...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Edumacation ain't cheap

I went to get my books yesterday for the start of classes this coming Monday. Over $700 worth of books and equipment (not including uniforms) for just 2 classes! In case you're wondering what $700 worth of books and equipment looks like...
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The big blue bag (which you can hardly see above the books) is the lab kit, which contains all kinds of basic medical equipment (needles, IV bags & lines, catheters, etc) for practicing on each other. Now, the needle/IV thing doesn't really bother me, but the catheters? Yeah, I'm really hoping we have some kind of elaborate dummy for practicing with those.

Fortunately, I got a nice new backpack for my birthday which was more than capable of handling the 40 lbs of books. And thankfully, my new "hog" has a special bag-loop attachment that let me put my lab kit on the floor-board between my legs without worries. Here is my new "hog":

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With us only having 1 car and the amount of time I'd have to spend waiting for the bus, we figured another mode of transportation would be good. It isn't ideal, but it'll work just fine for the next couple of years since we live pretty close to school and work. Plus, its a lot of fun.


After gaining a little perspective

Its been a few months now since the wife and I decided/were lead to turn back on our exploration of Orthodoxy. We've looked around at some other churches, had some good discussions about what we feel like is important in a church and have just gained some perspective on the whole thing. Here is a brief sketch of my current thinking and the insights I've gained over the course of this last year. (And it is just over a year since we moved here; August 5th, my birthday, was the one year mark.)

--Really, I don't consider our current direction to be a 'turning back'. We're continuing forward with a different heading, but its a heading we could have never found without first moving through Orthodox territory. I have found new vistas, new mountains and new roads for having come this way, and I think they will only lead me to a greater and deeper faith. As a caveat, I am not intending this post to be taken as an attack on Orthodoxy - it is a Tradition I admire and love, and I know that it preaches the Gospel. And God may lead us back there someday, so these are really thoughts-in-process and nowhere near a final conclusion. I also know that I am no expert on Orthodoxy; these are simply my impressions based on time spent at 2 different parishes, a fair amount of reading and interacting with Orthodox Christians online. They could also do with a great deal of expansion and will probably each be followed up by multiple posts.--

After gaining a little perspective on what the church is, I think it is both much more and much less than what Orthodoxy recommends to us. First the "more." Orthodoxy views herself as the "one true church" and looks questionably upon other Christian groups. Depending on the zealousness of the parties involved, that view ranges from a warm, benign regard as Christians who are well-meaning but at least partially wrong-headed, to a cold, dismissive regard as so-called Christians who are entirely on the wrong track and likely to not end up in heaven. No matter where the opinion falls, non-Orthodox Christians are viewed as outsiders and are not welcome to commune. And from what I understand, Orthodox Christians are not allowed to commune elsewhere (without special permission, at least.) While I am no advocate of an open table that includes non-believers, I think that a closed communion among Christian groups that subscribe to the Nicene creed is deeply troublesome. Orthodoxy is not the only group to set such boundaries, so this is not an Orthodoxy-only problem. I know there are slippery-slope arguments to be made, that various groups don't agree in other important areas and that there are certainly good, historical reasons why these restrictions are in place, but I just don't like 'em. I don't think they contribute to the unity of the body of Christ, which is a clear biblical imperative. The "less" refers to the hierarchical nature of the Orthodox church. While there are clearly defined roles within the NT portrayal of the church and early church history also points to the episcopal structure, I don't find it particularly clear where the "priesthood of all believers" enters into the Orthodox structure. I also struggle with the fact that Christ spoke rather strongly against the hierarchical Temple system, and yet it seems to be duplicated in Orthodoxy. There is a rigid structure that decidedly keeps non-clergy at a certain remove, putting them back into dependence onto others to participate in their faith.

After gaining a little perspective on the sacraments, I think they are meant to be more accessible. This really struck me on our first visit to a Lutheran liturgy, wherein Communion was taken quite seriously but without all the attendant ritual action & language of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. I generally felt during the DL that things moved along quite well until after the homily when the liturgy transitioned into the preparation of the Eucharist. At that point, I almost always seemed to get tripped up somehow and had to struggle to remain focused. I know this is purely subjective, but it affected the way I thought & felt about Orthodoxy. Why was all of this necessary? What did it add to our worship? What positive effect did it have on us? Now, I'm not advocating a man-centered worship by any means, but Christ states quite explicitly that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Worship is God-directed but it benefits us by allowing us to commune with our Creator, to adore our Redeemer and to move deeper into the Spirit. Without taking too utilitarian a tone, how does all that ritual action help us to do those things? I think there is an uavoidable tension in worship between God and man. Is our worship pleasing to God and is it beneficial to us? Many Protestant churches obviously stray much too far in trying to fulfill the latter but I think Orthodoxy may tip too much in favor of the former. There is much, much more to be said on this subject, which I'm sure will generate future posts, but this is a good summary of where I'm at right now.

After gaining a little perspective on theology, I think the utter seriousness with which Orthodoxy undertakes it is dead-on. This is especially true in light of many Christians drinking deeply at the well of postmodernism, and thus being lead into the miry clay of relativism. I've heard more than a few such Christians refer to theology as nothing more than "God-talk" with absolutely no positive correspondence to the reality of God. Further, many speak of Christ as if He were merely the way our culture seeks God and other's cultural expressions are therefore equally valid. Even for those Christian groups not investing in postmodern theology, there are more than a few that are struggling with other deviations, like the "prosperity Gospel" or any of the charismatic movements that crop periodically in the Pentecostal churches. And overall, there is a spirit that denies the importance of theology, of teaching theology to the church or that theology affects our daily lives. This is one of the things that the wife and I are most stringent upon as we have attended churches over the last few months - is the teaching good and meaty? Or is it merely baby formula? I, of course, recognize that what separates theologically serious churches from the rest is the dreaded (in evangelical minds) specter of tradition, cue ominous music. Without making that tradition as authoritative as Scripture, and largely without consciously realizing it, solid churches hold fast to the faith of their fathers, reacting instinctively against novelty and innovation. I think this will be one of the areas where I learn and grow the most in the coming months and years; the interplay of Scripture, tradition and the challenges of each new generation.

As I read through this, I think the major theme that runs through my present feelings & thought is balance. How do we find it, how do we lose it and what can we do to maintain it? Not easy questions, I know, and many will likely come up with very different answers. But will Christians be able to find that balance together, or stand on the status quo that keeps us separated?


Allegory as love affair?

The Pontificator recently quoted a lengthy quote from Robert Louis Wilken on the use of allegory in the history of the Church's interpretation of, and relationship with, Scripture. Wilken argues that allegorical interpretation methods were by no means foreign to the earliest Christians and that, indeed, allegory is a necessary tool for the modern church to recover due to the Bible's inexhaustible depths and the varied experience and milieu of the Church through the centuries. Or, put another way "...the book the Church reads also belongs to another time and to other places...." The Church must dust off the use of allegory because in no other way can the Bible be received as the Bible.

Really, the only reason this post jumped out at me is because I was reading NT Wright's "The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture", and I'm still digesting the weighty arguments of this rather brief book. But in it, Wright discusses various misuses or misreadings of Scripture that have, in his view, cropped up through Church history. He argues that the earliest Christians did not employ allegory, but appealed to exegesis and scriptural narrative of redemption and renewal in Christ in arguing against heresies and innovations. Champions of the faith, like Ireneaus in his battles against the gnostics, used detail exegetical arguments about the actual meaning of specific passages and texts. They did not begin to use allegory until, in Wright's opinion, the focus on the "narrative character" of Scripture slowly diminished alongside "the church's hold on the Jewish sense of the sciptural story...." The latter involves the Church's self-understanding as a continuation of the people of Israel and their story in a creational and covenantal understanding of monotheism. He comes to argue that, while allegory "highlights the church's insistence on the importance of continuing to live with scripture...", it inevitably leads to a tension between interpretation and authority. How far can an allegorical reinterpretation (seemingly) stray from the text before it begins to lose its authority? He asks, "[a]t what point in this process are we forced to conclude that what is really 'authoritative' within such an operation is the system of theology or devotion already believed or embraced on other grounds, which is then 'discovered' in the text by the interpretative method being used?"

I encountered a rather frustrating use of allegory in reading "Mary: The Untrodden Portal". Frustrating because I could easily understand the argument the author was making from the text but really coudn't see how anyone would come up with that novel interpretation without first importing the idea. The author, quoting a saint whose name escapes me, argues that the East gate in Ezekiel 44 allegorically represents Mary (or her womb) and since it was shut after God went through it, similarly Mary was shut after God went through her in the Incarnation, thus "proving" the ever-virginity of the Theotokos. But the text itself could never be made to say any such thing if the doctrine had not already been firmly established in the mind of the interpreter - so what is authoritative about that kind of interpretation? Clearly it is not the text. Wright argues that at least some of the uses of allegory "constitute a step away from the Jewish world of the first century within which Jesus and his first followers were at home." He does concede that allegory, given the nature of the debates surrounding difficult passages in the OT which might have lead to them being tossed altogether, did serve as a way of saving the Bible for the church. But where allegory fails is that it does not appeal to the Bible itself, even though it operates with a Christian framework and uses biblical language, but rather to previously established doctrines and traditions within the church.

Wilken, perhaps understanding this but thinking about it differently, seems to indicate this fact when he says "[i]n [the Bible's] pages the fullness of Christian faith and life could be found in bewildering detail and infinite variety—all organized around the center which was the Church." (Emphasis mine.) Within the Catholic perspective the Pontificator now embraces, perhaps dusting off allegory makes a great deal of sense. Within that (or the Orthodox) framework, there may be enough safeguards to ensure that things don't go too far afield, but what guarantees are there? And what does this say about the Church's true view on the authority of Scripture? If Wright is correct about the use of Scripture by the earliest Christians, what are the practical effects of such a return to allegory? What role will Scripture play, what role can it play, in such an interpretative system?

Waa, waa, waa - I want my milk and cookies

Adam, over at Pomomusings recently got a traffic ticket from a red-light camera for running a red. Apparently the large sign indicating red-light enforcement was in effect was not enough to dissuade him from this dangerous act because it did not explicitly state "camera in use." He complains that the sign wasn't clear, the he got a ticket at all and that the fine (a whopping $70 which is a pittance compared to most locales) cannot be appealed to a lower amount. And all this because he entered an intersection only a mere second after the light turned red, as if nothing bad can happen in the space of the few seconds it takes him to clear the intersection. Given that I currently have at least 3 patients recovering from severe brain injury due to auto accidents, and 2 others who are parapalegics from auto accidents a few years back, I found his cavalier attitude towards such a dangerous act rather childish and told him so. Apparently that makes me a "troll" and gets comments closed on the post. Yup, Adam, I'll stick to my own blog where the lives of the people in my community are just as valuable as those overseas.