...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Why are you doing this?

Part of my nightly duties includes giving at least 2 baths to patients. Sometimes that's easy, sometimes finding a willing participant can be difficult. A couple of weeks back, I had to bathe a lady because she was having problems with a drainage bag. She's alert & oriented, but has had multiple abominal surgeries in a relatively short period. The doctors apparently used the same incision site several times and now it is taking a very long time to heal. So I was in her room at about 4am giving her a bath after the nurse had finished reapplying her dressings and fixing the drainage back for probably the 3rd time that night. On the other patient's tv was an infomercial for a pornographic video set. I will be circumspent because I don't want a bunch of hits based on the search term, but its basically "Young Women Gone Crazy" or "Females Devoid of All Inhibition." This is a company that has been around for a number of years and started out, from what I understand, making compilations of girls drunkenly displaying their assets for the camera at bars and frat-parties - spur of the moment stuff. Anyways, the curtain was closed so all I heard was the audio, but I've seen brief snatches of it as its been on in other patient's rooms (it seems to be on every morning about 4 or 5am). This latest video set is not the usual drunken debauchery. Instead, the producers have whisked (apparently) dozens of girls away to an island location for some Olympic-style pornographic games with plenty of depraved variations.

I know porn exists, I know many, many men are heavily involved in it and have even looked at it myself, thankfully not getting "hooked" in any way. So usually when this kind of thing presents itself I just dismiss it as yet another example of our fallen world. But this night was different, largely because of the patient I was working with. She is in her early 60's and, according to her chart, battled drug addiction for a goodly portion of her life. And she told one of the other aides (a woman) that she had also worked as a prostitute to support her drug habit. The juxtaposition of this woman, hurting in body & soul, burdened from a lifetime of being used by men, laying in a hospital bed with practically no family and who will almost certainly die alone, and the women who willingly subject themselves to that kind of degradation for some stupid video was especially acute. I can understand why this woman, as it happens with so many women, got caught up in the humiliation and degradation of prostitution. I've known several people who were drug addicts and the horror of that dependency can drive people to insane lengths to feed their habit. But these women on the screen, the one's exposing themselves or putting on female-on-female sexual displays for what? a few bucks? the approval of some guy with a camera? or some lonely schmuck who can only find a glimmer of emotional fulfillment from his DVD player or internet connection? I don't get it. What is missing in them that they are willing to humiliate themselves, to abuse their bodies & souls in this way for what can only amount to a fleeting feeling of acceptance and approval? What is wrong with them? Moreover, what is wrong with the men who rely on these sexual crutches? I think this is the real crux of the matter. If men didn't want it, if they didn't watch it, then this kind of thing would not exist. So why do so many men seek fulfillment in watching an endless parade of women degrade themselves? Why can't they connect with a real woman? Why do they abuse their body and souls with this kind of depravity? What is wrong with our society that we produce people like this and that so many consider this "normal"? How have we so disempowered women that they willingly subject themselves to these things?

I know I'm only echoing questions that have been voiced many thousands of times by people far more astute and well-spoken than myself, but I could not help but see this differently after getting to know someone who has lived that reality.

I've got $20...

in an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my (online) wallet - any suggestions for books or music?


Obstetrics 'R' Us

I'm sitting in a coffee house working on my joke of a communications paper - I mean, what exactly does a 5 page research paper accomplish? - and 2 men sitting at the table right next to me, who are either doctors or hospital administrators, are having a fascinating discussion about potential models for some hospital's obstetrics department. Given the sensitive nature of their discussion one would think they'd be a little more discreet, but such is not the case. The basic thrust of their conversation is how to market their hospital better while controlling costs through changing the way their hospital delivers babies. I was doing a good job of focusing on my paper until one of them started talking about why many doctors prefer c-sections to vaginal births. Apparently, traditional birth, ie, the way humanity has done it since we were created, is "hard" on a woman and c-sections are just better. Oh, and its relatively cheap, too. From there, they've moved on to talking about offering massages, facials and aromatherapy as well as a 30-minute sit-down with the doctor who will actually be delivering the child. Really? A whole 30-minutes with the man who will be cutting my wife open to save on malpractice insurance costs? Gosh, doctor, thanks for wasting your time with us.

Another way to contain costs, apparently, is also to take a "team" approach using several nurse midwifes under the direction of an obstetrician. At least one of the midwives will be at the hospital at all times in case of an emergency delivery and the doctor would be on call. This seems like a good plan - most nurse midwives are skilled & dedicated professionals, but they seriously questioned whether or not a woman should be given a choice in picking which midwife or doctor they wanted to bring their child into the world. They thought they could just introduce the whole team to the expectant mother and say "one of these people will do the delivery." One guy did have the sense to wonder if most women would go along with that system. From my perspective, I don't care what the women think I DON'T LIKE IT! No way would I want my wife and child left into the hands of the person who just happened to get the short straw that day. I want to know and trust the person who will literally be taking my wife's and my child's life in their hands.

Ahhh, the world of medicine-as-business...what am I getting myself into?


Untrodden Portal: III

In lieu of any meaningful posting for the next few days - the bulk of my finals and projects will be done by next Tuesday - I'm bringing this post to the top of the stack. An interesting debate about Mary's sinlessness, original sin and a host of side issues has sprouted. Read, comment, enjoy.

Its been a while since I've had time to read any of Gabriel's Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God, but I got some time this afternoon so I figured I'd best keep up with my series on it. Chapter 4 focuses on a refutation of certain gnostic heresies that claimed Christ was not born according to the natural rules of childbirth. Chapter 5 discusses the Dormition and Chapter 6 details the differences between Orthodoxy's understanding of Mary's birth & death and that of Catholicism. I found that chapter most illuminating, primarily because I haven't really studied this subject matter before.

As I haven't heard of any modern commentators claiming that Jesus actually transpired out of Mary's side, I won't get too in depth with chapter 4. It was interesting to see how far the ancient heretics went to avoid the reality of the Incarnation for fear of contaminating divinity with materiality. It seems people will ever vacillate between a false asceticism that sees all matter as either evil or as completely void of all spiritual significance, and the hedonism that says matter is all there is so we might as well enjoy it. Christians have, for obvious reasons, tended towards the former and I see subtle strands of that in many Protestant thinkers. Not "all matter is evil" but that matter is empty, its meaningless and holds no import for spiritual matters. It is present in the pragmatic iconoclasm and austerity of our worship spaces, in the refusal to bless objects or regard any place as holy, to name but a few examples. It is a tired repetition and one I hope we will eventually be rid of.

Chapters 5 & 6 are closely linked in Gabriel's mind and he lays the groundwork in 5 to explore the key differences and their implications in 6. I knew Orthodoxy had special views about Mary's death and her role in heaven, but did not know the particulars. I found it particularly striking that Orthodoxy emphasizes her true humanity by acknowledging her death, whereas Catholicism is forced, by certain tenets of Augustinian theology, to deny it. As Gabriel rightly points out, the language of the Assumption can indeed lead to Mariolatry in one form or another. If no one is exempt from original sin except Christ and Mary, why, it makes perfect sense to begin elevating Mary above and beyond her proper role in relation to Christ. But Orthodoxy knows that this is not the case, that whatever she is, she is only that because of her relation to Christ. Though she was without the stain or blemish of sin, she still inherited the generational consequences of it, ie, death. She had to die because she was human but her theosis rendered her body incorruptible and as Gabriels says, "her bodily translation from Earth reflected the real mystery and awesome power of the Incarnation and the promise of the same incorruption for all."

Of course, the Protestant in me is going nuts about the thought of Mary being whisked away into heaven. Mother of God or no, it just seems wrong somehow. But then again, we know even less about Enoch (Gen 5:24) and we're told he was taken up into heaven. Elijah was a great prophet and he was taken up, so why do we have such a hard time acknowledging even the possibility that Mary received similar treatment? Yes, its not in the Bible and that is a key difference, but frankly, and this is becoming a similar refrain as I discuss Orthodoxy with people, quite a bit isn't in the Bible. We're told Jesus appeared to as many as 500 people at one time (1 Cor 15:6) after His resurrection and we don't receive a single piece of information about when this happened, who was there, or what Jesus said or did at this important event. We're not told what Jesus was writing in the sand in John 8, nor are we told what Jesus, Moses & Elijah talked about on Tabor. I think Protestants like to pretend that the Bible is just chock-full of all kinds of useful tidbits and that there aren't any blank spaces. There's nothing that needs to be filled in, nothing that can't be answered. But that's a load of crap! We're missing so much and so much of it is important stuff that I'm increasingly finding it hard to give a whole lot of credence to the argument that "its not in the Bible so it must be wrong."

So as I consider the Dormition, I have to say it makes a certain kind of sense. If you accept that grace redeems not just souls but physicality as well, then the unlimited font of grace we find in Christ that dwelt in Mary had to have an effect on her. It had to have changed her somehow, and if the Ark of the Covenant was treated with such absolute reverence that whatever place it entered became holy, how could we but view Mary's body as holy as well? And does it makes sense that God would toss something holy like that into the ground to rot?


Staving off a finals-induced stupor

The last 2 weeks have been rather uneventful thanks to the dull monotony of nearly constant studying - and I haven't even hit finals yet! I'm not sure why teachers thing scheduling large exams the week before finals hit is a good idea, but its happened. And one of my teachers changed all his due dates, so now I'm currently behind in that (worthless) class - on to more homework.


Happy Thanksgiving?

I work Monday through Friday nights and this week was no exception. And about the first thing I heard upon coming to work last night was that one of my favorite patients, a gentle old man who always said "thank you" for the least act of kindness, had died. Mr. S had had an x-ray earlier in the week that showed cancer had spread throughout his body and that he was beyond any hope of remission or treatment. So the decision was made to remove him from the vent and he died within a few minutes. My first duty last night was to clean up his body and take him down to the morgue where he would await transport to a funeral home.

There have been several deaths since I began working there, but this was only the second that happened on my shift and the first I was solo on taking care of. And that is the way I wanted it. I loved Mr. S - it was always a pleasure to help him. The first night I had him, I discovered that he had the disconcerting habit of sleeping with his eyes open. Thanks to the risk of aspiration he could not have anything by mouth, so it would get very dry. Everytime I went in to turn him or perform some other service, he would ask me to swab his mouth out with water with a little stick-sponge we have for that purpose. I would dip it in some nice cold water and let him suck on it a few times and he always asked for just one more. He was just so grateful for anything you did - a cool cloth on his forehead, adjusting his pillows, making sure he was getting his pain meds - it didn't matter. Every act was greeted with simple gratitude. And for a relatively small man, he had some giant feet!

I found his death to be an affront, and not just because he died but where he died. He died in a hollow place, a harsh place. It is a place that truly denies our humanity and stubbornly refuses to let us leave our mark. Every room identical and no matter how hard patients or families try to personalize them, the austere, hard formality pushes itself on your awareness. And once the superficial glaze of pictures, balloons and get-well cards are removed, it is as if that person had never been there. Had never been at all. I fight a war there every night, trying to turn the tide of inhumanity, trying to leave a mark if only for those people who will die there. To let them know that they will be remembered, that their presence lingers in a fond heart and that this place is not their end.

God's speed, Mr. S.


Not all that encouraging

It certainly isn't very encouraging that Iraqi leaders would adopt language, no matter how carefully crafted or restrictively endorsed, that legitimizes armed resistance against US forces who are, in fact, the only thing keeping that fledgling government from being felled by said "resistance". Either they're just plain dumb (which, given the state of politics in this country is certainly a possibility) or they're stuck in such a difficult place that they are forced to side with the insurgents against the US for fear of what will happen in the future.

Which actually raises an interesting question in my mind. Last night, as I was driving home from class I listened briefly to the Sean Hannity show and a caller made the dubious statement (paraphrase) "when will those darn Democrats learn that if they would just shut up and support the mission it would be successful and everyone would get home much faster." At the time I thought this was just more of the same drivel one hears on conservative talk radio. I mean, is the success of US forces really dependent on the size & team spirit of their cheering section in Congress? Maybe if we all got together and started yelling at the insurgents "We've got spirit! Yes we do! We've got spirit, how 'bout you?!" with an exaggerated pointing gesture accompanying the last beat, then we'd finally be able to get 'em licked. But I didn't think about the flip side of the coin - what about the effect talks of immediate withdrawal have on the nascent Iraqi government? All the highly believable positive statements by the Bush administration about the readiness of the Iraqi army & police forces notwithstanding, if I were a member of the new government I'd be wetting myself at the prospect of US forces leaving. So where do we draw the line on healthy political debate? We can't forsake our right to discuss these issues but we have to find the balance.

Lock up the women and children, finals are a'comin'!

Finals are fast approaching and man oh man do I have a lot of studying to do. I've got a semi-research-paper-thing due for my psych class (about 75% done, thankfully), a large-ish anatomy test & lab practical prior to the anatomy final, a research paper for my communications class and good ole chemistry. On top of that, we're moving into our new apartment on Saturday. And the cherry on top is that I need to retake the nursing school entrance exam by the 2nd. I did well the first time I took it - 91%, which is much better than the school's average of 79% - but I need all the points I can get. I bought a study guide and figure I can squeeze a few more points out in a few of the areas, like punctuation rules - I haven't looked at the rules regarding comma use in, oh, say, 10, years. Hopefully the book will help.


Family came to church

This morning my in-laws came with us to church. Needless to say, it was quite a change of scenery for them. They didn't really ask too many questions about the architecture, or even the Liturgy, although there was one point when my father-in-law took issue with one of the prayers that entreated the saints to "persuade" God to be present. I tried to explain to him about the poetic liberties sometimes taken in the Liturgy but I'm not sure he found it very convincing. Another point they raised was the repetitive nature of the prayers, both within the Liturgy itself and the fact that its repeated every week, and Jesus' words in Matthew 6:7. I know for my FIL, the main issue was mostly of a pragmatic nature - does the Liturgy do what it should? Does it meet people's needs? My MIL felt the priest's role took on a mediatorial role and that, as believers, we have direct access to the throne so why do we need a priest?

Overall, the experience sparked a lot of questions, probably a few rush-to-judgments on their part, but a good discussion. I tend to doubt that they'll ever be comfortable with Orthodoxy if we decide to convert, but at least they have a better idea where we're coming from.


The End of Life Debate: New Clarity & Confusion

As a little bit of background info, my facility specializes in long-term acute care for patients with significant complications. Many are on ventilators and we try to ween them off the machine because there are no nursing homes in this area that will accept patients on the vent. If they do not redevelop their ability to breathe on their own, they have very few options for continuing care. We have many patients with renal failure, diabetes related amputations or circulation problems and wounds. Wounds are probably the 2nd biggest reason our patients come to us, most developing from simple bedsores. What starts as a small little breakdown in the skin can quickly develop into a complete degradation of the skin.* This opens the person up to some bad infections and can exacerbate other conditions.

Since I started working at the hospital we've had several people die. Some of these deaths were expected; the patient's condition was so severe that their chances of survival were slim. One woman had a horrible wound on her leg that had developed from a bed sore and resulted in a systemic infection that left her in constant agony. Her skin was degrading and every movement was torture, so in many ways, her death was a blessing. There have been at least 2 cases wherein the family decided to "pull the plug." Contrary to what you tend to see in the movies or on TV, these "termainal weans" are generally not very quick. It can take hours, or even days, for the person's breathing to eventually stop. There was even one person who was perfectly conscious who decided to be removed from the vent - they lingered for several days before finally passing. We just had a person die yesterday evening whose death took me by surprise. When last I saw him, he seemed to be improving so it caught me off guard when his room was empty last night when I came in for work.

So far, this experience has brought both new clarity and new confusion for me as I think about end of life issues. In seeing the suffering of that woman with the wound & infection, I can see why people would think that alleviating that suffering through death (even high doses of narcotics did not appear to be helping in this poor woman's case) is a good option to consider, particularly if they have chosen it, either through a conscious decision at the time or through an advanced directive. I can even see where people could think its a good idea to eliminate their suffering even if such a patient has made their intentions clear. No one wants to see another person suffer needlessly and if pain management techniques aren't working, as they frequently don't, then the only remaining option is taking their life. Of course, one could argue that there is a profound difference between eliminating life support and actively euthanizing someone, and I agree that there is. However, I have noticed among some of my coworkers the intent of using terminal weans as euthanization - the person is in pain, there is very little chance of recovery or improvement, so why not just get it over with? They even berate the family, behind their backs of course, for not making the decision any sooner in the process. Case in Point: Last night, we (me and a couple of nurses) were discussing a patient who has been in our facility for a while - he is not only not improving, he's starting to slide a bit. But if this is the beginning of the end, its going to take a long time for him to die. One of the nurses opined that the "best thing for him would be to die." I pointed out that the man is alert & oriented. She basically said "yeah, that's rough." Here she is talking about a man, a human being made in the image of God, as if his life is worth absolutely nothing. Is his life very meaningful right now? No, its clearly not and he is just as clearly being a "drain on society" by gobbling up the resources necessary for his care, but does that mean that he should just die?! I'll grant that her view is not representative of all the nurses on staff, but its not uncommon.

It is precisely this compassionate impulse that makes clear and careful thinking about these end of life issues so incredibly important. When things become frought with emotion, or in some instances, a complete lack thereof, our feelings can easily override good moral thinking. We can lose our path quickly and easily. This is where the new clarity is coming into focus for me; we absolutely have to hold the line on these issues because, quite frankly, most of use aren't equipped for the hard thinking they require. And the confusion is that I know I'm not equipped for that yet and certainly am not in a position where I can influence any policy on this matter. Over the course of my education, I'm sure this is going to be something I need to learn a great deal more about.

* If you have family in the hospital for an extended period, probably one of the best things you can do is to make sure your loved one is getting turned at least every 2 hours.


Communion vs Eucharist: Much ado about nothing?

The in-laws were out of town for a couple of days this weekend, so we had the house to ourselves for a little while - a very nice preview of what it will be like when we move into our apartment next month (we signed the lease last weekend)! We went out to dinner with them last night after they came home and, surprisingly, my father-in-law started asking questions about Orthodoxy. He's asked a few questions here and there, but that's mostly happened when I wasn't around. Specifically, he asked about their nominally Catholic neighbors who are looking around for a church of any stripe and whether or not they would hear the Gospel if they came to an Orthodox Church. I affirmed that they undoubtedly would, though the emphases would obviously be different. We talked about this pleasantly for a few minutes before the conversation moved to communion.

My father-in-law basically stated that he felt it was a tragedy how we, as humans, had made such a big deal over communion and turned it into a point of division instead of unity. He said something about how we've taken Jesus' words and, I guess, read into them or made them into something they're not - he wasn't real clear on this, so I'm not sure exactly what he was saying. In the interest of maintaining a pleasant dinner I didn't reply to his statements, but I couldn't help but see the inherently Protestant perspective deeply inherent in that kind of thinking. The Protestant, especially the evangelical, understanding of the Lord's Supper is minimalistic, paring the biblical witness down and ignoring the patristic witness almost entirely. It is "mere communion" in line with Lewis' understanding of mere Christianity; the essential points on which all Christian groups can agree. Mere Communion is like that, as the memorial view is a part of the Eucharist, thus it is a small point of commonality. So why can't we all just agree on that and leave those other issues aside? Why do we have to make such a big deal about it and turn those peripheral issues into points of contention? I'm starting to understand why, in fact, this is position is untenable and why the proper understanding of the Eucharist is actually part & parcel of historic Christianity. These Eucharistic variances are important because they point to, and spring from, key differences that cannot be brushed aside so casually.


Can you spot the heresy?

Chase has posted a link to a rather fatuous article attempting to explain why Orthodoxy has actually gotten the whole icon-thing completely wrong, is really Nestorian and has, ahem, an insufficient Christology.


Do we worship the same God?

Adam Cleveland over at Pomomusings posted about a dinner at Princeton. The dinner was hosted by the History Department, which invited Muslims to break their Ramadan fast with a group of Christians in order to sponsor understanding and "unity", apparently. The event included accompanying the Muslims to their evening prayers. It wasn't clear whether the Christian participants actually prayed with the Muslims at that time, but Adam asks this question: "What would happen if Christians and Muslims met together in fellowship, in community, in unity, praying to the same God, coming from the same tradition, from the same faith of Abraham?"

My $.02 - we're not praying to the same God and no matter what they claim, Muslims are not of the Abrahamic tradition. To accede that point, to suggest that they are legitimate heirs of Abraham is to deny historical reality and worse, it is essentially denying Jesus' unique, salvific and divine role. If this kind of thing represents Emergent thinking, to me, its yet another nail in its coffin.

Unauthorized acts

A story originally from the Washington Post, that exposes almost 300 violations of secret surveillance operations, improper searches and seizures, including emails by the FBI over a three year period. The number is certainly higher because the records obtained under FOIA are incomplete and heavily edited.

There are those on the left who would see the spectre of "Big Brother" in these findings, that the evil Bush administration is using law enforcement to crack-down on dissenting voices. Oh that wily President! I don't see that at all. What I do see is the rather unfortunate consequences of human nature; most of these are probably honest mistakes or a simple bit of overzealousness on the part of men & women trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability. They've been given the authority and the mandate and in their minds, it probably seems like a waste of time to appease the pointless bureaucracy. And what's worse, the delays or even denials that could result from all that paperwork could result in terrorists getting away or attacks being executed. So they push the boundaries a bit, they overstep, the cut a corner hoping the good end will outweigh these relatively minor improprieties.

The problem is that these seemingly trivial details are precisely what the Constitution was meant to protect! It was established to prevent these abuses, whether they are big or small is irrelevant. Even well-intentioned violations undermine the Constitutional rights of everyone, which is why we need 1) a more efficent system so agents don't feel like they're fighting uphill against bureaucratic resistance and 2) much better oversight with real consequences to disincentivize this kind of behavior. Unfortunately, I have little doubt that this will not happen.



My mom called last night and told me that my dog Lady, a Char Pei with personality I got when I was 14, is on the verge of death. She has been going downhill for a while now; she's lost a lot of weight, her appetite has decreased and while she stille enjoys going for a walk, doing so has become exhausting for her. A couple of days ago she stopped eating almost entirely, has been vomiting a bit and has a hacking cough. It may be time to put her down. She's had a good run for a Char Pei, though - the normal lifespan is 9-10 years, so she's done much better than expected. I won't get too mushy. I'll simply say she was my dog and I love her. She was a good dog. She didn't do much in the way of tricks, but she was loving and very protective of our family. My mom would sometimes take her and the other dog up a field near our house and Lady would always position herself between my mom and anyone else who was there, making it perfectly clear that they were in for a wrinkly death should they get too close. When I was young, she would sleep on my bed at night and learned to head to my room when I'd say "go to bed." If I happened to be staying up late, around bed time she'd get up, walk halfway down the hall and look back at me as if to say "forgetting something?" She'll forever be the standard for any other dog in my life, though I doubt any will ever measure up.


The Untrodden Portal - II

In light of the Reformation, one of the central questions of Christianity is predestination - do we have any say in our salvation? Where does our own will factor in? In a similar vein, what will did Mary have? Did she have a choice in becoming the Theotokos? Yes: "The mystery [of Mary and the Incarnation] could not have existed as a divine plan without her free disposition and consent...Mary was 'full of grace,' the grace of the Holy Spirit, a condition that began even from her mother's womb. But this is not to say that she was born without free will, or that an enormous tide of grace overwhelmed her and made her powerless to resist this unique calling by God." In this, Mary typifies Orthodoxy's rejection of Calvinistic predestination. Gabriel quotes Theodoret of Cyrus' Commentary on Romans: "Let no one say that God's foreknowledge is the cause of men's acceptance of the calling to salvation. His foreknowing them does not cause them to become what they sall be. From afar [outside of time], He has seen beforehand the things that are to be."

Thus Mary's freely-chosen Incarnational "yes" becomes the prototype of our own freely-chosen salvific yes. As Mary responded to God in accepting his desire for her, so we too can respond to God in accepting his desire for us. Those desires, while driven by the same love, obviously mean different things in each of our lives - God has something different in store for each of us and though our role will never match that of the Virgin's, we can rest assured that we all have our part. In his discussion on this, I think Gabriel is starting to point to the prototypical role that Mary plays in Orthodox Christian thought. Much of the Church's thinking about humanity is reflected in its consideration of Mary - her responses, her qualities, her characteristics, her faith - all show us what our ideal responses, qualities, etc, should be. She is the ideal human, though not because of her own merit or her own work. She is the ideal because she has completely submitted to God as Adam & Eve should have, as all of humanity was designed to do, and through that submission she was transformed by God. God's activity in her is the only reason for her veneration.

Some of that last paragraph is not any argument presented by Gabriel, at least not in what I've read so far, but is the amalgamation of my other reading and consideration of Mary in light of the Liturgy & Orthopraxis. If I have come to any incorrect conclusions, I would ask that any Orthodox reading this offer their correction as I want to be as clear in my thinking as I can be. Which, as an aside, is why Gabriel's book is somewhat disappointing - overall the writing is not very clear. The sentences are lengthy and frequently contain too many clauses. Its almost as if the work is a translation.

From this point, Gabriel begins to present things that, to put it lightly, I find highly troubling, so I'm hoping for some help or clarification from my readers. Gabriel says:

"From her earliest years, she gave herself to God as no other man or woman was able to do. And she was chosen as no other was chosen by God's omniscience. She left her parent's house at the age of three to dwell in the temple's holy of holies in order to be nurtured by the angels and made into the living temple of God."

The only source Gabriel provides for this rather astonishing claim are 2 hymns; one from the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos and another from Great Vespers. I realize the High Priest only entered the Holy of Holies once a year, but I would have to think he would have spotted a young girl camped out in there when he did. I realize that this may not be a doctrine, perhaps just a pious belief, but I still find it very unsettling, particularly the lack of attributable source. I can work with the lack of discussion about Mary in the early church for the reasons presented in my previous post, but this seems to be going far beyond that.


Why Cuba?

I saw an item over on CS Monitor on some mild diplomatic row over whether the US is "sanctioning" or "blockading" Cuba. I'm sure I'm displaying some of my own ignorance in even asking this, but why are we still doing this? I mean, during the Cold War, yeah, lets go ahead and prevent an island 90 miles off our shores from being used as a nuclear weapons site of our biggest enemy - this makes sense. But why are we still doing it? The country is practically a 3rd world nation and while I would agree that Castro is a bit of a head-case, don't we have the means & intelligence gathering technology to prevent Cuba from ever becoming a threat again? Do we really have to maintain the majority of that nation in poverty for own security today? Yes, Cuba has a horrible human rights record, but so do Pakistan and China, 2 nations we seem to have normal relations with - why are we still picking on Cuba?


Frosh Spirituality

An article from the CS Monitor on a study of religious & spiritual beliefs among 100,000 college freshmen. Not too much meat to the article, really, but here are the relevant statistics:

• "Religious commitment" (following religious teachings in everyday life and gaining strength by trusting in a higher power): Forty-seven percent of African-Americans scored high on this scale, compared with 25 percent of whites, 23 percent of Latinos, and 22 percent of Asian Americans.

• "Spiritual quest" (interest in finding answers to the mysteries of life and developing a meaningful philosophy of life): African-Americans scored the highest on this (36 percent), with other groups ranging from 23 to 34 percent.

• "Ethic of caring" (commitment to helping others in difficulty and making the world a better place): Twenty-five percent of African-Americans scored high, versus 13 percent of students overall.

These issues are clearly breaking along racial/ethnic lines and the researchers also saw a significant difference between males & females - 30% of women vs 21% of men for "religious commitment" and 20% vs 10% on "ethic of caring."

Less than 30% of college freshmen have any committment to religious teaching which, of course, tends to be moral in nature, which is probably why the "ethic of caring" scores were so low. The question in my mind, given my recent stint as a youth pastor, is what the hell is the church doing wrong? We're obviously failing and failing badly - why?


Another reason for being slow...

Actually, there is another reason things have been a little slow lately - I've been engaging in a couple of different debates. One with Chase and another with Jeff, though the latter has kind of moved on. Chase suggested that the early church was sola scriptura, but I think his argument on this point was quite muddled. The debate has moved from that item onto wider issues of authority, particularly as it concerns the canon. And more importantly, I found an occasion to use the phrase "hoist by your own petard" - my senior English teacher would be beaming. That goes out to you, Mrs. Thiebert, wherever you are.


Things have slowed down here a bit over the last couple of weeks - that was mainly owing to my finally finding gainful employment and getting used to that schedule. Unfortunately, things are going to remain slow here at least this next week as well; I've got a psych midterm and a rather large anatomy test over chapters I haven't even touched yet. I may also have to write a rough draft of a communications paper. I'm also supposed to start working 3rd shift on Monday night, but was offered the chance to switch to 1st shift if I wanted it - I need to decide today and call work to let them know. If I stick with 3rd, which is what I agreed to when hired, I'll have the added bonus of trying to adapt my sleep schedule. If I'm able to post anything, it will likely be numb, mindless drivel, so don't expect too much out of me. Definitely come back in a couple of weeks - things should be less hairy by then.


Mary: The Untrodden Portal - Intro & Ch 1

I have been working on this post for a few days now and I never seem to find the time or clarity to get it all out. So I'm just going to post what I've got on the book so far, and then a couple of paragraphs on some insights I've gained over the last week as I've read this book and thought about the Theotokos.

Since the veneration of the Theotokos and the saints is one of the biggest hurdles for me and my wife on our current exploration of Orthodoxy, I decided to undertake a more complete study of the matter. In a previous post, Perry Robinson suggested George Gabriel's Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God, which I was fortunate enough to find in my church's library. I'm doing my best to work through it in the midst of a new job and a significant class load, so my blogging on it may be a bit intermittent.

In his introduction, Gabriel says "the single theme underlying this study is the indivisible oneness of the doctrine and veneration of the Mother of God with the single theology and biblical methodology of the Ancient Church and the holy fathers." He denies certain Catholic claims about Mary, stating "apart from [purification of the heart, enlightenment and theosis] Mary could not have become the Mother of God. Apart from this process there is no revelation, no theology." So Mary is human, just like you and me. In some respects, there is nothing special about her - the path of her theosis is the same one that we may pursue, though one could say she was the first to truly walk it. She is not saved apart from the salvific act of Christ and she is not honored apart from her connection to Christ. The respect and honor given to her have everything to do with the nature of God and the person of Christ and is not some misguided Mariolatry, or so the Orthodox position states.

One of the most oft-repeated arguments against the veneration Mary is that the Bible seems to relegate her to a rather minor role. Once her part in the conceiving, birthing and raising of Christ is complete (not a small part anyway you slice it), she is infrequently mentioned and not given a prominent place when she does pop up. Basically, after the first few chapters of the Gospels are over, she essentially fades into the background and is certainly not addressed with any of the honor of modern devotions. So how can the Orhtodox Church justify her veneration? How can it legitimately call her "Queen Mother", "Mother of Life" or "All-Holy One"? Gabriel responds with this quotation from St Basil the Great:

There are a great many things that are not written in the Scriptures with the same words but are proclaimed in the fathers and are of equal weight as the Scriptures. Indeed, the Son's being of the same essence with the Father, for example, is not found in the divinely inspired Scriptures; it was made clear later by the fathers, and likewise that the Holy Spirit is God, and that the Kyriotokos is Theotokos. There are other things also, and it takes a long time to enumerate them. If they were not professed, however, our true worship would be disavowed.

Thus, the true promincence of Mary may have been a hidden reality of the worship & praxis of the earliest Christians, which is a legitimate possibility. We don't really have a lot of detailed information about this area of the early church, particularly in the first century. Really, we don't start to see expositions of theology until the 2nd century; most earlier writings are far more pastoral or exhortational in nature. Detailed accounts of the how & why of worship don't come until later, for 2 primary reasons. The first was not to dishonor the gifts of worship given to us by the Lord by exposing them to outsiders. And the second was more protective; taking the writings of Celsus as an example, it is clear that the pagan public misunderstood the language of the Eucharist for some cannibalistic feast. This kind of misunderstanding only led to even more persecution. Given the secretiveness and exclusiveness of the early church (a 3 year catechumenate before joining, catechumens getting kicked out of the church prior to the celebration of the Eucharist during the Liturgy), it is a definite possibility that descriptions of Mary's role in the faith & praxis of the church may not have been clearly enumerated.

I am sure that there are those who find this argument unconvincing, that somehow the veneration of Mary is buried in a secret tradition that only later found full or public expression. I think Basil's argument is a powerful one, though. If we accept the Nicene formulation of the Trinity as a legitimate Apostolic teaching, by what right do we deny the Church's understanding of Mary, which has a similar pedigree? Regardless of whether or not the Apostles ever used the word homoousion, we accept that it accurately expresses their understanding of the Godhead. How do we know that the Church's understanding of and devotion to the Virgin is not similarly guided by the Apostolic example & teaching? Gabriel only touches on this briefly in the first chapter, but I'm hoping he'll explore it in greater depth later on.


Many Protestant understandings of the Bible hold that Mary had children after Jesus. She and Joseph went about the natural activity of married life and she produced an unknown number of little brothers and sisters for Jesus. From a certain point of view, then, Mary did little more than get pimped by God. I realize the vast, vast majority of Protestants would never use language anywhere near this, but if she isn't anything special and there were a bevy of other young girls with the right pedigree waiting as back-ups, then her interaction with God is purely transactional. He promises some spiritual rewards and some notoriety among future generations, she leases out space in her womb and agrees to provide some other care-taker duties as needed. It cheapens the whole thing.

Anyone setting foot on Mt Zion was to be stoned because it was God's holy mountain. The Holy of Holies was off limits all but one day out of the year and then only to a single person who was surely on the verge of soiling himself as he entered it. And yet we're to believe that Mary, the mother of our Lord and Savior, whose womb is the holy place where the Incarnation occurred and who, in fact, was home to the Lord in a way far deeper than the Holy of Holies, was available for another? Once God was done with her, she was somehow cast aside and rendered common, profane? Every other example we have in OT shows God's exclusive demands for his holy places, but this somehow stops with her? What?!

Of any of Jesus' followers, Mary was present at more of the significant events in His life and ministry than anyone, including the Apostles. She was, in fact, chosen well before the Apostles. She was indwelt by God before the Apostles. She stayed with Christ at the cross. She was among the women who found the empty tomb. And yet we elevate the Apostles far, far above her? We show them great amounts of respect and relegate her to the dustbin? How can that be? And does it make sense to assume that the Apostles would have casually cast her aside, that they wouldn't have shown her tremendous respect and devotion for the role she played in their, and the world's, salvation?


Study & lunch

On Thursday night, the wife and I attended a Bible study sponsored by St Nick's. It was a good sized group of people mostly our age and mostly made up of converts - some recent and some not-so-recent. There is at least one couple that are cradle Orthodox and he is actually a doctor who has patients on my floor. A very nice man, he came up and talked to me on Friday - a senior doctor talking to a lowly nurses aide...I guess you have to have been in the military to understand how odd that kind of fraternization can feel.

The study was on Colossians 2 and it was surprisingly good. I had always wondered what an Orthodox Bible study would look like; I mean the Church kind of has a definitive understanding of things, so I kept picturing something rather more like a lecture. I was way off. Well led, good questions on meaning & application, personal reflection, etc. I will say it wasn't as personal as some Protestant studies I've been too - not a lot of talk about personal issues, struggles, doubts, etc. And that not in a bad way, since as I said, the study was quite good. I think its just a difference in emphasis, with that kind of thing being reserved for your spiritual father/confessor rather than a group of (semi)strangers. It was markedly different in that the leader delved into some key nuances of the original Greek text and there was, of course, a strong emphasis on the historical context that St Paul was writing from. There were a few things that made my wife uncomfortable, and myself less so. They mainly had to do with attitudes towards Protestantism or caricatures of some positions. We talked about it and I think we've come to the conclusion that, while her church growing up wasn't perfect, it was probably a bit of an exception and definitely different from my experience. (The negative attitudes of a few of the people got a lot clearer on Sunday - more in a moment.) We met a few new people, had some good conversations and were invited to lunch on Sunday after the Liturgy.

My experience of the Liturgy on Sunday morning was good - peaceful and focused. Last weekend I had trouble staying on track, so it was good to be back to normal. We had an inquirer's class shortly after Liturgy, which was only attended by us and one other couple. They were probably in their late 40's and said they had been involved in church planting in their evangelical denomination. I guess we all have our own reasons for being drawn to Orthodoxy and I'm hoping to hear more of theirs in future classes. Afterwards, we headed out to the restaurant and were treated to lunch - it was us, 2 other couples and a bevy of their respecive kids. We talked about a variety of things but all ended up sharing a bit of our lifestories; sort of a 'where we're coming from' kind of thing. Both of the guys had come out of a Reformed background. One had come to faith later in life, while the other had been raised in the church since childhood and had gone through the typical periods of rebellion. The latter had been all over the ecclesial map - Methodist, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Lutheran (but was in a Reformed church the most) - and had been badly burned in each setting. He was ostracized at a Christian college here in Ft Wayne and those judgmental souls somehow managed to follow him to a couple of different local churches and sour a couple of romantic relationships. He became Orthodox about a year ago. The other guy had similarly hit some serious bumps in the road in his faith while Reformed in his thinking and wound up avoiding church for a good long while. These are the reasons for the negative attitudes towards Protestantism I mentioned above.

Neither really intended to become Orthodox - the first couple was church shopping and decided "what the heck?" and the other was invited by the doctor I mentioned above. They were all blown away by Orthodoxy and, obviously, eventually joined. What is apparently the typical fashion of most couple-converts, the wives took a little longer to warm up to the idea than the men - which is what the wife and I are experiencing right now. I'm definitely closer to diving in, while she is still dipping her toe in the water. And that's fine with me. I can be a bit impetuous at times, so her steadiness in things is a great brake for me to make sure I've really thought & prayed about something before committing. We complement each other very well in that respect.

It was nice to meet some people our own age and I really felt like they were genuinely interested in us as people, and not just potential converts. They were focused on it, though, but not in a creepy way. I've experienced that before. No offense to any Mormon readers, but I had more than a few Mormons stop talking to me after I expressed sincere doubt in their position. No, these guys were more like people excited about something huge in their life and wanting to talk about it, to share it and to get others in on it. I think there is some good potential for real friendships - something I haven't experienced in several years.


Why Orthodoxy? Part III

[I've moved this up to the top due to the interesting discussion in the comments.]

Initially, as I discussed previously, my interest in Orthodoxy sprang from a frustration with the hollowness of the worship I experienced at church and the weak teaching. It also came from the gradual dissolution of friendships that had cemented me to my church regardless of its failings. Once those bonds faded, the restlessness I was experiencing was able to push me forwad to look for something else, something more.

I was a religious studies major at a state university and one of my classes was "Formation of the Christian Tradition." It was a fascinating class for someone who had never looked into the history of his faith. The teacher was dynamic, friendly and a member of the Jesus Seminar. He was challenging, but not atagonistic and his lectures frequently left a fair portion of the class (mostly evangelicals or devout Catholics) sputteringly mad. I enjoyed the class as a kind of mental joust, pushing myself to counter his arguments as best I could. I adamantly refused to just learn it, regurgitate it on the test and then forget it as happens with so many classes. From this class, I had gained the perspective that much of modern, Protestant Christianity is actually a significant departure from the faith & practice of the early church. At the time, I did not see the questions this should have produced. As I began to explore Orthodoxy, however, the tensions this reality creates started coming to the fore.

What is the significance of this departure from the historic form of Christianity?

It is entirely possible to answer this with "nothing." It is possible that the early church's form & praxis were merely the results of convention, culture and pragmatism and have no significance for our forms & praxis which are, similarly, the results of a different set of convention, culture and pragmatism. However, this answer glosses over some very important matters. First, the early church, and by that I typically mean the church of the first 2 centuries, saw neither its theology nor its ecclesiology as arbitrary. An exploration of the role of the bishop will serve as an example. St Ignatius, in his epistle to the Ephesians:

St IgnatiusHence it is fitting for you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as indeed you do. For your noble presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted to the bishop, as the strings to a harp. And thus by means of your accord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.


The bishop then we ought plainly to regard as the Lord Himself.

There are 2 typical Protestant responses to this. One is that this is the result of an error that crept in to the church. The other, that this view represents only that of St Ignatius' community. Other local church communities did not hold similar views of the bishop. The former raises some difficult problems that I will address shortly, while the latter is demonstrably false.

From the 1st Epistle of Clement, ch 42:

St ClementThe Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.

From Clement we see the orderly appointment flow of authority. God sent Christ, Christ sent the Apostles, the Apostles appointed their bishops. The bishops represent, and derive their authority from, the Apostles. The Apostles represent, and derive their authority from, Christ. While the language does not match precisely, the deep similiarity is readily apparent.

I believe this brief exploration shows that the early church did not regard its form as arbitrary responses dictated by culture and their immediate needs. Indeed, how could this be the case if the bishop is representative of Christ and the office was foretold in scripture? This leaves modern Protestants with the duty of presenting a compelling case as to why it is permissible to abandon these forms and I have yet to see any such thing. (Though I'd definitely be interested in hearing one.) Which brings me back to the charge of error.

What other questions and problems does the view that error crept into the church prior to the close of the 1st century raise?

In my mind, this view is untenable for orthodox Christianity for several reasons, but let me start by quoting Jaroslav Pelikan:

For the doctrine of the Trinity was not as such a teaching of the New Testament, but it emerged from the life and worship, the reflection and controversy, of the church as, in the judgment of Christian orthodoxy, the only way the church could be faithful to the teaching of the New Testament. It did so after centuries of study and speculation, during which many solutions to the dilemma of the Three and the One had surfaced, each with some passage or theme of Scripture to commend it. The final normative formulation of the dogma of the Trinity by the first ecumenical council of the church, held at Nicaea in 325, took as its basic outline the biblical outline of the so-called great commission of Christ to the disciples just before his ascension. . . But into the framework of that New Testament formula the Nicene Creed had packed many other biblical motifs, as well as the portentous and non-biblical technical term for which it became known. . . . “one in being with the Father [homoousios toi patri].”...If the Protestant churches acknowledged the validity of the development of doctrine when it moved from the great commission of the Gospel of Matthew to produce the Nicene Creed, as all of the mainline Protestant churches did and do, on what grounds could they reject development as it had moved from other lapidary passages of the Bible to lead to other doctrines? (emphasis mine - read the entire passage here)

Though definitions vary, I believe orthodox Christianity would likely coincide with what CS Lewis called "mere Christianity." To me, this is Trinitarian, holds scripture to be inspired & authoritative and exclusivist in terms of salvation. This is not meant to be a precise definition, but from it, one can produce some useful analyses - Mormons aren't Christian because they aren't Trinitarian and don't hold to the authority of the Bible; various forms of universalism aren't Christian because they aren't exclusivist - you get my drift. Evangelical Christianity is orthodox by this definition and can only remain in some degree of continuity with the church established by Christ in the New Testament as long as it stays this way. However, it is clear that modern Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, does not match the form & belief of the early church. It is not hierarchical (as I explored above) and it positively rejects liturgy, sacrament and the authority of Apostolic tradition. As I said before, some dismiss these differences as meaningless, but I hope I have shown that this really is not possible. Or, at the very least, requires a great deal of justification and explanation. Others, however, dismiss these forms of the early church as error. Some would go so far as to say they were errors introduced by the devil, others only that they were wrong but not evil. There seems to be a tacit assumption amont most evangelical and conservative Christians that the church went seriously astray at some point and was only recovered at the Reformation. I don't think there is a universally agreed upon date for the church's falling away, but in my experience, it would appear most don't think the church survived past the end of the 2nd century. Some go later, some much earlier, but that is the average as I've encountered it. And however it is dated, most seem to assume the church started stumbling badly long before finally hitting the ground. But if this is the case, modern Christians are left with 2 glaring problems; the doctrine of the Trinity and the canon.



New job - Opportunity to follow...

I started my new job today. Actually, I started a new job on Friday - just orientation and paperwork - but was offered a better job on Monday afternoon, which I accepted. I started that job today; I quitted the other job, though I don't think they know that yet. I tried calling them yesterday afternoon but they don't have voicemail. So I tried emailing them last night; I found it returned in my inbox today after getting home from work. I will have to call them again tomorrow morning as they are already closed today.

So my second new job in as many days started today. I'm working as a nursing assistant in a long-term respirator care facility. These patients are all on respirators or are in the process of being weened. Some will successfully make the transition to breathing on their own and some, perhaps most, will not. Most of the patients I saw today were older and were afflicted by any number of diseases requiring isolation protocols (gown and gloves, and a mask in some cases). One man had lost his lower legs, presumably from diabetes. Another had been in a severe motorcycle accident and had significant scarring on the side of his face. On the other side, his head is caved in - its a crater about 3 inches across and probably an inch deep starting a little below the hairline. Any desire I had to get a motorcycle took a steep dive at that sight.

Though it pays fairly well, this job is not going to be easy. Its taking care of the most basic, physical needs of these people. I need to keep saying that - people, not just "patients." The woman who training me today confided that she "doesn't know names, only room numbers." I never want to get like that, though I'm sure it will be something I have to fight. I'm sure its all too easy to slip into that mentality, especially given the good chance that some of them will die while in our care. Its a defense mechanism that I can understand, but don't want to emulate. If their deaths will hurt, I want it to hurt, I want to feel that pain, not run from it. I want to mourn their passing and pray for their souls. While they're under my care, I want to heap the love of Christ on them and to see them as Christ does - I cannot do that if I refuse to feel that pain, as well. So this will not be a glamorous job, but like the Holy Unmercenaries, I hope to undertake it with dedication and with the love of Christ firmly planted in my heart. I have their holy example to follow and I can take comfort in the knowledge that no matter how hard it gets for me, it was much, much harder for them and that they dealt with people in far worse shape. And that without the modern medical technology that relieves so much of the caregivers burden! I am not yet to the point where I feel comfortable asking for their intercession but at least I have their well-trodden path to guide me.
The Holy Unmercenaries

Christ is in our midst!


Orthodox-catholic? Ironically, its neither.

My in-laws' neighborhood had a subdivision wide yard sale today. Since I'm always well overstocked on books, we had a few boxes full of 'em out on the tables so I could sell enough to buy yet more books. Many were old books on theology & ministry that I no longer want. While I was upstairs carefully crafting a response to my unresponsive psych professor, we had a customer who bought several of those books. This older woman asked my wife if someone in the house was a theology major. My wife said no, but that I was a big reader and a religious studies major. The woman then told my wife that she is a member of the Orthodox-Catholic Church and is about to be ordained. She basically said the OCC is just like Orthodoxy or Catholocism, except that they ordain women. Looking on their website, I also see they bless gay unions and seem to think the Bible is only the word of God "when spoken and heard heartfully by believers and beyond." Yup, almost exactly alike.



PSY 101 - The teacher has a doctorate and yet can't seem to write a clear test question or to read the text that she assigns. We have to take an online chapter test every week, and of the 6 we've had so far, 4 have had questions that don't make sense, are misleading or which have answers that do not correspond to what the textbook says. Today's adventure in testing had 4 such instances. So I've taken the gamble of ticking her off and sent her an email disputing the questions - let's hope it doesn't come back to bite me.

[Update] I've exchanged a few emails with the teacher and they've amounted to little more than her saying "you're wrong" while not actually responding to any of my points. If this happens on the midterm or on the final - "Hello, is this the psych department chair?"

Microsoft Updates - I spent the better part of the day yesterday attempting to successfully download and install a Windows update. From the instructions in MS' website, this required me to download a gig+ platform to get one little utility to clean up a registry. But they didn't include the commands to get that little utility to do its job, so yeah, didn't happen. I managed to work around it and finally get the upgrade done after only 5 hours or so. Good thing I've got the time.

Jobs - Speaking of which, I am happy to say that my time will soon be significantly more limited, praise God. I've had 3 job offers in the last week, 2 of which I'm very interested in. Both are in patient care positions; one is in a specialty hospital and the other is at a dialysis clinic. I'm expecting a call today from the hospital about what schedule they'd be able to offer, and that will likely be the final factor in deciding which to take. I'd prefer the hospital since its closer to home & my wife's work and will probably pay a little more salary-wise, but the clinic is only open days and has really good benefits, including a very generous tuition reimbursement program. With the reimbursement, the true salaries are probably even. The clinic has 3 months of full-time training and right now, they can only guarantee me .8 after that period, which is another reason I'm hoping for the hospital.

Gas & Rita - I just saw on the news that Rita has the potential to hit 21 refineries in Texas. All together, they refine 25% of the gas produced in America. Even if they aren't damaged, it will take about a week to get them back online after shutting them down during the storm. A few have already been turned off, so expect an increase in gas prices pretty soon. On a related note, my chemistry professor's primary position is as a materials scientist with a major defense contractor. Last week, he got an industry alert that America's largest producer of ethylene glycol, aka antifreeze, was severely damaged by Katrina and will likely not be back on production for this winter. This could lead to a shortage of antifreeze in the later winter months, or at the very least, a sharp rise in prices. It might be a good idea to pick up a jug or two of antifreeze now, while the weather is still warm.


Why Orthodoxy? (Final)

I had hoped my previous posts on why I'm drawn to Orthodoxy would have resulted in some good dialogue with those people I had engaged in some intense dialogue a couple of weeks back - no such luck, unfortunately. I always enjoy a good debate/discussion, particularly over matters passionately believed and dedicatedly defended. You may not ever change anyone else's mind, or have your own changed in turn, but you learn so darn much! So this will be my final post in this little series, which I hope you have enjoyed.

First, I have to say that the last 2 posts on "why Orthodoxy?" were not meant to be an airtight case against Protestantism. I know my arguments are not immune to critique and there are probably several points on which my understanding of Protestant theology/ecclesiology is insufficient. I do not regard my arguments and conclusions as the final, authoritative word on these matters, but I think my explorations have raised enough questions for me to have serious doubts about Protestantism's claims. This doesn't "prove" Orthodoxy to be correct but it makes looking outside the Protestant box a perfectly rational & reasonable thing to do. I guess, in essence, I've only really been arguing for this; that other Protestants would recognize the legitimacy of looking elsewhere due to internal faults within Protestantism. No amount of debate is going to totally prove one side or the other is correct - I can only hope that I am able to get other Christians to crack open their door to this wide, new realm of possibilities.

Thus far, I've explained my personal background and why I initially started searching for something else or something more than what I was used to. I also briefly explored that initial aesthetic draw to Orthodoxy and the subsequent challenges my search uncovered to my former way of thinking. Now I'll finish with why I feel the need to settle my "question of Orthodoxy", as I put it, that lingering draw that compels me to use Orthodoxy as the point of comparison for so many things.

The subtle pull I feel towards Orthodoxy is composed of many smaller, but interwoven, strands. Some I have already touched on - the reverence, non-emotional worship, intense focus on God - so I will talk about those that I haven't discussed yet. One of the primary things I appreciate in Orthodoxy is its completeness. Not that it has plumbed the depths of God or of faith. By no means! But it has spent almost 2000 years putting the daily nitty-gritty of the Christian life through the ringer. The faith it presents today has been tested in the fires of the temptations of the desert, the trials of the persecutions and the mundane struggle of plain, ordinary folks going about their lives. In many ways, it reminds me of a stone tumbler, which I became familiar with in grade school. You put an unassuming, jagged, rough piece of stone into a drum with a bunch of other stones and set it spinning. After a few days, that rough, unassuming stone has become a polished piece of marbled beauty, with color, depth and a smooth perfection. That is what Orthodoxy feels like to me - the rough edges have been knocked off over the centuries of trial & error in the lives of holy men and ordinary men, holy women and ordinary women, and what is presented to us today is that polished thing of beauty. It says "here it is, this is the faith you need and these are the things you need to do to strengthen it and grow closer to God. Trust me; I've guided tens of thousands of people through their lives, through their temptations, failures, victories and successes." But it doesn't do so in a dictatorial way! It offers the freedom that can only come through submission. A musician that can improvise pieces of incredible beauty or brilliance can only do so because they have first spent years mastering the basic techniques and applying them in ever more complex fashions. Only when they've accomplished that does the freedom to simply sit and play manifest itself. And we would never claim that those music teachers who force their students to go through those basics are being heavy-handed or restricting the freedom of their students. No, it is precisely for the sake of their musical freedom that students must be put through those exercises. In the same way, Orthodoxy provides those "music lessons" on the basics so that we may obtain that greater freedom. It gives us the basic techniques and exercises we need in order to die to self, take up our cross and move ever closer to God and the freedom of unity with Him. I don't feel that same completeness in any other Christian system and certainly no Protestant system has that same authority and experience.

Orthodoxy's completeness is really the result of 2 complementary aspects of the Christian life - the life of the head and the life of the heart. What I described above is really the life of the heart, and by that I mean the life of feeling, struggle, emotion and the daily search to find meaning and direction. It is also the life of the gut - the daily struggle for survival. These things don't always require a great deal of thought and, indeed, are often spoiled by too much reflection. When I look at my wife and feel the tugs of love and the appreciation of her beauty, putting those emotions through an intellectual analysis will rob them of their depth and meaning. There are some things that should simply be left to the experience of them, without feeling the need to route them through the intelligence for too much examination. But Orthodoxy does not just serve the life of the heart. It is a rich tradition, full of intellectual rigor and debates that lasted (literally) centuries. I can't imagine any modern person being satisfied with a discussion that will outlive them, and yet, that is what many of the saints had to do. Orthodoxy is deeply philosophical, tackling incredibly hard, and some would say obscure, problems and questions with gusto. It accepted no quarrel about the "practicality" of these debates; they were about the very person of God and the nature of his Church, and were thus by definition vastly important. Where so much of modern Christianity is focused on 'how-to' books and therapeutic approaches to theology, Orthodox maintains that tradition of hard, demanding theological reflection. It offers what we need to sustain us both in our hearts and in our heads, providing a life-time of material for thought, discussion, debate and exploration. As someone who values education and learning, such a cornucopia cannot be easily passed over. And yet there are those that would say I could appreciate and study those things without actually becoming Orthodox. To a certain extent I would agree with them, but ultimately, I think it is impossible to truly grasp and understand what these saints are saying if I am not apart of the same ecclesial stream that nourished them. How can I truly understand what they say about the bishop if I have none? How can I appreciate the totality of the Eucharist if I cannot celebrate it with them?

Which brings me to the final reason I will discuss; the comprehensiveness of the church. I still struggle with the idea of prayer to the saints and the Theotokos, as any Protestant likely does. It is an alien concept and one hard to accept on its own terms. For me, it is probably the greatest hurdle I will face to becoming Orthodox. Most of the other differences with Protestantism - liturgy, sacrament, hieararchy - I can understand and submit to without problem, but this is much harder. But even for that difficulty, the idea is so intrinsically appealing that I cannot quite get away from it. When I worship on Earth, I am joined by Heaven! And not just angels, but all the saints, all those who have walked this path before me. It brings the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ into critical focus and makes unity all the more important. If we're separated here, how can we joined There? The more I search, the more I explore, the more convinced I become that unity, true unity, should be one of the strongest critiques we offer to the world because unity is really about love. A love that cannot separate us from Christ, nor from the other members of His body.


The end is nigh?

Depending on who you listen to, the end of the world in the form of vast ecological devastation, massive societal upheaval after we run out of oil, or perhaps a new bird-flu variant that will wipe out a few billion people. Whichever flavor you prefer, many claim the outlook is dire and that such calamities are only a matter of (very brief) time. These predictions are used to push a variety of reforms or countermeasures, some of which I agree with and some of which seem to be little more than wishful thinking that will do more harm than good. For instance, the "hydrogen economy" is still going to leave us reliant on oil to provide said hydrogen. And while it may reduce pollution, I for one am not favorably disposed to riding around with a tank of highly explosive gas just to the rear of my rear. However, the evaluation of such proposals is not my point with this post.

No, I have a confession to make; when reading these various outlines of how the world will implode, I actually find myself looking forward to that time in some perverse way. I realize that these upheavals, should they come to pass, will cause untold deaths and suffering on a scale to make Katrina or the tsunami a bit of golden-hued nostalgia. I do not look forward to them with the expectation that such catastrophes will either prompt, accompany or immediately precede Christ's return. I look forward to them the same way I think I would have enjoyed witnessing the destruction of the Tower of Babel - the ultimate come-uppance, the proof of man's folly and self-worship. You might be properly aghast that I could positively anticipate such a time, but I ask you, what kind of human suffering did the fall of the Tower of Bable create? If we take the account seriously, and I do, then surely in the immediate aftermath of such a catclysmic event, many thousands of people died or were forced to live lives of deprivation and poverty. Looking at the impact of the event across time, we can see the millions upon millions of deaths that have resulted from the war & conflict this confusion of the human race has resulted in. But that was a necessary and unavoidable result of man's hubris and I think the collapse of civilization is similarly required. We have forgotten the lesson impressed upon humanity, and it is time for it to be written on our collective souls again. What is that lesson? Honestly, I'm not entirely certain. In part, it is the fatal folly of our own self-reliance, our worship of self, our putting politics before love, economics before the Cross. If we cannot be brought to repentance by so-called natural disasters, perhaps the disasters we are making for ourselves through our exorbinant and mindless consumption will do it for us.


Why Orthodoxy? Part IV

Of course, everyone knows that modern Protestantism holds to sola scriptura (SS), the idea that the Bible alone is the final and ultimate source of authority for right belief and right practice; orthodoxy and orthopraxy, respectively. Part of the problem of intelligently debating SS is that there are so many different flavors of it. There are those who hold that everything we say we believe or do in worship must be explicitly sanctioned by Scripture. There are others who believe that as long as something isn't explicitly prohibited, then its fine. Diverse groups have diverse understanding of the specific content of this doctrine, but ultimately I think it is safe to say that, for a Protestant, if it can't be proven from the Bible, then it must be rejected.

You can't prove sola scriptura from the Bible!

Which brings me to my first problem with SS; it is internally inconsistent. The Bible does not say that the Bible alone is to be our ultimate source of authority. There are verses that support the authority of the Bible - like Hebrews 4:12 or 2 Timothy 3:16 - but these do not preclude other sources of authority. No verse says "scripture alone" and if we examine the historical evidence, it is clear the early church was not SS. First, the Judaism from which Christianity sprang was not SS as it regards the Torah and prophetic writings. They accepted and eventually codified in writing the oral tradition which authoritatively interpreted the text. That is not to say there wasn't ongoing debate, but it is clear that the rabbinic intepretations were considered normative. The church of the first few decades continued to meet in the synagogues & Temple, followed the Jewish liturgical calendar and pattern of worship (excepting only the Eucharist, which was held in people's homes at first) and the Jewish pattern of thinking. Second, the history of the first 2 centuries shows that the church functioned quite well without a defined canon. Instead, it relied on the Apostolic Tradition which was supplemented by various writings. Some of these writings were eventually put in the canon and some weren't. No matter what texts they were using, the Tradition still functioned as a legitimate and normative authority upon which they relied. Thus, the early church was not SS, and indeed could not have been without a canon. And if those closest to the Apostles did not adhere to what would have obviously been a very important (if impossible) principle, then one can safely conclude that the Apostles did not intend the church to follow it.

Which brings me to a second major inconsistency - the Bible never gives us a definitive list of the canon (most scholars agree the "table of contents" section in the earliest manuscripts were later additions). Protestantism would hold that our faith rests solely on the Bible; B=>F, if you will. But the reality is that with no definitive, self-contained canonical descriptions, the Bible rests on the authority that declared it to be the canon, A=>B. This puts Protestantism in the implicit position of affirming A=>B=>F, or A=>F. 'A' is by definition external to the Bible, and cannot be proven from it in violation of SS. The matter is further complicated by the New Testament's internal references to the Old Testament - they largely quote the Septuagint, which raises the question of which version of the OT the Apostles regarded as authoritative. Can the Protestants sole reliance on the Masoretic text be justified in light of this? And what about NT citation of an apocryphal work - what is the status of that work? Those questions can only be answered from outside the Bible. Regardless if the authority is history, a church council or personal judgment, those questions require an authority quite apart from the Bible to determine what the Bible is. That authority then becomes the ultimate arbiter of faith because it is what delimited the content of the canon.

So how was the canon formulated? The specifics are not as important to this discussion as the general ideas behind what are really the only 2 possibilities; the canon was formulated under the guidance of the Spirit or it relied solely on human judgment. The obvious problem with reliance on human judgment is that it is fallible. I have seen some courageous souls who will allow that they have a "fallible collection of infallible books", but they can't really say that and mean it. If it is a "fallible collection", then it is entirely possible that something 'uninspired' made it in and something 'inspired' was left out, and there is no way for us to ever know if this is the case. One cannot prove that James is uninspired, as some of the Reformers thought, and that the Epistles of Clement are inspired, as some of the Church Fathers thought. This, of course, throws SS into some murky waters - how can you consider a fallible canon to be the ultimate authority for matters of faith? What if you're relying on an uninspired work for some key pieces of your theology or praxis? Here, the authority the faith is really resting on is the mental acuity and historical awareness of a group of very fallible men, which does not strike me as a very strong foundation. Moreover, when you consider that, as I've pointed out previously, Protestantism largely considers these men to have slipped into the serious failures of monepiscopacy, sacramentalism, Traditionalism, etc, I fail to see how anyone could NOT question their wisdom and judgment in this matter. Especially when you consider they came to these positions while reading these texts! If they got it all so wrong in other important areas, why should we think they'd do any better here? This position has to inject some doubt into the validity and completeness of the canon.

But what if the formulatoin of the canon was directed, in some way, by the Holy Spirit? This would give us great assurance that our canon is valid and complete, but once again, it is a violation of SS; you cannot prove from the Bible that the canon was inspired by the Spirit. Another problem also arises, in that if the Protestant accepts the Spirit's guidance here then he must give an account as to why the Spirit did not similarly act to prevent the fledgling church from falling into these heretical, unbiblical forms.

The doctrine of the Trinity came first.

Things are further complicated for the Protestant SS position by the doctrine of the Trinity. First, the Trinitarian formulation of the first Ecumenical Council significantly predates the official formulation of the canon. With no set canon, one cannot affirmatively say that the doctrine of the Trinity is solely based on the Bible as we know it. It is possible that other works influenced the Council's thinking and the unbiblical word "homoousion" surely prevents a SS understanding of this key doctrine. Second, in the Church's battle with the Arian heresy, as happened with many heresies in the first millenia, it was clear that the heretics were reading the same texts as the Trinitarians. The Council was not able to simply dismiss Arius out of hand as relying on false sources or documents, as they could with some of the gnostic sects. In order to confront and overcome the Arian heresy about Christ, they had to prove that Arius was misinterpreting those texts. The significance of this fact is immense for Protestantism. If it accepts the Trinitarian formulation of Nicea, then it must, in fact, rely upon the exegetical skills of the council members. It must look to the quality of their minds, their theology and their adherence to the historic deposit of faith and hold them above reproach. But this the Protestant cannot do! To do this would require a radical rethinking of Protestant theology, ecclesiology, worship and praxis, because once you allow the superiority of their intellects in producing such a key doctrine, you have no basis to reject their thinking in other matters. This does not mean that one would have to accept modern Catholicism or Orthodoxy, but it would mean having to seriously engage the early church's thinking with the intention of being conformed to it. Further, the Protestant cannot do this because it sets up yet another authority outside the Bible. The validity of their interpretation cannot be proven from the Bible, because Arius was reading the same works! His interpretation, which was actually more popular for a while, is just as legitimate a reading unless one accepts an external authority to contradict it. If one denies that source, then one must reject Nicea and simply say that they choose to accept the doctrine of the Trinity based on their own reading of the text. This kicks the legs out from under any orthodox understanding of the faith. For instance, a Calvinist can look at an Arminian and say they think the Arminian's theology is wrong. But that Calvinist cannot deny their Christianity because they are both orthodox and the matters upon which they differ are, to some extent, optional. However, once you reject Nicea, being Trinitarian must similarly become optional because it is based on some school of thought and not some objective reality.



Peter Singer eats my post

Earlier today, I had written an incisive, witty and publish-quality analysis of Peter Singer's article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine. I browse through FP when the new issues hit the stands at Border's, though I frequently don't read a single article all the way through. I went yesterday afternoon and read all of 3 articles - The Sanctity of Life by Peter Singer, Monogamy by Jacues Attali and "Religious Hierarchy" by Harvey Cox (not available online). As I said, I had written this amazing piece of blogalism, but when I hit "Publish Post" my browser crapped out on me, thus killing my post. I can only think that Singer, in league with the devil, fouled my wireless connection at just the right moment. Alas, you will have to read Singer's article and analyze it on your own. You'll either laugh so hard you'll cry, or your blood will freeze in your veins at the thought this guy might be right...just FYI.


Why Orthodoxy? Part II

Getting married further separated me from my friends. Most were a couple of years younger than I, and only a couple had done anything college-wise - so I was in the "real world", with a corporate job and a wife, and they still had no direction, working just to get by and hanging out till all hours of the night. I'm not knocking them, since there are times when I miss that sense of freedom and limitless possibilities. I realize, too, that I would not be happy living like that. I need my work and my everyday life to mean something; I need to have direction. So my friends and I drifted apart, which only made fitting back into my old church even harder, what with the emotion-driven worship and shallow teaching. We still went some, though, mostly out of habit and some because those people were still my friends, even if we weren't close. We tried out a few other churches over the course of the winter of 02/03, but never really felt at home. Nothing clicked for us and we got rather apathetic about church.

I had read some on the emerging church movement and it was stirring up some excitement in me. One of the things that had stirred me in Bishop Ware's book was the connection to the past that was present in Orthodoxy. Even a cursory look at the emerging church will show that they are very interested in reacquiring the forms & practices of the ancient church, and I liked it. To me, the emerging church seemed like a good via media between my Protestant ideals and the history of my faith. Via an emerging blog or two, I wound up landing on Karl Thienes' blog and from there, branching out to more Orthodox bloggers. This piqued my curiosity, so one day at work (on my lunch break, I tell you!) I decided to see if there were any Orthodox churches in Phoenix. I found several, one of which was right along the route I took home from work, so I swung by one afternoon that week. I checked out the church's website and emailed the priest, who invited me to come to a service some time. I ended up going on a Saturday the week before Easter. My wife had to work, so I went alone and stood in the back the entire time, not knowing if I was allowed to go into the church proper.

I was blown away by it. This was an entirely God-centered worship! There were no praise choruses about how great and wonder I feel, or how great and wonderful I'm supposed to feel. It was unemotional, focused. The only time self-referential words came up were in conjunction with asking God's mercy, but they rarely focused on "me." The prayers were offered corporately for the Body - it was "have mercy on us". And after the forced, me-focused, emotion-driven worship I had grown to abhor, this was a most welcome and keenly felt change. The smell of the incense lingered in my nose, the sounds of the chants echoed in my mind. The reverence present was also a huge change. Everybody was dressed nicely and there was no coffee in the sanctuary. It was a place where people came to meet the creator of the universe and they did so with serious intent, not frivolity, not looking for comfort. There were no gimmicks. The sermon was short, but good. The priest spoke to the reality of sin and our constant need for God's mercy. I met him briefly after the Liturgy and went home to talk to my wife about it.

We started going fairly regularly at that point and continued to do so for a few months. I think we were both moved by it and found the changes refreshing. Looking back at it, I can't really pin down any specific reason why we stopped going. I think we just weren't ready at that point. We definitely stopped going completely after I started talking to the church in Illinois about their youth pastor position. But I carried that experience with me - the God-focused worship, the almost total disregard for emotion, the depth & richness of the theology & praxis and the rootedness in history. Its probably the biggest reason things didn't work out at that church; I wanted to make disciples in the manner of the earliest Christians. I wanted to teach the kids something real, to help them make their faith their own and something that would survive the challenges of college, which are immense. The church, on the other hand, wanted little more than a program that would get big, fast. They also wanted a program that was more about pleasing the adults of the church than it was reaching the kids. Anyone familiar with my blog knows how it ended.

So now that we are here, I think we are ready. Not ready to convert just yet, just ready to really explore it, to give Orthodoxy a chance to pull us in. I, for one, need this time. That brief experience of Orthodoxy has stayed with me, haunting my ministry. It became the measuring stick by which I judged my ministry and the ministry of my church - are we that reverential? Are we pointing people to God like that? Are we producing disciples and not just converts? Are we equipping people to live their faith and not just understand it? My experience at that church in Illinois only served to heighten the tension I feel, amply demonstrating the failures of Protestant thinking & doctrine. For me, I need to settled the Orthodoxy question once and for all, whether that is yes or no. I know I will never be able to be happy at a church until I do.

Next post, the theological, philosophical and historical reasons behind the lure of Orthodoxy.

Why Orthodoxy?

In recent debate over on another Baptist blog, the blog's author - Jeff Wright - asked me why Orthodoxy? Why not Catholicism or some other tradition? Since I haven't previously explained why I'm drawn to Orthodoxy in any systematic way, I figured I'd turn my response to him into a post. I didn't think this would be that hard to right out, but I realized after starting it that there is actually quite a lot that is going into it. Some of it is why I am dissatisfied with Protestantism and some of it is why I'm drawn to Orthodoxy, quite apart from my feelings about Protestantism in general. This is probably going to take a few posts to get through.

My first brush with Orthodoxy had nothing to do with either disillusionment or a certain sense of spiritual hollowness. It was due to far more mundane matters. In the early spring of 2000, I learned that I was to be deployed to Bosnia for a little under 7 months. Thanks to the well established Army presence over there, I was able to find out exactly where I'd be stationed and who I'd be working with on my team. It turns out, my unit was going to be stationed in the city of Doboj (pronounced doe-boy) on a base run by the NORDPOL Battle Group. The NBG is a mish-mash of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Lithuanian and Polish forces, who were responsible for the security in our little corner of the US sector. As it happens, the boundary between the Serb Republic and the Bosnian Federation runs right through Doboj. The former, which contained my team's territory, was about 90% Serb at that point, and the latter was a similar percentage of Croats & Muslims. In preparation for my deployment, I ordered a variety of books on the history of Bosnia, the war and a few books on Orthodoxy since I figured it would help me understand Serb culture. I ended up buying Bishop Ware's "The Orthodox Church", Vladimir Lossky's "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" and a small prayer book. I only picked these books because they were on the first search page that popped up for "Orthodox church" and had gotten good reviews. Ware's book was an easy, straightforward read and I found it interesting - some very different but attractive perspectives that resonated with me, if only a little. Lossky's work, on the other hand, seemed impenetrable for someone not familiar with the Church, and I only made it through the first chapter or so. While in Bosnia, I was able to tour the ancient Orthodox church in Sarajevo, and bought a few souvenirs while there - some small icon-cards of Christ Pantocrator, a few prayer ropes (at the time, I thought they were just hand-made bracelets), a little incense holder and an incense burner. Nothing life changing happened through this time or study, at least not right then. I thought it would be interesting to visit an Orthodox church when I got back to the states in April 2001. I didn't end up going, though, until 2 years later.

Before I get into that, though, I want to tell you about a college-aged Bible study I led for a few years. It started sometime in 1998 or 1999 - I knew the people who had started it but wasn't part of the initial group. It met in our church, but wasn't just for people who went there and wasn't just for college students, either. Our church was a large-ish, upscale church in one of Phoenix's wealthier sections. It's a seeker-sensitive church, so its hard to pin down hard numbers but attendance on any given Sunday was probably around 2000, with a roster of regular attendees approaching 3000 on the adult side. By the time I left, the youth ministry had exploded and was up over 800 at 2 services on Sunday mornings. This was the church that had brought me back to the faith, so to speak. I had given my life to Christ after my freshmen year of high school at a Younglife camp but never really got involved at a church after my return. It was towards the end of my senior year that I started attending and ended up getting pretty involved in the youth group as a volunteer leader after I graduated. Within a couple of years, I had started to form some pretty solid friendships and it was a few of these people that started the college-aged Bible study. It had been meeting for several months before I finally started attending. After I a while, they asked me to join the roster of the rotating leadership position. Not too long after that, I became pretty much the only leader and that lasted for probably a year or so. In that time, the group expanded from 8 to around 30 people, most of whom were very serious about their faith and serious about the relationships in the group. At that point, we made some changes, but I was still in a leadership role and most of them probably thought of me as the top guy. For me, this was really the only time in my life where I've felt like I was really accepted by more than a few people. I was looked up to, I was respected, my gifts were honored and people genuinely cared about me. It was a very happy time for me.

But then I left for Bosnia and hardly heard from them. When I came back, I was more than a little messed up by what I had experienced over there. No combat, thank God, but we had uncovered new information on war crimes and it left a lasting impression. In my absence, the group had kind of faltered but was reconstituted within a few months and grew a little more. But for me, the bloom was off the rose, in more ways then one. The friendships had not been what I had thought & hoped they were and no one there could understand how Bosnia had affected me, which only served to drive the wedge deeper. Added to that, the church that I had loved and that had spurred me forward in my faith now felt increasingly hollow. Its style was all flash & show and the teaching lacked depth. It didn't provide me what I needed in the wake of the spiritual trauma of discovering new instances of mass murder. It didn't speak to the reality of the human condition outside the cozy little realm of upper-middle-class Phoenix, Arizona with its cookie-cutter homes, new cars and suburban apathy.

I continued on, though, much as I had. I met my wife in September of 2001 and thank God for that. Her love healed me of so much of the badness that had seeped into me. We had only dated for a few months before I got deployed again, this time to Alaska and with far less notice. Aside from getting married and growing to pretty much loathe Army life, this period passed quickly and with little excitement. She had moved up to Alaska, so the first part of our married life happened completely separated from friends and family - which I think was a good thing. It gave us time to just be with each other without distraction. We found a church up there that was better than my Phoenix church in terms of teaching - which it offered with some pretty significant depth - but I still found it lacking. I had come to find emotion-focused worship, with its constant emphasis on "me" to be extremely toxic to my faith. I would sit and calculate what I call the Me:You ratio - how many times does a given verse say I-me-my as compared to you-yours-name/title of God. Disturbingly, most songs had at least a 2:1 ratio, sometimes more. Which meant that I was singing about me, instead of God, the majority of the time. Unsurprisingly, this trend continued after we came back to Phoenix.