Monday, March 27, 2006

Spring Break ends

As my spring break draws to and end I am a tad bit disappointed that the weather here was never very springy, at least during spring break. Now I have to go back to class today. What did I do with my break?
Well, I knew what I would be doing:
more pizza deliveries, more time with my wife and kids, more time doing contact work for YoungLife and catching up on some reading. And that's exactly what I did. I caught up and read ahead on some of reading for Religion & Violence. Today I am writing a 150-word Spanish composition for class.. Woohoo.
Well, that's me. That's what I've been doing. I'm watching with interest two current news stories: the afghan Christian convert looks like he will be released today. Lately, I have been spending some time thinking how shar'ia law could be seriously implemented in western societies for muslims without contradicting the human rights implied in western liberal ideologies. It seems to me that shar'ia is incompatible with western liberal democracy, especially that pesky law about apostasizing. It seems like either western ideals or shar'ia will have to change to make room for islam in the western world.
Also, for some odd reason I have been obsessively checking on the news channels about the wife who shot her minister husband. Morbid, I know. Maybe I have a sneaking suspicion my wife is planning something similar. ;-)
Besides my school read I am currently reading:
St. John Chrystostom's Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans
Fr. Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent
Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green's The Illumined Heart

By the way, for my non-Orthodox readers, Kh. Frederica's The Open Door is an awesome introduction to worshipping with ikons. I would highly recommend it to anyone, even if they're not actually considering the Orthodox faith.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Blogging theological controversies

I was listening to a sermon from Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon last night, and I was struck with what he had to say about blogs, especially ones that mostly just post theological controversies and discussions.
So, listen here and post your comments. By the way, you can check out Fr. Patrick's church here.
Have a blessed weekend.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Archangels Books

Here's a shameless plug for a little independent Orthodox Bookstore in the Maplewood district of St. Louis. Shawn and Tara took us there after Vespers yesterday.
Also, I think you can order books, icons and everything else right online, so check them out.
Archangels Books
Also, I forgot to mention that during the very moving Vespers service I described Micah had to go to the bathroom, so I sent him by himself. Ten minutes later I went down with Alexis to look for him. He had completely undressed and was walking around in his underwear in the basement of the church. Ahhhh. Unbelieveable.

Forgiveness Sunday

This weekend was a pretty eventful one. Friday my friend Andrew drove up from Caruthersville to stay the night. I even took him on my last delivery of the night. Then we stayed up medium-late playing video games and visiting. Andrew's one of the deepest, most thoughtful high school kids I know.
Saturday we cleaned out the car, said good-bye to Andrew, loaded up the family and drove to St. Louis. We attended Vespers at All Saints of North America Antiochian Orthodox Church. After Vespers we went to a short get-together of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship for the St. Louis area.
Then, we drove to Madison to stay with the Huniaks. This time, their son, Phil, was there. I have heard of Phil. He's a pretty tough marine who no longer attends an Orthodox Church, but attends an Assembly of God church. He is definitely in love with Jesus, and on fire for the Lord. We talked at length about his own journey out of Orthodoxy and the parallels with my journey into Orthodoxy. It was pretty interesting. One thing is for sure, Phil could teach us all about humility, and submission to Christ. That was refreshing.
Sunday we went to Liturgy at Nativity of the Virgin Mary, which has been our usual parish for about two months now.
After liturgy we all went next door to the parish hall for a Cheesefare Sunday meatless egg and dairy meal. It was yummy.
The Forgiveness Vespers, which directly followed the brunch, were an interesting experience.
For those of you who don't know, Forgiveness Vespers begins Great and Holy Lent in the Orthodox Church. About midway through the service, the altar servers came out and switched the paraments to purple. The melodies to the chants all changed to Lenten ones, then the whole congregation began making prostrations. At this point I was about crying, struck by the reality of our separation from God. In the Orthodox Church, the altar area, behind the iconostasis symbolizes Paradise and the Garden of Eden. During the prostrations the curtain between the congregation and paradise slowly closed, visibly showing our separation from God.
Next, starting with the priests, the whole congregation went around asking forgiveness of every other member, kissing them on both cheeks.

May God forgive us all.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Problem of Relevance

The problem with relevance, as has been said by better thinkers than I, is that it sets the worshipper over the worshipped.
Two thoughts:
  1. What if what the modern, contemporary person needs is not what they think they need or what they want? "What you win them with is what you win them to." I think a good case can be made from less theological ideas that what the modern person needs is a church that embodies community, sacramental/incarnational life, experience, and mystery. Enter the Orthodox Church, which in its best moments exemplifies all of these.
  2. If God specifically outlined the form of worship for the Jews, which was liturgical, and the early Christians were Jews, what form of worship would they have naturally chosen? So, if God has revealed the way in which the Jews were to worship Him and the way in which the heavenly beings worship Him (and by extension, the way we will worship in eternity), then who are we to invent something else and call it worship?

Pizza, baby

Yesterday I spent a few hours delivering pizza. If you didn't know, that is my illustrious moonlighting job. It's actually quite entertaining. The people I work with are nice [and really funny]. This is my first time being a delivery guy of any variety, so it never gets old. Between delivering pizzas to abandoned gas stations and just general pizza delivery craziness. Yesterday, though, it was just me and the owner. That was a lot of fun. We got to talking about my personal views on religion, theology, and church. Probably not the best idea, but he took it all pretty well.
I work again tonight, then some Caruthersville kids are supposed to come up and stay at our house.
Tomorrow night we're supposed to go to a young adults thing at All Saints of North America in St. Louis, then stay with the Huniaks, so we can attend Liturgy and Nativity of the Virgin this weekend. Yet another opportunity for our kids to be absolutely crazy. Their demons must be resisting that future baptism and excorcism. Just kidding.
Well, I should post even when I don't have much to say, so I did.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More on Changing One's Mind

Continuing where I left off in my previous incoherent post. I have to bring up another point my wife made in our conversation.
"If the Orthodox Church is the 'true church' and we join, what does that say about our christian upbringing(s), the traditions we come from, and everything we've been doing vocationally and ministry-wise, outside of the 'true church'?
And I thought of someone's comment that, "There room for all of it in Orthodoxy". Which signifies, to me, that the core issues of Orthodoxy are ironed out and written in stone, so to speak, but these other traditions, when placed under the authority of an Orthodox bishop, add to the rich diversity in little 't' tradition within the faith.
In the same way, the Orthodox Church does not denounce everything taught under the banner of the heterodox faiths. Of course, many Christian traditions draw on the historic faith and consider the creeds and councils to be authoritative interpretations of the Holy Scriptures. At least, that is, in theory.
So, these faiths, while not containing the fullness of the faith, are leading to it.
Someone said to me, "but most Christian traditions claim to be the New Testament faith!" I pointed out that while all these competing traditions claim to be the historic New Testament church, only one is verifiably THE New Testament church. All these other groups have to do some gerrymandering with their ecclesiology to assert that they are the true church.
History and the Councils speak for themselves that their is one Church which continues to practice the early faith.

Along some other lines, I was just thinking of the concept of generations. Many times a cultural or religious change takes a few generations to reach maturity within a given society.
In the past few years I have lamented my own upbringing and its lack of connection with the historic church. That is, at least, the AD 100-AD 1500 church. I want my kids to grow up within the richness of this historic faith. We may or may not be 'very good' at being Orthodox, but in some ways our conversion now helps to ensure the our kids' future participation in the faith of the Apostles. And they'll go farther, and be 'better at it' than we will in our lifetimes. So, we could make the decision with the next generations in mind. How do we want our children to experience the Christian faith? What will be important for our children to experience when we are no longer here with them? How do we envision the faith/spiritual life and religion of our grandchildren?
These are some the questions that we should ponder.

Of changing one's mind

With my dogged pursuit after the Holy Orthodox faith and our geographical distance from the everyday life of an Orthodox Church comes a particular struggle for my wife, I'd imagine.
We were talking the other night before bed. That morning we had visited a particularly hip, contemporary [and decidedly un-Orthodox] church where a friend goes. This is the only church I've ever seen with the word 'Contemporary' in the name. It's even on the sign.
Now, understand, this is exactly the kind of church we came from and met in. Our former ideal church was one where without fail someone would make disparaging comments about tradition in every worship service. We prided ourselves in our lack of liturgy. In fact, it became quite a tradition to make fun of tradition.
Well, I asked her, "What are you thinking about this Orthodoxy stuff?"
She said that she agreed that it seemed to be the 'real, historic' church, but what if we change our minds.
You see, we both know that we have waffled and changed our opinions on many non-essential issues throughout even our six-year marriage. Early on in our marriage we changed our view of contemporary music in worship, when we were serving in a church which didn't have much contemporary music to speak of. We changed our view of the end-times we encounter Godly, well-read people who pointed out the short tenure of our particular school of eschatology. We changed and re-changed our views on all sorts of issues.
And now we've found the 'changeless', historic faith of the Apostles. And we're convinced. Today. But can we answer for tomorrow?
So, I answered in the way only a man can, "But it's right, though, isn't it?"
I can understand my wife's struggle with knowing whether or not this would be 'right for us' ten years from now or ten months from now.
So, I started at the beginning: for me, without the confines of historic Christianity there is no basis for theological thought to stay, well, Christian. If the interpretation of Scripture is the only authority we have to go on, then, yes, it is true that the heresies of the modern-day quasi-Christian 'cults' are inherently within the protestant tradition. I know without a doubt that there is no limit to the degree that a person can go interpreting the Scripture within their own frame of reference. The problem being we all have our own interpretive frame of reference. Hermeneutics, you say, is the scientific study of the interpretation of such texts. The principles of hermeneutics do not prevent protestant from a diverse reading of even essential issues.
I want to know that I am in a Church where the bodily resurrection of our Lord will never be questioned. However, one thing I love about the Orthodox Church is the fact that there is no 'official position' where there isn't a consensus in the Church Fathers or a ruling in council. So, in some non-essentials there is tremendous diversity.
I guess what I'm saying is this: to me, Orthodoxy represents a protective fence within which wondering is possible and prudent, but outside of which danger lies. And that's a comfortable feeling.
So, the core of Orthodoxy (or orthodoxy, for that matter) will never cease to be 'true for me', unless I cease to be Christian.
I'd rather be sure that I'm within the historic, continuous Body of Christ, and then figure all those issues out from the inside, rather than stand outside the Church and tell the Church how to be the Church by forming yet another ultra-Protestant church, movement or whatever.