Sunday, 3/26/23


I very recently discovered that Paul Kingsnorth equivocates about whether he is a convert to Christianity. “In a sense, I was always Christian but didn’t know it.”

I suppose the same could be said of my “conversion” to Orthodox Christianity from (seriatim) Evangelicalism and Calvinism. I always intended to belong to this historic, most original Church.

As an Evangelical, I thought the historic, most original Church was that which lived most faithfully by the New Testament pattern. I now see that as a very naïve view, starting with the fact that “the New Testament Church™” did not and could not live by the New Testament (because it did not yet exist).

As a Calvinist, I thought the historic, most original Church was that which believed as the early church believed, and since I saw the progenitor of predestination in Augustine, and Augustine was about as early a Christian figure as I knew, then Calvinism (a/k/a the Reformed faith) was it. I now see that as fairly naïve because Augustine was an outlier in Christendom, who looms large in the post-Christian West because the other profound figures were all in the Greek-Speaking Christian East.

As an Orthodox, I don’t deny the validity of my prior concerns, but have added unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.

Sacred rite or admission to political and social privileges?

On the indignant litigants who sue bakers, florists, photographers and such for declining services to same-sex weddings:

Maybe the prospective customers, like many Americans, do not see transcendent meaning in the ceremonial commencement of matrimony, because they associate a wedding as admittance to an institutional legal fiction that allows one access to nothing more than a cluster of political and social privileges not available to other friendships. So, given this understanding, it is not surprising that the customers see the provider’s refusal as a negative judgment on the public legitimacy of their union. Thus, it’s easy to see why the customers would be offended by the provider’s refusal and subsequently seek legal redress. But what the customers fail to see is that their demand that the courts force the providers to rescind their denial and be punished for it is really a demand that the state force the providers not to exercise their freedom of worship, the liberty not to participate in, or not provide assistance to, ceremonies that one believes have sacramental significance.

Francis Beckwith, Taking Rites Seriously

I’m aware that this war is over and my side lost. Considering how poorly Christian people have realized the sacrament of marriage, the loss probably was deserved. But I want the truth remembered. History’s arc does not bend toward falsehoods.

Marriage, terrestrial and celestial

Dreher also alluded to a bit of controversy in the Evangelical World.

A flamboyant pastor/author, Josh Butler (whose credentials are unknown to me), has written a book sort of on the topic of Christ’s relationship with the Church being recapitulated in a husband’s relationship with his wife (a thoroughly biblical comparison, but he had to spice it up with “How God’s vision for sex points us to the good, unlocks the true, and (sort of) explains everything.”)

Butler has caught a lot of flak for that, the gist being some mixture of objections to the extent to which he took the simile awfully literally if not graphically and that he was contributing to the patriarchy. See here, here and here.

Four points:

  1. I’m not going to try any deep investigation into this story, which I would need to do before opining on the substance or taking sides. (Why should I take sides in a battle within an alien tribe?)
  2. I presume (and see some circumstantial evidence) that Butler’s a bit of a provocateur and that he dropped some provocations into his book. Otherwise, I don’t think he’d have gotten so much pushback.
  3. I’ll credit Butler’s critics with tacitly (maybe explicitly — see point 1) trying to nip another Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill Church scandal in the bud.
  4. Point 3 does not negate mixed motives including jealousy.

Capturing the ineffable

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that Rod Dreher is laboring mightily on a book about re-enchanting our imaginations. (I’d be more skeptical about the chance of the book achieving its objective had not another writer captured amazingly well something that I thought was ineffable.)

I have other concerns about this project, especially as it touches theology.

Nevertheless, I did appreciate this, which almost perfectly echoes my (much longer) experience in Orthodox Christianity:

I didn’t set out to write an “Orthodox” book, but all the research I’ve done has drawn me out, like a riptide, deeper into Orthodoxy. I have learned what Iain McGilchrist meant when he said that Eastern Christianity is the form of the faith that best corresponds to what he has learned about the way the mind relates to the world.

Being Orthodox has meant a long, slow letting go of the Western way of seeing reality. When I first became Orthodox in 2006, I assumed, as many converts do, that I had taken on a version of Christianity that was more mystical and more liturgical, but basically the same thing. A woman at our church told us that it would take us at least ten years to start thinking like an Orthodox Christian. That made no sense to me then. It does now. I couldn’t have known this at the beginning of the journey, because I did not know what I did not know.

Beauty And The Sacred

Martin Shaw (who I have no reason to think follows Dreher’s musings) is still quite a novice Orthodoxen, but like the hedgehog, he seems to have understood one big thing:

For years I was looking for a bigger form of shamanism, never thinking for a moment that could be Christianity. But it’s turned out to be a Christianity I’ve never seen before, strange as that sounds.

Better late than never

I let two parts of a (so far) three-part series, over more than a year, slip by until my attention was arrested by the third this week.

What’s most striking is that this Catholic Deacon author draws his most penetrating insights into the disease of “religion” from Orthodox sources.

Christian discipleship

If our churches have behaved as if “Christian discipleship” largely consists of “holding the right ideas in your head” and “consuming the right content,” then it isn’t terribly surprising that many Christians would encounter the difficulties of life and feel radically unprepared for them. Their churches didn’t teach them to expect suffering, didn’t give them models for resilience and dependence on God, and didn’t provide practical guidance in mortifying sin and offering oneself up to God. So of course we now have many Christian people who are a bit at sea, particularly given how chaotic, angry, and uncertain this cultural moment has become.

… [W]hile I understand that the failures of the attractional model created a vacuum that therapeutic technique has rushed in to fill, I also know that the cost of allowing therapeutic technique to persist in this work is far too high.

Jake Meador, who I suspect will one day recognize the incorrigibility of Evangelicalism and become Orthodox — where, ironically, he will discover a well-developed, non-faddish therapeutic approach, as in the phrase from the Orthodox Trisagion Prayer “Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities” (following “Lord cleanse us of our sins; Master pardon our transgressions”).


I have a few books I try to revisit regularly. One is C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. I’m now adding Christ the Eternal Tao, which I finished not quite a year ago. Lewis’s use of the Tao was a sort of preparation for taking the second book as other than a syncretistic novelty.

Anyway, off to China:

Other creatures follow their natures without creating chaos or disaster. They change by themselves without seeking change. People, meanwhile, race through the realm of existence and never know a quiet moment. They abandon their original innocence and don’t practice the true Tao of doing nothing. They don’t care about their lives, until one day they offend and retribution arrives.

Sung Ch’ang-Hsing via Jack Leahy, Caffeine and Repentance.

More Leahy:

Not coincidentally, perhaps, during my morning reading of Christ the Eternal Tao I was pointed to Chapter 37 of the Tao Te Ching. Which goes:

The Tao does nothing yet there is nothing it doesn’t do if a ruler could uphold it the people by themselves would change and changing if their desires stirred he could make them still with simplicity that has no name stilled by nameless simplicity they would not desire and not desiring be at peace the world would fix itself

—Red Pine translation.

As it turns out I have thought about that passage for a long time now. It is a passage that has long resonated with me to my core. And yet, it is a bit disappointing how little of its message has affected the way I have chosen to live over the years. Despite my decades-long attempt of trying to put this into practice something deeper in me more strenuously seeks the opposite. The world can dole out great rewards for those who will achieve its goals. This is no small thing. To truly put this seeking aside is to become, in many ways, a non-person.

(Emphasis added)

Futility to the Nth power

As I continue to read the works of liberal theologians with their many and varied alternatives in which the cardinal points of our faith are denied I cannot help thinking how ultimately insignificant their works all, for all their ingenuity and prolixity.  That is, millions of Christians who believe the Faith, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant alike, have no time for them, write them off as unbelievers, and leave their books unread.  Millions of secular people who share their unbelief never read their books, since the books profess to be works of theology, and such people who disbelieve the Christian faith have (not unnaturally) no interest in theology.  They are, it seems, writing their books for the select liberal academics who inhabit the same liberal echo chamber.  Their works have no real significance in the minds of the overwhelming majority of men who live and work in the real world, despite the fact that their books continue to multiply like mushrooms sprouting after the rain.  For all their labour, their work deserves to be forgotten.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Apophatic Ecclesiology

Orthodoxy cannot be simply reduced to the Orthodox doctrine of apostolic succession, seven sacraments, three degrees of hierarchy, and it is even doubtful whether such doctrines exist in a clearly defined form …

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

ECUSA celebration of Annunciation?

Is this how Episcopalians now celebrate the Feast of Annunciation?: a “solemn Service of Apology [note: not “Repentance”; and “solemn Service of Apology” makes it sound like there’s an established service for such purposes] for the participation and complicity of the diocese and its members in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and in that trade’s continuing aftermath and consequences.”

(I am not condoning slavery, of course.)


Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.

Proverbs 14:4

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.

Franklin P. Adams (via The Economist, The World in Brief for March 23)

Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Nothing new here except the possibility that the coinage is George Bernard Shaw, which I didn’t know.

I enjoy a climate with four seasons. Just not all in the same week.

@dwalbert on

In consequence of inventing machines, men will be devoured by them.

Jules Verne

  • Persiflage: Frivolity or mockery in discussing a subject.

There are related definitions, too. Try as I might, this one just doesn’t seem likely to enter my working vocabulary. I encountered it in Arthur Machen’s The Hidden Glory

Candor is the public posture of a person whose inner life is well ordered and who is grounded in their sure confidence in the love of God.

Jake Meador

‘Anthropocene’, an age in which humans have replaced nature as the big influence on Earth.

I didn’t know that was the definition of the term I’ve heard on-and-off.

We live in a culture where one of the most embarrassing things you can do is blush at the embarrassing behavior of others.

Jonah Goldberg

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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