Month: June 2012

No True Church? No True Church History.

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One of the criticisms of Orthodoxy’s understanding of its own history (not to mention, Roman Catholicism’s) is that there really is no unbroken Christian tradition of anything at all, that Church history is really just about multiple movements, doctrines and practices that cannot coherently be traced back to the Apostles. This is essentially one version of the historiography of the anti-ecclesiologists. If there is no true Church, then there certainly cannot be any true tradition of continuity.

The above is the first paragraph of a post I published today on the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy weblog, entitled “No True Scotsman does Church History Polemics.” It deals with one of the approaches to Church history taken by those who not believe in one, true Church (what I call the “anti-ecclesiology”), simply denying what those who lived in the centuries prior believed about their Church, that it is the unbroken continuation of the very Church of the Apostles.

I hope you like it.

Orthodoxy at the Emmys

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Not that I watch awards shows more than perhaps once every five years or so (and I didn’t see this one, either), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the first time that Orthodox Christian monastic enclave Mount Athos was mentioned in an Emmy speech. This is Jonathan Jackson winning his fifth Emmy.

Readers may recall my interview with Mr. Jackson shortly before he and his family were baptized into the Orthodox Church earlier this year.

I know that some may greet this sort of thing with skepticism, especially since fame is not exactly conducive to salvation. The value of these kinds of moments, though, is that Orthodoxy is making its way into the public square.

Of course, this can be done badly, and fame can be a temptation in at least two ways: The first is the more obvious, and that is that fame can destroy humility. I’m not sure that many Orthodox people would therefore argue that acting, politics, sports, writing, broadcasting and almost anything which puts one’s work into the general stream of the culture should all be professions avoided by Orthodox Christians. (Some would, I’m sure.) I talked about the intersection of Hollywood acting with genuine faith and its problems for humility with Mr. Jackson in my interview with him. That, for me, was one of the more fascinating parts of the talk.

The second temptation that fame gives for the Orthodox Christian is like unto the first, but moves in a different vector, and that is to cheapen the faith by turning it into a selling point or an exotic accessory for the media personality. That can be done, and I think it’s probably happening in countries where most people are at least nominally Orthodox Christians. (Think, for instance, about the accusations Russian politicians get when they are visibly photographed in church.) But there is also a way publicly to witness to the Orthodox faith without cheapening it, even if that witness is sometimes only a hint. You may not agree, but I think the above video is a good example of this more genuine approach.

I honestly wonder (and I don’t say this in some sort of romantic way) how many folks watched Mr. Jackson’s speech and asked themselves who the monks of Mount Athos are and what it means that they pray for the salvation of the world. And perhaps a handful of them googled them, and perhaps a smaller handful started to read about their faith.

It’s possible.

Update: As I imagined could happen, this post got a spike in hits over the past few days, mainly from people searching for some combination of “Jonathan Jackson” and “Orthodox” or “religion.” It seems he got a few people wondering.

Granola Robots

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…we are supposed to act with great deference to natural rhythms and patterns when it comes to nature “out there,” but extend—by government fiat, if necessary—the greatest possible technological control over human reproductive rhythms and patterns. We should learn to live with and in nature out there, but conquer nature in here. To what can one attribute this fundamental contradiction?

Peter J. Deneen, “Forward” Into a Sterile Future” (emphasis in original)

This fascinating piece from today’s First Things column by Patrick J. Deneen (whose work I’m used to seeing at Front Porch Republic) highlights something I’ve also commented on in some of my pieces on ecology, that left-environmentalism is ultimately a misanthropic philosophy. But it also points out that the true aim of the combination of the contraception/environmentalism culture is really just unbridled indulgence. Human desire is to be limited by nothing at all, not even human nature. The dark thread connecting these two philosophies together is human sterility, which will “liberate” both man and nature from our fellow man.

One of the things that I believe Orthodoxy has to offer the culture is what we might term a “consistent green ethic,” in which all of nature—including mankind—is held in reverence as having the potential to be a vessel for the divine presence. With this attitude toward man and the rest of nature, violence becomes an impossibility.

Read the whole piece.

Who’s not a Christian?

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I’ve got a new post up at Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy that continues our series on ecclesiology. This one is entitled Who’s not a Christian? It examines the question of how different Christian communions see each other’s legitimacy.

Why can’t God love me the way I am?

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One of the perhaps most pressing theological questions of our time and place is answered beautifully in this post from Jim John Marks:

The question is not “why can’t God love me the way I am”, the question is “why can’t I love God the way I am”.

And it is the pursuit of the answer to that question which opens the door to a discussion about why our behavior, and our doctrine, matters. It ends the false conversation around whether or not specific behavior or doctrine is necessary to be “good enough” and so undercuts the contemporary appeals to relativism. The conversation then becomes about what the specifics of a relationship to God look like and why.

The whole post is so good that I really wish I’d written it. So go read it.

A Firm Foothold

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I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again. —Frodo Baggins

I happened upon this quotation again yesterday evening, while I was reading my daughter The Lord of the Rings. It seems a dauntingly long tome to read to a five-year-old, but of course we have years, if need be. She’s also already listened to the whole of The Hobbit and liked what she heard and wanted to hear more about hobbits. So of course I could not resist. Naturally she will not remember everything or understand all the details this time around, but that doesn’t particularly matter. So it goes with all of the good tales for any of us, including, I think, the Book itself.

As someone who is in some sense homeless (though not houseless), having lived now in twenty-two separate dwellings across fifteen towns, six states and one unincorporated territory, these words from Frodo in anticipation of his great Quest always make me a bit sad. Much of Tolkien’s work is about a sense of loss, of remembering things that never will return, and when Frodo speaks these words to Gandalf, he has no idea yet how much he will lose, that he will indeed lose the Shire for himself, even while he saves it for others.

The sadness that I feel is not quite Frodo’s sadness, though, because there is no geographic place that I have left behind and can return to or at least hope for while I am in my wanderings. And while I do intend to spend the rest of my days here in Emmaus, I think that it is too late for me to have a home. Though I am not old, I am too old for that. I’ve done it backwards from Frodo—I have tried to find a home after my wandering rather than embarked upon my wandering from a home already found and already loved.

My point here is not really about me, though. My life is what God has permitted it to be, even if I’ve muddled it up here and there, and I am grateful for what I have received. No, the point is about that “firm foothold” that Frodo mentions. For him, it is the Shire, and he carries memories of the Shire throughout the Quest to destroy evil. I do not have a Shire of my own, not in the sense that there is some specific place I can place my mind’s feet to gain that firm foothold.

But even though some of us are homeless in this life, I think that we nonetheless have the possibility for such a firm foothold, for a memory of beauty and homeliness (to use homely in its British sense, roughly homey in American English, though not so rustic). I hope I can say this without sounding like a romantic, but for me that firm foothold has become the worship of the Church, most especially in its Byzantine iteration, with which I was first imprinted in Orthodoxy. It is not quite the same as having a home in the earthier sense—a sense I encourage all to develop as best they can, even in such a homeless state as I find myself—but there is certainly a firm foothold to be had there, a power and glory and sense of belonging that can be carried along in any place of wandering, any struggle, any peril, as we pursue our own great Quest.

There are many instances throughout the history of the Church in which the saints, those people who were most infused with God’s presence here on earth, did something peculiar as they faced imprisonment, torture and even death—they sang hymns. I cannot help but think that their experiences in worshiping the one True God in His Body the Church became for them the firm foothold that made their wandering bearable. And when faced with the gravest of circumstances, they called to mind that power and energy, and they brought it forth again in an act of anamnesis (a term usually referred to the invocational memory that brings Christ’s passion and death into the here and now as the Eucharist). While Frodo could only engage in mneia (recall), we Christians have the possibility for anamnesis, bringing the Savior Whose salvation we remember into the very present by means of collective invocational memory.

As we do that, the orcs and Uruk-hai and evil wizards and the Ringwraiths and even the Enemy himself can be borne rightly, with patience and even with love and with joy. And in so doing, like Frodo, we can also destroy evil and loosen its hold on our hearts.

The One True Church and the Partisans of Anti-Ecclesiology

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The first of our ecclesiology posts is now up at the new Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy weblog. I wrote this one, and it’s essentially a sort of meditation on what it means to believe in the teachings of your own church and how that cannot help but affect one’s relations with other communions.

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: The Weblog

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I have an announcement of a major new project, opening today: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: The Weblog.

It’s been plain to me for some time that Christian doctrine is starting to matter to more and more people, and a lot of the people it matters to are Orthodox Christians, some of whom are doing some very good writing about it. You’re of course aware of the podcast and book that go by the name Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Since I already have this weblog in place, and since much of its contents are already O&H-type stuff, I didn’t want to start another weblog purely to sort out material I was already posting here. I certainly intend to keep posting that stuff here.

What occurred to me was that an O&H weblog could be a group project, a dedicated place for publication and discussion of Orthodox views on theology, especially non-Orthodox theology, pitched to be comprehensible to the serious Christian who may not have had formal seminary or philosophical training. So over the past couple of weeks I’ve been rounding up some writers to help with the planning and of course the writing. I’m also in the process of soliciting pieces from additional writers, as well. This won’t just be an aggregator for already published pieces—you’ll see a lot of new material there. It also won’t just be a series of disconnected posts on numerous topics—we plan to do series posts, both from single authors as well as coordinated series from multiple writers.

I hope you’ll join me over at the brand-new Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy weblog and maybe even consider submitting some work for publication. This should be interesting and, I hope, fun.