Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Of Protestants and Sermons

I've changed the title of my blog to reflect my ongoing fascination and thinking about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith.

I may have mentioned that I preached at our current church a couple of weeks ago. Our church is a evangelical protestant inter-denominational church. Lately, I have been more and more uncomfortable with the "choose your own faith" attitude that I encounter in all protestant churches. Not that these are particularly dishonorable or arrogant people. This is just a consequence of the reformation. Sola scriptura sold us down the river, so to speak. Now there are no rules. The more that our churches try to set hermeneutical/theological guidelines the more arbitrary it all seems.
For me that is the beauty of the Orthodox Church. Nothing is arbitrary. This is truly the historic faith of the New Testament and the early church fathers. It's scary how much this changes the way I read Scriptures and notice the text-wrestling I was doing before to make it read like it should if my conclusions are true. Then I realize that I NEVER believed in the final authority of the Scripture. I believed in the authority of MY INTERPRETATION of Scripture. I was willing to fight and argue with fellow believers who didn't read this text or that text the same as I did, when the odds are we were both wrong.

For the past two years I have been wondering about the communal nature of truth-knowing and I have wondered (sometimes aloud to myself) what a church would look like that practiced truth-finding/knowing in that way. In the process I became enamored with the spiritual practices of the Orthodox Church. I listened to the Divine Liturgy in Greek a few times a week long before I ever stepped foot in a real live Orthodox church. I started to explore the nature of that faith, realizing that they have always had a communal truth-knowing process.
For ten centuries the church was one and ruled by councils of Bishops. The statements of the councils were then received by the people.

Why would I long for communal truth?
I recognize the all-too likely possibility of error when I read the Scriptures by myself or you do. This is evident by the fact that we all come together and have vastly different readings of the Scriptures. This should definitely not be true when it comes to the all-important ideas of Scripture. Those shouldn't be left to interpretation. If many of us come together, depending on the Holy Spirit, then we're guaranteed that He will guide us (His Church) into all truth. As I've found out, this process leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which is a problem for us western thinkers- we want everything answered. Sometimes we even make things up just to have answer. The Orthodox faith has a lot of mystery where the Scriptures are silent or where the Fathers were not in unanimous agreement.

And from this argument it's a long way down. Once you've lost the idea/importance of personal interpretations of Scripure you lose the do-it-yourself religion of the west, and there's nothing left but to the run to Bride of Christ, where She may be found on this planet.

And I have found that Bride waiting patiently in the Orthodox Church.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Pt 2

Wednesday we drove to Memphis to stop and visit my friend at Lebonheur, then we headed across the wilderness of Arkansas for Oklahoma. We arrived at my dad's wife's house at about 8 PM. It took a bit longer than we expected.
In case I haven't mentioned, this was the first time I met my step-mom. Hmm. It was an interesting experience.
Judy and her daughters (my stepsisters, maybe) couldn't have been nicer. They were some of the nicest people we've ever met. I'm sure it was weird for them to have us staying at the house, having just met us.
This was positively the first Thanksgiving dinner I ever spent outside on the patio. That's right, we all sat outside on the patio eating thanksgiving dinner. And it was a big big dinner. We went with Judy to her big family Thanksgiving. It was enjoyable being a family of 'random people' at someone else's get together.
Now we're safe and sound back in southeast Missouri.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving- WHOO!

I did it. I threw my money into the capitalism machine (but i did get a discount). I went with two high school guys to watch the latest Harry Potter fare. Interesting. I'm honestly not a big fan. Not that I think it glorifies witchcraft more than C.S. Lewis or Tolkien. It was pretty entertaining. And worth the $5 at any rate.
Tomorrow Amy, the kids and I are driving out to Hugo, OK to have thanksgiving at my new stepmom's house. I'm a little nervous. You see, I haven't met her yet.
So, that should be an eventful visit.
I guess I'll write more about that in the next few days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I went to Memphis today to Memphis today to visit a young man from Caruthersville who is in LeBonheur with some undetermined illness causing brain swelling, a constant headache and vomiting. While I was in Memphis I decided to drive by St. John to buy a new Orthodox Prayer book (mine has gone missing), and possibly an icon of the Nativity ('tis the season). They had neither in stock in their bookstore. I did have a good conversation with their youth director, Joshua. I am particularly interested in what youth ministry looks like in an Orthodox context, so I'll probably have to visit some more with Joshua.
Anyways, I did buy a book while I was there (I figured, why not?). I bought a translation of St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. I confess I started reading a bit on the way home. Before I left Joshua took me upstairs to photocopy the daily prayers from the service book for me. Fr. John Troy saw me and remembered my name. I was impressed.
I guess I'll order the icon online and buy the prayer book the next time we go to St. John for the Liturgy. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Group Norming

Writing about my experience with the conformist non-conformist hardcore crowd got me thinking about the idea of socialization and how group norms function.
Every group has norms, even if it is to have no norms. The most hodgepodge, seemingly random conglomeration of people will naturally mimic one another or some charismatic personality.
There's a movie called SLC Punk which deals with this phenomenon in a humorous way. A memorable moment in the movie is when the main character's "preppy" love interest asks this non-conforming anarchist "did you buy a uniform?"
It's as if each of us choose these affinity groups and adhere strictly to the dress code, mannerisms, and opinions.
To be human is to be in relationship. This is something emphasized a lot in the emerging church conversation and highlighted by early church fathers.
So, is there something ghoulish about the process of norming and socialization? Probably not. In fact, it should be beneficial. Churches establish dress codes, either formally or informally. There are unspoken rules about how to dress. And behavior isn't exempted from this process. Even the hippest-emergingest-mac usingest church or faith community will seek to socialize the people to "the way we do things".
Why not be more explicit? Why not establish written flexible rules about behavior and dress for a given situation?

This summer I took a group of young people to visit various churches. At one of our visits (a predominantly black Baptist Charismatic church) I noticed one of our young men was wearing a rebel flag t-shirt under his dress shirt.
So, I would be in favor of explaining to people that the way we dress in worship should be non-distracting. To me, that means no logos, baudy jewelry, even overly expensive suits and dresses should be nixed. Immodest clothing should be avoided.
I firmly believe that the way a community dresses (intentionally or not) expresses some very important things about what the community values.

So, my church wouldn't hand out "uniforms", but we would be intentional about expressing God's beauty, purity, and grace with our dress.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On Kungfu Dancing and Concerts

Last Sunday I went to a hardcore rock concert with a couple of friends. They were mostly Christian hardcore bands, although they could have been screaming about eating children, for all I know. I don't think they were.
Living in this small town I don't get to cities very often. We drove to Nashville. It was kind of a spontaneous thing. I heard about it in the morning and went with them in the afternoon.
The show was at the club owned by Michael W. Smith, RCKTWN. It's very cool. Very hip. Big plasma screen tv's and a coffee bar.
I have never been to a hardcore concert, but I pretty much knew I'd be out of place. So, I purposely dressed 'adult': collared plaid shirt, blue jeans, fleece vest. Everyone else was dressed in what I lovingly called 'the uniform': girl pants (guys more than girls), black tshirt, same exact hair cut, and the requisite chucks. It was almost humorous, except I didn't want to insult their culture, so I just picked on Brian, one of the guys with us. He's in college and looked like he ordered his outfit, shoes, and haircut from a website called hardcoreuniform.com. Don't click that link. I shudder to think of what it might lead to.
Then there was the dancing. My brother in law is really into this music. He plays in a local band out in Scottsbluff, NE, The Blessed Murder. I was really going to this concert to better understand him and his friends. I don't think they dance like these guys did.
I'm not that old. I've moshed in my day. Heck, I've moshed a lot, but I've never seen kids dancing like kungfu fighting beating the living daylights out of each other inadvertently. What a sight. I stood up on a raised balcony so I could see the show and the mosh pit.
Ear plugs are a must for any rock show these days, especially if the point of the style of music is something like trying to make everyone deaf by their 21st birthday. Dang. I wore my earplugs for the first two bands. They weren't very good. The last three bands were the ones I went to see, so I left my earplugs out. What a mistake.
The national bands at that show were Norma Jean, Still Remains and Haste The Day.
I liked Haste The Day the best. I think I prefer the hardcore music that switches between punk-style lyrics/harmonizing and straight up screaming, like underoath. That way the screaming seems to match the lyrics and music better. It's like it builds.
Haste The Day has the crowd in the palm of their hands. At one point the lead (screamer) singer yelled out "CIRCLE PIT!" and the crowd of adolescents started running in a large circle kungfu fighting each other and whatnot. At another point in the concert they played "American Love" a song which alternates between screaming and worship style lyrics and sincerity. During the slow, thoughtful parts I saw hardcore kids (I could pick them out by the uniform) with hands in the air singing their hearts out. Hmmm, interesting.

I got to bed at 2:30AM. I left my house at 7 AM to get to Biology and take an exam. It turned out okay. I got a 92% on my exam. All day Monday if I sat still I could still hear the voices screaming. Now I'm listening to Haste The Day on my computer.
What have I done.

I do have more serious things to blog about, but those will wait. I've been looking for time to write about my kungfu dancing experience all week.