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[The Creation of the Chicken]

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.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's the Problem?

A post ridden with “”'s

Is it the “Institution” that is the problem? Whether it is the standardized “I'm spiritual, not religious” or “I don't like organized religion”, people seem to believe almost instinctively that there is something wrong with “Institution.” The most organized or dare I say “Institutionalized” breed of such thinking is of course expressed amidst the “pomo” or “reimagine church” movement. They've all seeming decided that the Institution is the problem and that if they simply alter the structure of church, that suddenly Christianity will be something other than whatever bad thing I assume they believe it is now. While using hip contemporary words like “organic” and such, I think in the end many are simply looking to “reimage” the church into something more palatable both to their own tastes and to the taste of one or more various breeds of pop-culture.

However, I don't wish to outright deride their motivations because I know a number of people involved in such endeavors and they all have very good points about the sad state of many aspects of “church.” Seeking something different ('new”?) seemingly makes a good deal of sense. Of course, I am a minor order clergyman in what is likely the most traditional and oldest expression of Christianity and as such some may argue I am representing all that is wrong with the church: hierarchy, out of date customs/practices, “traditions of men”, and frozen-in-time liturgics. Most, if not all, of the offered “solutions” to the problems of the church suggests we do away with such stuff. And thus you end up with leaderless house churches perpetually experimenting with “new” means of expressing worship and in general “doing” Christianity. So, how can I, of all people, suggest their complaints are valid? Well put simply: because I think their solutions aren't.

The problem isn't the “Instituion” per se but rather the people themselves. The old adage regarding the baby and the bathwater is very much applicable to the tossing out of the “Institution” in order to solve all the “problems” in modern Christianity. As most of you know we Orthodox believe that the many demonized aspects of our “Institution” are, beside being beautiful and very much a part of the earliest Church, are also guarantors of our “o”rthodoxy. For you see a “generous orthodoxy” that embraces heterodoxy isn't an “o”rthodoxy at all. What we believe isn't important because what's in our head saves us, it's important because it ends up speaking to what we do and who we are a human persons and that's the key to salvation.

People will no doubt argue about what it means to be “authentic” or “organic” or whatever post modern-esque term you wish to apply to the new images of what the church should be, but I would submit that ultimately what people are looking for is a greater sense of community. I can think of nothing that is more natural, more organic, and more authentic than community – which is to say simply: people being together, being honest and open with one another, and caring for one another. This cannot happen by changing externals, it happens by changing internals. I grant that the “new church” folks have some degree of advantage because in essence they are all largely like-minded people seeking these things to begin with and thus a sense of community and honesty is going to be there – however I would suggest some caution in that people are people and I'll leave it at that.

Yes, in more traditional settings you will find people “going through the motions”, but does this condemn the motions or the person? Will there not also be people just “going through the new motions”? Even if the motions are perpetually being changed and reinvented?

If I REALLY take my Orthodox faith seriously...if I let the rich traditions flood over my everyday life and infuse my home with the aroma of its teachings and practice then I would submit that nothing could be more organic, more authentic, more manifesting of community, and more in keeping with the Apostolic Faith, I'm not here to change Christianity, Christianity – or rather Christ and His Church – are here to change me. Nothing outside needs to be reinvented, it's the inside that needs to be reinvented and for that we have a tried and true ancient path. If I may steal from Chesterton: that path has not be tried and found lacking, but has been found difficult and not tried.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:46 AM [+]
+++
18 comments


18 Comments:

The intro or preface to Lossky's Mystical Theology points out that the reason why the councils made such theological mountains out of what might seem molehills to us is that they understood salvation as theosis. Every answer to every heresy boiled down to a defense of salvation as theosis, and it was felt that unless this defense succeeded and did so perpetually, all was lost.

This seems weird to us because we cut our teeth on comparative religions, courses in "Christianity" that presented different "pictures" of salvation, all of which must be seen as complementary, of course....And why? Because we're the Melting Pot, and the only truly democratic view of religion is not only denominationalistic, but thoroughly syncretistic....Any why, again? Because dear Aunt Sally was a Baptist, or some beloved friend from long ago switched from Calvinism to Judaism (yes, I know such a man). So how can we embrace a view of Christianity that rejects these things? And it seems to me that if Orthodoxy stands apart from comparatively venerable (in terms of time) traditions such as the Calvinistic, Baptistic, and Judaistic, that it stands apart from whatever passes for American pop culture is simply a given. Frankly, I find the concept "pop culture" oxymoronic, similar to such strange contemporary media coinages as "instant classic".

It's not about hating dear Aunt Sally, or closing the book on anyone who's journey differs from ours. Everyone has the right to make whatever journey they think they have to, but here's the thing: That doesn't make them right, it doesn't rewrite history, and it doesn't mean I have to find a way to accommodate & incorporate their worldview into mine. It's about language making sense. "A" cannot be "A" and "non-A" at the same time and in the same sense. You might believe that it can, and you might be my wife, son, daughter, mother, lifelong acquaintance, or whatever, and my word to you will still be, "I'm going THIS way, not THAT. You can come along. Or not."

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:48 PM  

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So sorry, I forgot to sign my name to that last post.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:14 PM  

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The "flight from institutionality", if you will, is really more of an allergy, of modern people, who in many ways are using technology and modernity to create their own bubbles of community. The older school Mom would spend hours either teaching or volunteering at school to make things better for the "community," the same mom nowadays homeschools because she'd rather her kids receive all the benefits. Same with many other local institutions: why subscribe to the local paper when you can get better news from the internet? Why join the YMCA if for the same fee you can buy your own treadmill? Religion from this perspective is just another service: for a huge commitment in time and energy and money, you basically get an experience that is highly repetitive and frequently doesn't cater to your needs at all, but to the religious needs of Newcomers. Consider Patrick's Aunt Sally, loyal to "Sunday Service" all her life, but they can't use music she understands because the pastor is trying to retain membership by hiring the music minister to accomdoate the needs of visitors and others who just leave if the music isn't modern "pop culture" enough.

So we need more people like you, but I also think we should, at every possibility, keep Orthodoxy from becoming too "institutional". Think only of our local parish: most of what goes on there, aside from the Liturgy, is our own american "institutionality" inserting itself: the idea of a "membership," the elected parish council, the 501c status, the coffee fellowship, the numerous meetings and fundraisers, the church bulletins, most of this started on this side of the Atlantic because Russian immigrants rather wanted to fit into the 1950s church scene, back when institutionality was cool. I think the answer is to be thoughtful in the way the local parish decides to do things. For example, there should be a focused conversation about the purposes and value of "Sunday School," which I would argue is completely foreign to Orthodoxy and so often appeals to our worst instincts about children. My basic point is that the "business" of church, of what exactly we're doing, is too unconsciously accepted. I think we should think more critically about what "community" is, recognize that people's commitments to it are more limited than in the past, they're seeking a "connection" with others, and try to make sure that "Church" is still a place where people can meaningfully encounter one another, and not just be a place where people get their culture affirmed, or just go out of obligation. I think these connections are not spelled out in canon law because in previous ages, the "parish" consisted of an actual geographic community, a village or town, and the Sunday event was a sort of special way, not the only way, that the community gathered. But nowadays it's the "only way" remaining.

Just my 2 cents.

- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:41 PM  

________________________________________________________________

The "flight from institutionality", if you will, is really more of an allergy, of modern people, who in many ways are using technology and modernity to create their own bubbles of community. The older school Mom would spend hours either teaching or volunteering at school to make things better for the "community," the same mom nowadays homeschools because she'd rather her kids receive all the benefits. Same with many other local institutions: why subscribe to the local paper when you can get better news from the internet? Why join the YMCA if for the same fee you can buy your own treadmill? Religion from this perspective is just another service: for a huge commitment in time and energy and money, you basically get an experience that is highly repetitive and frequently doesn't cater to your needs at all, but to the religious needs of Newcomers. Consider Patrick's Aunt Sally, loyal to "Sunday Service" all her life, but they can't use music she understands because the pastor is trying to retain membership by hiring the music minister to accomdoate the needs of visitors and others who just leave if the music isn't modern "pop culture" enough.

So we need more people like you, but I also think we should, at every possibility, keep Orthodoxy from becoming too "institutional". Think only of our local parish: most of what goes on there, aside from the Liturgy, is our own american "institutionality" inserting itself: the idea of a "membership," the elected parish council, the 501c status, the coffee fellowship, the numerous meetings and fundraisers, the church bulletins, most of this started on this side of the Atlantic because Russian immigrants rather wanted to fit into the 1950s church scene, back when institutionality was cool. I think the answer is to be thoughtful in the way the local parish decides to do things. For example, there should be a focused conversation about the purposes and value of "Sunday School," which I would argue is completely foreign to Orthodoxy and so often appeals to our worst instincts about children. My basic point is that the "business" of church, of what exactly we're doing, is too unconsciously accepted. I think we should think more critically about what "community" is, recognize that people's commitments to it are more limited than in the past, they're seeking a "connection" with others, and try to make sure that "Church" is still a place where people can meaningfully encounter one another, and not just be a place where people get their culture affirmed, or just go out of obligation. I think these connections are not spelled out in canon law because in previous ages, the "parish" consisted of an actual geographic community, a village or town, and the Sunday event was a sort of special way, not the only way, that the community gathered. But nowadays it's the "only way" remaining.

Just my 2 cents.

- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:41 PM  

________________________________________________________________

I am just happy to see someone actually write, "For you see a “generous orthodoxy” that embraces heterodoxy isn't an “o”rthodoxy at all." So, while a lot of heterodoxy claims to have found a sense of organic, authentic community by leaving tradition and the "institutional Church" behind, I don't care. All that shows me is that the tail has wagged the dog. I don't go to Divine Liturgy primarily to have meaningful encounters with peoople. That comes, I guess, during the all-but-compulsory 2-3 hour chaos and cacophony of Coffee "Hour." But frankly, I get more sense of community from one quiet gathering of 3 or 4 people than from all the coffee hours I've attended.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:08 AM  

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Well of course I didn't say "primarily", but in fact communion is precisely an enounter not only with God but with a Church, which is bigger than coffee hour, of course, but, practically speaking, I fear that it has always been cacaphonous.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:57 AM  

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No, I know what you mean. I wasn't criticizing you. It's just a feeling I get once in a while that Orthodoxy is one interminable potluck occasionally interrupted by liturgy. I know that's exaggeration, but it's a feeling I have now and then.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:26 PM  

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James or anyone, care to write a bit about how Orthodoxy is demonized. I read that word, James, and thought, huh? At least in my particular corner of the country, a better word might be ignored. Other Christians traditions/expressions are getting beat up and ridiculed all of the time, but outside of the Orthodox echo chamber, Orthodoxy isn't typically talked about discussed or considered. In other words, people have to care about something before they can really and truly demonize it, and I just don't see most people in my neck of the woods having a clue what Orthodoxy is, let alone caring enough about it to say something nasty.

By the way, had some beer from Stone Brewing Company, the other night. It was first rate, though, James, I'm sure not as tasty as your brews.

Best
Mike

By Blogger MikeW, at 3:38 PM  

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Hi Mike,

Yes, demonized is perhaps too strong a word, but there is indeed aspects of our "Institution" that are heavily criticized - particularly in the emergent church crowd.

I think you are mostly correct in that many people are largely ignorant of Orthodoxy, but I would add that for many who are NOT ignorant of it, they would indeed have strong criticism to offer.

The Baptists have a "fascinating" and lengthy guide for their eastern European missionaries on all that is wrong with Orthodox theology and how to successfully argue with Orthodox believers and convert them to the "truth."

As an evangelical I had many encounters with people who believed that the Roman Church is the whore of Revelation and the Pope the Anti-Christ...they would (or did for those who knew) see little distinction with Orthodox for what they would fail to discern are differences in our faith and the Roman Church. Sans Pope of course.

I have evangelical family/friends who pray for my soul worrying that my being Orthodox puts it in serious jeopardy.

And, not a few "emergent" Church folk will happily pick and choose from our traditions and practices, but revile the notion of truly submitting themselves to the fullness of them.

As to beer...well...I'm no professional, but I have had a few batches that turned out as good if not better than many commercial ales :) My tap remains open to you at any time you may choose to partake!
:)

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:48 PM  

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Thinking about Mike's comments, I think that whenever christianity of any stripe starts to stick up to its principles rather than living up to "civil society's", it comes under attack. Nowadays, Orthodox are expected to cater to ethnic and religious minorities and to showcase harmless, ancient and colorful rites. If we do that, you will find that we are not demonized, but the local paper and mainline denominations think we're great. But if the "colorful rites" drift in to clear moral or even political positions, or into conflict with the local schools, or what have you, then you'll find the Orthodox are demonized just like the others.

By Blogger Steve Knowlton, at 10:42 AM  

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Thank you, James and Steve, for enlightening me...have great weekends!

By Blogger MikeW, at 3:11 PM  

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You too Mike!

BTW...I was reminded by your question of a time a friend of mine converted from an evangelical sect to Roman Catholicism and I recall he told me that when he invited his brother (also in the evangelical setting) to attend his confirmation and first communion, his brother told him he'd rather go and watch him take cocaine that RC communion. Serious.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 3:19 PM  

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My wife reminded me of similar comments from a guy I hired to work on a construction project with me a decade ago. He was a fairly devout SDA and I remember listening with shock as he calmly said that the pope was if not the AntiChrist, almost as bad, and that the Catholic church was evil, and so on. It was so jarring it was almost nutty. It made for an interesting afternoon of work and talk as we tore the roof off my garage.

Best,
Mike

By Blogger MikeW, at 3:08 PM  

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What strikes me as really nutty about Evangelicals thinking that RC communion is worse than coke is that Evangelicals don't typically believe in the real presence anyway. By logical extension, it shouldn't be able to do either good or bad. In that worldview, you're either remembering Christ's death, or you're not. A trip down Memory Lane with Jesus, or not. Either way, not much goin' on, certainly not of the life-and-death kind.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:09 PM  

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I actually think that Catholics and Jews have been subjected to a far more insidious bigotry and that is "if you're willing to laugh at yourselves and your funny costumes, then we'll leave you alone." Hollywood still relies on catholic priests and nuns to provide comic relief, to the point where most of the nation's Nun outfits are probably hanging in the wardrobes of Hollywood sets. Think only of MASH for a good example, or Prairie Home Companion. It looks benign, but with a few exceptions the catholic priest and nun are allowed to be comic and/or ridiculous and even corrupt or satyrific, but rarely serious about their catholicism.

By Blogger Steve Knowlton, at 6:59 PM  

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But what if (God forbid?) Orthodoxy were "popular"? Talk about meaningless idiosyncrasies. SNL could have a field day/season. But of course, no one knows a thing about Orthodoxy, including most so-called Church historians. So I guess we're safe from the slings and arrows of satire.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:30 PM  

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Very True Gary...I wonder if in some countries where Orthodoxy is better known if there isn't a fair amount of satire.

My priest (I think it was him) once told me that we should be VERY thankful that the Monty Python crew knew nothing of Orthodoxy.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:32 AM  

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I believe Woody Allen had some fun at a our expense... can't remember the film.

By Blogger Steve Knowlton, at 7:43 AM  

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