Up Ended: Reading the Desert Fathers


Christians are not spoiled for texts that completely up end their frame of reference. Look no further than Jesus’s teaching on just about any subject but perhaps no where more than his economics, and you can find plenty of ways to leave you turned upside down or just plain confused.

If you take the texts seriously.

The problem is that even Christians are so culturally formed. A recent scientific study pushed out the psychology of using pejorative terms to describe one’s appearance. You talk about yourself to negatively and you end up with a progressively worsening self image and usually physical health. That is the power of words, but words gain their power meaning and even pejorative nature from the people that surround us. The people that give meaning corporately to the words we use – both the feel and the definition.

So, just because we are christian does not mean that we have an imagination or vocabulary capable of truly grasping or wrestling with Jesus’s words. Economics are vastly complicated as are other issues that Jesus speaks on. Often if we are caught up in our own personal holiness with no regard to systems Jesus opposed or how to interpret systems we should oppose, we will get caught up in a language foreign to Christ.

John Wesley once put it this way: “there’s no holiness but social holiness”. This statement in and of itself is multifaceted – social is broad enough to include while not being limited to modern federal programs in the united states, even more appropriately this means that how we treat our neighbor matters as much as studying the bible and more if the later keeps us from loving our neighbor. In fact, it is in the context of loving God and neighbor that acts of holiness have meaning.

The Desert Fathers are a group that allows us to take that step beyond their culture. They created communities that rethought economics in ways that truly reconfigured conceptions born into them. Economics here means how one defines family and community along with provision, protection, and ordering of time within family and community. Their sayings reflect that truly transformed place.

It is that rethinking and transformation rooted in and seeking an experience of God in community that works beyond culture that we need now. What I want to know is what it looks like to do that in my church context here and now.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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