This is a guest post by Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox (OCA) priest. You can read More by Fr. Freeman at his excellent blog Glory to God in All Things or listen to his podcast.
The modern religious search often begins in disappointment. The rhetoric of religious believing and the reality can be miles apart. There can be very legitimate reasons for this disjunction. The truth claims of many religious groups border on the absurd. Complex dogmatic constructs quickly reveal themselves to be the intellectual fabrications of cultural and psychological forces. Disappointment leads to disbelief.
A hallmark of the modern world is the emphasis on the individual. Religious systems that cater to this emphasis (whether knowingly or unknowingly) often find rapid success. The same rapid success can be followed with rapid disappointment. The criteria of individual values, rooted in emotion and psychological states, are notoriously changeable. Those who live by experience, die by experience.
Experience is the great watershed of individualism. The greater the emphasis on the individual, the greater the emphasis on psychology and emotion – for these are the primary aspects of individual experience. If the focus shifts from my place within a network of relationships to my place within myself, then the focus necessarily leaves me with nothing but “me.” Love ceases to be a set of practices and becomes a feeling.
Feelings and psychological states are inherently a part of the human experience – but they are a very poor basis for human community and culture. The rise and dominance of consumer culture is the result of experience being exalted to the pivotal point of our existence. We shop, we buy, we consume in order to “feel” good. And the feelings which we deem “good,” are themselves those that are sold to us in the deeply psychologized world of advertising. That God makes me feel good can be little more than saying, “I like salt, sugar and fat.”
People are always hungry (for salt, sugar and fat) and people always have an array of feelings and psychological states. But these are secondary elements of human existence – meant to be balanced, made whole and subservient to our greater life. Consumer societies will never be happy, stable, or healthy. Their happiness and stability can be managed by those who have the power of propaganda. By themselves, they will never create a healthy civilization.
The purpose of the Church is not to create healthy civilizations, nor does the Church exist to be yet one more outlet of good feelings and neuroses. The Church is that place where God is being reconciled to man, and man to God. It is that place where all things are being gathered together in one in Christ Jesus. It is the ecclesia, the Divine Community of the Body of Christ, in which we may be made whole and in which the truth of our existence can be made manifest.
How does that make you feel?
Depending on the state of our lives, feelings in the ecclesia can be terrifying, satisfying, depressing, or meaningless – everything human beings are capable of feeling. It is also inevitable that we bring with us into the Divine Community the brokenness of our psyches. Thus, we are prone to use others in distorted ways. We attach ourselves to leaders and use their confidence or eloquence (or far darker things) to patch together the shattered pieces of our own psyches. We use our peer groups in destructive ways to create islands of belonging, fleeing the alienation and abandonment of our inner history.
These (and many similar things) are the distortions of individualized consumers. We do not know how to live without meeting the irrational demands of our feelings. Our psyches have no training in how to heal – only in how to use things and people around us for comfort, defense and need.
This cultural reality makes it very difficult to speak of authentic Christian experience – for we speak to one another as addicts. We largely know experience as an alcoholic knows alcohol. That an alcoholic might prefer vodka to wine tells me nothing about vodka or wine. Religious experience tells me almost nothing about God, the Church, truth, etc. It is God, the Church, truth, etc., viewed through the fog of distorted modern perception.
Facebook offers us the icon of our modern selves: I like it.
Not surprisingly, Orthodoxy is not well adapted to modern existence. You may or may not like it. Orthodoxy does not care whether you like it (or it should not). There are many drawn to certain aspects of Orthodoxy – conversions are commonplace today. Conversions that are similar to the consumer-variety – those that populate the world of denominationalism (and non-denominationalism) are not unknown – but they are productive of but three things: unhappy Orthodox, former Orthodox, or former consumerist Christians. It is this latter that is the proper goal of the transformation of the mind (Romans 12:2).
That transformation, from consumerist governed by the passions, to disciple governed by Christ, is the very heart of the Christian life. In its earliest stages it is deeply disappointing and necessarily so. Our passions need to be disappointed and reordered.
I have written elsewhere that ninety percent of Orthodoxy is “just showing up.” I meant then and repeat now that the slow work of transformation requires our presence within and to the ecclesia, the Church gathered. My forgiveness of others is often a rebuke of my own passions: I find you irritating, because I am governed by my passions. Christianity, from the time of its gifting to us by Christ, has consisted of daily taking up our cross and following Him. It is a road of dispassionate living.
Learning to live within the ecclesia, is learning to renounce the distortions of individualism and the dominance of our desires. We do not renounce our individuality, but rather take up our individuality as persons – as those who live for and with others. My individual life is not strictly my own. My life is a common life – the Life of Christ that dwells within His ecclesia.
This new life is far from a disappointment: it is fulfillment. But those who would be fulfilled must first be disappointed. A beloved friend once advised me: the truth will make you free – but first it makes you miserable.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Saturday, August 25, 2012
I got this compilation from Savas Zembillas. Thanks!
You are not making a gift of your possession to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.
Ambrose of Milan, 340-397.
The property of the wealthy holds them in chains . . . which shackle their courage and choke their faith and hamper their judgment and throttle their souls. They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned: enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.
Cyprian, 300 A.D.
The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help.
Basil of Caesarea, 330-370 A.D.
Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.
John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD
Instead of the tithes which the law commanded, the Lord said to divide everything we have with the poor. And he said to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies, and to be givers and sharers not only with the good but also to be liberal givers toward those who take away our possessions.
Irenaeus, 130-200 AD
The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.
John Chrysostom, 347-407
Share everything with your brother. Do not say, "It is private property." If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.
Let the strong take care of the weak; let the weak respect the strong. Let the rich man minister to the poor man; let the poor man give thanks to God that he gave him one through whom his need might be satisfied.
Clement of Rome, 1st Century
Christians love one another. They do not overlook the widow, and they save the orphan. The one who has ministers ungrudgingly to the one who does not have. When they see a stranger, they take him under their own roof and rejoice over him as a true brother, for they do not call themselves brothers according to the flesh but according to the soul.
Aristides, early 2nd century
How can I make you realize the misery of the poor? How can I make you understand that your wealth comes from their weeping?
Basil of Caesarea, 330-370 A.D.
When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.
John Chrysostom, 347-407
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Why doesn't the term "trinity" appear in the Bible? This video seeks to explain how Christianity changes the language that they use to explain the mystery of God as they encounter new world views. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!
Posted by Billy Kangas at 7:00 AM
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Baumstark rules, the rest have developed after.
- The Law of Organic Development - This law states that additions to the liturgy grow up next to older forms, but eventually supplant or cause an abbreviation to older forms
- That primitive conditions are maintained with greater tenacity in the more sacred sections of the liturgical year - This law points out that ancient customs are preserved more accurately in highly solemn and significant occasions.
- The Older a text is the less influenced by the Bible it is - This law was formulated by Fritz Hamm, Baumstark's student.
- The more more recent a text is the more symmetrical it is - This was also a Hamm addition.
- The later it is, the more liturgical prose gets charged with doctrinal elements - This was added by Hieronymus Engberding.
- Certain actions, that began as purely utilitarian by nature may receive symbolic meaning either from their function in the liturgy as such, or from factors in the liturgical texts which accompany them. - This is another Baumstark rule
- Liturgical prose becomes increasingly Oratorical or governed by Rhetoric - A Robert Taft rule.
- The development of liturgy is but a series of individual developments - Another Taft rule.
Friday, August 10, 2012
I recently read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Most people have encountered C.S. Lewis at one point or another. Although he is probably most well known for his fiction series The Chronicles of Narnia, he was also well accomplished in other areas. He was first published as a poet when he was an atheist, he is best known for his writings that he completed after a dramatic conversion to Christianity. His newspaper series we now know as the Screwtape letters and his BBC radio addresses we now know as Mere Christianity propelled him to a level of national fame. His primary work was teaching English at Oxford (he was also well accomplished in this field, for example his scholarly work on Milton is still considered one of the best).
In this work he found a great amount of comfort in the conversations between keen minds (he was very close friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, as many of you are probably familiar). Not only did he gravitate toward keen minds in face to face conversation, but also in correspondence. This is how he met his wife Joy.
Joy was a convert from Judaism and began corresponding with Lewis by letters. These letters turned into face to face conversations after Joy was divorced and moved to England. Eventually the two married. C.S. Lewis had never thought he would get married in this late addition to his life helped him understand love and commitment in new and profound ways. She died three years later. The book A Grief Observed is a collection of his journal entries that were compiled as he struggled through the mourning process. It is a unique approach to writing about grief, and its raw honesty and depth of reflection make it arguably one of the best books by C.S. Lewis.
A Grief Observed was originally conceived as project to “map” greif. Although Lewis abandoned the project early on, realizing that you can’t map greif. It’s not static. It’s a moving target that doesn’t ever fully end.
Almost every line A Grief Observed struck me in some way. There was a great deal of struggle that is common to all who mourn, and it was so well articulated that I found myself drawn into the process of grief as much as I would be drawn into a narrative. At times he hates God, at times he loves God, and in both cases he makes compelling arguments to explain why. I thought I would post a few lines that I thought were particularly good and invite conversation around them. This is a book that discusses the unresolvable so it leaves a great deal of these questions unresolved. I would like to not resolve them some more with all of you, if time allows.
“It doesn’t matter that all the photographs of [Joy (his wife)] are bad. It doesn’t matter–not much–if my memory of her is imperfect. Images, whether on paper or in the mind, are not important for themselves. Merely links. Take a parallel from an infinitely higher sphere. Tomorrow morning a priest will give me a little round, thin, cold, tasteless wafer. Is it a disadvantage–is it not in some ways an advantage–that it can’t pretend the least resemblance to that with which it unites me? I need Christ, not something that resembles Him. I want[Joy]., not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle.”If the wafer looked like Christ the reality of the "substance" would be obscured by the vision of the "accidents" to use Thomistic categories. I mentioned this quote to my friend Iain and he, an atheist, argued that our own doctrines can function this was. What do you think? Do all images of God limit him?
“Knock and it shall be opened.' But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”
What do we do with a God who promises to answer and then seems to bolt the door and lock it? What do we do in the face of evil that seems to prove that God is not good but evil?
Another line states:
“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”
How are these thoughts and the thought before related?
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
He believes his faith is being tested at one point.
At another point, however, he has another realization:
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
What do you think he means by this?
“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.”
How might this statement relate to work in ministry?
“What do people mean when they say, 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never even been to a dentist?”
I have often been compelled to look at the violence of a surgeon as I reflect on my own theory of “Just War” and the like. What is more terrifying a God who acts or a God who doesn’t? What is more loving? What is more just?
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.”I believe in God, but I must also be an Atheist to my own version of God. If I don’t allow God to change my perspective about God I become an idolater.
This image shows how we see the orbit of Mars from earth. As you probably know this behavior was very troubling to many early astronomers.
It was one of the main pieces of evidence that helped Copernicus realize that the Sun was at the center of the solar system...
Many people assume that this was the first time the idea had come up, but it had been bouncing around western thought since the third century B.C.
In the 5th and 9th century the theory was a bit of a hot topic in the church and outside of it.
During the Late Middle Ages, Bishop Nicole Oresme discussed the possibility that the Earth rotated on its axis, while Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa in his Learned Ignorance asked whether there was any reason to assert that the Sun (or any other point) was the center of the universe. In parallel to a mystical definition of God, Cusa wrote that "Thus the fabric of the world (machina mundi) will quasi have its center everywhere and circumference nowhere."
In many ways the controversy surrounding Nicholaus Copernicus, who was a catholic clergyman, was not about "traditional religion" vs "new science" BUT instead was an issue of a NEW WAY of reading the Bible in conflict with an old theory (with a new methodology to prove it)
The rise of "humanism" created a culture that drew people to "return to the sources" for truth... This is one of the major cultural factors that caused the reformation as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin looked to the bible with the new lens of Sola Scriptura.
Interestingly, it was protestants like Luther who first took issue with Copernicus. (Luther condemned him in 1539). There was no one who saw heresy in the theory until the 17th century when some Jesuits (an order founded in part to respond to protestants) began to attack the theory as heretical.
The 17th century condemnation may be in part due to the emergence of Galileo... In many ways history is still unsure about why the church was suspicious of Galileo, but it may have had little to do with his heliocentrism and much to do with his rejection of Aristotelian doctrine of matter (this undermined the tridentine formulation of transubstantiation)... There is so much more that can be said on this.
Science is NEVER in opposition to healthy religion, but it is in conversation with it. Too often we are content to let the two live in their own cloistered world. I would love to see further dialog between the two.