Conversion in Ephesus

A fictional account of a 1st century conversion:

My name is Jason.  I am from the city of Ephesus. I live under the reign of Emperor Nero.  I came to find life in the person called Jesus Christ. 

On the day of the Sun, that which the Christians call ‘the Lord’s day,’ during the Jewish Passover, my sister Juila and I were baptized into this faith.  I’d like to explain something about my family and why this baptism was the most radical of actions that took me from death to life, from darkness to light.  I learned that when the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!  I became a Christian, in part, because of two remarkable women, whom I will tell you about in a moment.

My father was a fisherman.  I remember days on end walking to the sea port to see him off.  We would get up before dark while the air was still cool.  We walked to the port everyday and after my father would sail away, the sunrise would shine off my face.  Those were the fondest memories of my childhood.

My parents had difficulty having children, and two of my sisters died in childbirth.  My sister Julia, however, was born some 26 years ago.  I was 9 years old.  I’ll never forget the day she was born because my mother did not survive the birth.  The priests of the Temple Artemis tried everything.  They cut themselves and covered my mother with incense and silver coin images of the great goddess, but to no avail.

The Temple of Artemis has provided much income for the city of Ephesus.  We have the most advanced plumbing system in the world.  We have no poor begging in the street. 

That does not mean that there are no poor people.  We were.  We found ourselves desperate when mother died.  Who would take care of us?  My father was becoming less and less able bodied, because of his many bouts with fever.  So, the priests offered us an exchange.  I was good with my hands so they put me to work for a craftsman named Demetrius, who made shrines and images for the Temple.

My sister would then be dedicated to the goddess Artemis in her Temple.  She would be raised by the holy women of the Temple and when she was old enough, would offer herself as a living sacrifice.  I didn’t understand at the time what that meant, nor did I understand why that troubled my father so much, but it seemed like a fair arrangement.

Later I learned what Julia’s fate would be.  When she was 11, she was initiated to Artemis by offering her body completely, thus becoming one with her.  Hence, any man who wanted to also feel this oneness, would pay for relations with Julia.

When my father became too sick to provide income, 15% of Julia and my earnings went back to our home.  We were desperate, but did what we had to do.  Who was this great goddess?  She certainly did not keep my mother safe in childbirth like she was supposed to.  And it turned my stomach to see politicians and lawyers and teachers and philosophers walk into the Temple courts for visits with the holy women, knowing my sister was one of them.  But we did what we had to do.

My father died when I was 26.  I became quite skilled as a craftsman, but because of our ‘arrangement’ we had a lifelong debt to the Temple.  Therefore, I could afford food for Julia and I, but little else.  She became reliant on the priest’s potions, which kept her sedated during the countless visits of patrons to the Temple.  So, Demetrius allowed us to stay with him, so long as he had occasional ‘visits’ with Julia.

Demetrius was a bastard, but taught me the skill of a businessman.  He did not believe the Artemis tales anymore than I did.  We offered our pinch of incense to her and the shrine to the emperor when we had to and kissed the hand of Rome because it was expedient to business.  You were a good citizen if you paid homage to the gods and goddesses and as Demetrius said, ‘without the superstitious old ladies, we would be out of business, so make sure you can spin a tale of how this silver Artemis helped you get a girlfriend or brought you a great harvest, and that it is blessed by the high priest himself.’

And so it went.  At least until Julia’s dreams got worse.  I say worse because she had them as far back as I can remember.  She would wake up screaming and say there was someone in her room.  We dismissed these dreams until ‘the someone in her room’ would leave bruises on her neck.  She would wake up choking and the bruises would appear spontaneously.  She could see the dark presence that we could not see.  She became so engulfed by this presence that not even the priests’ potions would give her solace.  Eventually, she could not move from her bed and had arguments with the unseen presence.

I took her everywhere.  To doctors, to priests and priestesses of all the gods.  I even took her to a Jewish priest named Sceva, who helped a little, but insisted that I be circumcised before he continued.  His sons ran in terror when they saw Julia.  I decided to keep looking.

About this time, I met a young woman named Hannah.  She would visit the market outside of our shop.  Two things drew me to her.  The first was that she carried a young girl about 3 years old who had no hands.  That was unusual to me since deformity is seen as the curse of the gods.  We simply discarded those kinds of infants when they are born.  ‘No one should be burdened by such a thing,’ so we said.

The other thing that drew me to her was her face.  She had long black hair (covered of course) and dark eyes.  She was obviously Jewish but she would whisper things to the child about someone named Jesus.  Some in Ephesus called these people ‘followers of the Way,’ others called them atheists and offenders against the order of things.  Demetrius told me of some crazy man named Paul who visited a couple of years previous who started a riot and tried to put us out of business. 

Whatever Hannah was, follower of the Way or not, she was beautiful.  There was a purity and serenity in her that I had never seen in a human being.

Our first conversations were cordial and friendly.  And, though she never went into our shop, and though I knew she was deeply against Artemis and the gods she said little to me about it.  I came to like the little girl, Miriam, who was anything but a curse from the gods.  Miriam belonged to Hannah’s community of the Way.  She was discarded in the street at birth and the followers of Jesus took her in.  She was sweet and playful and loved oranges.

After a few discussions with Hannah, I told her about my sister and if any of the Christian priests could help.  She said yes, but that Julia and I would have to walk away from everything associated with the Temple of Artemis.  This was for our safety she said. I explained to her that we were indebted to Demetrius and the priests of the Temple.  She said she would take me to see her presbyter about it.  So she took me to meet Timothy.

Timothy was a quiet man, only a couple of years older than me, but he had a piercing gaze and an authority that I had never seen in any kind of priest.  He also had a gentleness of spirit that was totally disarming. 

To Timothy I explained my plight.  He sat, asked a few questions and said something I could not believe and to this day still cannot believe. 

He said he would ask some of the wealthy among the community of the Way to pay the price of redemption to Demetrius and purchase Julia and I.  If we were willing to walk away from Artemis, he said, we would be free, because ‘when the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’

I couldn’t imagine how high that price would be to assuage Demetrius.  Twenty years of wages?  Whatever it was, said Timothy, we will pay it.

Julia had become unbearable to live with.  She was at once being weaned from the potions and being harassed by the presence.  It was no surprise, then, that Demetrius agreed to 5 years wages as our price of redemption, just to get the burden away from him.

So the agreement was that we were to move to a house of a man named Alexander and his wife Persis.  There were other Christians who also lived there.  I was afraid of what they would do once they saw Julia’s condition, but it never got that far.  After Demetrius told us to burn in the river Styx, we went to the ‘church,’ a house belonging to a widow named Phoebe, and met with Timothy and another visiting presbyter named Tertius.  They said they wanted to pray with Julia.

Initially Julia screamed and the presence said something about the servants of the most high God, but when Timothy and Tertius put oil on her forehead, signing with a ‘tau,’ the presence vanished.  Julia’s spirit returned.  She was like she was when she was a child, before the potions and the visits.  The widow prepared a meal for her and Julia slept for at least two days.  I rejoiced because this sister of mine was dead, and then alive again, she was lost and now was found.

The day of my baptism Timothy ‘sealed me with the Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing my inheritance’ in Jesus.  Julia was also baptized and almost looks like Hannah now.

That day we read some words from the ‘crazy man’ Paul.  And they go like this:

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.


There is a lot there.  What kind of God would love us so?  What kind of community would do the same?  Now I know what it is to be bought for a price, to be redeemed, because that is what the followers of Jesus did for Julia and I.

I can hardly believe that we are not the possession of any greedy craftsman or perverse priest or goddess, or even an emperor, but that we have been chosen by Christ himself to live where he is.  His Spirit fills us.  We belong to him.  He knows us by name.  He lavishes us with himself.  And we are free and when the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!


Ezekiel and Pentecost

We often look at the vision of Ezekiel as a shining example of hope, which it is.  We must also remember, though that the book of Ezekiel is a dark book.

Ezekiel was prophesying during a time of hopelessness, when Jerusalem and its people were exiled from their homes.  Old Testament scholar David Garber says, “We forget that the Babylonians tortured the inhabitants of Jerusalem with siege warfare that lasted almost two years, leading to famine, disease, and despair.  We forget how they destroyed the city of Jerusalem, razed the temple to the ground, killed many of its inhabitants, and forced the rest to migrate to Babylon.”  Many were enslaved and many died like the vision that Ezekiel saw—piled up in a valley of the shadow of death.  Ezekiel’s vision was not a pretty sight but a reflection of a genocide-like slaughter of his own people.  Ezekiel himself, a priest, was exiled to Babylon with no Temple to return to, no livelihood and no identity.  Even his wife was taken from him.

“Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.”

Yet God called him to see disturbing and dramatic things.

The text says that the bones that Ezekiel saw were dry—indicating that they were long dead—a statement of the people of God’s spiritual desolation as well as their physical death.  Spiritually desolate because of their idolatry, spiritually desolate because of their disdain for the things of God, spiritually desolate because of their mistreatment of the poor and sojourner.

Often the prophets’ message was to provide theological meaning for the suffering of the people and to provide hope for the future.  Ezekiel, in the great prophetic tradition, does both.

The valley of bones is given sinews and muscle.  Then, in an apt Pentecost passage, Ezekiel is commanded to speak to the Holy Spirit himself and ask for the wind, breath, Spirit of God to put life into the bones.  God’s own commentary goes like this:

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 among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The Day of Pentecost is a partial fulfillment of that prophecy. Ultimately only in the fulfilled Kingdom will this take place permanently, but Pentecost is a foretaste.

In NT Wright’s words, “The future has begun to arrive in the present.”

What is powerful about the Day of Pentecost is that the dwelling of God is not only among the people of God in a place, but through the Holy Spirit there is a  dwelling of God in the human heart.

Bishop Wright again:

‘[We] are given the Spirit as a foretaste of what the new world will be like.’  Then he describes the ministry of the Spirit: “The Spirit is the strange, personal presence of the living God himself, leading, guiding, warning, rebuking, grieving over our failings, and celebrating our small steps toward the true inheritance.” 

Of gods and men

From Father Christian, the Benedictine monk in the film of gods and men, before being killed by Islamic militarists:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

Stanley Hauerwas Quote

‘I can think of no more conformist message in liberal [democratic] societies than the idea that students should learn to think for themselves.  What must be said is that most students in our society do not have minds well enough trained to think.  A central pedagogical task is to tell students that their problem is that they do not have minds worth making up.  That is why training is so important, because training involves the formation of the self through submission to authority that will provide people with the virtues necessary to make reasoned judgment.’ (Hauerwas)

Good News

As Christians and Muslims continue to interact and we struggle to find ways to communicate the faith, listen to the words of missionary Frank Laubach from the early 20th century.   Laubach was a missionary to Muslim Moros people on the Island of Mindanao.

What right then have I or any other person to come here and change the name of these people from Muslim to Christian, unless I lead them to a life fuller of God than they have now?  Clearly, clearly, my job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to his thoughts, burning with his passion.  And, my loved one, that is the best gift you can give to your own town.


‘The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability of the community.’—Rule of Benedict 4:78.

‘[A monk] should not annoy his brothers.  If any brother happens to make an unreasonable demand of him, he should not reject him with disdain and cause him distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request.’—Rule of Benedict 31:1-7

‘If you have a disagreement with someone, make peace with them before the sun goes down.’—Rule 4:70-74.

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26)

“The true city, the holy one, allows us, in the words of Paul Philibert, an alternative ‘vision of human relationships where beauty is more desirable than financial profit, friendship more precious than advantage, and solidarity in a common vision of human dignity more compelling than self-fulfillment.’”—Kathleen Norris.

“I have abandoned my life in the town as the occasion of endless troubles, but I have not managed to get rid of myself.”—St. Basil the Great.

‘There comes a day when this job, this home, this town, this family all seem irritating and deficient beyond the bearable.  There comes a period in life when I regret every major decision I’ve ever made.  That is precisely the time when the spirituality of stability offers its greatest gifts.’ –Joan Chittister.

Why are at your current job?  Why are you at your current church?  Why are you in relationship with the people you are in relationship with?

What ‘rule’ (or rules) undergirds your job, church, and relationships?

What do we have to lose when we do not ‘stick it out?’



Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience…Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out…(Rule of Benedict, Prologue)

“Into the midst of all this indistinguishable cacophony of life, the bell tower of every Benedictine monastery rings ‘listen.’  Listen with the heart of Christ.  Listen with the lover’s ear.  Listen for the voice of God.  Listen in your own heart for the sound of truth, the kind that comes when a piece of quality crystal is struck by a medal rod…[Modern life] does not prepare us for the slow and tedious task of listening and learning, over and over, day after day, until we can finally hear the people we love and love the people we’ve learned to dislike and grow to understand how holiness is here and now for us” (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled, 23, 26).


Listening (intently) and Obedience go hand in hand.  See what factors this week cause you to be distracted and inattentive to God’s voice, your friend’s and family’s voices, and your own desire for Christ’s presence.

Make note of these distractions then ask the tough question, ‘why am I distracted by this?’ Reflect also on times when you most attentive to God and to others.  How can you integrate those times into everyday life?

Why we need Burqas and Mosques



France has mandated by law the Muslim Burqa offensive to French culture.  It is now illegal for a woman to don the traditional Muslim dress in France.  If they are caught they must pay a fine and take a ‘cultural awareness’ class.  We all know the uproar over the Mosque and cultural center being planned two blocks from Ground Zero in New York.

Beyond Western sensibilities and patriotism, it is interesting to hear arguments against Muslim practice based on either so-called American Christian culture or so-called American Christian beliefs.  Islam is not Christian. I am not Muslim.  In discussion with Muslim friends we have sharp disagreements over truth and, mostly, over the identity of Jesus. 

However, Burqas and Mosques are a good thing for Christians. For one, in a radically secular culture that values universal human rights and pluralism above anything else, religious freedom for one will ensure religious liberty for the other.  But the key issue is one of visible, and audible piety.  Should we be offended when a Muslim hears the call of prayer on our soil and prays five times per day?  Should we be intimidated by women in black burqas?  Certainly not on the basis of Western democracy.

What burqas and Mosques should do for the Christian is to provide a deep challenge and a sense of shame that we have a faith that few actually follow.  Would a Christian risk occupation to pray at the set hours of the day (ancient Christians prayed seven times per day)?  No, ‘we can pray anytime’ is the usual argument we hear.

The Adhan is not offensive, only a reminder that Muslims pray and American Christians use excuses not to.  The burqa is not offensive because it is a reminder that Christians have little visible presence in our culture, save scandals and politics.

Receive the challenge of Islam.  And pray.  And be salt and light.


On Possessions:

The vice of personal ownership must by all means be cut out in the monastery by the very root…let no one all or take to himself anything as his own (cf. Acts 4:32).  Rule of Benedict Ch. XXXIII

We have been brainwashed to believe that bigger houses…more luxurious gadgets, are worthy goals in life. As a result, we are caught in an absurd, materialistic spiral. The more we make, the more we think we need in order to live decently and respectably.  Somehow we have to break this cycle because it makes us sin against our needy brothers and sisters and, therefore, against our Lord.  And it destroys us.  Sharing with others is the way to real joy.  Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

…the rich man…who held his things lightly and who did not let them nestle in his heart, who was a channel and not a cistern, who was ever and always forsaking his money—this rich man starts (in heaven) side by side with the man who accepted, not hated, his poverty.  Each will say, “I am free.” George MacDonald.

(From Benedict’s Way, Lonni Collins Pratt and Fr. Daniel Homan, O.S.B, pg 98-99.)

St. Francis of Assisi said, “If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them.”. Also, Francis reasoned, “what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve a fasting man, you can’t steal from someone who has no money, you can’t ruin someone who hates prestige. They are truly free.”

Benedictine harmony and Benedictine balance demand a simpler approach to life, not for the sake of false asceticism but for the sake of human freedom.  The gods we have made for ourselves take so much more adoration time than any human being has to give.  Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:32-33.

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Luke 12:27.


Part of dealing with how possessions effect our lives, is to be aware of how we spend and what certain material things mean to us.  Do we buy things to fill a need?  To keep us company?  To help us avoid our own brokenness?  Do we buy for status?