles that my computer keyboard is not equipped to generate). The Hebrew word means the "weight and heaviness of importance." It is a reflection of a man's inner worth and character that calls forth respect. The Hebrew language is theocentric; therefore, the inner character is the Imago Dei....the Glory of God (or, in simpler theological terms....that which is created in the image of God).
The New Testament used the Greek rendering of "kabod," which is "doxa." Something that glorifies God is the "Glory of God" reflected in that thing or being. It literally comes from the side of or comes along with it.
Putting the two words together, the fundamental meaning of "paradox" can be the "glory that emerges from or is alongside" a person. Observing some folks on a daily basis, that truth could present itself as a contradiction to the action being exhibited. It could also be easily mistaken as a reflection of a truth that is actually a misrepresentation. So, an abusive individual could claim that he/she was administering "God's justice," or being "God's agent." In fact, what is emerging is their own false echo from a dysfunctional behavioral source.
Sounds confusing perhaps, but this is important in light of what we see in contemporary culture. Just today, a friend gave an account on Facebook of a father at a kids soccer camp berating his elementary age daughter for her mistakes in playing the game. It was abusive enough that my friend was quite distressed at the behavior. I will bet that, should the father be confronted, he would swear he was using "God-given tools of parenting" to bring out the best in his daughter. I must confess with some guilt that I suggested that my friend kick the father where it would hurt the worst. He reflected the current meaning of paradox rather than its root meaning of "reflecting God's Glory."
Back to the coffee shop conversation with my new friend. The paradox he described me living has to do with being a priest retired from engaged ministry (i.e. I have no employed position) and living a rather relaxed life of a coastal dweller in shorts and knit shirts. That relaxed lifestyle also includes exploring other areas of interest and not revealing my actual vocation. Most of our conversation that day had dealt with marine biology, politics and the archaeological sites of Native Americans along the Florida West Coast. Not once did I "get spiritual" in our conversation (his words). That led to the statement of paradox. My lifestyle and interests appeared to this person as contradictory to his image of a retired clergy person.
My response to that? I have always been interested in biology and life sciences. I was majoring in zoology before I began to discern a possible vocation as a priest. I also have always been interested in the anthropological elements of history...human culture. I am profoundly interested in the First Nations that occupied this land prior to it being taken from them. That leads to politics....the sustaining of ordered community and culture (the "ordering of polis"....the city/community/state...there's that Greek again).
Because I am a theologian by training and trade, my job has (for the past 35 years) been to discern God among us in the happenings of everyday human life. That was the point that Irenaeus was making in his second century writings (quoted at the lead of this posting). To be fully alive, we humans must live from our core...the center of our being. This is the Imago....the Glory...of God. It is that image that shapes our actions and our relationships. And, yes, it is usually a far cry from what we actually see. Most often, we are not living from that core but from an idea or behavior we have been taught or have invented for ourselves as a way to mask fear or feelings of inadequacy. The abusively bullying father is fearful and objectifies that in pushing and berating his daughter's soccer skills.
True paradox is to have our ultimate nature "alongside" us. As Paul told the Ephesians, "Walk in love as Christ loved us..." To walk in love is to have the reflection of that love....Divine Glory...around us, or with us. It is that which drives the purest motives. What would that look like to the daughter on the soccer field? Her dad might encourage her by building her up and reflecting appropriate pride in what she is able to accomplish at her level of skills. It would also be the recognition that soccer may be something his daughter loves and enjoys but is not her ultimate passion. It could also be the humility to stand aside and let the camp personnel and coaching staff work with her and the other participants.
I did not become a zoologist or an anthropologist. I never contemplated politics. It is only my interest as a responsible citizen (more on the moral constructs of that at another time). I maintain a love for those disciplines and have continued to study both over the years...along with history, genetics, some physics and specialized psychological disciplines. In all of that, I see God erupting in surprising and wonderful ways. I see it among people of many backgrounds. Those "aha" moments of my craft drive my passion in life.
So, I am not living a paradox in the current meaning of the term. There are no contradictions. I am experiencing and expressing deep love for and investment in what God has given me throughout life and ordering them in my current stage of the journey. Embracing and appreciating the moment. This moment is what we know we have. To be fully alive in this moment is the Grand Paradox....The Glory of God!
Blessings and Namaste,