Saturday, May 27, 2017

Rain

An old forgotten and rusted can of paint thinner
Chimes in time with the rain.
The rain hissing and running down from the gray sky
Twists and shifts with the wind.

Pools fill in the divots and channels left by winter,
Leaves in trees drinking it up.
The tarmac glistens like a skating rink
Worn but warm from the hidden sun.

Birds bathe in makeshift showers and baths
Singing and bringing more music
To the percussion of the intermittent downpour.
Hop on top the soaked forgotten clothes,

The sun is sure to shine again, sending down its rays
Scattering the smattering of water left
After the storm disipates into foggy memory,
Seething and breathing behind the mountains.

Happy yet?

Are you happy yet?  Do you feel the breeze?
The midsummer cicadas roar at it, satisfied with their lot.
The frogs fill their throats and voice their pleasure
but what about you? Are you happy yet?

A state of mind is much harder to achieve when the brain
locks itself into the wrong room (or unwillingly is sequestered).
Knocking to get out or for someone to hear,
years go by while the dust gravitates to scattered objects hidden or not.

Even the windows are full of green and bird scat
and guano gathers in lonely piles on the floor
and although the sounds are muffled, you can hear
voices through the thick musty smell of old rotted wood hidden by lead paint.

Rain comes and goes, pounding the roof, wind
driving it against the walls in sheets, while rainscent
wafts through the minuscule gaps in your confinement,
leaving its taste on your tongue and in your nose and on your mind.

Are you happy yet?  Not yet?  Your heart bequeathes a tasteless,
sightless dourness to the visual and auditory senses,
touching cloudless mornings with tainted, dirty hands.
Happy yet?  Sure, why not?  If you say so.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Traditions

Every religious system has its own traditions. I am not here talking about Holy Tradition as understood by Eastern Orthodoxy or even Catholicism, although there is some application.  Rather, I am talking about the rubric that is developed and used to explain how we got from there to here by other faith groups; specifically those as used by the protestants.  Holy Tradition certainly is used this way but it shouldn't be understood as being on the same level.  Holy Tradition is seen as encompassing the Truth passed down from God, to the Apostles and to the Church.  The traditions (lowercase 't') that I want to write about now doesn't have the force of producing dogma but certainly does hold important sway over the development and defense of doctrine within the protestant churches.

This is especially true when we begin to talk about Scripture and doctrines like Sola Scriptura. The gripe that I have with most protestant teachers and scholars is that they do not have the fortitude to admit that this is in fact what is going on. I've heard some fairly complicated defenses of the origins of the canon and for the sola doctrine, typically more complicated then most believers can follow, and yet in the end it always comes across like so much thrashing about.  The fact remains protestants believe what they do because they must. To believe anything else is to run the risk of admitting the Orthodox may have had it right all along (and they've been around a lot longer than the protestants). 

To state, "Scripture is to be the only source of doctrine", sounds elevated and grand and the defense for such a statement as complicated as you like but one word seems sufficient to bring at least some clouds to the picnic: "Why?".   It certainly wasn't what pre-reformation leaders believed, even though the church has always held Scripture in the highest regard and as pivotal in all she has done.  But it never held the centristic and exclusivistic flavor it held for the reformers until fifteen centuries after the founding of the church itself.  The New Testament, ironically enough, held absolutely no sway for the early church for the first few years for the simple fact that it did not exist.  Even after all the books were in circulation there was no such thing as "The Bible" for people to torment each other with challenges like, "Show me where that is in Scripture!  Chapter and verse".  And even afterward there would be quite a number of years before they were available as a canon, a few more years before the Church officially recognized the canon and then many more years before that canon would be available to the regular man on the street. 

But trying to explain the origins of Sola Scriptura and the Scriptures themselves isn't where Protestant tradition comes into full force.  It is when the matter of interpretation is brought up by the simple and unsuspecting masses. I say here simple not because they are idiots but because thy typically don't have an PhD or some other advanced degree in the Bible, theology or biblical languages to guide them into a proper interpretation of Scripture.  I say this tongue-n-cheek because even the biblical scholars cannot fully agree. And although I do not believe, when it comes to the matter of truth, consensus is alway deciding factor, the fact that many protestants believe it is only underscores their need and use of a consistent tradition to replace the Holy Tradition they and the Western church rejected.  And if the scholars cannot agree, with all of their years of study, how can we simple people hope to come to an understanding of the truth?

Some would argue that this is overstating the case and the importance of the disagreements.  In some manner this is true.  True Christians all agree about Trinity, the efficacy of Christ's blood, existence of God, etc.  Things we call essentials to true belief.  But that is small consolation when we can't agree on the nature of the communion elements, salvation, sanctification, miracles, prayer, icons, the priesthood, the nature of the Church, hell, etc.  When taken as a whole the differences far outweigh the similarities.   And although we could convince ourselves they really don't make that much of a difference, we should be at least ready to acknowledge the niggling in the back of our minds that should keep us asking, "But why are there so many differences in the first place?".

Luther decided (and I believe it was a novelty) that Scripture was to be the only source of doctrine and that every believer was, as a priest, to have ready access to a copy and make decisions concerning doctrine, faith and practice.  Luther believed that the Scriptures were so clear that everyone who read them would see the truths and, amazingly enough, all agree.  All agree with what?  The Scriptures?  No, with Luther!  But in the end Luther was greatly disappointed in the results.  Results that seems to have surprised him but looking back with hindsight should have been expected.  Not only did interpretations disagree with one another but each interpretation quickly took on the weight of papal infallibility.  As the Roman Catholic church pointed out, Luther had gotten rid of one pope and made everyone their own pope. 

Most people I speak to are turned off by the Orthodox Church because, among other things, it is full of traditions.  Here I am definitely speaking of Holy Tradition, but coming from an outsider looking in, they see little difference.  Fine, let us go with that.  Everything that is done in the Orthodox church that doesn't find explicit expression in Scripture can be called tradition (Even though, to be clear, the Scriptures themselves are a part of that Tradition).  But, and this is where my real criticism of protestantism comes in, so can her interpretation of Scripture where, by the way, all of those other things find final root and authority; and all this means to me is that the Orthodox Church has all along and at the very least, been willing to admit a fact that the protestants have, as far as I can tell, refused. 

It is this refusal that finally made me throw up my hands in despair and give up on protestantism all together.  I believe in Holy Tradition, but even if I didn't I would take no small amount of comfort in the fact that the Orthodox Church is living consistent with reality. And that, to me, is far more important then coming up with complicated theological frameworks to try and explain one's conception of reality.  If one has to go to that much work maybe it is time to admit that maybe you have the wrong picture in the first place.  Maybe it is time to dumb things down a bit and join the rest of us nobodies on the street and in the pubs.  The Orthodox Church has always ministered to the poor man and woman on the street, the farmer and the maid.   Oh, it has ministered to the king, prince and scholar too but the cost is much, much higher. A cost many are unwilling to pay.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Baptism


Cold biting winter wind, merciless
in its' endeavors. Scratching, clawing, desperate to win
gives way, once again, to warming spring breezes and
green buds, frog song and bird love.

Light a candle or three.

Death, sometimes slow halting movements,
other times sudden like a unexpected stunning slap to the face.
Now life, resurrected, death spun backwards and on its head
Weak, useless legs strengthened, eyeless sockets budding, growing, filled.

Water becomes wine, the wedding can go on!

The procession of catechumens, an army of priests.
The Archangel Micheal, sword drawn, shoulders back, chin forward,
voice the sound of trumpets, "The Lord rebuke you!"
The enemy quakes, the catechized pray.  They are ready.  Amen.

The bridegroom! Parousia!

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come...
Kingdom here, the song of thousands upon thousands,
ten thousands upon ten thousands sing, pray, worship!
Another sheep for the fold, ten-thousands plus one.

The wise virgins have lit their lamps! 

The waters, oily and cold in the environment clouded with smoke,
open wide their arms to embrace the penitent.
They both hold their breath. In all the excitement they forget to breath!
The voices sound like rushing water and thunder.

The trees of the fields clap their hands!

What will be your sacrifice O! nomore-catechumen?
Some locks of hair? Snip - Snip - Snip.  Much more than hair.
Stretch forth your arms, someone else will dress you.
Stretch forth your arms, someone else will lead you.

Sower, sow your seeds!

Take into your mouth the blood shed for you; your blood will be shed.
Take into your mouth the flesh torn for you; your flesh will be torn.
Juxtapose kingdom, lovely, full of light, healing, life and forever
with road to it narrow, hard, full of suffering, pain and tears.

Mara natha!  

Sing! Rejoice! Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down
death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Sing! Rejoice!  Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you.
God grant you many years - live long and prosper.  

Amen, amen, amen!


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Missing the point

I while ago I wrote a post that was, in part, written in frustration.  I received some criticism for that post particularly from the church I was in the process of leaving because they saw my article as an attack on, as they put it, "the bride of Christ".  I didn't mean it to be taken that way and fortunately others have written or spoken to me in order to tell me they appreciated it. But in all fairness I do have a particular way of writing that sometimes comes across as less than loving.  That post can be found here.

Recently I came across another post that was much better written and I think hit the nail on the head.  That post can be found here, and I encourage you, even implore you, to please read it.

The church my family was a part of is full of very loving people who also love Jesus with all their hearts.  I'm not just saying that.  I spent over ten years with them and I know it is true.  However, like many modern churches, they have become quite focused on being hip and approachable by the unsaved and unchurched.   They have also become very focused on what these days is called "outreach".  There is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to reach people for Christ.  But what I discovered is that if approached the wrong way these good desires can easily lead to a lack of "inreach".  That is, people who are already following Christ and especially those who have been for a long time, are assumed to be o.k. and left to fend for themselves.  It wasn't until my wife and I went through some really hard and dark times that we discovered that we were pretty much on my own.  I am certain that for a few people they thought they were reaching out to us. But because of how we've been taught to "do church", the efforts were much to little to late (I apologize in advance to my dear friends, but I am speaking from my perspective and my heart).

There also appears to be, in many of these churches, confusion as to what Sunday worship is intended for. Sunday worship is really for the true worshiper of God.  Biblically and historically Sunday was never intended to be evangelistic in the literal sense of that word. But because of our misguided understanding of outreach we turn Sunday into a crusade of sorts and forget the hurting masses right in our own pews.  This is the result of a church model based upon modern evangelism paradigms that themselves are often based on modern business and entertainment practices and not truly biblical or historical.

The above post by Kimberli is a perfect case in point.  It is a very sad and thus difficult article to read but needed in today's consumerism oriented churches.  It is too easy to have a form of godliness but completely lacking any real power;  the power to see, help and heal those in our own midsts.  If we manage to get people through our doors and onto our membership rosters only for them do discover that the people in the church are just as lonely, hurting and depressed as those outside it can we be surprised when they leave or, in our case, simply fade away? 

Friday, March 10, 2017

How's it going?

"They were drilling my teeth and I kept thinking....this should NOT be the best part of my day"

This was said to me by a friend I work with. She had been to the dentist the day before and that day was a particularly rough day for her.  When your day is so terrible that the dentist drilling your teeth becomes the highlight of the day, you know things are bad. I certainly can identify with that.  I suppose we all can.

I wish I could say I'm honest with people whenever they ask, "How's it going?".  I'm not.  I lie.  All the time.  I usually answer, "Good, and you?".  There's another lie.  I really don't want to know most of the time.  I only have a handful of people in my life I ever want an honest answer to that question from and I have an even smaller circle of people I will give an honest answer to.  My wife is one that falls into both groups.  We share almost everything (even marriage has some personal boundaries). And then there's a really, really small circle of friends I will share things with or want them to share with me.  The aforementioned workmate is one. I have perhaps two more I can name off the top of my head.  One I only see maybe once a year.

But that isn't my point. My point is I wonder how I should be responding to people.   I don't really want to be honest.  And unless they fall into that really tiny circle I spoke of I am certain they really don't want to hear an honest answer to their pseudo inquiry anyway.  And I really don't want an honest answer to my forced response.  If we are going to be honest the question and response are merely social expectations and that is the end of it. 

I am thinking that the next time I am asked the question and the inquisitor is not in my very exclusive network I will respond, "Why do you care?"  or, "What's it to you?".   I know that isn't really polite and I am a jerk, but it is honest. I could just say, "Good" or "Terrible".  That may be honest and less offensive if not binary (which works for me as a programmer).  But instead of a follow up question I could just say, "I don't care about how you feel, so let's just end this".  But again, that sounds awful even if it is honest. So maybe I will just stare at them.  Creepy, but effective.  Or maybe I should just walk away.  I'll have to think that one over. 

My priest, when he asks that question and thinks you are being less than honest, will call you a liar. So there's another possibility if you really truly want an honest answer. That's if you really want to give an honest answer.  Maybe you don't.  Maybe I don't.  That is fine.  But maybe we are afraid you don't want to hear our answer and need a bit more encouragement to share.  I once was asked by a pastor how I was doing and when I started to tell him he saw someone else he needed to talk to and walked off with me in mid-sentence.  So you'll forgive me if sometimes I need a good show of faith concerning your sincerity. 


In the end I really don't have a good answer to how to answer.  Honesty is good policy most of the time, but not all of the time (regardless what you were taught in kindergarten with mythical stories of our first president).  But with those people you call "friend" there will be an understanding.  A special understanding that allows you to be honest while at the same time acknowledging your dishonesty with a knowing wink.  Not the "friends" on social media but real friends. I have found they are very difficult to come by mostly because such friendships take a lot of time and effort and pain and growing.  But when they do come along they are well worth it.






Saturday, January 07, 2017

Christamas celebration 2016

Yes, I know it is 2017.  But our  Orthodox Church is on the Old (sometimes called traditional) calendar.  This is the Julian calendar which, up until World War I, all of the Eastern Orthodox Churches used.  The west, including many Orthodox Churches use the Gregorian calendar which is thirteen days ahead of the Julian calendar.  I'm not really here to debate which is "right".  Honestly, it doesn't matter that much to me nor, I think, to a good many Orthodox.   It would be nice if we were all on the same page as far as dates go, but it isn't a show stopper in my book.  Just a bit of a bump in the road form time to time.

However, there is one walloping great benefit:  We get two (count them, two!) Chrstimases.  Who in their right mind would complain about that?  Certainly not me and definitely not my kids.  They are not Orthodox but they aren't crazy enough to pass up an extra Christmas.

So today was our Christmas service where we celebrated the Nativity.  It was really wonderful.  But Orthodoxy doesn't just have Christmas.  What would be the fun or benefit in that, right?  They have a number of special services all the way up to today.  For example, yesterday we attended the Royal Hours at 9:30 a.m. which included lots of prayer and Scripture readings.  Then at 3 p.m. we had vespers and celebrated the divine liturgy of St. Basil followed by a vigil at 6 p.m.  All in all this amounted to about six hours of church!  Then, today, we attended the divine liturgy at 9 a.m. (Communion being served both yesterday and today). 

But preparation for Christmas (usually called The Nativity in Orthodoxy) didn't even start there.  Today and yesterday could be more accurately called the culmination.  No, preparation for Christmas started way back on November 28, the Monday right after Thanksgiving.  With fasting!   Yep, we started preparing for Christmas by fasting.  Not total abstinence from food but rather certain kinds of food.  Basically everyone becomes temporary vegans!  Which for my daughter and me is a boon.  I keep telling people that their fast is our feast.  Obviously fasting for us wasn't going to be very difficult so we abstained from a couple of other things (mostly successfully) to help us become better at fasting and reap some of the spiritual benefits.

Of course, this means today was the first day with no fasting and the meal following church was mostly uneatable to us.  But that was o.k..  The fellowship was wonderful and it was with much joy we responded to, "Christ is born" with the refrain, "Glorify Him!".  Which is really what Christmas is all about, right?

But back to the calendar.  There is another benefit to being on a different timetable as everyone else. It forces us to remember, in a very practical way, that we aren't of this world. We are pilgrims here and meant to be out of sync with the world around us.  Too often we look like the world, act like the world and talk like the world so that they can't really see much difference between us and them.  It shouldn't be this way.  And having one more way of being out of sync is really helpful.  Not only to ourselves either.  It benefits the world around us because they can see that things are different and, hopefully, may even wonder why and ask questions. I relish the opportunity to answer the question, "Why are you celebrating Christmas on January 7th?"

Well, it is almost time for Christmas supper.  After that, the kids get to open more presents. 

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!




Monday, January 02, 2017

Not idolatry

One reoccurring criticism I get from Protestants concerning the Orthodox church concerns the veneration of icons (do a google search for "orthodox icons" if you don't know what an icon is).  We are constantly accused of worshiping pieces of wood and paint. I recently listened to a podcast of a prominent "discernment blogger"  who repeatedly referred to people like the Orthodox and Roman Catholics as "idolaters".

Let me assure my friends and family that nothing could be further from the truth.  The Orthodox Church considers the worship of anything or anyone other than God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as blasphemy.  The Church sees a vast difference between worship and veneration.  And by "veneration" it is simply meant that the believer pays special and deep respect to the person represented by the icon. 

If you are still inclined to believe that bower to and kissing icons is a form of worship, allow me to ask a few questions:

First, does the heart of the believer figure into the action at all?  In other words, when the believer says, "I am not worshiping the icon, I would only worship God.  I am simply paying my respects to the person represented by this picture" are they to be accused of lying? 

Second,  I study an eastern martial art.  At the beginning and end of class our instructor bows to us and we to him.  Are we worshiping each other?

Third,  when two Japanese businessmen meet and bow to each other are they worshiping one another?

These are just a couple of questions worth asking yourself before accusing someone of idolatry.  Idolatry, biblically, isn't simply a matter of a particular action, but the intentions behind that action.  It is simply unfair and, to be honest, rude to accuse someone of worshiping when they insist that, in their heart and mind, they are doing no such thing simply because you are confused about their actions. 

Also keep in mind that Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism started in an eastern cultural setting.  The idea that bowing equals worship is very American and demonstrates a common problem in our culture that can equally be blamed on xenophobia as it can on an ethnocentrism.  If you truly want to know what Orthodox believers are doing try talking to one.  Better yet, talk to an Orthodox Priest.  Not only won't he bite, he will be more than happy to sit down with you and answer your concerns and questions. 

[Note to my Orthodox brothers and sisters: I have simplified the explanation of icons and their use in this post on purpose.  I hope to go into more detail about them some time later on.  For now this post is intended primarily to answer concerns put forward by my Protestant friends.]

The Bereans

In Acts 17:10-12 we read the following:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 

Most Christians are familiar with this wonderful passage about the noble Jewish Bereans. We might be tempted to use this passage to promote bible studies, higher biblical literacy, but some even to support the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  Studying our Bible is important and believers should be encouraged to study it and study it deeply.  And it seems, at first glance, to be the perfect passage for this.  But is it?

It is interesting to note that prior to the reformation it is difficult to find any reference to this passage, let alone a use of it familiar to most of us from a protestant background. In fact, doing a search through Schaff's Early Church Father's  I managed to find one reference to Bereans prior to the Reformation and it was a note by the translator (or Schaff himself) commenting on a phrase by Cyprian (see note 3814) quoted below.  It is interesting, as a side note, that the importance of searching the Scripture is pointed out but not reading through "the complete volumes of the spiritual books" which it appears Cyprian is putting on somewhat equal footing with Scripture.

And these things may be of advantage to you meanwhile, as you read, for forming the first lineaments of your faith. More strength will be given you, and the intelligence of the heart will be effected more and more, as you examine more fully the Scriptures, old and new, and read through the complete volumes of the spiritual books.

 This fact, that what is now the normative use of the Berean passage isn't shown to be normative at all until the Reformation, isn't conclusive in and off itself, but it should at least give us pause long enough to ask ourselves what this passage is really trying to tell us. So with that in mind I want to ask a few questions.

First, what was St. Luke trying to get across when he wrote Acts?  Was he trying to show us how Church was suppose to run and how Christians were suppose to behave?   Well, maybe there was a bit of this in mind when he set pen to parchment, but I don't believe it was his major aim.  If I were to sum up his goal in one sentence I would put it like so: Luke was attempting to demonstrate that this fledgling movement was both birthed and guided by the Holy Spirit.  Or to put it even more concisely: the Church was, through and through, a God thing.

I think this summation is easily supported and mostly agreed upon by biblical scholars, both Protestant and Orthodox.

Second, this passage, by its wording, was intended to be read as a juxtaposition to the previous passage.  This is clear from St. Luke's words, "Now these [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica..." (vs. 11).  Which really isn't about the Thessalonian Jews not reading Scripture and the Berean Jews reading Scripture but rather how they received the word of the Apostles. 

Third, what about all the accounts of people following Jesus without once being told that they first ran to the Scriptures?  We can see this both in the accounts of Gentile conversions as well as Jewish ones.   Are they to be considered less noble because they didn't first look to the Scriptures?   Some might argue, "Yes, but they had memorized the Scriptures and therefore had no need to read them".  To which I would counter that this doesn't explain the Gentiles who would likely not have had exposure to the Jewish Scriptures nor does it explain why the Jews in Berea needed to read them in the first place. 

Fourth, what was it they received from the Apostles?  We aren't told so anything we say about this will necessarily be conjecture.  But considering what we know of the Apostles and their commission given them by Jesus to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded, I believe the safest conjecture would be that they taught the Bereans exactly what Jesus told them to teach.  And if this is the case, how would they search through the Old Testament Scriptures and come to any sort of conclusions about Jesus?  If I were to give a copy of the Old Testament to an unbeliever or even a Jew and said, "Look up everything I tell you about Jesus and verify that what I am telling you is in that book" would they be able to do it?

Fifth, if this passage really was saying, as many of us have been taught, that we must study Scripture and in order to determine if what we are being taught is true or not, we have another problem to address.  This problem was brought to full light at the Protestant Reformation.  When each person interprets the Scripture on his own then he is likely to come up with his own interpretation.  If the Bereans were attempting to decide the veracity of the Apostles' words exclusively from their interpretation of Scripture how could they trust the veracity of their own interpretation. In fact, we see from both from Jesus' interaction with his disciples and the reaction of the religious elite to Jesus that interpretation was a major factor. 

So what was St. Luke trying to say in this passage?  If I am correct, and I think I am, that he was attempting to show how the Holy Spirit was the source of this new movement then it would only follow that this passage about the Bereans was, likewise, following this same vein.  That is, the Bereans are "more noble" not simply because they searched the Scriptures but because they "received the word with all eagerness".  The fact that they searched the Scriptures was only a  manifestation of their eagerness.  Why were they so eager?  Clearly God was working in their hearts.  The seeds being scattered by the apostles took immediate root and began to produce fruit.  This was a God thing.

This would explain how they were able to search the Scriptures for verification of what they were being taught.  They were looking at passages they were quite familiar with and reading into them a new understanding of what they meant in light of the revelation of this Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah as taught by the Holy Apostles.   They weren't just saying, "I'm not going to believe you until I read it myself".  Rather, they were saying, "I believe you and I want to look at the Scriptures to make sure".  I think if Luke wanted this passage to be more about Bible study he would have written something like, "They searched the Scriptures and, after verifying the word of the Apostles, received with eagerness what they were saying".  I don't think it was an accident that the Holy Spirit, through Luke, wrote the order the way that He did.

Not only is this understanding more consistent with the book as a whole, but it also takes this passage beyond mere intellectualism and seats it squarely in the middle of the Holy Spirit's activity in the  Church and her Traditions. Yes, reading the Scriptures is important (as the Cyprian quote above points out). Yes, everything should be weighed carefully against Scripture.  The Berean example does allude to this. But it isn't the primary interpretation.

To recap, I would argue that this passage is not saying the Bereans were noble because they searched the Scriptures but rather they were noble because they received the teaching of the Apostles with eagerness. As should we all.