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Traveling the Nicene Road

06/30/2011 05:23 pm ET | Updated Aug 30, 2011

Traveling is an addiction for me. I love going to see new places, eat new foods and talk to new people. If left to my own devices, I probably would be a nomad, minus the tent and camel.

One of the things I love about traveling is that it helps me to examine my own life from a different perspective. That's hardly a new idea. A person could start their own bookstore from all the "traveltofindmyself" books of the past fifty years. It's amazing how new lives are just a publisher paid plane ride away.

My travel navel takes a different spin. I don't travel to find myself. I already know who I am. I travel to add experiences and thoughts I might not get sitting on my butt in front of a TV. It enables me to see my life from a bird's eye perspective and really examine my life with all its inconsistencies and failings.

One of the things I think about on the road is my Christian faith. I ask myself what I believe, why do I believe it, and how does it filter into my life? I have heard fellow Christians say it's about the journey, and not the destination. Because of how I feel when I travel, I can say this only partially true.

Sure, I love the journey, but I also love coming home for rest. I need a starting point and destination, somewhere to begin and to end. I don't want to keep sleeping in hotels or sitting around in airports. I like to get somewhere.

As I travel and think about my faith, I always try to strip down my basic beliefs. When I do, I keep coming back to the creed churches all over the world recite every Sunday. You can hear this creed in every language imaginable and the story of this creed is one worth hearing.

The Nicene Creed is the statement that nearly all Christians accept as the summation of what we believe. The past few years, the Nicene Creed has gotten a bad rap personified in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." The story goes something like this, the Nicene Creed was written by a bunch of pampered, privileged white men seeking to oppress the learned Gnostics who accepted women and who were the enlightened sages of their time. Further, Constantine wanted to consolidate his power through the church and forced them to take the "orthodox".

This makes for a rollicking novel, but there is not one bit of truth in it. The church fathers who made their way to Nicea could hardly be called privileged, pampered white men. Many of them bore the scars of the Diocletian persecution, the last, great Empire wide hunting down of Christians. Some of them had missing arms, eyeballs, or other various scars from their torture at the hands of Roman officials. Very few of them could be considered "White Europeans". In fact, many of them came from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The issue they came to settle had nothing to do with Gnosticism at all.

The main issue being addressed came from Bishop Arius and his belief there was a time Christ didn't exist, that God the Father actually created him. Gnosticism had died the slow death of neglect before the council because of its secretive, elitist beliefs.

As for Constantine, from what we can tell historically, he sympathized with Arius' position. His successors to the throne certainly took the Arians side as they persecuted Bishops who accepted the findings of the Nicean council.

Why all the hate directed towards the Nicean writers? I think it comes from that we prefer our history clear cut and with out gray areas. I had this thought as I stood outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Past generations came to this place in hushed whispers and reverence. They idolized the founding fathers and ignored their horrific attitude towards slavery. We Americans made them into flawless heroes because that's what we needed to believe about ourselves.

Now, it's popular to go in the other direction. The popular opinion on the founding fathers is they were amoralisitc slave holders who only broke with England for financial gain. They gave us nothing and should be held in deep suspicion because of their glaring shortcomings. At least, that's how the modern story goes.

As I wandered Independence Hall, I realized that neither point of view gave us the right picture of the founding fathers. These men did great things and they did terrible things. They gave us the greatest governing document of human history while some of them held their fellow human beings in bondage. Those that did have slaves started grasping the contradiction, but they didn't have the moral courage it took to free their slaves. In this, they did a horrible thing.

However, that document they created, the Constitution, turned out to be greater than themselves. The Constitution implanted the idea of human freedom into the American system. Once it implanted, slavery was doomed. Human liberty would win out even if we had to fight a bloody civil war and the Civil Rights movement to get it done.

I realized at that moment the Nicean Fathers have suffered the same fate. Yes, they often had terrible views on women. Yes, they often persecuted other Christians for no reason. Yes, they often terribly abused their position of power and influence. Yes, they were sinners.

And yet, they gave Christians one of our most beautiful and enduring statements of faith. They gave us a creed to hang our hat on while things seemed confused and dark. They gave us the truth of Christianity that all Christians should believe. Even more, they told us, again, the story of God's redemption of the world through His son.

As I walked away from Independence Hall, I reflected how often God takes our messes and makes beautiful things. He uses broken people to tell beautiful stories and give us ideas bigger than ourselves.

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