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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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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Counter cultural

Recently at a series of Mission Talks I attended I heard something I found to be interesting. The speaker, Fr. John Hainsworth mentioned that today we have far more in common with the early church than our forefathers did, in the sense that we are fast becoming a post-Christian generation whereas similarly the early church was amidst a pre-christian. He is right of course and he also noted something else: Orthodox Christianity is THE most counter-cultural thing on the planet earth. He even noted that Marilyn Manson with his attempts at expressing his counter-cultural notions cannot hope to compete with the radicalized Orthodox Church.

It got me thinking about how so many breeds of Christianity are choosing NOT to be counter-cultural, but rather to let culture be the new authoritative magisterium they often fear exists amidst "Institutionalized" religion. Like the protestants of old, now jacked up on pomo crack, they have exchanged one pope for billions. Of course, it's not just the emergent folk who "flow with culture", it's also the liberal belief systems and denominations like episcopalianism.

That's about when a friend emailed me this link to a PBS special on the emergent "church" thingy. There is much I could say...should I? Well I am inclined to speak because they do very much give the impression that those of us in "traditional" expressions of church are missing the boat to the future. A couple of things:

Doug Pagitt says in the video that, "Christianity is....not stagnant belief....and has never been about uniformity."

Of course there is some room to interpret what he means here, but there is also a great deal of room to say that what he says here is absolutely not true. Schism in the early church (i.e. between Orthodoxy and gnosticism) didn't happen because the early Church was laissez-faire about its belief. Reading the early fathers doesn't give one the impression that they were all into letting everyone be in charge. I mean how can one read read the letters of St. Ignatios of Antioch (or Scripture for that matter) and envision a "church" that remotely looked like a room filled with encircled couches where everyone contributes equally (theologically even).

I often hear the pomo crowd trying to deflect the criticisms of some with appeals to the early church...which of course bore no more resemblance to Calvary Chapel than it does to "solomon's Porch." And so when I hear this from the video:

"More and more Christians say the usual ways of doing church no longer resonates with a contemporary postmodern culture."

...I have to wonder how this notion played out for the early Church. Well, of course, it didn't at all. Let's pause and consider what resonate means:

To evoke a feeling of shared emotion or belief
To correspond closely or harmoniously

Well the early church met secretly, in part because it was illegal of course (rather counter-cultural I'd say) but also because vicious rumors had been flying about them. They were accused of having wild orgies and of cannibalism! They were not exactly devising ways to better resonate with the pagan culture...perhaps because they were being too busy being killed by the pagan culture. And really, how often did they fail to save themselves by simply burning a pinch of incense to Caesar and walking away? They sound pretty stubborn to me...just a pinch of incense for crying out loud! And today we have Christians whining about how church no longer resonates with them and their secular friends. How they want to do church in a way that appeals to them...well maybe the early church should have wrapped their brains around the notion that it's appealing to not be eaten by lions and just burn a stupid pinch of incense. But they didn't and those that did were often ostracized and huge debates raged about what to do about those who repented of having burned the incense. These early church folk seemed pretty stringent...maybe even stagnant in their beliefs.

I suppose I should not complain too much about this all...I truly do honor the awakened desire to seek genuine faith. And much of what they rebel against has little to do with the Orthodox Church, though they of course would never understand this because Orthodoxy has all of the apparent external "trappings" they vilify. Let us consider the Orthodox Divine Liturgy:

1. It isn't for non-believers. In ancient times the first half was for catechumens, and the latter half was for MEMBER'S ONLY. It is not designed to appeal to the unillumined. It was not invented to be cool and to resonate...it was taken from the traditions they already had from the Synagogues and from the Temple itself.

2. Furthermore it is not "designed" by some lone artist or "DJ" seeking to "bless us", but rather it is the product of generations. Yes, it bears the name of St. John Chrysostom (save those of St. James and St. Basil), but clearly St. John put much of it together from far more ancient sources. And since that time it has indeed not remained static, it has changed with all the speed of a glacier in the hands of those who "forget not the ancient landmarks." Yes, we give our ancestors a vote and there are more of them than us. What has happened to us that we ignore those who've gone before us?

3. Amidst the Divine Liturgy, the Kingdom is present, NOW. It doesn't matter if you feel it, or even believe it really...because (GASP) it's not about YOU right now, it's about the community (meaning those in the present, the past, and the future). The Liturgy begins with a welcoming proclamation "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!" It's not time to express your feelings about your personal faith journey. It's time to be changed by God via generations of wisdom, which is, believe it or not, grander than the vast wisdom collected in any individuals head over the past 30 years (give or take).

4. Encircled couches replace pews. BLECH! STAND you wusses! Stand like men! Good night, you are in the KINGDOM (meaning, usually, a King is present), and really only three postures make sense: stand, kneel, or prostrate. What is this sit in circle and chat?!?!? Save it for afterwards.

5. Okay I'll stop. Look, the pomo folk have this to teach us: we can allow our rituals to become stagnant to us. We may sit through the Divine Liturgy and not participate and who would ever know, save God? (Though even being present in a non-participatory state of mind can still have redemptive value) But you see the problem here isn't the externals, it's the internals. You don't want to appeal to those internals, you want to rip them out and regrow good fruit. Why fertilize weeds?

What to take from all my rambling? I stand in the presence of the Kingdom of God, while in my hands are generations worth of wisdom, and in my mouth is the medicine of immortality. How can I profane these wonders by giving ANY personal credence to the notion that these things ought to be changed or abandoned in order to "work for me or others." In other words, let us truly commit ourselves to wholly participating in the Liturgy...to letting its beauty and wisdom wash over us and revive us, enlighten us, change us, heal us, and empower us. And more than that, let us participate to give glory to God and to manifest to Him our profoundest thanks for feeding us LIFE.

Really now, how can a DJ blaring ethereal keyboard music while synchronized to pretty flowing colors on a big screen, all planned and thrown together while staying up late sipping a Triple diamond grande peppermint Mocha from Starbucks compete? This is the Wisdom of the ages...let us attend.

Oh what a treasure we have before us in out Liturgy. Let's recognize and appreciate it.

...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 9:43 AM [+]


When the disciples were in the presence of Christ, i think that sat on their bum, no?

And when one reads your posts, one has to wonder, 'who are those holier than thou capitalized comments for'? And why must you seem to yell so often in your posts? If their are only two camps-illumined and none-why seemingly validate their espousal of anything by addressing them?

Or is this just a rant, where later you can reread it feeling a certain prideful warmth of piety. Because, either way you look at it, the light you espouse so much about, tends to be lacking in your posts. And please, spare me the, again, holier than thou, the light isn't me, and if you're hoping to see Christ in this blog, you've come to the wrong place, crap. I wonder how many times one can write that and not think it's time to look in the mirror.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:14 PM  


Well, Anonymous, if you don't even have the courage to sign your name to your comments, why should we take you seriously?

For my part, James, write on, write on!! Your words are music to my ears.

By Blogger Meg, at 2:55 PM  


When the disciples were in the presence of Christ, i think that sat on their bum, no?

No, on sofas. Really this was the only attempt at substance you've made here.

And when one reads your posts...

How many have you read?

And why must you seem to yell so often in your posts?

I'm sorry, I forgot you could hear me type. Don't mistake conviction with volume.

If their are only two camps-illumined and none-why seemingly validate their espousal of anything by addressing them?

When did I imply "two camps illumined"...I'm not very smart, so you'll have to explain this.

Or is this just a rant, where later you can reread it feeling a certain prideful warmth of piety.

Now, my friend - whoever you are - YOU (not yelling here, emphasizing) are judging ME. But yes, it did take a form of a rant...but hopefully you read on.

I wonder how many times one can write that and not think it's time to look in the mirror.

I believe if you read the post, you'll see it does indeed point back to myself. Perhaps you didn't finish reading it and instead jumped right to "yelling" and "judging" in my comment box. ANONYMOUSLY, I might add.

If you have something of substance to say, please feel free, but only if you can do so without being anonymous.

Really anonymous...based on your comment...are we really any different?

By Blogger fdj, at 3:07 PM  


As a side, I should say that the "Stand you wusses!" should be interpreted as being said with a smile. I'd feel bad if someone thought I was seriously calling someone a wuss.

In the spirit of Michael Scott: "You don't call wusses, wusses....you call your friends wusses when they act like wusses."

THAT's what I meant.

Oh yeah...and the "Stand like men!" part is Morgan Freeman from "Glory."

Seriously though anon...sorry I upset you so much. I am a judgmental prig, but I stand by the substance of what I wrote here. Happy to discuss THAT.

By Blogger fdj, at 3:14 PM  


Your point about giving our ancestors a vote brings to mind Chesterton's observation that "tradition is the democracy of the dead". A good post, by the way. Rant on!

By Blogger alex., at 6:57 AM  


Alex...it is very likely that I subconsciously stole the notion from him!

Thanks to you and Meg...I know I can come off rather brazen sometimes, but I assure you that in person I can fake not being so much more effectively.


By Blogger fdj, at 7:37 AM  


Good grief, why do you give a rat's behind about sitting in the round? Of all things to be so dogmatic about. You ASSume it is to facilitate a chat? That's asinine. You represent so many that refuse to see any good in a way of living out ones faith that differs from yours.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:30 AM  


Anon...you are projecting FAR too much into what I've written. I'm not really being all that dogmatic about sofas in church. Rather, it seems, the POMO have made a bigger deal of them (or rather the lack of them in traditional "out of touch" churches)...I just HAD to interject that pews aren't the only alternative. I was having a bit of fun, you see...relax.

You ASSume it is to facilitate a chat?

I think they made it clear what it was intended to facilitate, I didn't ASSume anything did I? In offering a contrast I explained why this would not work and indeed is not used in the traditional and historic Christian understanding of gathering at the Eucharist.

You represent so many that refuse to see any good in a way of living out ones faith that differs from yours.

Here is where you make a vast and unfair assumption. (Please note, I refrained from referencing the biological nether regions). Anon...you seem angry about all this. I'm really sorry...but if you'd like to mention your name and perhaps stick around to discuss the matter I think you'll find that I do not live up to the stereotypes you wish to box me into.

Yes, I am being critical of the movement, true. But this does not mean I am seeing NOTHING good in it. I've no doubt that many of the people involved - and I know some of them well - are far further along the path of holiness than I am. That doesn't mean some of the underlying assumptions of the "emergent church" is right, however.

I wonder if we might consider addressing the main criticism I put forth: Should the church resonate with its contemporary culture?

By Blogger fdj, at 9:38 AM  


Dear James,

Sorry to hear about your car troubles.

In answer to your last question, I would say, "of course." Certainly, how much will always be an aspect of tension, but a church completely cut off from culture isn't a church, but a cult or sect or something worse. Christians are supposed to be salt...and salt by itself isn't very useful.

Merry Christmas,


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:34 PM  


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