...are the ones that make the biggest difference


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.


A new definition of heretical fundamentalism

In case you hadn't noticed, things have gotten a little busy around here of late. The author of my post on Christian fundamentalism found his way here and we entered into a little debate out the usage of emails. Well, the debate still rages over on his blog though things have taken a bit of an odd turn. No longer are we merely debating views of scripture, hermeneutics and the role of tradition. Thanks to a few different posters*, we have moved into truly debating with heretics. And that's not a term I use lightly. There are a great many people with whom I would disagree on some pretty fundamental things, but I still honor them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Like Calvinists, for instance. I think its an erroneous teaching, clearly unbiblical and ahistorical, but at the very least they are Trinitarian and that provides a good basis for dialogue.

The same cannot be said for Keith, who has brought his own particular flavor of non-Trinitarian "Christianity" to the table. Keith takes an extremely high view of scripture, as you can see:

To me, inerrancy means that the Bible is perfect. It has no errors or blemishes, but is complete and whole like God is complete and whole. But what is perfect can only be divine, right? How could something be “perfect” and not be God, because only God is perfect. If you truly believe in inerrancy, then you must believe that the Bible is divine. If something is divine, it must be worshipped. Thus, to me, we worship the Bible as much as we would worship God...

Another poster** said:

What else can we place our trust in? Are you claiming that I need place my faith in some ethereal notion of the Son of God? The Son is only made known throw the Word….the Word was made flesh. Ergo: Bible = Jesus.

As you can imagine, dialogue with these 2 has been rather (ahem) difficult since there is no middle ground, no common foundation on which to build. And, surprisingly, for a group that, literally, idolizes the Bible, they don't quote from scripture much and don't respond to correction from it, either. Keith has said repeatedly that the Bible is the only way to know anything about God and has persisted in this error even though Romans 1 has been pointed out to him a couple times. The debate has largely fallen apart since Keith won't really respond to any logical arguments and tends to rely solely on emotional appeals and calling people "liberal" when you disagree with him.

For me, this debate has only served to further demonstrate the insufficiency of sola scriptura. Without a thoroughly Trinitarian understanding of God as expressed in the Nicene Creed, anything is possible. I had unreflectedly assumed that this error would only go in the more liberalizing direction. I see now that I was very wrong.

*I suspect that at least a few of them are the same guy using different handles.
** I'm pretty sure he and Keith are one and the same, or at the very least, go to the same church.


Nil Sorsky on Temptation

So this weekend we went back to our house in Bloomington to pack up the remainder of our things and move them here to Fort Wayne. We got up early on Saturday and got on the road. We spent the majority of the day packing things up and moving things out into the garage so it'd be easier to load them directly onto the truck on Sunday. We had brought our TV with us when we first went out to Ft Wayne, leaving us entertainment-less at the house. So after grabbing a bite to eat at one of our favorite restaurants (a little Irish pub called "Maggie Miley's" - if you're ever in Normal, IL, eat there), we went to Borders for a little while. But we were tired after the day of moving and didn't stay too long. So we headed home and sat out on the porch talking - about the church we left, Orthodoxy, jobs, moving, the future, you name it. We've been busy of late, so it was the first time in a while we've had a chance to just talk without interruption - all I have to say is that I love my wife. It seems there are many who would dread several uninterrupted hours of conversation with their spouses - me, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Our time together was punctuated by a fireworks display over a golf course about 1/2 a block from our house. It was right about the time we were talking about some of the frustration and anger we still feel for the church, and as we watched this beautiful display, I felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder and saying "See, everything is going to be fine" - this also in response to my frustrating job search. Later that evening, I lay in bed reading an excerpt in Touchstone of the writings of a Russian saint named Nil Sorsky. One passage in particular stuck out to me - it was written in response to a young man's question about fear:

"When such thoughts occur, fight manfully so that they do not overcome you and make your heart resolute in a deep trust in God, saying the following: 'I have a God who is watching over me. Without his will, nobody can harm me in anything. Even if he allows something to happen to me which would make me suffer, I would not take that for evil, because I do not wish to make his will ineffective, because the Lord knows much more than I and wishes only my profit. So I am thankful for all because of his clemency.'"

I went to sleep thinking about this and praying about it.

And very quickly forgot all about it.

When we arrived at the U-Haul location bright and early Sunday morning, we were told our reservation had been transferred to another location. When we got to the other location, thankfully not to far away, we are told that 1) their computers are down, 2) they don't know how to do a manual contract and 3) it will take a long time to get on the phone with a company official to figure out how to remedy either one. After an (embarassingly) angry exchange, they took our number and said they'd call us back when they had something worked out. We got a call a few hours later, telling us that the first location had a truck for us. It was bigger than we had reserved, but they would give it to us at the original rate. So we get it, more than a little angry about the whole thing.

And as it turns out, the original truck would not have been anywhere near enough room to accomodate our stuff. We even had to leave some stuff behind for my in-laws to pick up when they're out that way later this week. If things had gone according to our plan, many more problems and delays would have unfolded during the course of the day. So I sit here chagrined over my childish antics, the frustration and anger that I let creep into my heart, even after seeing those fireworks and reading the words of that godly man. I can only shake my head and laugh at myself, because I truly am a fool. Maybe someday I'll finally figure out how to trust God!


New definition of Christian fundamentalism

[Due to some engaging comments from the author of the post I link in this entry, I thought I'd move it up to the top of the stack.]

Going from link to link, I came across a blog by a Southern Baptist youth pastor named Jared. This post is about a recent experience he had with his youth group at a camp. Basically, the camp ran the kids through a "prayer excercise" as found in Tony Jones' book Soul Shaper, wherein you meditate upon a word that communicates God love for you and shows your desire to surrender to him. Jared thought this was a bit of new-age/pagan wickedness and fired off a few emails to various authorities within the SBC. He posted the email exchange in his post, which has generated over 100 comments so far. One commenter asked if Jared had gotten permission from the authors of those emails to post them on his blog, suggesting it was wrong to post them if he had not at least notified the authors. Jared's response? And I quote: [WARNING: Swallow your coffee and put down the mug prior to continuing]

"Can you give me any reason biblically why I should have?"

So, ladies and gentlemen, I proffer a new definition of Christian fundamentalism for your review & comment: The Bible speaks definitively on web & email etiquette such that we should not use any html tags, publishing software or internet connections not explicitly enumerated in Scripture. Further, we should not succumb to the spirit of this age by following worldly ideas on web usage. To argue that the Bible is silent on such issues is pagan tomfoolery and endangers your very soul. REPENT!

Tomorrow we'll explore what the Bible has to say about proper blog formatting: Links on the left? Only if you want to rot in hell.

Gays in the media

In the local paper a couple mornings back, I ran across this article about the "scant" number of gay leads on network television. From the article:

Sixteen homosexual characters are depicted in network TV series scheduled for the 2005-06 season, a small increase over last year but still inadequate, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said Monday.

Out of 710 characters appearing on a regular or recurring basis on the six major broadcast networks in the new season, about 2 percent are gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the group’s annual study.
“This is a shocking misrepresentation of reality and of the audience watching these programs,” Romine added in the report of the group’s findings.

From that, one might assume that GLAAD has some hard & fast numbers on the percentage of gays in America to demonstrate this "shocking" inadequacy. Ummm, no:

Although there is no definitive figure available for the U.S. gay and lesbian population, GLAAD believes the number is “certainly higher” than that represented on network television, spokesman Damon Romine said Monday.

What evidence do we have that it is "certainly higher"? How high is "certainly higher"? 5%? 10? And at what point does this discrepancy become of the non-shocking variety? What if the actual gay population is only 2%? Or better yet, what if its only 1%? Would GLAAD then start agitating for fewer gay leads on TV? The answer is, of course, no. And for a very simple reason - GLAAD isn't advocating for reality on TV. If it were, it would be pushing for:

Several HIV+ gay male characters. I can't say a majority because there is no total to compare it against, but the large majority of the total HIV cases in the US are found in gay and bisexual men. I can't think of a single recurring gay character on network television that is HIV+.

Several gay characters that are, or were, severely depressed and suicidal. Gays are far more likely to both attempt and complete suicide. Again, I can't think of a single recurring gay character that was depressed or admitted to ever having attempted suicide.

Drug use among some of the gay characters on television. The use of illegal drugs is particularly prevalent among the homosexual population - any gay drug addicts shown? Any overdoses? How about the connection between drug use and casual sex that contributes to the spread of AIDS among the gay population? None, none and none.

What GLAAD is pushing for is the candy-coated reality of "Cheers". Yes, I said "Cheers". Good old Norm, Woody, Sam, Diane - the whole gang. Arguably, several of the characters were alcoholics, yet none ever suffered from liver disease or other complications. None were ever shown being abusive towards their families, losing their jobs due to their drinking, or passing out in a gutter. No, they all drank to their hearts content but never got drunk and never experienced any harmful consequences for spending every night of their lives in a bar. Heck, there wasn't even any second-hand smoke!

Of course, the primary difference is that there weren't any political organizations pushing for more alcoholics on TV. The deleterious effects of alcoholism are well-known and well-publicized. The same cannot be said of the many negative consequences of being gay. I don't like putting it like that, but the bare, statistical facts show that being gay is likely to be hazardous to your health on many levels. Yet the prevalence of drug abuse, STD's, depression and suicide are not well known by the general population, in part because of the political activism of GLAAD and other like-minded organizations. Which puts their spin on the "shocking" TV numbers in a new light, because it is aimed at an active deception. They want more gay characters, but apart from the occassional pointed story about harassment and those darn judgmental Christians, they don't want the reality of their lives depicted. This deception is aimed at creating more widespread social acceptance and equal rights for things like marriage and legal protections.

By itself, any minority group pushing to gain broader acceptance so it will experience less prejudice is a good thing. Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes, creating greater awareness - all very good things. But what should we do if this drive is based on deception? What should we do if it is based on presenting a false reality to the general population? I, for one, think we, as Christians need to start advocating for more sex, drugs & violence on TV, not less. I think TV needs to be a much more startling depiction of reality than it currently is. Why can Rachel from "Friends" sleep with over 30 guys and never once catch anything, experience any serious depression, get pregnant, talk about birth control, or express any serious regrets about her activity? Why, on teen shows like "The OC" (never actually watched it, but the kids in my youth group talked about it), can sex, drugs and drinking be portrayed without any significant consequences? Why is adultery on shows like "Desperate Housewives" portrayed in a sympathetic light? What we need is a far better and more accurate portrayal of reality across the board - not just with gay characters, but every character that involves themself with immoral behavior. Because, quite frankly, we are involved in our own deception when we let those kinds of shows go by without comment. We deceive ourselves, we let our children be deceived, and we let those around us persist in this non-reality, when we let the lie live on.