An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I'll first say that I am apprehensive about referring to anyone as a "'fake' Christian" (except perhaps myself), however I think I do understand what the author's point is with regards to "moralistic therapeutic deism." Of course, everyone has an opinion about what Christianity ought to look like and as such therefore have a view on what a "mutant" form of it would look like. I would say that another mutant form of Christianity would be a sort of "social justice deism" and concerning that I think we can say that just because Mom and Dad went to Bolivia doesn't mean they practice authentic Christianity anymore than does a Buddhist who goes to help Bolivians. In other words, good deeds will not alone make you a Christian.
Don't get me wrong, though, sitting on your sofa all day and watching TBN while voting Republican won't make you any less of a faker than me either. Heck you might even hold all the right doctrines (despite TBN) and alas it too will not earn you the title.
So what makes one a Christian? Well, all theological complexities aside, I think it is simply that you have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, I know...all evangelicals claim this for themselves and in turn, most Orthodox get nervous over such terminology - rightfully terrified of the absurd "Jesus is my best bud" mentality. But I think there is a deeper reality to the idea that we develop a relationship with God. If, for the Orthodox, hell is being in God's presence and not wishing to be, then avoiding hell is a process by which we acclimate ourselves to God. We commune with Him. We work on getting used to the bright light that would otherwise blind and burn us. We change via our relationship with Him and in so doing grow even closer to Him.
The article ends with the author suggesting that we must show our children a radical life devoted to our faith. I agree, I guess, but I have to ask: how radical is radical enough? Does one have to turn down a particularly amazing job for a selfless cause? Or is it perhaps enough to regularly demonstrate self-control in areas of anger or other passions? I mean if your children see you filled with a spirit of love, peace, and joy will this not speak to them about the reality of your faith? Will it not overflow into other areas of life and thus give even more evidence of a living relationship with God? Sure a trip to aid Bolivians says a great deal, but is that level of radical action necessary? For certain I think an otherwise unchanged life that occasionally goes to do charity work really won't help in the long run.
Parents: taking our faith (God) seriously and letting it (Him) seriously change us will.
This part is particularly important: In "Almost Christian," Dean talks to the teens who are articulate about their faith. Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says.Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says."
I do not doubt that this is true. So, for my Orthodox brothers and sisters out there: what are we doing wrong and what can we do to change this?
Touchy-Feely We are beings of two different worlds, but I do not think they are as separated as might be popularly believed. As we all know the gnostics were predisposed to hate the material world, envisioning that some evil demi-god had created it - this indeed was the teaching of Marcion who rejected the God of the Old Testament. But Orthodox Christians stood up for the goodness of the created and material world - seeing ourselves as a part of it as well as a part of the invisible spiritual world (no less created, by the way).
Modern gnostics (of which there are many) will often try and convince us that the body is merely a shell, or that the physical world is of little or no value. They will scoff at our kissing icons or venerating the deceased, the True Cross, or other relics. Yet these same will very likely have cherished mementos of their own such as their grandfather's broken old watch, or their grandmothers torn and ragged old quilt - items of no real value except that which cannot be seen or measured). In reality, I think all do actually recognize our attraction to the world. And I do not mean in a negative way.
Last weekend, a couple of old rusted and twisted metal beams toured Kitsap county and drew fairly large crowds. People came to look upon them and to reverently lay their hands upon them, caress them, and hold them in their grasp. Just ordinary steel and yet we have ascribed to them some notion of sanctity. Simply because these beams came from the ruin of the World Trade Center buildings, we see in them a certain sacredness that is lacking in ordinary steel beams. It would seem that these mementos are a sort of touch-point for us; a physical connection or a bridge between our own horror at watching the death and destruction from thousands of miles away and the people who actually lived and died amidst it.
As I see pictures of people bowing their heads and reaching out to the metal, I am reminded that we humans are sacramental beings. We inherently GET sacramental theology (at least to some degree), even if we cannot find the words to describe it. We surround ourselves with material keepsakes and we recognize an inherent value is such things which without our ascribed significance would likely otherwise be of no value at all.
I think Orthodoxy really meshes with this natural inclination. Orthodoxy is a religion that engages the senses and readily agrees in the values (even to the level of the mystical) of material objects that have had extraordinary surroundings or happenings. And of course, God in His energies often meets us in the context of material things, the most preeminent (and far-exceeding my description) example of course is the great mystery of Holy Communion.
In some way, our touchy-feely inclination I think is an expression of our sense of loneliness in this universe and our desire to be connected with one another and ultimately to our Creator.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:39 PM [+] +++
Friday, August 20, 2010
Abstinence vs. indulgence
My wife and kids are in Minnesota visiting family and my godson has graciously come to stay on the farm to help with the chores – particularly the morning chores. He has spent a fair amount of time at a variety of monasteries and has/is considering the monastic vocation. He and I were talking last night and he told me about his boss (who I presume is in no way a Christian) who knows about his consideration of the monastic life who claimed that he believed any argument someone could make about homosexual behavior being unnatural, could also be made in regards to those living the monastic life. It's an interesting point and led me to deeper consideration of the matter.
First and foremost, I think one is hard pressed to find many secular reasoning for saying that homosexual behavior is “unnatural.” If for no other reason than the heavily opinion dependent definition of the word “natural.” Now one could argue that the principle sexual activity itself is inherently risky and more prone to damage and disease; that it itself is logically unnatural, but I suspect this is not quite enough.
So, then, what is natural? Well, I suspect many people would suggest that being born a certain way renders that state “natural.” In other words, anything you really have no say over is apparently considered “natural.” Thus whatever sexuality you may feel inclined toward is “natural” for you. Alas, this also means the litany of genetic diseases, malformations, and other decidedly unpleasant inclinations (which may well be just as beyond our personal autonomy as our sexual identity) must also be considered “natural.” But in the end, I think that in order to argue about whether something is “normal” or “natural” requires a great deal of shared foundational beliefs about the world.
For example, I have met or come across many an atheist and evolutionary biologist who will readily tell you that human males are programmed genetically for multiple sex partners – a “natural” inclination to plant his “selfish genes” in as much fertile soil as possible. Therefore it is absolutely “natural” for men to “cheat” on their spouses or to avoid marriage altogether. So then the question is turned back to my godson's boss (who I'm told is a devoted husband): why is it right for him to abstain from his “natural” inclinations and remain faithful to his spouse? Why not indulge himself – especially if he has means of doing so without being caught by his spouse so that he is able to retain that security which may also be a “natural” inclination. The question plays off of the notion that we should never deny ourselves anything and that we should indulge our every desire - throwing off our "hang ups" as they used to say.
So I think that the issue may be distilled down to this: abstinence vs. indulgence. I can think of very little things in life from which we may abstain that would offer up negative consequences, whereas I can think of many many things in which we may indulge that will eventually lead us to a state of brokenness or even ruin. I believe there is an inherent virtue in “curbing” our natural appetites and one needn't be religious to perceive this. Alcohol, food, and sex are but a few examples of things where curbing our appetites – as opposed to throwing all caution to the wind and diving in – are absolutely and incontestably in our “natural” self-interest in the long run, and yet curiously if we did not practice some degree of abstinence we would often "naturally" destroy ourselves with them. Therefore anytime someone abstains from something, it may indeed be perceived as “unnatural” (take for instance abstaining from meat – how insanely unnatural is that?!?!) but the act of self-discipline is something I think is also uniquely natural to humans and is the key to all the virtues and even from a strictly secular standpoint it has given us a profound advantage in this world of genetic competition.
And of course the fact is, no one ever dies or suffers pain from abstaining from sex, but many have died or otherwise suffered for overindulging in it.
I read THIS article while at my doctor's office yesterday and it raised a great many questions. Some of the photos are startling and seem absolutely foreign - evil even - to my own experience with saints, relics, and veneration of them. It is comforting to hear the RC clergy speaking out against the devotions depicted here, but I have to wonder about what has gone wrong here in the handing down of tradition such that people would think St. Jude would deem machine gun toting druglords worthy of his prayers for their vision of success (a "narco-saint")? Or that they could possibly see "La Santa Muerte" as anything other than the devil? No "holy death" comes from a hail of machine gun fire over drug territories...how is this simple truth being missed here?
I really do see this at some level as a "paradosis" failure. Somehow and somewhere the handing down of the faith has been inhibited or polluted. I make no judgments here on the RC faith, I have no doubts than some paganism has also worked its way into some Orthodox cultural enclaves here and there. But I've never seen anything quite this bad...though one never knows. I'm sure there are some strange things afoot amidst the Russian mafia where they may see no contradiction in their lifestyle and their patronage of their local Orthodox church.
I suppose that we all do this to some degree...but when you start inventing skeletal "death saints" to put up in your living room...well, that seems to me to be a whole new level.
I am finishing up the readings from the third semester of the Diaconal Vocations Program and the topic is theology. As such we are swimming in Lossky and Florovsky amongst others. Deep waters for sure and I think that is why my reading has been so slow.
The Kitsap Regional Library got me (through inter-library loan) a copy of Florovsky's "Creation and Redemption." Wow, what a book! I'm barely managing to keep my head above water (though admittedly I think Lossky is more difficult) but I'm not in danger of drowning yet. Yes, even on the internet I'm not gonna pretend to be a profound theological scholar.
One thing struck me yesterday that I'd like to share and I think it helps people (me) wrap my head around precisely why the councils were so deliberate in their choice of words with regard to the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit. As you know, they are quite overt in making sure that these terms are not to be confused with creation: "begotten, not made."
Here's is the paraphrase: Creation is an act of will; Divine generation (i.e. begetting, processing)is an act of nature.
While this analogy obviously fails at many levels, I cannot say that I "created" my children. Their existence was always in a state of potentiality and is a part of my nature. Of course the Trinity is different, for at no time was the Son or Holy Spirit's existence in a potential state. Yes, as usual, the Trinity very swiftly transcends our understanding.
In any event, I thought the distinction makes sense.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:05 AM [+] +++
Has it really been 3 months?
Really, my only excuse is that I have been terribly busy this summer and what little "net" time I've had has been given to Facadebook. Man, that thing is GREAT for keeping in touch with people, but otherwise it's a quantum time vacuum - blogging was much more relaxed, leisurely, and perhaps even intimate in a certain sense. Facadebook sometimes feels like a crowded room filled with people shouting and having a billion different conversations - often about farms that do not exist.
Anyway, I'm not closing up this shop...not yet anyway. I've no illusions that I have anything great or profound that needs saying in public, but none-the-less if one might interested in discussing (more leisurely and perhaps in more detail) something that was on my mind, then come on back, have seat and a fine ale.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:52 AM [+] +++