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.
Now before I get into this, I want to be sure I restate my own distaste for the great American "culture war" of which I am a conscientious objector. As I've said many times before, I believe the whole affair stems from BOTH sides putting FAR too much faith and hope in the "princes and sons of men." However, I affirm very strongly the notion that human life is sacred and deserves protection from the moment of conception and having been directed to the aforementioned article and asked to offer a few thoughts, I'll happily do so...from an ORTHODOX Christian perspective.
I emphasize that this will be an Orthodox Christian perspective because it is quite clear that both the article and the website in general is intended to engage and argue with right-leaning evangelical Christians. Clearly, the article is principally armed for battle in a "proof-text" war. And while I have no doubt that an evangelical could engage this particular battle (and probably win - at least to the degree that any "proof-text" battle can be won), the Orthodox Church doesn't fight such battles because the overall field or context makes no sense to us, for it is situated and completely dependent upon a foundation that we don't affirm to begin with: Sola Scriptura. In fact, the existence of the article itself speaks to the basic problem of Sola Scriptura. But, That's another topic.
It has always been my impression that self-proclaimed Christian Liberals are usually NOT fans of literalist interpretations of the Bible, and yet this author is determined to prove (right off the bat) that the Scripture's various renderings of man taking in breath demonstrates that we do not "receive" a soul until our lungs are flooded with a gas, composed of 78% Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen (plus a number of other less fun and exciting gasses), called air. And, we are lead to believe that this is what is intended when, for example, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" and made Adam a living being with a soul. The author overtly states that this act of God is exactly synonymous with Adam taking his first literal breath and thus the same for all of Adam's progeny. Of course, this is not at all what the text is intended to convey and the author carries the mistake even furthering completely forgetting that the word for breath and Spirit is the same in Hebrew. God does not need an infant to receive a bit of Nitrogen and Oxygen into his or her lungs in order for His Spirit to breath Life into them and create in them a soul. And even if He did, we should not have to remind anyone that an unborn child is flooded with these gasses via their mother who is regularly respiring the gasses on their child's behalf. If a baby's soul is somehow carried to them through the aforementioned gasses, then surely God could deliver it through his or hers mothers lungs, no? And if those calling themselves "the Christian left" wish to be literalists then we should note uniqueness of Adam in that he had
no means of receiving breath from the womb of an already living mother
and thus the analogy is rather lacking, isn't it? Additionally, if we MUST be literalists, there is no mention of God needing to pump air into Adam's rib to make Eve a living being! Are we seriously going to argue that God's Spirit of Life requires that the biological function of gas exchange in a baby's lungs must take place before a child can be considered to have a soul? Really?
The author goes on further to put forth other verses in which "breath" is required for "life." And again I would suggest we are talking about more than simple biological respiration and that God is not limited to this biological function in order to somehow create a soul in a human being. I'd suggest that this act of creation is a profound mystery that we know little about and likely we should take great caution when approaching God's mysteries. Hopefully, this only amuses the bodiless hosts immensely by our speculating and suggesting this mystery only happens when we engage in respiration. So, really, the whole point of the article ("When a fetus becomes a living being") seems an exercise in futility when taken to its logical conclusion.
The article then dabbles in Old Testament Laws a bit, but I'd advise ALL Christians and especially liberal ones to tread carefully when trying to build a case on the authority of Old Testament Law and certainly when trying to prove on ontological reality based on extrapolating the meaning or purpose of said laws. I'd suggest we end up painting ourselves into a very uncomfortable corner.
The author ends by simply saying that Jesus never specifically mentioned abortion and therefore, the author concludes that it must not have been considered a sin. Saying that if abortion were such a terrible sin, then surely Jesus would have said something, instead: "He [Jesus] said nothing." Wow, that's a huge leap of faith, isn't it? Are we sure of this inclusion that apparant silence in Gospel records implies absolute consent? Let's quote St. John from his Gospel: "And there are also many
other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I
suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that
would be written. Amen." Again, Sola Scriptura is befuddling us here.
For the most part, as I said before, the author is seeking to argue with evangelicals. For the Orthodox Church, the stance against abortion is not derived from proof-texts, but rather from a much broader and all encompassing understanding of the Christian Faith. Beginning first with Holy Tradition and then extending into the inner depths of our understanding of God's nature, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Life of the Holy Spirit in us, and all aspects of what it means to live a life in dedication to God. We rely not on an individual interpretation of Holy Scripture, but rather on the whole body of Holy Tradition - a living and breathing Tradition handed down to us from the very beginning.
There is virtually no end to the quotes from Church Mothers and Fathers, or Canons of the Church throughout her 2,000 year history which speak out against abortion as a grievous sin. Even as far back as the Didache (aka "The Teaching of the Twelve" often dated as early as some parts of the New Testament itself) which speaks without confusion: "thou shalt not murder a child by
abortion nor kill them when born." And so while the Christian right and left can continue the proof-text battle, I would simply suggest the weight of history, tradition, and common sense outweighs the notion that God requires our lungs to respire in order for us to obtain our souls.
Abortion is a political hot button issue. I do not know how or if we can ever get to the point where abortion is illegal again. It's a complex topic, but this complexity does not change the reality. War is also a complex issue, but it does not change it's ugliness. Having worked in a pathology lab for a couple of years I've personally seen the torn apart bodies of aborted "fetuses" which horrifically and very clearly looked to me like tiny murdered babies. It changed my opinion on the matter, for at the time I was in the camp of those calling themselves the "Christian Left." However, I do not now consider myself in the camp of the "Christian Right," but I do believe very firmly that abortion is an act that ends the life of a human being. I do not, however, believe that we are in place where laws can instantly fix this ugly situation where our culture has perverted the notion of sex to an act of personal gratification and that the natural "consequence" (aka: blessing) of this act (a new human person) is an unbearable burden that can be dealt with through a simple medical act no different (so we are told) than removing a cyst. To be unable to see that selfishness is the root of all that leads us to this place, is a spiritual blindness than no law of man can address. This is not to say that I think we should not engage in the political discussion, but I think we might consider a different strategy than holding signs and "screaming" at one another on the internet. Abortion is something that rather than being angry about and painting signs with slogans that convince no one, I think we should be weeping over and filling the skies with our prayers, and additionally reaching out with physical acts of love to those around us to show the true value of human.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:35 PM [+] +++
Saturday, February 16, 2013
I had intended initially to post this little note in Facadebook, but I quickly realized that I had many more thoughts about it than really befits the "drive-by" environment of Facadebook. And it has been months since I added anything to Paradosis - I find my two new jobs (one involving a lab coat and the other a cassock) have been keeping me too busy to post much of anything beyond an occasional drive-by on Facadebook.
On September 23rd of last year I was ordained to the Holy Diaconate. Much I could say about that and probably should, if for no other reason than to help me solidify my own marveling and wonderment at this privilege and responsibility. I see my duties as an answer to the call to live out the meaning of the title which is to serve Christ and His community especially around His Holy Table. There is a great deal written about the role of a Deacon, but, I will leave those thoughts to another time.
Since my ordination, I have found myself especially enamored with the Divine Liturgy. I don't know how else to describe it. Suddenly, it seems to have new and rich layers of meaning to me - despite the stark raving terror of worrying about screwing something up or doing something wrong. Becoming a Deacon, of course, doesn't magically (or gnostically?)make one aware of anything special with regards to the Divine and so, it is, no doubt, to my great discredit that it required my ordination to wake me up to some of these things. No matter, I will receive God's grace in any way in which I am able.
If you are like me, the Litanies offered by the Deacon (or priest, if serving alone) are heard, but not really heard. I suspect that I am not alone in having largely assumed they basically offer the same prayers over and over again. To some degree this is true: there is a great deal of repetition in each of them. However, by paying close attention one can hear the uniqueness of each, especially by taking time to consider their particular placement within the Divine Liturgy because that provides important contextual meaning to them.
One example that really struck me is found in the Litany of Preparation which should not be confused as having anything to do with the Liturgy of Preparation or Proskomedia/Prothesis. This Litany takes place after the Epiklesis in which the Gifts are consecrated. Much of this litany is a reaffirmation of all the previous litanies, but with special emphasis in the context of the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Gifts and upon us! It is also intended for us the faithful to offer them coupled closely with our inner preparation to receive the Mysteries. I want to specifically look at the first two petitions as they set the stage for the Litany as a whole (I should mention that this is almost always the case for all the Litanies in the Divine Liturgy, so one can often pay close attention to them for some contextual reminders.)
For the precious Gifts offered and consecrated, let us pray to the Lord....That our God, the Lover of man, having accepted them upon His holy and most heavenly and ideal altar as an odor of spiritual sweetness, will send down upon us Divine Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray.
So the first petition reminds us of progress amidst the work of the people: the Gifts have been offered(the previous Litany began by asking God to receive the Gifts we just brought and set upon His Altar via the Great Entrance) and now consecrated. We then affirm in faith that God has accepted the Gifts, because He is the "Lover of mankind." It is His nature as affirmed in the aforementioned title that gives us the boldness of our assumption, the same boldness that will allow us to "dare to call upon Thee, the Heavenly God, as Father."
I often like to think of these Gifts that we offer as being not unlike a gift offered by a very young child to his/her mother or father such as a painted rock or something else that really fills any need. The gift, being of such a heartfelt nature, is graciously accepted and the Mom or Dad will take the child up into their arms and inundate the child with words and kisses of love and adoration, filling him or her with joy. And so we also look to our Heavenly Father to "send down upon us Divine Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit." We all know of the astonishing miracle that takes place here and the extent of the LIFE God offers to us through His Gifts now returned to us.
The prayer states that God accepts our Gifts upon His altar, which is described as being "holy, and most heavenly, and ideal." The word "ideal" intrigued me and in doing a bit of research found that this word is translated from the Greek in a lot of different ways in other copies of the Divine Liturgy. For example, one can find these terms being used instead: invisible, spiritual, mystical, supersensual, or even supersenduous (huh?!?). And of course, there is one more of note: "noetic."
I was intent on diving into the use of this term and what I think it means to us in the context of this Litany, but after doing a little research I found that someone has already done it and without question with more knowledge and skill than I could have mustered. Thus I will simply recommend Fr. Gabriel's podcast (or transcript).
I suspect some may be tempted to consider the recent controversies - specifically in the OCA - as perhaps showing evidence that the ecclesiological claims made by the Orthodox Church are untrue. One would have to be utterly ignorant of the Church's history to suggest such an absurd thing. From the very beginning, people have been a part of the Church and as such we can expect human failings to be overtly expressed in the day to day life of the Church. Saints are few and far between and we recognize then as such for a REASON!
Can you imagine the blogs and Facebook back when the Ecumenical Patriarch John Chrysostom was exiled and it gave way to riots in the streets and the burning down of the Hagia Sophia? Fun times, I'm sure.
We really should get used to controversy, as we humans are good at it. So good in fact that we can speak it literally into existence.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:25 PM [+] +++
Authority in the Church
Many Years ago, my friend and youth ministry mentor had me read a book called "A Tale of Three Kings."In essence, it is a story intended to speak to the brokenhearted Christian who has been hurt by fellow Christians - specifically in the context of authority. It's forward mentions the "authoritarian movement" as being the inspiration for the books existence. I was never overtly a part of such a movement, as an evangelical, but none-the-less I think anytime you end up in an environment where there is a highly charismatic pastor and an adoring fan base, you have the potential for authoritarian-like leadership. And for people to get hurt...deeply.
For us Orthodox Christians, in a hierarchical Church, things function somewhat differently than in evangelical circles in that our authorities are overtly identified as such. One could fairly easily say that we ARE an authoritarian Church and make no apologies for it - but don't think things are quite that simple as we will see. We do not guess who is God's anointed, nor do we elect our leaders (at least not from the general membership). Our Church's organization is ancient, and it exists now in radically different times than it has existed in the first say 1600+ years of the Church. In these modern "enlightened" times, the notion of excluding women from official ecclesiastic authority is one example where we are considered "out of step." (I say official because we all know better than to assume that women do not act as leaders albeit without cool "official" headgear.) And of course, the other way in which we find ourselves at odds with contemporary sentiments can be seen in the title we give our Bishops observed principally (though surely not exclusively) in song: "despota." This of course brings up images of our modern understanding of the term despot or despotism which is a form of government in which all power is concentrated into the hands of one person (or a small group of people.) It is a profound mistake to confuse this modern understanding of the term with its usage for our Orthodox Bishops. The Greek term δεσπότης was commonly used in ancient times as a sign of profound respect and could be alternatively translated as either Lord or Master. Still, two terms we modern folks are apt to want to refrain from using - when is the last time you have heard anyone call someone else "master" outside of the context of the Orthodox Church? (This actually reminds me of a funny story Archbishop BENJAMIN once told me in which he was with my friend Subdeacon Elias from Uganda running errands in San Francisco and the subdeacon kept referring to him as "Master" and the Archbishop had to beg him to stop because, as one might imagine, it simply did not look good to have an African man referring to a white man as such.)
In general, we are not big fans of such honorifics - especially us Americans. I, personally, admire that about us, but only so in the context of the secular world and in the context of secular authority. Inside the Church and in the context of Christianity, I believes things are different. Protestants, I believe, have mistakenly taken the widely recognized modern belief that "all men are created equal" and expanded it to also mean that all men remain so forever and that . Simple common sense (much lost these days) has taught the ancient Church, of the rightness of honoring our Saints who have through great labor (and often suffering) conformed themselves to the image of Christ. We honor them as examples and in so doing we are actually honoring Christ in them. Additionally, in keeping with ancient traditions, we also offer honor to our leaders - whether they personally deserve that honor or not.
We use the various titles (often lengthy) and we kiss the hands NOT because the individual has necessarily garnered such respect, but because of the office they hold and our understanding of the roles they play in our lives. This office and the roles they are supposed to play comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility that extends far beyond what we see or what one may expect from secular leaders. In pious tradition, a lay person's last judgement is often portrayed with their father confessor being present and acting as an advocate and being judged themselves for their role in our lives. In other words, priests and bishops bear a responsibility for the salvation of the flock they oversee...they are not simply sacramental vending machines in a social club and those that behave as such imperil their own souls. And because of this tremendous burden they bear, it is absolutely right to honor those who undertake the task given to them. Furthermore, one need only look at our hymnography, iconography, hagiography, and other writings of the fathers and mothers of the Church to see that we understand the dangers of the burden and the honorifics and the very real potential for the unworthy to hold these noble offices. In those writings, songs, and icons we can frequently see hell populated or being populated (e.g. the Ladder of Divine Ascent) by monks, priests, and bishops...but never deacons...ahem....
In his monumental speech at the 15th All American Council November 12th of 2008, then Bishop JONAH referenced something Archbishop BENJAMIN apparently often said about the effects the office may have on a person when he rhetorically asked: "What happens to a guy— you put him on a stand in the middle of the
church, you dress him up like the Byzantine emperor, and you tell him to
live forever?" It's a fair question indeed....but the individuals who should be MOST frightened of the answer are the ones wearing the mitres., St. John Chrysostom is popularly believed to have said that the road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that guide the way, and while no one knows for sure if he actually did say or write this, the sentiment is surely not foreign to Orthodoxy. Now, back to the book I mentioned. The author, Gene Edwards, expels no ink criticizing the evangelical authoritarian movement itself, but instead retells to us the story of King David through which he focuses on three major time points in David's life: his experiences in the court of King Saul, as a King himself, and finally his experiences with his son Absalom. But in reality, the story is entirely dedicated to the examination of the heart of YOU the reader and proposes an overarching theme that a leader may be after the order of King Saul or of the order of King David and that no one can ever know who is who except God, and "He never tells." Wasting your time trying to figure out who is a good King after God's own heart and who is a bad king serving their own heart's interests is completely missing the point.
Now, I will say this: if one is involved in a truly abusive sort of mind-cult, then the message of this book is fuel on a fire. It's intended for the context of a truly Christian environment - though naturally imperfect. The message is genuinely Christian, albeit very difficult to swallow...ummm....as if that is something novel for us and our understanding of the teachings of our Lord.
David served a mad King, but he was the King none-the-less. The mad King threw spears at David and yet despite every inclination to do otherwise, David refused to throw spears in return. He was eventually banished and lived in hiding for fear of his life. Through it all, he learned the way of a broken heart. This is the ONLY way one can become a man after God's own heart. We cannot begin to comprehend God's ways, until our own are utterly undone. David learned this and additionally never learned to throw spears. Yes, he would sin profoundly, but he also repent profoundly. He would be a King. A good King; God's anointed. And sometimes in our own lives we will be blessed to have leaders who are also brokenhearted and as such are readily able to be seekers of God's own heart.
God has a university. It's a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few indeed.
God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead he has several other types of people, He has people who claim to have God's authority...and don't - people who claim to be broken...and aren't. And people who do have God's authority, but who are mad and unbroken. And He has, regretfully, a great mixture of everything in between. All of these He has in abundance, but broken men and women, hardly at all.
In God's sacred school of submission and brokenness, why are there so few students? Because all the students in this school must suffer much pain. And as you might guess, it is often the unbroken ruler (whom God sovereignly picks) who metes out the pain. David was once a student in this school, and Saul was God's chosen way to crush David.
Unfortunately, we can never know for sure if our leaders are Kings after the order of Saul or David. We may guess and we may assume and we may gossip, but we will probably never know for sure (barring overt behavior such as actual crimes or immoral behavior). As this treasure of a book makes clear: only God knows, and He never tells. It really is no different than the judgment we are so profoundly warned about passing on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Put a mitre or a cassock on a man and this suddenly changes? For evangelicals, this unknowing is a tough road to travel. For us Orthodox it may even be harder, but I think as we maintain our belief in the Church as an article of Faith and we consider the grand scheme and our connectedness to history and to the future then we may realize that our road is surely different. Protestants may always second guess the "election" of their leaders, but for us Orthodox I suspect it ought to be a very different approach. In my mind, it renders the message of the book even more applicable. Will we cry out "AXIOS!" to unworthy men? Of course we will. Not being omniscient, we cannot ever know the true worthiness of a man. We cannot know if a Bishop (or a priest or a deacon) will be a "king" after the order David or Saul, but what we can know is how we must properly respond to or deal with any given situation. Maybe the Bishop will throw spears at us...maybe we NEED to have spears thrown at us? Maybe not. Who can be sure?
Our history is replete with Bishops and Priests failing very profoundly. We rarely hear of their smaller scale personal failures, being of little account in the great playing out of history no matter how devastating to those present at the time, but we do have plenty of examples of heretics (or worse) wearing mitres. One thing that differentiates us from Roman Catholics is that we have no qualms with any of our leaders falling into heresy, whereas the Roman's cannot abide the notion of there ever having been a heretical pope - though we know there was at least one. But that is neither here nor there, what do we Orthodox make of our leaders' failures? Do we assume that their elevation to the priesthood or episcopacy was a mistake? Were we wrong in allowing this person into the ranks of clergy? My answer is simple: I believe "mistakes" in ordaining some men are
certainly possible, since I am one presently being considered for
ordination to the diaconate and I am presently undergoing a fairly
extensive psychological evaluation that did not exist for clergy as
little as a decade ago (perhaps less). This tells me that the Church
feels that mistakes HAVE been made in the past and that they are
now trying to avoid that. But are all such mistakes indicative of God's
will being thwarted? That's a much deeper question which channels into some serious theology where human freewill meets up with God's providence. Do we truly believe that the
Holy Spirit guides every decision a bishop or a synod makes? Does
history give us cause to believe that? When they announced Metropolitan JONAH's election they began the announcement by saying: "It seemed good to us AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT..." and I assume this is standard protocol originating with the account given to us in the Acts of Holy Apostles. The statement assumes the Holy Spirit is guiding the decisions made by the council and the Holy Synod. Whatever the reality of the situation, we know that human freewill somehow interweaves itself into the greater will of God...day to day or even year to year may be shrouded in mystery; in the greater scope we can see how God has clearly guided His Church.
I'm not one to advocate for a "don't touch God's anointed" attitude. Far too many crimes have been ignored or left undisturbed because of this. Clearly there are examples of leaders who we may rightly judge, such as pedophiles or thieves. But others we may be less sure about, such as those who some may perceive as being more like arrogant tyrants than loving fathers. I have never personally experienced an overtly "mean" Bishop, but I have had heard stories about them. Stories of poor clergy shivering in their vestments for fear of what the Bishop may do or say to them next. I must confess, I have a VERY difficult time understanding these stories and the behaviors described...but then I can see in my own life many times when my kids no doubt perceived me more as an arrogant tyrant than a loving father.
Overall, I think God's lessons to us are surely less about learning how to throw spears and righting perceived wrongs (like Bishop's losing their temper because a Dikirion was misplaced), and more about never learning to throw spears at all and seeking to have our hearts shattered and rebuilt so as to be a people whose goal is God's own heart. The Sauls in our lives (though we cannot always clearly identify them) may be there for the express purpose of destroying the Saul in us. You see, we spend all of our time looking for Saul in those around us - particularly our leaders - but God is FAR more interested in us looking for the Saul that hides in the marrow of our own bones. David, we are told in the "Tale of Three Kings" book, might well have become Saul the second, if Saul the first had not thrown spears at him and driven him into the wilderness where David learned the songs of the brokenhearted.
I've been writing this post now for about a month or more...adding bits and pieces as I have had time. Much has happened in that time. Metropolitan JONAH has resigned and accusations are flying in all directions. I want to clarify that nothing I've said here means we should ignore overt wrongs committed by our leaders, not at all. However, I would urge extreme caution in coming to such determinations without a great deal of REAL evidence. And by that I mean at least as much evidence as would be required in a court of law. I've experienced a great deal of local scandal and controversy in the last few months (which originally inspired this post) and if I've learned anything, it is this: the "truth" is out there, but good luck finding it. When you are dealing with human emotions and motivations as the primary "truth" needing to be discovered then I think you MUST confess that omniscience may be required to really ascertain that truth. Sure we can look at what someone literally did and easily grasp the facts of that act, but to discern WHY they did something is a different matter entirely. I mean let's be totally honest with ourselves here and admit that half the time we have trouble discerning our own rationale for what we do, let alone the rationale of others for what they do. Furthermore, we are REALLY adept at deceiving ourselves in not only what our motivations are, but even for what we have factually done. There are instances where a criminal will actually convince themselves of their innocence to such an extent that even after being show video evidence of their crime they will maintain their innocence. They've completely convinced themselves of a reality that simply is not so. It is NOT an uncommon experience for us to conveniently forget facts about ourselves that we find unpleasant. Beyond this, even "facts" with regards to acts themselves can evolve. We've all played the "telephone" game of whispering a phrase and watching it evolve into something utterly different as the phrase is passed along from person to person. It's a lesson about gossip of course and we all know it...and yet gossip remains a sin into which it is terribly easy for us all to fall. These partial truths, half truths, or outright falsehoods evolve in order to bolster a particular meme and once it does that, it becomes nearly impossible for any of us to resist it. At that point, it explodes and spreads uncontrollably.
Naturally some will take what I have written above about authority and gossip and assume that I mean we should all submissively accept whatever we are told by those in authority as both fact and truth. I've communicated no such thing. Instead I'll reiterate what I've said (and I quote): "When you are dealing with human emotions and motivations as the primary 'truth' needing to be discovered, then I think you MUST confess that omniscience may be required to really ascertain the truth." There is a time and place for justice to be sought. The OCA recently came through a time of patently awful fiscal mismanagement (the extent of which I simply do not know...I've seen enough nonsense come from some websites to have a healthy degree of doubt about all the chatter and about anything any one person may offer up as the ultimate truth of all those events - but it was obviously extensive enough to rightly end some careers. Math says enough sometimes), and we looked to +JONAH to be a new dawning day for our little jurisdiction. Alas, it clearly was not to be so. Why? Well, read the official announcements, read the now increasing news articles, read the remainders of the now-defunct OCAnews.org, read OCAtruth.org, read Facebook, read all the other blogs and listservs, and when you have done all of that (and your soul has managed to survived intact) you will finally know the truth. It will all be clear. Right? Clear as mud. Again, I am drawn back to the book's repeating phrase: "God knows, and He never tells." For me, I take this to mean that I am not going to enter the fray where there is far more heat than light. The internet in particular is like a magnifying lens for opinionated passions to run wild and be amplified. There's something about it that (perhaps it's viral and airborne) infects us all and encourages us to become trolls causing injury to our brothers and sisters and to the truth (wherever it - or should I say He - may be found). I say this as one who has allowed himself to be sucked into it time and time again and have found myself causing pain to myself and others because of my loud typing. I might have even learned my lesson. I originally wrote this as a very personal reflection while wrestling with the difficulties we have faced in our Parish community and the controversy surrounding that event - the details of which I will in no way discuss here. It has been (and perhaps continues to be) one of the hardest things I have had to deal with in the context of church life. Gossip abounded and many were readily questioning the emotions and motivations of all parties involved and this eventually and naturally leads to the question of authority in the Church and what could possibly be offered to those who feel their Bishop might be a "king after the order of Saul?" I can say this much with certainty: if I had ever been a true student of brokenness, I would be spending far more time with tears in my eyes before my icons than I would with anger in my heart before the keyboard of a computer posting on Blogger or Facebook.
I guess I'm not really offering much in the way of answers, except to suggest that it is very likely that no one but God has the answers to the many questions we may have regarding people's motivations, their emotions, and their true "leadership worthiness." Anyone still reading this convoluted post?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:22 AM [+] +++
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
There's always much to do about famous people converting. I'll admit, I had no idea who this young convert to Christianity was, but being a rather prominent atheist blogger, I suppose her conversion is indeed a big deal.
You can read here final "atheist" blog post here.
While she clearly has a more advanced background in philosophy than I do/did, her conversion was accomplished in a not a too terribly different way than did mine. She wrestled with her worldview as it warred against her perception of moral truths. But here's where she departs from my conversion. When pressed to try and explain the origin of her sense of morality she fumbled at length and then blurted out:
“I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
And then she writes: I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.
I would simply add to this beautiful statement that "Truth" is not separate from this "Person." Not at all...it is not in addition to the Person, it IS the Person as surely as Moral Law is the Person. (As I reread, I think her statement could be taken in two different ways. I note now that she capitalized Truth and so perhaps she intended to communicate that she believed Truth was also a Person as opposed to Moral Law being a Person and truth.)
It's a radical concept. I hope Leah finds what she is looking for in her Roman Catholicism, she may find that the theologically legal disposition of that faith doesn't fit nearly as well with the Personhood of Truth and Moral Law as does Orthodox theological thinking. But, no less do I rejoice for this conversion.
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.
This quote is apparently attributed to Woody Allen, at least so says the internet. Allen is also a confessed atheist (again, so says the internet), and as such I think we can assume the quote in Allen's context has a somewhat malicious sense to it. In my experience, most atheists have the absolute worse image of God that one could imagine: an angry old man ready to smite you at every turn for his own entertainment. But ironically this quote, or one very much like it was also used in the beautiful and tender-hearted film called "Bella."
In "Bella," God does not appear, nor has He any unseen yet overt role in the film. The quote is rendered true but not as some angry God thwarting your plans, but rather with the sense that God redeems human decisions that result in pain and tragedy. We make plans - often good and wholesome plans, but they are undermined and often by our own doing, what we intended for good is rendered bad. So God does not laugh at our failure, he "laughs" at our audacity knowing the bigger picture and that He will redeem the pain and suffering we don't see coming. The key being that we be willing to seek that redemption.
In our lives, we have very explicitly seen God "laugh" at our plans. The pain at such extensive plans being thwarted, however is such that perceiving God laughing at them is more than a little too much to bear. No. A LOT too much to bear. The anthropomorphism here is wrong. I believe He shares in our pain, but the quote rings true when we realize our plans had perhaps put more faith in ourselves than in Him. And as imperfect human decisions bring so much to nought, we are hopefully taught a lesson. No...I speak for myself: I am hopefully taught a lesson.
God will redeem this mess. He will heal it, He will turn refuse into gold. He will take all sinful human decisions (ALL of them) and he will redirect their ill-motivations (whatever they may be) and instead of more pain and suffering, there will be life and joy. It likely will not look anything like what we planned, but when we look back we will see God's redemption. I do believe that.
Believing it, though, is not enough. I must seek that redemption. Belay that....I must seek Christ Himself. Like Job in the whirlwind, I must let go of my perceived wisdom, my biases, my preconceived notions, and my faith in myself and then admit - repenting in dust and ashes - that it is ALL about Christ. "In Him we live and move and have our being."
There are no human solutions; Only Christ. There is no length or depth of dialogue that can heal; Only Christ. There is no peace to be snatched by our own effort; Only Christ. There is no hope in human institution or organization; Only Christ. On and on it goes...there is only Christ.
The extent to which I seek Him, will be the extent to which I will see His redemption. The extent to which I engage my anger, my self will to fix everything, to argue my way to peace....I will only perpetuate chaos.
It begs the question: have I prayed about it more than I have talked about it? Have I prayed about it more than I have posted online or emailed about it? Have I prayed about it more than I have worried or wrung my hands about it? No, I confess I have not.
Someday, if we continually seek Christ, we will see our thwarted plans redeemed. It will no longer be about who wins or who loses, but only Christ. It's a saintly goal, perhaps even impossible to conceive, but I truly believe Christ can heal all wounds and LITERALLY bring life from death. Someday, we will hear God laugh, and we will laugh with Him as He wipes away every tear.