Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Hint for Husbands

Should your wife ever ask you if she still has on makeup, the perfect answer is:

"No, but I'm not sure you need any."

Christ-centered, Cross-focussed...

... and Scripture-saturated

If anyone wants to attend a service that fills this description, the Orthodox services on Thursday and Friday nights are incomparable. Literally; you will find nothing like them anywhere. Of course, any Orthodox service has more Scripture and scriptural references than you'll find elsewhere, but these two stand out especially.

Thursday night there are 12 Gospel readings dealing with the arrest in the garden through the death of Jesus, and the first few are quite long. Intersperse these with prayers and hymns and you get at least two hours worth.

Friday night, who can describe? You truly just have to be there. Come prepared to stay for as long as it takes.

In Greek churches, the Enkomia (high praises, usually mistranslated, "Lamentations", are set to hauntingly beautiful music.

Participate in both services and you will be able, forever after, to answer "YES!" when asked, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" Yes, you will have been there. Yes, you will have become a firsthand witness of these awesome events.

Consider yourself invited.

P.S.) You do not have to cross yourself, kiss any icons, or do anything that may make you uncomfortable. Nobody will notice what you do or don't do.

Judgement: "Now" or Later?

Last night we read from the 12th chapter of St.John's Gospel. In v. 31, Jesus says, "Now is the judgement of the world; now will the prince of the world be cast out."

The prince of the world is, of course, the devil. Now the world is to be ridded of his tyranny. Notice: here, the world is the plaintiff, not the defendant. The world is now going to receive the relief and redress it seeks. Its despot is to be overthrown.

In verses 47-48, Jesus returns to the theme of judgment: "And if anyone hears my words, and does not keep them, it is not I who judge him; for I have not come not to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects me, and does not accept my words, has what judges him: the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day."

The Cross, then, is not God's judgement upon the world, but for the world. The world will become the defendant "on the last day."

And the Judge will not be the Father, as is commonly supposed, but the Son. (John 5:22) The Judge will be the very One Who came into the world not to judge it, but to save it. (John 3:17)

And if that sounds a bit as if the book has been cooked (in our favor, that is), I think nobody who makes it past the Pearly Gates will find any cause to complain.

P.S.) If this confuses anyone, and makes you ask, "Well, then, what was the Crucifixion all about?" I refer you to the series "Why Did Jesus Die?" that I posted beginning on 30 June, 2008. There are so many ways to think of Jesus' death that the series took 17 installments!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Here We Go...

...plunged into Holy Week. Last night's first Bridegroom Service, always hard-hitting, struck me especially in a few places we sing all the time, not only in Holy Week.

From Psalm 87:

Will You work wonders for the dead? Will the shades arise to give You thanks? Do they declare Your mercy in the grave, and Your truth among those who have perished? Are Your wonders made known in the darkness, or Your justice in the land of oblivion?

And Holy Week made me realize that, although the Psalmist intended these as rhetorical questions, we now know that the answer to each one is, "YES!" Yes! Yes, You work wonders for the dead! Yes, the shades arise to give You thanks! Yes, Your mercy has been declared in the grave, and Your truth among those who have perished! Yes, your wonders are made known in the darkness, and Yor justice in the land of oblivion! Alleluia!

From Psalm 102: "Not according to our sins does He deal with us, nor does He requite us according to our crimes." No, that ugly thing is not what Holy Week is all about, not about Divine Revenge, displaced upon Christ. No. He knows how we were formed; He remembers that we are dust. His compassion is boundless - bounded not even by any need to requite evil with punishment.

"Hear another parable. There was a man, a householder, who planted a vineyard, and put a hedge about it, and dug a wine vat in it, and built a tower, and he let it out to husbandmen, and wend abroad. But when the fruit season drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, to receive his fruits..." And the husbandmen killed the servants, and eventually the son and heir. The husbandmen, not the son's father. Not the householder.

And then there's one of my favorite prayers, for years now, sung in the grim fourth plagal tone: "Bring more evils upon them, O Lord, bring more evils upon those who are glorious upon earth. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." This one scandalized me the first time I ever heard it. But of course it means, "Do not let the elites [continue to] oppress us. Foil their plots, thwart their schemes, overthrow their tyranny, save us from them.

Answers, Finally

Recently, I've been asking this question of every Catholic I could find, online or in person: Why do Catholics believe their hierarchy when it claims to be the ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals? What leads Catholics to accept this claim?

And finally, yesterday, two of them answered me. In case you'd like to know, here's what they said. (Bear in mind, these are very liberal Catholics, not traditionalists by a long stretch.)

From George:

Look, psychology has very easy explanations for this. Here's one. Many people are very busy trying just to survive and provide necessary care for family members. It should not be surprising, then, to find people who WANT life to be simpler than it is. Accepting authority and following that authority's teaching can make life a lot easier than having to study issues and use one's brain to make one's own decisions. The rule is this: When people WANT something to be so, you should not be surprised to find them deciding that it is so. In this case, when people WANT a moral authority to exist, don't be surprised that they will find that a moral authority DOES exist - and that for some of them it will be the RCC.

The truth is: there is NO infallible authority or infallible combination of authorities. Human reason, which itself is fallible, is the best tool we have. And the conscience is our best guide to behavior. It is our duty to take steps to inform our conscience, and also to follow it.

From Joan:

It is just as in other spheres; when people have had far more knowledge and experience of some matter, be it in law, medicine or whatever, we tend to believe them as the default option unless we have good reason to believe them to be mistaken, or not in full possession of the facts.

Well, I just thought this was very interesting. Notice, too, a couple of interesting underlying assumptions. For example, there is the assumption that the [only] alternative to accepting the Catholic hierarchy as authority is to work it all out for oneself, what we might call the "Protestant alternative". Another is that the Catholic hierarchy has the requisite experience.

I can think of other answers to my question, as well, but what I wanted to know was what Catholics think the answer is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One Man's Trash ...

... is his wife's treasure. And vice-versa. This fact of life is making it hard for us to get rid of stuff.

STUFF! Stuff, stuff, stuff. How did we come to be drowning in stuff, so much stuff this four-bedroom house can't hold it all?

At least most of my too-small clothes are gone; I've finally concluded that if I ever really do get down to a size 14 again, I'll deserve a whole new wardrobe.

St. Augustine said it's relatively easy not to acquire something in the first place, but once you've acquired it, getting rid of it is like having your arm cut off. So, so true! If you think you aren't a materialist, try cleaning out all your closets plus your attic. Lord, have mercy!

Rational Thinking v. Rationalism, Yet Again

Sunday before last (to show how long since I've posted here!) our Gospel lesson was about the boy with the demon, whose father cried out, "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!"

And a couple of weeks ago, I listened to a heterodox sermon on this same passage, wherein the minister asked, "What does this MEAN?" What could it possibly mean, to believe and not believe at the same time?

Our priest, by contrast, asked, "Who among us does not know what this means?" and everybody nodded. Sure, we all, including that minister's congregation, all know what that means. How do we know it? By having prayed the same prayer ourselves, over and over again. We may not know how to put its meaning in clear words, but we all know what that meaning is.

Demetrios says he can even put it into words. He points out that it is precisely the cogito that doubts. The rationalistic tendency in us says to us, "But we've never heard of anybody who could actually do this. How reasonable is it to suppose Jesus can?"

St. Peter had the same experience when he walked on the water. His cognitive thinking kicked in and said, "But this can't be, me, walking on water!" and he began to sink.

The truth, though, is that St. Peter was being more truly rational before that thought occurred to him. It is not irrational to acknowledge what you see, what you experience. That's simply going by the evidence before you. If you really are walking on water, what's irrational is to deny it! Similarly, it is not against reason to suppose Jesus can cast out a demon, not if you personally know Jesus. If you know Him adequately, you know He can.

In the very same way, it is not in the least irrational to say Jesus arose from the dead. At least not if you have met Him, alive and glorious, after He had died.

I know numerous people to whom Jesus has appeared. Before I became Orthodox, most of those people were Jews, interestingly enough. They mostly became "Messianic Jews" afterward.

(But as Met Kallistos has pointed out, one need not be able to point to any particular incident to be able to say, with confidence, "Yes, I know God.")

Sunday, March 21, 2010


For anyone who may have been wondering about my sudden week-long silence, it's because the whole upstairs of our house, every room, is being painted for the first time in 20 years. Wallpaper coming off, new paint everywhere. And all the furniture has been moved away from all the walls and clustered in the middle of each room. My computer was buried in such a cluster (and covered with a drop-cloth) until half an hour ago.

In an unrelated development, my computer is showing signs of illness and needs a doctor rather badly, so I may be off-line a while longer, don't know. Will try to post a couple of things that have been on my mind before I take it to the PC doc...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And What is the Link...

if any, between homosexuality and pedophilia? (I leave you to guess what item of news has prompted this question.) Why is it that so many homosexuals are also pedophiles? There are, of course, many pedophiles who are heterosexual, and many homosexuals who leave children alone. Yet so many of them don't...

And while we're at it, isn't it at least paradoxical that so many of the people who think homosexuality is not a disorder also think the purpose (if any) of our species or of any species is to propagate its genes as successfully as possible?

Where is the Borderline...

of superstition?

I have a good friend, a dear woman, now a nun, who once buried an icon of St. Andrew on some property she hoped her parish could acquire. She had heard that St. Andrew was a good one to help in matters of real estate. (In all fairness, that was before her parish was canonical, before she was canonically chrismated.) And now I find a Catholic website on which three people, so far, have said that when no one is looking, they hide miraculous medals or holy cards or sprinkle "Blessed Salt" in people's homes and places of work.

It just makes me wonder, and I do not know the answer: are such acts superstitious? What is superstition, and how do we identify beliefs and practices that are superstitious?

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Reply to Miss Knits

Miss Knits, advice columnist for True Knitters Daily Digest, recently advised a reader to buy a bigger house in which to store her out-of-control "stash" (unused yarns).

Today Miss Knits received this e-mail.

Sorry, it doesn't matter how much larger a place you get, it still fills up. We moved here from a 1 bedroom apt after my FIL passed away and left DH a bit of money and I thought that I'd died and gone to heaven since this is a 2 and 1/2 story old farmhouse with 5 BRs. I now have 3 rooms full of crafting things and have the treadle sewing machine in the dining room cuz there's no room in any of the other rooms.

Now that I'm getting ready to leave DH and move into my own place, it's going to have to be a large one just to hold all my stuff! And, since I'm moving cross country will have to figure out how to move it. Glad I know how to drive trucks.

So, now I need to win the lottery to just move it. Guess you can never win because there is always something new to wish for.



Anastasia's note: This is a real post to an actual Yahoo knitters' group. Except for being shortened by a phrase or two, it is here reproduced unedited.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Authority and Communion

In Orthodox Christianity, the Holy Spirit is imparted to each Christian in Holy Chrismation, thenceforth to dwell in the very core of each of us. And the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is our Ultimate Authority. In the faithful living of the Orthodox Christian life, He reveals to us, as promised, the Truth; that is, the very same Truth He also revealed to the Apostles and to the writers of Holy Scripture and to the Church ever since. And He does this directly, personally, as described by St. John (I John 2:27): “But the anointing which you have received of Him [that’s Chrismation] lives in you, and you do not need any man to teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and just as it has taught you, you shall live in Him.”

Two further important characteristics of this Authority are (1) that it is internal, not external, therefore carrying the weight of our own, inner convictions, far more weight, I mean, than any external authority could ever hope to bring to bear, for we can hardly disbelieve what springs forth from the within depths of ourselves; and (2) this Authority is not imposed upon us, but leaves us entirely free.

This is the ultimate legacy of the Holy Apostles: not so much a set of doctrines and practices but most of all, a sharing in the Life of Christ, that is, in His own life. “That which we have seen and heard we declare we to you,” says St. John, “that you also may have communion with us: and truly our communion [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:3) (The doctrines and practices which are part of the apostolic legacy are also important, for each of them safeguards, in one way or another, that Life.)

Now the goal of this life in Christ, the destiny we are meant to fulfill, is to become “conformed to the image of the Son.” (Romans 8:29) The whole of the Christian life consists a striving to allow God to do this work in us, until we reach full union with Him, more and more fully sharing in the very Life of the Holy Trinity, which life is heaven. (But if we suppose this means unity with God’s Essence, we commit blasphemy; we become pantheists.)

Now Christ is absolutely free, now and forever, so conformity to Him means we must also be free, and become ever more free if we are to become ever more like Him, and more than merely like Him, but incorporated into Him, all of His followers together filling up His Being. (Ephesians 1:23) We are bound together by the bonds of love, and love means free, sacrificial, unconditional giving our ourselves, without asking anything in return. Freedom is essential to the entire enterprise, and this is why a hierarchical authority dictating what we are to believe quickly ruins it all. In fact, in Orthodox circles, we simply scoff at any cleric who tries this. And we keep our distance from him.

I do not mean that we don’t need teachers. We do, and we have and heed them. But when and if we believe them, it is not merely because an authority said so. It is because the Holy Spirit wings the words and quickens our hearts so that they leap at the Truth like St. John the Baptist in his mother’s womb. We spontaneously recognize Truth; He resonates with the Spirit in ourselves, bearing witness. We believe because what we hear explains something we have encountered in our Christian life, because it fits with everything else we know and have lived in the Church, is consistent with what He has revealed in all the ages past, but most of all, because the teacher himself (or herself) is so filled with Christ that Christ’s other lovers long to to follow this teacher, who can mentor us, along the pathway. (Not that we can make ourselves like Christ; only the Holy Spirit can do that; yet mysteriously, although the work is all His, it requires our own effort as well. This, by definition. Christ said, “My Father works and I work.” Therefore, if we would share His Life, we, too, must try to work.)

I hope you can see that all of this is undercut, supplanted, if a pope comes along and says, “Believe it upon my authority, because I tell you it is so” -- with the implicit (sometimes explicit) threat of hell. If we believe on that basis, then the pope displaces (but can never, ever replace) the Holy Spirit. And then, unsurprisingly, we get people like the priest who once said to me, “We Catholics believe in the Holy Spirit, too, but we just don’t know what to DO with Him.”

The above applies equally, by the way, when someone comes along and says, “Believe it because the Bible [as I/we read it] says so.” That’s another external authority seeking to displace the Inner Voice; that’s an imposed authority, binding a person instead of leaving him free.

One cannot have an external authority, making moot the Holy Spirit in us, or an imposed authority, compromising our freedom, and still have the same kind of communion Orthodox Christians share. Just not possible.

None of this means there are no dogmas or no definitions. The Church formulates these reluctantly, and only in the face of heresies that require the Church to draw the dividing line between herself and the errors. But the reason we, the faithful, believe these dogmas is not this, not because hierarchs have decreed them or councils have defined them. We believe as the Holy Spirit teaches us, even when bishops or patriarchs are in error. In fact, even a so-called Ecumenical Council has no authority unless the people also accept it; witness the council that tried to outlaw icons, or the Council of Florence. We rejected them as “robber councils“. (No, this is not a neat or efficient process, coming to consensus; it sometimes takes centuries to settle an issue such as Arianism or Iconclasm.) We know the Shepherd’s voice and we do not follow anyone whose voice has a different sound.

Concerning excommunication and anathemas. These are not done (formally) simply for false belief, but for causing distress to the Church on that account. Arius was not cast out simply for believing the wrong things, but for publicly teaching error, and persistently, after several admonitions. And for failure even to live a Christian life, because a Christian life means we all, still in perfect freedom, submit to one another as a matter of humility, all of us, whether we be children or patriarchs. In other words, Arius should have said to himself that it was unlikely he was right and so many of the holy fathers wrong. He ought to have stopped insisting upon his own teaching and at least to have said, “Perhaps you are right; let me think and pray about this some more and meanwhile I will stop publicly teaching my doctrine.” But instead, his arrogance was such as to provoke even so holy a man as St. Nicholas to smack him across the face. The spirit in him was an alien one. He was already out of communion; the anathema but made it official.

And yes, even anathema is supposed to be an act of love. St. Paul writes, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” So it is for the person’s own good. Excommunication does not mean go to hell if you don’t toe the line.

Excommunication is also for the good of the Church; St. Paul continues: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump…” (I Corinthians 5: 4-7)

Such acts are not meant as threats or as ways of imposing doctrine, but of protecting the integrity of the Church. We believe not on pain of excommunication, but because the Holy Spirit in our hearts illumines us.

And the Holy Spirit, by the way, teaches the same things consistently, day after day, century after century, millennium after millennium.  That's why the Church is fundamentally the same, yesterday, today, and forever - because Christ is.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This Nation's Highest Civilian Honor

The Congressional Gold Medal awarded last July is going to be physically bestowed upon my Great Aunt Dorothy Jean and all her fellow WASPS tomorrow, by the President, as far as I know (but I'm not sure). I'm going up to Washington this evening. Do not know whether I can get into the ceremony. Mom is on the guest list, but doesn't want to attend, and it is unlikely I'll be allowed to take her place, but I may try.

In any event, after the ceremony, we will all have lunch together, including Aunt Dorothy's five adult children I haven't seen since I was in grade school, I think.

It may be a day or two before I write anything more on this blog, but when I do, it will hopefully be with pictures.

Aunt Dorothy says she is going to wear her WASP uniform. (That's Women's Airforce Service Pilots.)  It still fits her perfectly, too.

This morning's NPR story on this is here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Worship Redefined

A Methodist church near where we live has this sign on its front lawn.

So I wondered, what IS the new definition of worship? For that matter, what is the old definition, that it needed reworking?

So I had a look at their web page and found out. Worship redefined is vibrant and participatory.

Worship redefined means it is multi-sensory. "On a given Sunday, it may include multi-faceted visual images, sounds, and/or even smells."

The new worship means will not be the same from Sunday to Sunday, but will "include surprises, even to its planners". (We may only hope all the surprises will be pleasant ones.)

It will be "organic", whatever that means, and fluid. It will be less structured, presumably to allow more freedom (freedom?), and it will be more informal. Or as a neighboring church advertises, "Casual Worship, Sunday, 6 p.m." Casual worship? You can worship God casually?

Do congregations that do this realize they're tacitly saying their worship all these centuries up to now, before it was redefined, was non-vibrant, non-participatory, unappealing to the senses, boring, stuffy, non-fluid (gaseous? solid?) and inorganic? Do they wonder how, or even whether, God could ever have accepted such worship?

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Yesterday was the second anniversary of the death of Barbara, my youngest sister.

Mom called, a bit teary, saying she just wanted to talk "with my remaining children."

I did alright during the day, but fared less well in my dreams last night. I was at some large family gathering and there, in the middle of everybody, towering over them, was my sister. (In real life, there are several members of our family she wouldn't "tower over"; she'd just be a couple of inches taller than they.) I exclaimed out loud, joyously, "There's Barbara!"

But I knew, before the words were out of my mouth, that she wasn't real, that it had to be some sort of illusion or delusion. I wasn't interested in investigating further; I didn't even go up to talk with "her".

May God keep you in His eternal memory, Barbara, and all of us with you, because that's the living Mind keeping us alive within Himself.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Still More on Rational Thinking v. Rationalism

Today I came upon an on-line sermon (not an Orthodox one) on Mark 9:17-12, the story of the man who asked Jesus to cast the demon out of his son, the same father who cried, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!"

The sermon was used to deduce (the preacher's word) some things about devils, mostly rather unhelpful things, such as that they are "rather personal" and that they come in various shapes and degrees of strength and ferocity.

The way a Christian is supposed to know about demons is not by deducing anything, even from Holy Scriptures, but from having fought devils every day. Then when he reads or hears about them in Scripture, he sort of nods his head in regretful recognition: Yes, that's how it is. Lord, have mercy!

Another example I can think of to show how rationalism creeps in is The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a copy of which I picked up in the bookstore when it was first published. I remember how shocked I was to see the Catholic faith captured, all laid out, pinned down, and dissected in chapters, sections, subsections, and numbered paragraphs. I literally gasped.

Any Christianity you can do that to is all but unrecognizable to the Orthodox.

More on Thinking

Fr. Stephen has a post that very strikingly illustrates the issue of rationalism in Christian thinking that I discussed yesterday. As usual, Fr. Stephen's post is clear and easy to understand.


Finally, I finished the cranberry king-sized blanket and it's spread over the bed. So now I can work on my new project, guilt-free. Here's how it looked when I first showed it to you, and here's how it looks today.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


So where does rational thinking, cogitation, fit into the Christian life? When, if ever, are we relying too much upon rational thought, and when, if ever, do we need to think more? Or is it not so much a question of thinking more or less, but of how we think, or what we think?

I’d like to discuss these questions in reverse order, just because to me, it seems easier that way.

What we Think. For the Orthodox Christian, no subject is off limits. We may question anything and everything. There are, of course, certain things more profitable to ponder than others. It may be a waste of time to try to figure out how God can exist “before time” – or rather, can “super-exist,” since He also created existence itself. Or the waste of time may not be complete if wrestling with such questions, whose answers are beyond our reach, teaches us some humility. Or teaches us about the importance of apophatic language. (Apophatic language is saying what you do not mean instead of what you do, because what you do is inexpressible. Thus, for example, we say God became Man, and what we do not mean by this is that His divinity was in any way compromised, or that there was any confusion of the two natures in Christ, or that there was any compartmentalization, or that there could be any separation of the two natures. What we do mean is something we cannot capture in words, but all those are what we do not mean.)

Apart from the wisdom of knowing which questions are important, though, we are allowed to ask whatever we want. We are not expected simply to accept something despite our issues with it; instead, we are encouraged to keep struggling for as long as it takes until our issues are resolved.

How We Think. For the Orthodox Christian, it is important always to think with as much love and as much humility as we can. We must not insist upon our own opinion, for that is not loving, and love is what Orthodox Christianity is all about. Neither must we rely upon our own opinion, as if the Holy Spirit had inspired us and not the rest of the Church, past and present. When we wrestle with a teaching or a practice of the Church, we ought to consider from the outset that we are not wiser than all the other Christians, that it is certain we are missing a piece of the picture, and that the probable reason we are missing it is our lack of love and/or lack of humility. In fact, it’s almost certain we are not the first to raise the difficulty at hand, and therefore, it’s highly likely the Church has dealt with it long since.

When do We Need to Think More? Often. While Orthodox theology is internally consistent, heterodox thinking often contradicts itself, and even twists the sacred Scriptures to make them contradict themselves as well. Genuine Mystery and pure nonsense are often confused. Here, some additional rational thinking is needed, because God is not the Author of confusion. There is no contradiction in Him, or in His ways or in His self-disclosure to us.

When Are We Relying Too Much on Rational Thought? There are two main ways in which, without realizing it, Christians often misuse our God-given reason.

One of these is when reason becomes the source of our faith. This error is called Rationalism, defined in Merriam-Webster Online as “1 : reliance on reason as the basis for establishment of religious truth 2 a : a theory that reason is in itself a source of knowledge superior to and independent of sense perceptions”.

Christianity is, as we all know, a revealed religion. As St. Peter writes (2 Peter 1:16), we haven’t made this stuff up. It doesn’t come out of our heads. “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Christianity is revealed.

Now revelation does not happen in somebody’s cogitations or his emotions or his imagination, nor yet in a Book. Revelation happens in real life. Noah did not consult any scripture to come to the conclusion that he ought to build the Ark. God did not come to Moses via the Prophet’s imagination, but in a burning bush. God did not reveal His power to Pharaoh via the tyrant’s reason, but in real-life disasters. Mary did not consent to some thought her mind had constructed about having a divine Baby; God’s message came to her via an Archangel. Jesus didn’t merely teach His disciples in words Who He was (that, too), but demonstrated it over and over again. St. Paul didn't preach in fancy language, appealing to reason, but "in power and demonstration of the Spirit."

Only afterward were these revelations recorded. Holy Writ is the witness of these and more revelations, and not the source of them (although it is true that reading them can and does give us constant new insights). Scripture was not the source of revelation in all the millennia during which it was being written, nor is it the source today, at least not for the Orthodox Christian. For us, the revelation in real life is ongoing, showing us the same, ancient truths every day anew. The Bible confirms what the Holy Spirit has always taught the Church (not the other way around). Revelation comes in the living of the Orthodox Christian Life. It is the error of Rationalism to make Holy Scripture – which always means your or your denomination’s interpretation of it – into the source or basis of your faith.

An even sadder misuse of our God-given reason, and another way Rationalism creeps in, is when thoughts become the content of our religion. Orthodox doctrines never describe simply our thinking, even thinking applied to Scripture. Instead, they describe aspects of the real-world life we live, the life of the Church, the life in Christ. They explain to us, for example, what has happened to us in Holy Baptism, teach us about the Person we encounter in our life together, what is this Fire in which we live and move, how we can cultivate love of neighbor and what to do to find deeper communion in Christ. Christian theology is not merely a “baptized” philosophy. The misuse of reason enters when what we ponder and debate and pray and feel and perhaps even practice – is our thoughts. Our own thoughts. When it’s all in our heads, it’s imaginary, even when we put it into action. We're then putting imaginary stuff into action.

Put another way, for the Christian, Christ, as the Holy Spirit reveals Him to us in real life, is supposed to be the subject matter, the content, the input for our brains to ponder. Thought concerning that Life is supposed to be part of our output. We’re “thinking too much” when thought – even prayerful thought about the Bible – becomes the input.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finding Intimacy With God (and some of the difficulties we face in finding it)

A couple of readers have asked me to say something more about the proper place of rational thinking in Christianity, and I'm working on it. But for background, if you are interested in this topic, please read the following first. It's a transcript of one of Matthew Gallatin's podcasts, and the subject is Finding Intimacy With God. It is Part 20 of his series, Sola Scriptura and Philosophical Christianity; and if you prefer hearing it to reading about it, you can hear the podcast here. I believe reading or hearing this will make what I am going to say much clearer.

When we finished last time, I mentioned that punishment based salvation theories, which we’ve discussed in depth, represent just the first of three obstacles which I’ve suggested awhile back that anyone seeking to get back before Augustine has to overcome. Today I want to begin dealing with the second obstacle, which has to do with finding intimacy with God.

Now of course Western Christians profess that their God is love. And yet the philosophical god they’ve inherited from Augustine and his successors cannot really be accurately described as one who seeks intimacy with us. After all, he is a God, according to Augustine, who sees us as one great lump of sin. He arbitrarily separates out a portion of that mass to which he applies saving grace and the rest he leaves under condemnation. Plainly, it seems that such a god is not really interested in establishing an intimate connection with individual persons. He simply desires to morally balance this substance called humanity so that it can fulfill its place in his perfectly ordered universe.

This image of God is reflected in common Western descriptions of the salvation process. For instance, there is a particular expression of the substitution theory, though I think it could equally serve as an illustration of the satisfaction theory, which one hears frequently in Evangelical circles. I used it hundreds of times in my Evangelical life and I’ve heard it at least that many more. Anyone raised in the Evangelical world has been told this: because Jesus died on the cross, when God looks at me, He no longer sees me. He sees Jesus instead. Now that sentiment is supposed to convey God’s intimate love. But on close inspection, it doesn’t at all. What it tells me is that even after Christ performs His saving work, God has no relationship with me, just with Christ. If He doesn’t even see me, how can he be intimate with me? How can he give His living energy to me and bind Himself to me as a cherished lover? Someone once tried to answer this question by pointing out that it’s only God the Father who remains reserved and distant from us. He accepts us only in the substitutionary shadow of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we can enter into intimate fellowship with the saving Son. The trouble with this explanation is that it rests upon the notion that the Godhead is capable of variation within itself. To pit a coolly distant, objective Father against a close and intimate Son violates the truth of the Trinity. There can be no such difference in the attitudes and orientations of Father and Son, for Jesus says, ”I and my Father are one”. (John 10:30)

Another tell-tale sign that their God stands at a distance is the emphasis Western Christians generally place on attaining God’s forgiveness. I was reminded of this just yesterday by a very common bumper sticker which says, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven.” For the majority of Western Christians, the crux of the Gospel message is the efficacy of Christ’s death in securing God’s forgiveness for humanity. In their view, being forgiven is the primary need of human beings, the deepest emptiness of soul that must be satisfied. And certainly God forgives us, and that forgiveness is essential for our salvation. So why would I say that treating forgiveness as the end-all and be-all of the Good News implies a God who is distant? Well, it’s simply in the fact that forgiveness is not necessarily a relational act. That is, it does not require the involved parties to enter into any sort of union, let alone an intimate one. If you wrong me, I can completely forgive you without ever developing an interpersonal bond with you.

Now it makes perfect sense that forgiveness would be the ultimate objective of an Augustinian god who sees us all as one lump of sin and whose chief aim is to erase the dishonor he has endured at our hands. Forgiveness would be the deepest need of our souls if we just required a reprieve from punishment. The picture I get as I think of this is one of God and humanity standing on opposite shores of what I like to call the Great Gulf of Being. From across that Gulf, God eyes us now in a new light. He decides not to incinerate all of us. But He remains removed from us.

The truth is, though, that through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, The Gulf of Being between God and us has disappeared. God has embraced us and has joined His divine Life to our humanness. In God’s view, our supreme need is not just to be forgiven; it is to fulfill the purpose for which we were created: to experience love with God so profoundly that we become one with Him and with each other in the same way that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one, as we have read many times in John 17:21-23. God is One, and He is Love.

I think that honest-hearted believers within the Western traditions have always sensed this in their souls. And that is why, over the centuries, they have constantly sought some new way of being with God. They have diligently searched for a faith that brings Him nearer than their inherited, philosophical theology allows. And that’s why the history of the Christian West is written in movements; the Reformation movement, the Puritan movement, the Methodist movement, the Advent movement, the Charismatic movement, the Emergent Church movement and so on. This spiritual longing is also the reason behind that phenomenon within Evangelical Christianity which even many Evangelicals refer to as “Christian faddism”. Believers move from Promise Keepers to What Would Jesus Do to the Purpose-driven Life to … dream interpretation, and other popular spiritual programs which they hope will enliven their experience with God with some new degree of intimacy.

The problem is that even as they seek to connect with God in a deeper way, Western Christians are thwarted by their philosophically grounded tradition. For it has left them without the resources for genuinely experiencing the loving intimacy God wants us to know with Him and with each other.

In fact, the essentially philosophical nature of their faith has left them with a misunderstanding of what it means to love God. How so? Well, for Western believers, loving God is like practicing philosophy. That is, it is, at base, a rational process. Our relationship with Him is grounded in our knowledge of Him. More knowledge results in better relationship. And that’s why life with God for so many in the Western churches centers on the study of the Scriptures. One meditates on truths about God. By doing so, one comes to new and more sublime thoughts about God. These, it is hoped, will produce new and deeper feelings about God. In the traditional wisdom of the West, this is how human beings will relate to God even in the Kingdom of Heaven. There, they will participate in what is commonly called the Beatific Vision, an exalted state of rational contemplation in which the righteous are granted special grace to meditate upon the Essence of God’s Being. So, even in the eternal realm, according to this view, our experience with God will be centered in our minds. This is as platonic as a religion can get.

And for many Western Christians, it is not enough. They want to meet God on a more sensitive and emotional level. For some, this means leaning upon the power of imagination, rather than upon the contemplation of theological concepts. These folks try to form mental images of biblical scenes. They portray for themselves Christ being beaten and broken before His trial or hanging on the Cross, or rising from the dead. They envision themselves sitting at Christ’s feet or watching the damned in hell or beholding the beauty of the heavenly kingdom. Pondering these images generates emotions that feel like love.

Others take up charismatic practices. They seek a deeper experience of God in overt manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Speaking in tongues, inspired utterances of prophecy, and miraculous healings provide what they take to be a rapturous sensation of the divine. For these Christians, this is what loving God is all about.

But all these ways of approaching God – rational contemplation, imagination, or charismatic phenomena – have one common problem. That is that none of them represents love in its truest sense. Why? It’s because none of them are actually relational activities. What do I mean? Well, consider an image I employed earlier, that of God and humanity facing each other across an immense Gulf of Being. It seems to me that the West understands Christian experience like this: God does something for us on His side of the Gulf, and in response, we do something for God on our side of the Gulf, but we never really touch each other; we never interpenetrate one another’s lives like the members of the Holy Trinity do, and that’s what we are meant to experience; that’s the life we are meant to know with God.

For example, think about what occurs as people rationally contemplate the Scriptures. Now, I’m sure those who anchor their connection with God in the study of the Scriptures would argue that this is most certainly a relational activity. They open the Word of God in faith and God provides inspiration for understanding it. They take the principles they learn and apply them to their lives. The result is that they live for God more completely. To their mind, that’s relational. And in a sense it is, but when we compare it to the sort of relation that God ultimately desires with us, it falls short. God wants us to be one with Him, one like the Father and Son are one. Love within the Godhead is a mystical interpenetration of lives. The Father doesn’t simply inspire the Son, nor does the Son simply act like the Father. Rather, the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. The Son doesn’t rationally grasp the principles His Father teaches Him and then apply them to His life. No, He lives His Father. He surrenders Himself to the life-energy of the Father, which fills Him and allows the Being of the Father to move Him, to will, think, feel, and act in Him. As a result of Christ’s work in the world, God has given His Spirit to indwell all who will receive Him. To love God is to yield to the Spirit in the same way that the Son yields to the Father and the Father to the Son. Living in love with God, then, requires our complete self-denial. Self-denial: this is the key to life with God, and we’ll discuss that more next time.

Monday, March 1, 2010

More Snippets from Grandchildren

"Grandma, do you recognize our cousin?" asked Connor and Ryan in amazement.

"Do I recognize her?"

"How did you get that picture of our Cousin Sydney on your refrigerator?"

"Oh, I see. Yes, I do know Sydney. In fact, guess what? I'm your grandma, and I'm Sydney's grandma, too!"

"Does Sydney know?"

"Yes, of course."

"Has she been to your house?"

"Oh, yes."

They just stared at me in amazement. It was too much for five-year-olds to comprehend; they resumed their play.

* * *

Kelly says that when she told Claudia, one of her best friends, that she was traveling to see her grandma this week, Claudia asked, "The one who lives in New York, or the one who has squirrels?"

So Cool!

or, Ah, Fulfillment in Life!

"What is this, Grandma?" asked Kelly, snuggling down into her bed.

"That's the control to your mattress warmer."

"Mattress warmer?"

"Well, I should say your electric mattress cover. You press this button and your mattress cover heats up to keep you warm on cold nights. You won't need it tonight, of course."

Kelly sighed a big sigh. "You have a mattress warmer. You have a secret room. You have squirrels. Grandma, you are so cool!"