Jonathan Jackson

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.

Things to Listen to

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It is Lent, and therefore many things have been happening. We hardly get much of a chance to catch our breath during Lent (despite a number of us being quite full of hot air). Somehow, though, in the midst of all this, there has been some recording going on here, and of course there are bits that have been recorded that had not been previously published. Thus, I thought I might give something of a recap of stuff that’s been released recently that you may have missed, as well as some items that are newly online.

A few weeks ago, St. Paul’s here in Emmaus (my church) hosted Richard Barrett to give a couple of talks for a retreat on Orthodox church music. (On his weblog, he recently reflected on his visit to Emmaus, among other places.) Here are the two titles, along with brief descriptions:

  • Psalterion as pulpit: The privilege, craft, and discipline of Orthodox liturgical song: The Byzantine rite provides a unique opportunity for the church singer to preach the Orthodox Christian faith in its fullness. In this talk, the practical and spiritual implications for the cantor and choir director are discussed, exploring how liturgical music is a responsibility to be honored, a skill to be learned, and a calling to be respected.
  • Mingling Prophecy With Melody: The Ethos of Orthodox Liturgical Music: St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great both describe music as the sweetener that God has given us so that we will want to worship Him. How does music work in that way? What do we sing, who sings it, and why? How does Orthodox liturgical music "set the tone" for our worship? This talk discusses some fundamental musical concepts and explores how they interact with our liturgy and our faith.

These talks were both well received, and they even include a bit of singing. My contribution to them was mainly the introduction at the beginning, though I do hum a bit of ison at certain points.

Something you probably saw (but I think is worth highlighting again) is my hour-long, airport parking lot interview with General Hospital actor and musician Jonathan Jackson, who is a catechumen (along with his wife and children) in the Orthodox Church, in the process of converting to the faith. The Jacksons are slated to be baptized this coming Holy Saturday (April 14, by the Orthodox reckoning). Here’s the chat:

Jonathan and I have stayed in touch in the weeks following the interview, and I’ve found him to be a remarkably earnest, thoughtful man. We’ve shared bits of writing with each other, including him offering some insightful comments on the manuscript I have in production (tentatively entitled An Introduction to God: Encountering Orthodox Christianity). He’s also shared some of his music with me, which I now recommend—it’s also earnest and thoughtful and not at all a mere “side project” for someone who’s otherwise got his career elsewhere engaged.

Finally, the newest release is the completion of a talk that is the last in my Meeting the World series. This one is a broadside against pietism in Orthodoxy. Here’s both parts:

  • Doctrine Matters: Why Orthodoxy Isn’t Just Orthopraxy: Part 1, Part 2.

At the beginning of the second part, I apply the naval cannons to that famous saying attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” For those interested in some other comments on pietism, take a listen to “Giving Up Something” for Lent (original weblog post here).

All this stuff is edited and produced by the fine folks at Ancient Faith Radio, to whom I am ever in debt.

From General Hospital to the Hospital of Souls: Interview with Jonathan Jackson

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The Obligatory Cellphone Shot

This morning, after Matins, I high-tailed it across New Jersey over to Newark Liberty International Airport, pulled up to the Departures area at Terminal A, and picked up a man holding a tray of coffee. We drove to the airport parking, picked a spot, and proceeded to chat for about ninety minutes, about sixty of which I caught on tape.

The man was (as you can see from the photo) Emmy award winning actor Jonathan Jackson, who is perhaps best known for his role as “Lucky Spencer” (son of the mighty super-couple Luke and Laura) on “General Hospital.” Jonathan and his family are currently catechumens of the Orthodox Church, preparing for baptism this coming Holy Saturday, the day before Pascha (Easter).

I’ll let you listen to the interview yourself for all the details of our chat, but I will say that it was a genuine pleasure to conduct. One occasionally finds people that convert to Orthodoxy for various reasons (many of which can, indeed, be good), but it’s always such a delight to find someone who is entering into the Church because of a diligent and earnest desire for the truth. Jonathan has that. But this post isn’t really about that. (But the interview is!)

What this weblog entry is actually about is how a lowly, no-account priest like me got to interview a Hollywood heartthrob, especially because, when his name first came to my attention, I had never heard of him. (He didn’t seem to mind.)

The story essentially goes like this: In the process of exploring the history of Christianity, Jonathan and his sister ended up coming across Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (also on Amazon) and reading it together. Out of the blue, she contacted me this past November to ask if I’d be willing to send a couple signed copies out to them over on the West Coast, as a surprise Christmas gift. She also asked if I’d be willing to be introduced to her brother.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I often get people contacting me out of the blue and asking for things from me as a priest that are really properly asked of a priest who is local to them. So my first thought was to try to politely brush them off, because I essentially have a local-only policy about such things. But this wasn’t the same kind of request. She wanted to introduce us, because she thought we might get along, and she also let me know that he was already fully plugged-in with a priest and parish local to him. But I must admit that my first thought was, “What the heck will a soap opera star and I have in common?”

But there was just something about the request that kind of intrigued me, even though I am naturally wary of anyone with fame. (I was particularly amused to hear Jonathan say today, “Fame is ridiculous.” I agree.) So of course I sent the books, but instead of initiating the contact myself, I just put a couple of copies of my business card inside the books.

Sure enough, he contacted me sometime after Christmas. We corresponded a bit over email, and I was particularly amused at the (barely restrained) gushing of some of my female parishioners and friends when I happened to mention the whole thing to them. They couldn’t believe that this guy was really becoming Orthodox, and they also had a hard time believing that their priest (of all people) was somehow connecting with him.

Over the course of our correspondence, he told me that he was going to be on the East Coast with his band Enation to play some shows not terribly far away from Emmaus, all within a couple hours or so. So we decided to try to meet up.

Anyway, we eventually were able to work out a time when we could connect, and in the meantime, I suggested the idea of doing an interview for the Roads From Emmaus podcast. He graciously agreed, and now you can listen to much of our talk.

It was a wonderful encounter. I guess I should probably get familiar with his work, though I can’t say I’m likely to start watching “General Hospital” any time soon. (He’s off the show for the time being, anyway, so I guess that lets me off the hook. I should probably watch Tuck Everlasting at some point, though.)