Sunday reading, 12/25/22

Church History 101

Don’t lose the first part of that quote by getting caught up in the important end of the quote — and end that defies pop Christian history. A lot of interpretive problems become easier if you remember that followers of The Way were originally a sect within Judaism (until eventually Judaism expelled them).

Islanded Selves

In late Western modernity we have constructed an atomized, value-free, material model in which our islanded selves are ultimately disconnected from one another. T.S. Eliot put his finger on it in the Choruses from the Rock:

When the Stranger says ‘What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?’
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together
To make money from each other’? or ’this is a community’?

Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word

Three Maxims

  • I have never met a person that fasts faithfully who is at all more hypocritical or less virtuous than one who does not fast – not a single one … it is far more likely that the one who fasts is much more faithful.
  • Do not turn every virtue (like almsgiving or any “ministry”) into a program. This sort of administrative philosophy leads to despair.
  • Always remember that anger makes us temporarily energetic, but also stupid … I cannot think of one good thing I ever did or said in anger: but I can think of many regrets.

Father Jonathan Tobias, Second Terrace blog, January 29, 2018 (“Some maxims for the new wilderness”)

A Good Question

Rod Dreher, With the Bruderhof


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 12/11/22

Big day today for the vocal chords. Church, then warmups, then a Chamber Singers concert.

Let my prayer arise …

Incense

Sermon on the Mount

Those Sermon on the Mount Virtues …

… just don’t work any more

Pastors have spoken to [Russell] Moore about getting blowback from their congregants for preaching biblical ideas about mercy, with people saying, “That doesn’t work anymore, in a culture as hostile as this.”

Michelle Goldberg.

So mercy (and other Sermon on the Mount virtues) are just some kind of jujitsu? A tactic rather than a principle?

Pathetic! Any pastor with integrity will recognize that it’s time to preach the whole Gospel until those who don’t like it repent or leave.

Worldview

Can a place be holy?

Rod Dreher is doing tons and tons of research and thinking for a forthcoming book on the re-enchantment of imagination (my version of his project, not his). Preparation includes visiting ancient Christian sites — presumably to try to recapture the context in which a more expansive view of reality than ours prevailed.

He’s been going back and forth with another American on the tour:

Pat and I got into another argument on the bus. I mentioned that the holiest place on earth for Christians is Jerusalem, especially inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which takes in the spot where Jesus died, and the place where he rose from the dead. “You can’t say that,” said Pat. “I’m a Christian, and I don’t necessarily agree with you.” And then we were off. Pat’s view — a thoroughly nominalist one — is that when you say a place is “holy,” you are offering an opinion about the emotions it evokes within you. To Pat, there is no intrinsic holiness to a place, or an object. If the Prayer Tower at Oral Roberts University makes you feel closer to God than the Holy Sepulchre, well, then it is holier for you. Nobody can say that one place is more sacred than another.

You can imagine how I reacted to that line of argument. But again, I think it was important for me to hear it — I mean, to encounter someone who believes these things, and who thinks this way. Remember, Pat is not a liberal; in fact, Pat complained at one point on the trip about how the cultural climate in the city requires non-progressive Christians like him to be closeted. I never could really figure Pat out, to be honest, but he seems to sincerely believe that true Christianity can only be disembodied. He deflected every challenge from me with some form of, “That’s your perspective.” My guess is that he has only lived and dwelled among fellow Pentecostals, and assumes that Pentecostalism is normative. He had no awareness how very, very modern his take on Christianity is. I said to him at one point that if the early church had thought and lived as he does, it would not have survived. I got the sense that he regards me as a nut who worships Tradition, not God.

Again: it’s really useful for me to know as I write this book. Pat — who is a nice guy, actually — and I are at two extremes of the Christian spectrum, but I suspect that most contemporary American Christians are a lot closer to Pat’s end than mine.

Rod Dreher

So at which end, or where along the spectrum, do you stand? My reasoning as an ecclesial Christian puts me with Rod; my culture — and I cannot deny being its creature to a substantial extent — sides with Pat.

So I wouldn’t argue against Rod’s project, but my visceral reactions might not be consistently welcoming.

An older system of values

David French had a very powerful Sunday column last week, Remembering What Repentance Looks Like.

He leads with the story of Johnny Hunt, a big-name Southern Baptist pastor (and former national President) who in May, after finding that his lies about sexually assaulting another pastor’s wife weren’t fooling anybody, was forced out of ministry.

Now a self-appointed committee of four lackies/pastors declare that he’s ready to be restored — less than seven months after removal, and despite a recent SBC resolution (toothless, like all SBC resolutions, because each local church is entirely autonomous) that “any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor.”

Lots of juicy stuff in that story, including a cameo appearance by Herschel Walker, whose “repentance” looks more like intransigence. But I want to note two un-juicy things:

  1. Southern Baptist scripture-twisting. Johnny Hunt never confessed his sin to his congregation, citing Psalm 51:4, which states, “against You and You only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” Further, one of the four lackeys justified his whitewashing of Hunt with the story of the Good Samaritan — which should have led him to run to the aid of the low-status victim pastor’s wife who’d been assaulted by Hunt, not to Hunt, the high-status perpetrator.
  2. The contrast with disgraced John Profumo, the backstory to which I personally recall: “the dignity, discretion, restraint, and repentance with which Profumo lived his life after his fall were the last gasp of an old system of values. His honorable conduct—continued for years, away from the blaze of publicity—would now be almost inconceivable among the political elite.”

We first of all need more men to keep their zippers up, but among those who fail, we need more John Profumos and fewer Johnny Hunts.

Freddie demolishes a straw man

For what it’s worth, I recognize almost nothing as authentically Christian in the straw man Freddie DeBoer attacked Monday.

I should say that Freddie almost certainly is not aware that he has set up a straw man. He’s a painfully honest man, who is describing the kind of Christianish stuff he’s seen on television or encounted beyond whatever church doors he has darkened.

The only thing he says about such Christianish stuff that belongs to authentic Christianity is his tacit acknowledgement that Christianity holds that Christ was more than a man and that his incarnation is salvific.

Curiously, on Friday, Freddie ranked the works of his favorite film director, Terrence Malick. Is there a more Christian director than Malick?

Modern syncretism

I’m very glad we live in a society that is more religiously tolerant. But this has also come at the cost of a greater indifference to the truths our various religions proclaim. Walking around these ancient once-pagan cities, thinking about how syncretic Greco-Roman polytheism was, it’s easy to grasp what a mortal threat monotheism combined with universalism was to the settled order. (The Jews were also monotheistic, but they did not proselytize, because their faith was not universalist.) How strange it is to think that Christianity in the contemporary West has become a lot like the syncretism of the ancient pagan world, in the sense that most Christians (myself included) don’t have a reflexive willingness to throw down to defend theological truths and police ecclesial borders. The Christians who lived in these Asia Minor cities were a threat to the settled social order precisely because they refused to worship the local gods. Had they just added Jesus into the mix, nobody would have bothered them. Had they kept their religion to themselves, as the Jews did, nobody would have bothered them.

In our time, the only Christians who get marked out for opprobrium are those who refuse to observe the dominant culture’s religious feasts (e.g., Pride Month), and who insist that all those who profess the faith they evangelize must also refuse. The Christians who assimilate easily to the idolatries of the day (“idolatry” is worshiping anything but the true God) have no problems. It’s helpful to think about if you were a Jesus believer in first-century Ephesus or Pergamum, if you would have been Christian enough to be persecuted.

Rod Dreher, pensive as he tours the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse in Asia Minor.

Disillusionment

Damon Linker, when he worked at First Things in 2003 and beyond, wrote an article on becoming a father, which produced many negative letters to the editor, most of them the equivalent of shit-posting comments on the web. Since First Things was a high-toned magazine, the contrast with its readers was revealing:

But reading all of those angry, sometimes vulgar, letters from First Things readers attacking me and the magazine, accusing us of abandoning the properly gendered outlook on the family, supposedly rooted in Scripture (but actually derived from pop-culture representations of 1950s middle-class white suburban family life), was significant, too. Doing so left me feeling deeply alienated from the place I worked. Not, again, in terms of the workplace. But in terms of the workplace’s telos—its end or goal. I was an editor for an opinion magazine. But who were its readers? What did its “base” believe about the world? How did I feel about devoting myself and my talents to serving this group of people and its prejudices, which I now began to wonder if I shared?

Damon Linker

What Linker writes there is part of what I felt when shifting from Evangelicalism, many long decades before Florida Man’s seduction of Evangelicalism, to the sober Calvinism of the Christian Reformed Church. Alienation. “These are not really my people.” That sort of thing, along with a more intellectual rationale that wasn’t entirely rationalization.

From what was I alienated?

  • Taboos that lacked even minimally plausible scriptural roots.
  • Altar calls in churches, irnoically without altars and without scriptural precedent.
  • Psychological manipulation in those altar calls: “I see that hand.” (There was no hand, but how was anyone to know with “every head bowed, every eye closed”? I guess I’ve outed myself.) “Is there another?”
  • Flagrant scripture-twisting.

There’s probably more.

Miscellany

Quality

I don’t know much about book-binding, but it appears to me that my small Psalter’s cover letting will wear off before the binding shows any wear.

There’s even a sort of hinge so I can hold it open without straining the spine:

Essentials

American Gnostics

Be careful what you aim for


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 9/4/22

Pray for your pastor

A pastor in Indiana told me that no one in her church denied the importance of Covid precautions, but the new demands that the pandemic placed on her contributed to a sense of burnout.

“I never got tired of pastoring or thinking about Scripture and preaching,” she said. “I just started associating ministry with having to learn new computer programs and having embarrassing, anxious moments around technology.” She continued, “Over time pastoral ministry started to seem like a total absurdity. The world around me was on fire and I was stuck in an empty church building figuring out Zoom.”

Tish Harrison Warren, Why Pastors Are Burning Out

Another difference between East and West

Even during the critical debates of the fourth century, when theological terminology was being fleshed out, Fathers such as Gregory the Theologian rejected the use of clever argumentation and Aristotelian syllogisms, preferring the philosophy of the fisherman, the Tradition of the Church.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

That the Christian Latin West turned eventually toward argumentation and syllogism is a major font of the differences between it and the Christian “Greek” East.

Therapeutic friendship

Since we last met, Marco lost his wife to cancer, and I lost mine to divorce. As I expected, my old friend was in great spirits. With Marco, he’s never faking cheerfulness. It comes from his faith. You can’t imagine faith like he has! When I was on French television a few years ago, the host asked me who my hero is. “Marco Sermarini,” I said, and it was true. I explained that it’s because here is an ordinary man, just like the rest of us, who loves life with great passion, and who has done extraordinary things because above all, he loves Christ.

Rod Dreher, The Gift Of Friendship

I’m glad Rod is spending some time with Marco. He needs it.

Blue Laws

Of course, “lowering religious participation” was always the intent and purpose of repealing blue laws, and this all negatively confirms that law is a teacher, and sometimes teaches what is false and demonstrably bad for a people. The activists who sought (in their hatred of Christianity) to repeal such laws, and the legislators and justices who did the repealing, failed to foresee how damaging the loss of such laws would be on “the social fabric of communities generally.” Among their findings is that the loss of blue laws depressed religious participation, and that this in turn made very significant portion of the population unstable, lacking the strength of “religiosity,” unable to deal with “enormous negative shocks” such as large-scale wars and natural disasters—which is to say, unable to deal with suffering.

Restoring blue laws is not a panacea. Yet as the authors show, the decline of religious adherence in America is not simply one correlative among many, but rather it is so highly correlative as to be reasonably considered the principal cause of our despair. Of course, as a theologian, I could’ve told you that, but it’s nice to have some confirmation from those who practice the dismal science as well.

Chad Pecknold, To Reverse Our Despair. (Emphasis added)

It’s sad to see Pecknold, a solid-enough guy most of the time, fairly obviously making shit up. I guess truth and sobriety come in second (or lower) behind promoting the "Postliberal Order."

Episcopalians

In the early 20th Century, there was extensive rapprochement between the Orthodox and Episcopalians. That eventually broke down, and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has gone on to pioneer many deviations from historic Christianity, starting, by some accounts, with approving contraception. (What? You’re surprised that all Churches opposed contraception until a loosening began in the 1930s?)

For a variety of reasons, and increasingly as I grew older because of their deviations from historic Christianity, I have always been very leery of the Episcopal Church — so leery, in fact, that I could not quite imagine why a believing Christian from another tradition would become Episcopalian. (By “believing Christian” I mean to exclude those who would become Episcopalian to climb the social ladder.)

Yet I have seen that happen quite a few times in my life, and although I feel no personal draw in that direction, I think I have finally figured out why someone else might: revulsion at frivolousness or bigotry in their corner of Christianity, attraction to well-executed Episcopalian forms of worship, or both.

A large choir I’m in is preparing a celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Anniversary, and our repertoire is entirely music that was sung at Westminster Abby at her Coronation in 1953. Some of it is still sung by my local Episcopal Church choir (there’s a lot of overlap between our choir and its choir). I have viewed on YouTube grainy black-and-white videos from the coronation itself, and more recent performances of the same music, and I’ve got to say: if sacred worship music in western Christendom gets any better than that, I sure as heck don’t know where. In fact, it’s widely agreed that Episcopalians do liturgy better than Roman Catholics. (I used to jibe that “Of course they do; it’s all they’ve got.” I’ve softened on any hint that having that isn’t worth much.)

As for frivolousness or bigotry elsewhere, if you can’t spot that on your own I’m not going to wade into fetid waters to point it out. Not today anyway. (And I don’t doubt that Episcopalians are vulnerable to their own peculiar bigotries.)

For me, sound doctrine (as I then saw it) without sound worship was less unpalatable than the opposite. It would be a closer call today, but I’m in a place that has both.

I think that’s all I’ll say for now.

A certain catholic je ne sais quoi

After Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of Indianapolis did not comply with a directive to fire one of its teachers, Archbishop Charles Thompson tried to strip the school of its Catholic school status.

(Caption on an AP photo of the Archbishop, Lafayette Journal & Courier, 9/3/22)

“Tried to”? Really?

Brebeuf, by refusing to rid itself of a scandal as directed, is now just as Catholic as are the excommunicated schismatics styled “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.”

“Catholic” is not ineffable and interior, like “gender identity.”

Orwell in the Mediation Room

Maybe I’m missing something, but “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” has always sounded Orwellian to me. Then came Covid, and reconciliation and grace seem to have gone away.

Doing politics Christianly

Christians seeking social influence should do so not by joining interest groups that fight for their narrow rights and certainly not those animated by hatred, fear, phobias, vengeance or violence.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post, via Alan Jacobs

True Christians and sin

A true Christian is made so by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the words of the Savior Himself. He deigned to say: ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to salvation’ (cf. Luke 5:32); ‘There is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety righteous ones’ (cf. Luke 15:7). Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched his feet, He deigned to say to Simon the Pharisee: ‘To one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be required’ (cf. Luke 7:47). From these considerations a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and pay not the least attention to despair that is inflicted on one.

St. Herman of Alaska

A recurring cautionary note

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 8/21/22

Archeology: a fancy word for speculating about our ancestors

Another distinguished writer, again, in commenting on the cave-drawings attributed to the neolithic men of the reindeer period, said that none of their pictures appeared to have any religious purpose; and he seemed almost to infer that they had no religion. I can hardly imagine a thinner thread of argument than this which reconstructs the very inmost moods of the prehistoric mind from the fact that somebody who has scrawled a few sketches on a rock, from what motive we do not know, for what purpose we do not know, acting under what customs or conventions we do not know, may possibly have found it easier to draw reindeer than to draw religion.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

In the same vein, David MacCauley, Motel of the Mysteries

Worth repeating

Frederick Buechner has met Christians who remind him of American tourists in Europe: Not knowing the language of their listeners, they speak the language of Zion loudly and forcefully, hoping the natives will somehow comprehend. They seem cocky with faith, voluble with their theology, and content with a God who resembles a cosmic Good Buddy. Their certitude both fascinates and alarms him.

Phillip Yancey, Frederick Buechner, the Reverend of Oz

The Machine almost compels a bit of hypocrisy

To fail to reach lofty goals is not hypocritical, and even to publicly defend those goals while knowing you have failed to reach them is not hypocritical if you are open about your limits.

… If stepping outside the Machine were possible, then it would not be necessary.

Irony is politically important. It is important because anything less than an unreachable ideal will be caught by the Machine, eviscerated, repackaged, and sold back to you in a form that is exactly the same apart from the way that it drains everything good from your soul. No idea, no belief, no institution, and no practice is beyond the Machine’s grasp. Only the ideal, being formless, is safe. Of course, the ideal, being formless, is also beyond our grasp, so we cannot cling to it for safety. If we try, then we will cling instead to our idea of it; and if we do that, we will soon find out that our idea was the Machine’s all along. The only way to succeed is by committing so completely that failure is inevitable. And this is the other reason why we need irony. The completeness of our failures reveals to us the depths of our absurdity. This is a gift. Will-to-power needs us take ourselves seriously. It is the product of pride and it struggles when we genuinely laugh at ourselves.

FFatalism, Is asceticism ascetic?

Reassurance

I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam era, who ended up serving his country by, so to speak, emptying bedpans in Peoria. In the ensuing decades, I’ve never become a hawk, but I’ve wondered whether I was right back then, whether I was trying to retain a purity that this fallen world doesn’t really allow.

Yesterday, I read this (including the full surrounding essay) from a Priest who, serving as chaplain “for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and gave them his blessing”:

Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived and, if necessary, die as Christ died, loving ones enemies.

For the 300 years immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, the church universally saw Christ and his teaching as nonviolent. Remember that the church taught this ethic in the face of at least three serious attempts by the state to liquidate her. It was subject to horrendous and ongoing torture and death. If ever there was an occasion for justified retaliation and defensive slaughter, whether in form of a just war or a just revolution, this was it. The economic and political elite of the Roman state and their military had turned the citizens of the state against Christians and were embarked on a murderous public policy of exterminating the Christian community.

Yet the church, in the face of the heinous crimes committed against her members, insisted without reservation that when Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed all Christians. Christians continued to believe that Christ was, to use the words of an ancient liturgy, their fortress, their refuge, and their strength, and that if Christ was all they needed for security and defense, then Christ was all they should have. Indeed, this was a new security ethic.

Father George Zabelka, Blessing the Bombs.

Father George is right about Christian history. The Orthodox Church required a time of repentance, including abstention from the Eucharist, for soldiers who had killed even in a “just war.”

I find reassurance for my youthful conscientious objection in that, thought I was inspired more by Menno Simons (“Spears and swords of iron we leave to those who, alas, consider human blood and swine’s blood of well-nigh equal value.“) than by the Fathers of the Church.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Proving the rule (and more)

Proving the rule

I have long said that when a denomination forms a committee to study whether they’ve been wrong about something that puts them at odds with the culture (and in recent years that almost always involves homosexuality), it invariably leads the denomination to capitulate to the culture.

I was wrong. Wrong about "invariably." Such studies are usually charades, but not, apparently, always.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (the denomination in which I was an Elder until I left to become Orthodox, and in which my wife so far remains) studied sexuality from 2016 until last week. Then it "voted Wednesday at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith."

The vote, after two long days of debate, approves a list of what the denomination calls sexual immorality it won’t tolerate, including “adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex.”

Christianity Today, Christian Reformed Church Brings LGBT Stance Into Faith Statement.

Note that homosexual sex is not singled out, though it leaps out on its own to everyone who knows what specific sexuality triggered the six-year study.

The reactions from the dissenters so far have run along predictable lines, which I resist critiquing except to say "It is not compassionate to affirm people’s sins." If you think "homosexual sex" is not a sin, and should be affirmed, then we do not agree.

(I do not mean by "sin" what most western people mean by "sin." Sin is "missing the mark." Deciding on the eternal consequences of particular sins, including the sin of the dissenters from the CRC synod’s decision, is infinitely above my pay-grade.)

The heaviest price the CRC will pay will almost certainly be at its highly-regarded Calvin University, a third of whose faculty publicly voiced opposition to the report from which the synod’s decision flowed:

What’s going to happen to Calvin? It’s going to lose its rock star faculty. But it’s probably going to remain Christian. These liberal faculty are going to go on to greater things, professionally, and be able to dine out on how they were badly treated by the homo-hating fundagelicals at Calvin. But the CRC has taken a brave and unpopular stand for the Gospel. God sees.

Rod Dreher. Most gay-affirming faculty will leave because they will no longer be able to subscribe (literally, as in "sign below" — I signed something analogous as an Elder) the denomination’s fortified faith statement; it would mark them as not among the cool kids to relent now by subscribing The Loathsome Thing, especially if they earlier subscribed the pre-emptive dissent.

Rod’s reader Andrew S. comments:

The momentary rush of conservative enthusiasm for this move will please Rod’s readers, but the fury of the left will be in full force over the next several weeks and months. Any university board contemplating a similar move better should study what will likely happen, and plan accordingly for a media siege of their institution. Watch for the following:

  1. a sudden drop in college rankings, unattributable to any objective criterion currently used by the major ranking media;

  2. a tsunami of requests, using already existing anonymous online reporting portals, for Biden’s Department of Education to open Title IX investigations at the universities in question;

  3. calls by social media talking heads to blacklist graduates of the schools;

  4. a sudden mysterious dearth of available federal and private grant money for faculty at these schools, along with the denial of conference platforms for faculty members.

Financial pressures are such that many if not most religiously-affiliated schools will quickly develop new “insights” into the Bible that permit them to cave in to the left, if they haven’t already. Board members sticking to Christian principles better raise prodigious sums of cash to plow into their endowments and strengthen ties with allied Christian schools to bolster their financial self-sufficiency. Woke winter is coming, and Calvin will provide an example of what other colleges should expect.

Do you doubt this? This manifests the "soft tyranny" that a few on the center-right ridicule, but which I take quite seriously, as recently as Tuesday morning:

It has now become indisputable that the liberal order not only uses a variety of quasi coercive legal instruments such as bureaucratic guidances, selective funding of NGOs, and so forth, but it also exploits the liberal version of the public-private distinction to full advantage. It deploys selective enforcement of the law against “private violence” and takes political advantage of background conditions of economic necessity (“the market”) and of the radical conformity of public opinion under liberalism, instigated by the media. It controls its subjects with mobs both virtual and real, threats of ostracism, loss of employment, and a sort of reputational death (the dreaded state of being “out of the mainstream,” enforced politically by a cordon sanitaire).

Adrian Vermeule.

I have said at least once before and will say it again: the Christian Reformed Church was a very good place from which to come to Orthodoxy. It never dove into the zaniness of broader evangelicalism (thought many parishes and individuals have dipped their toes, or even waded in up to the knees). Rather, from my earliest arrival struck me as sober and serious-minded.

Yet I expected it to cave in, because I do not trust Protestantism over the long haul to interpret their touchstone, their scriptures, in any seriously countercultural way.

I’m heartened that this was not the CRC’s year to swallow the zeitgeist. And they set such a firm precedent that it will be hard to backslide very soon. By then, the zeitgeist may have moved on, as zeitgeists are wont to do.

Why the rule remains generally valid

We are not in a post-Christian age, but in a post-Enlightenment age. The reason why these Christianities are collapsing is that they were rationalized.

Fr. Hans Jacobse on the WAWTAR podcast.

Calvinism ("the Reformed faith") is surely among the most rationalized. Its system fails, in my opinion, not for lack of rationality, but for lack of humanity: it’s hard to see daylight between Reformed predestination and simple fatalism, hard to see room for meaningful human agency.

Denialisms

I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.” Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?

Jeffrey Goldberg, Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic.

You can swap "climate change" with a lot of other issues, most famously Alex Jones’ claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, the bereaved parents "crisis actors." On second thought, "the Democrats stole the 2020 Election" may be more famous.

Hard words

A. G. Sertillanges wrote in The Intellectual Life: “The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production…. Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.”

Kit Wilson, Reading Ourselves to Death.

Another excellent article read, on the perils of too much reading.

Babylon, not Israel

[S]ome see America as a new Israel, God’s chosen country that’s now being taken over by His enemies, rather than a new Babylon in which Jesus-followers are mixed in with many others.

Marvin Olasky, The Sixty Years’ War: Evangelical Christianity in the Age of Trump.

The oldest lie of all is the denial of death.

The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.

FFatalism, The dishonest land The whole short posting was excellent in a bleak sort of way.

And, God help me, I love cities anyway.‌

Dad theory

My kids—if I can even use the possessive—are a part of me, but I cannot see them if I reduce them to my own reflection. Parenthood entails limitless closeness; all parents see more of their very young children than their kids can see of themselves. Being a dad, though, means perceiving this intimacy from a distance and working to make it outwardly manifest through awkward, conscious effort. This dialectical relationship resembles good thinking, which brings us to the first moment of Dad Theory. Dads guard against losing themselves in particularity, on one hand, and losing themselves in abstraction, on the other. Being a dad means being neither too attached to one’s own concerns to see things clearly, nor too impressed by speculation to see the messiness of real life. To practice Dad Theory is to negotiate with the known unknowns—and to trust that love is a stable point you can use to navigate through ambiguity to reach something solid and sure.

Matt Dinan, ‌It’s Time for Some Dad Theory, via Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dads Choosing to be Dependable

When is a coup too stupid to be a coup?

The American Conservative‘s Peter Van Buren looks at January 6 and concludes that the coup attempt was so stupid and so deficient in his post-hoc markers of coup attempts (he sets a remarkably high bar) that it couldn’t possibly have been a coup attempt at all.

I’m so glad he cleared that up. It will be a relief when my subscription expires and I no longer feel duty-bound to rummage through such garbage in search of nourishment.

Word of the day:

Portent. Since portents don’t come with Divinely-inscribed subtitles, I’ll leave it to you to decide what this means.

But if you want to call it "mere coincidence," note that your case is no stronger than mine for "portent."


To the woke, discernment is discrimination and boundaries are oppression.

Richard Abbot, who I don’t know from Adam but who responded to this.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 6/5/22

The silver lining of collapse and defeat

[Gerhart] Niemeyer, in his typically tough and unsentimental fashion, was much less inclined to see signs of such spiritual recovery in the West, precisely because we have experienced neither the extremity of suffering, nor the shock of societal collapse and defeat.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, Kindle Location 4090.

Theological liberals unawares

A political ecumenism that pushes back against woke lunacy but causes Christians to adopt or excuse the disposition of cruelty and licentiousness is its own compromise. This is why it’s ever so important for religious conservatism to keep their modes distinct. A subtle but gradual shift that normalizes the ethos and pathos of secular conservatism is but another manifestation of theological liberalism.

Andrew T. Walker. I will be blogging about secular conservatism in my next posting.

Was there ever a "positive world" for Christianity?

I’ve become very suspicious of accounts of Christianity’s place in American life that leave out questions related to justice. Issues of justice, especially as they relate to race and class have vexed the church for nearly our whole history in these lands. Indeed, they have vexed the church to such a degree that many Christian critics—Frederick Douglass, David Walker, Martin Luther King Jr., Wendell Berry, Jemar Tisby, etc.—have suggested that it is more accurate to call the prevalent forms of Christian practice in America something other than plain Christianity. Douglass called it slave-owners Christianity. Tisby uses “compromised Christianity.” Whatever term you prefer—I talked about “white evangelical crap” last year—I think the point here is significant.

It would be news to Christians during the antebellum years who sheltered fugitive slaves at considerable risk to themselves that they were living in a “positive” world. They were obviously behaving Christianly, and yet doing so put them at great risk relative to their supposedly Christian nation. Similar problems pop up elsewhere as well. Consider slaves themselves, many of whom were Christian but whose marriages were not respected and whose baptisms were often delayed or modified to accommodate the vicious slavery regime. What would they say if you told them they were living in a Christian nation or a nation friendly to Christians? Would Native peoples whose children were taken from their homes believe they lived in a nation where “Christian moral norms are the basic moral norms of society”?

Jake Meador, on why he has changed his opinion on the usefulness of Aaron Renn’s The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism.

It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that … ummm, enforcement

I’ll grant that the UMC [United Methodist Church] is more traditional than before, at least it is on paper. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how traditional our Book of Discipline is because we have no mechanism or process for ordering our ecclesial life in a way that reflects what is found in our documents. You can write anything you want in the Discipline, but if those responsible for administering it only enforce the parts with which they agree, then it doesn’t matter.

Matt O’Reilly, The UMC is More Traditional than Ever, but it Doesn’t Matter

Pre-Roe

… an earlier, pre-Roe tradition, in which liberal clergy helped women obtain abortions.

The Economist

Wow! Deja vu! It has been five decades now, but I am reminded by this on Friday that I once attended a United Presbyterian Church where one of the younger ministers was engaged in abortion referrals.

Live and learn. But when I think why I attended there regularly (i.e., excellent music and more thoughtful preaching than I was accustomed to), I sympathize more with orthodox Christians who remain in liberal churches like TEC (Episcopal) or ELCA (Lutheran).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

An oddball Evangelical finds a home in Orthodoxy

One of his first converts was Samuel Crane, who had been a devout Calvinist but was deeply perplexed by the apparent contradiction between the idea of an eternally fixed number of elect and reprobate and the idea that salvation was free for anyone to take: He supposed it must be as the [Calvinist] minister said, for he was a good man, and a very learned man; and of course it must be owing to his own ignorance and dulness that he could not understand it. On one occasion, as he was returning home from church, meditating on what he had heard, he became so vexed with himself, on account of his dulness of apprehension, that he suddenly stopped and commenced pounding his head with his fist, for he really thought his stupidity must be owing to his having an uncommonly thick skull. When Crane finally accepted Methodism, “he found a system that seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures, with common sense, and with experience.”

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Religion

Unlike Samuel Crane, I was not as perplexed by Calvinism as I probably should have been. Yet the Sunday after my 49th birthday, I left Calvinism and formally entered the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. It seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures (including the ones we were never told to underline), with common sense, and with experience. It was so obviously right once I explored it that I assumed lots of others would follow. It’s fair to say that only one did.

So I’m left wondering "why me?" Why am I the lucky one?

It’s inevitable that telling of one’s religious conversion — and it’s hard for me to view a move from Calvinist to Orthodox as anything less than a conversion, though both are Christian in some sense — will have a whiff of proselytism to it. I’ve tried to minimize that and just tell my story, though my story would be incomplete without a modest conclusion.

Major life decisions, I’m pretty well convinced, rarely hinge on arguments. They’re always undergirded by life experiences and attitudes, which are at most obliquely causal. They’re also so complex as to seem inexhaustible. I told a fuller story of going Evangelical-to-Calvinist-to-Orthodox in one truthful way almost five years ago: A life in a string of epiphanies – Tipsy Teetotaler ن.

But I often think that seeds were planted, and that my disposition somehow was shaped, decades earlier, so that my reception into Orthodoxy truly was a sort of "coming home" — like an adoptee stumbling across his birth parents.

Here’s what I mean.

My favorite Bible verses were not even in the "Top 100" list of favorite Evangelical Bible verses.

As long ago as high school, I became (and remained) fixated on some New Testament passages that were, shall we say, far out of the Evangelical mainstream.

First was Ephesians 3:17-18 in the Living Bible that was so popular then, praying that “Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts” and “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” My Evangelical contemporaries were likelier to pick John 3:16 or Acts 16:31, relieved that one key decision for Christ, once-in-a-lifetime, sealed the deal and there really was nothing more required.

But I didn’t think I had the deep roots the Apostle was praying for, but I wanted them, for myself and my friends. I may even have declared it my “life verse,” life verses being an Evangelical kid thing at least where I was. If I did, it has held up very well.

But in Evangelicalism, sinking deep roots seemed to be off the radar, or reduced to a matter of becoming more theologically astute, doing more Bible study, elaborating doctrinal outlines and such. Those are mostly good things (I’m not so sure about doctrinal outlines any more), but they amount to knowing about God, not knowing Him or having deep roots.

I was also fascinated with Romans 12:2, about the transforming of our “minds” (which came close to “life verse” status), which I thought would eventually come if I became more theologically astute. That was a fool’s errand.

And then there was a real baffler, Hebrews 6:1-2, which referred to “repentance from dead works … faith toward God … the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” as “the elementary principles of Christ!” I just couldn’t imagine what more advanced there could be than these seemingly weighty things, but I wanted it. And here I wasn’t convinced that theological astuteness in the Evangelical manner had any chance of hitting pay dirt.

I wanted to worship God when I went to a "Worship Service"

Call me petty, or Aspie, or whatever, but I thought worship services should be full of, like, y’know, worship or something.

I had no objection in principle to Christians playing hail-fellow-well-met, back-slapping and exchanging anodynes and nostrums, or talking like coaches getting the guys ready to go out there and win one for Jesus. But the time and place for that was somewhere other than the Nave between 9:30 and noon on Sunday.

So it seemed to me, and I was adamant about that. The irresistable force of happy-clappy and motivational Church services was strangely resistable to me.

Music selection was what really bugged me. By the time I was Christian Reformed, I was in a Church that had a full Psalter, versified for congregational singing. But even there, we sang way too few of them, preferring to sing things that were relatively emotional and manipulative, that 100 years earlier would have gotten one in deep trouble in that denomination. I called them "gospel songs" instead of "hymns," but I see some sign that my terminology isn’t undisputed. In any event, they weren’t Psalms, which alone were sung in the CRC until maybe the late-19th Century.

There were other things I could have taken exception to, but the music was what got me riled. And then a faction of the Church wanted drums and guitars and more "celebrative" services, which horrified me. I just didn’t think that an emotion jag meant one was worshipping.

So my entire Protestant experience of "worship" was years of drought with an occasional delightful shower (a very good "hymn" as I defined hymn).

(Brief digression: to my knowledge, the Orthodox Church only sings one hymn that appeared in any hymnal in any church I regularly attended. We sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent on Great and Holy Saturday. I’m even allowed to do the versified version, Picardy (8.7.8.7.8.7), which is used in Western Rite Orthodoxy. We share some ancient hymns with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, too, but I was never Episcopalian or Roman Catholic.)

I had, apparently, a latent desire to worship with my body

As noted in my prior telling of my conversion:

My first experience of [Orthodox] Liturgy shocked me. I found myself immediately making a clumsy sign of the cross and genuflecting toward the Catholic hospital chapel’s altar, like a Roman Catholic.

It felt good. It felt as if those bodily gestures had been bottled up and were now breaking out. They felt natural

Maybe I should call those feelings “epiphany number four,” but it didn’t impress me quite that strongly at the time. And there’s a reason I blog under the rubric “Intellectualoid”: I tend to discount feelings as a reliable guide.

I didn’t consciously experience that Liturgy as "I’ve come home," but there was more than a whiff of that to it.

Orthodox worship is full of signing ourselves with the cross, bowing, kneeling, prostrating. My experience of body-involvement in Protestant worship was limited to a few gestures like holding up hands and lifting up fluttering eyelids, which somehow felt ersatz.

I was at best reluctantly dispensational premillennialist

Again, I told about my relationship to dispensationalism as Epiphany 3 in my prior telling of my conversion. It’s not worth quoting again, but my hesitancy about dispensationalism left me outside of the Evangelical mainstream.

I hesitate to make discomfort with that novelty a mark of Orthodoxy, because dispensationalism is only about 200 years, when Presbyterian, Reformed and Anglican churches were already a few hundred years old. My attitude toward end-times prophecy would have been pretty mainstream in any of those slightly-older churches, as it’s totally mainstream in Orthodoxy.**

But in my perception, dispensationalism is a mark of mainstream Evangelicalism and even has infected Presbyterian and Reformed Churches that tend to the Evangelical side. So my discomfort was likely to crop up most anywhere I went in Protestantism in these days.

I believed the Creeds and thought they were important

I suspect that the "Apostles Creed" is said rarely in frankly-Evangelical Churches today, and that the Nicene Creed is vanishingly rare. That’s a trend I think was starting 50 years or more ago. (Spot check: Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois lists its "Beliefs and Values" as "Love God. Love People. Change the World." That’s even worse that I feared.)

The Apostles Creed, though, remained a weekly feature in the Christian Reformed order of worship, with the Nicene Creed thrown in occasionally for a little spice.

By the end of my 20s, I think, I began calling myself “orthodox with a lower-case O.” I was, I thought, a “Mere Christian,” which I described as “believing the ecumenical creeds of the Church without mental reservations.” I learned more about them when I was Christian Reformed.

I’ve learned even more as an Orthodox Christian, but that could be its own story.

I wanted the original faith, which I took to be the purest

I wanted to be orthodox in that creedal sense. I and others detected proto-Calvinism in St. Augustine, and he was early enough that I thought I had finally joined with the early church, which is also what I wanted.

But I knew almost nothing about actual Orthodoxy. (Summary of what I knew: The Russian Orthodox have some awesome music. Orthodox Priests wear beards and funny hats. Orthodox isn’t the same as Catholic. Those were, mostly, true.)

An iconographer I met recently told of his first encounter with Orthodoxy:

I went to the Holy Land and encountered Orthodoxy. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was Christian, but vastly different, far older than my Methodist Church.

Indeed, and a few centuries older even than St. Augustine, who I looked to to buttress the "original faith" bona fides of Reformed Christianity.

The Orthodox Church recognizes Augustine as a Saint, but an unusually flawed one owing to his isolation in the West, when was still a Christian backwater, and his substantial ignorance of Greek and the Greek Church Fathers. So when I thought Augustine was early enough to be the original faith, I was wrong for practical purposes.

Afterthought

These are the things in my history and attitude that I think foreshadowed that my heart would find rest only in the Orthodox Faith. I began writing this many months ago, thinking that more proto-Orthodoxies would occur to me, but they really haven’t, and I don’t want to make things up.

My story would be incomplete were I not to say that all these desires that made me an odd-ball Evangelical and Calvinist have been (or are being) satisfied in Orthodoxy (though I’ve come to understand Creeds differently now). I cannot deny that they might have been satisfied in traditional Roman Catholicism, but that seems largely to have disappeared as Rome has Protestantized in the wake of Vatican II.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 1/23/22

In ways I probably have described elsewhere, a re-reading of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce played an important role in my embrace of Orthodox Christianity (versus Roman Catholic or any flavor of Protestantism) 25 years ago. Here’s an evocative excerpt (which may make less sense if you don’t know the basic story line):

…beyond all these, I saw other grotesque phantoms in which hardly a trace of the human form remained; monsters who had … come up to the country of the Shadow of Life and limped far into it over the torturing grass, only to Spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred their envy and (what is harder to understand) their contempt, of joy. The voyage seemed to them a small price to pay if once, only once, within sight of that eternal dawn, they could tell the prigs, the toffs, the sanctimonious humbugs, the snobs, the ‘haves’, what they thought of them.


He opens his book with an arresting anecdote based on an interview he did with the Catholic novelist Graham Greene. Cornwell visited him a year or so before his death in 1991. Cornwell questioned him on the nature of his Catholic faith, and found that Greene didn’t believe in much: not in heaven, not in hell, not in the devil, not in angels, and so forth. So why did he still call himself a Catholic? Because, Greene said, that he also doubts his disbelief.

Rod Dreher on a John Cornwell book, Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light


I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.” It’s what almost everyone believes these days, isn’t it? That they and their people hate the right people. And it seems to me that that is a pretty good definition of a post-culture: a society in which people have no higher ambition than to bring down those they perceive to be their enemies. I couldn’t agree more with my friend Yuval Levin that our moment is A Time to Build, but when you’re only concerned with hating the right people, who has time to build anything?

There are a lot of people out there doing good work to expose the absurdities, the hypocrisies, and the sheer destructiveness of both the Left and the Right. I myself did some of that work for several years, but I’m not inclined to keep doing it, largely because that work of critique, however necessary, lacks a constructive dimension. There has to be something better we can do than curse our enemies — or the darkness of the present moment. If I agree with Yuval that this is indeed a time to build, then what can I build?

Alan Jacobs, The Homebound Symphony


[T]here is one way that leaving Twitter has benefited my life and my mind. The times when I checked Twitter were often the transition points in my day: when I sat down to work or I finished a task, waiting at a light or in line or to pick up my kids from school, going to the bathroom, the few minutes before I fell asleep. Freeing up those small, seemingly inconsequential moments has been transformative. These moments of quiet and emptiness throughout the day are nothing I really considered before. I don’t schedule them in my calendar, and I didn’t notice their departure when I began going online. But leaving these small moments of my day unfilled changed how I walk through time.

My new motto born of this experience is: Guard the margins — those seemingly unimportant parts of our day and time. Margins on a page can seem like wasted space (wouldn’t it save trees if we wrote or printed across the whole page?), but all that blank space helps us to read and take in information. We need the blank spaces. We need moments when we get no input, no news, no videos, no memes, no opinions. We need moments when we space out, daydream, when our minds go blank.

Tish Harrison Warren, ‌How I Freed Up Time to Daydream


St. Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335–395) wrote that secular education is “always in labor but never gives birth,” and St. Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 330–390) said, “We theologize in the manner of the Apostles, not that of Aristotle.” Orthodox hymnography regularly contrasts the mentally darkened philosophers with the wise fishermen.

‌Anti-Western Bias and Anti-Intellectuallism in American Orthodoxy

Some of the anti-Western bias is related to how differently we "do theology":

Orthodox dogmatic formulation, especially in its conciliar expression, is primarily a pastoral response to heresy, not an opportunity for codifying speculation or systematic imagination in doctrine. Orthodox dogma never claims to expound the whole truth about anything, but only delineates the borders of the mystery.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy.

Coming to Orthodoxy from Calvinism, this may have been the biggest, and most pleasant, of my slow surprises. It’s not that I crave the latitude to flirt with crossing the boundaries, but that it evidences the epistemic humility of the Church (also reflected in its strong tendency to apophatic theology).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Selections

"Gospel"

It is almost universal in the Protestant Churches I know to say that "gospel" means "good news." But there’s some problems with that:

  1. The translation of evangelion is "woodenly literal" (ev, good + angelion, news or report). But dividing a word into parts and explaining the parts is not a good way to interpret languages. (Consider, for instance, the humble "butterfly.")

  2. II Corinthians 2:14-17 is an extended metaphor — obscure to us, but not to the first hearers. A "triumph" in the Roman Empire was something like a big parade, held to honor someone. The triumph was preceded by the evangelia, announcing who they were and their great accomplishments.

  3. Evangelion is the word the early Christians picked for announcing who Christ was and the victory he’d won. The Christian evangelia are Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his return to judge the living and the dead.

  4. But when the apostles "preached the gospel," people responded with "what must I do to be saved?" That asking is their response to the gospel. But most "sharing the gospel" in America skips the evangelia and goes straight to advice on how, in Evangelical understanding, to get saved.

From Father Stephen DeYoung, The Whole Counsel of God podcast on II Corinthians 2 & 3.

I haven’t decided if this is mere pedantry, but it grabbed my attention for its illumination of what the Gospel is, independent of any response.

Dispensaries of eternal security and uplift

Our churches are quite likely to be low-commitment clubs for religious people rather than definitive communities of disciples striving to live all of life under God’s kingship. For many modern Christians, churches are dispensers of eternal security and uplift—fire insurance and mood brighteners—not nurturers of a whole way of life, not the source of the best ways to act and think in all spheres of experience.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

History rhymes

Some German bishops, as the pope later lamented, still viewed Hitler as the defender of Christian values.

Mark Riebling, Church of Spies.

Standing conventional narrative on its head

I had a law school classmate — one of a group of thirty-somethings in my class (including me) who had returned to school after some other life experiences — who was an enigma in several ways. From Southern Indiana, with a drawl to match, he was nevertheless pretty far left politically.

Most surprising of all to me at the time was that he had converted to Roman Catholicism. I asked why.

"I decided I prefer a Pope in Rome who claims infallibility, but pretty much leaves me alone, to some ignorant local who claims just to be preaching the Bible, but expects to manage my life."

Did I mention that he was pretty perceptive?

Prayer

Father Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians’ empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern religions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises or breathing techniques. Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, “Lord, have mercy.” The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying? Can prayer exist without the conscious and free participation of the person who prays?”

Dionysios Farasiotis, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios

All approaches to prayer have pitfalls. My pre-Orthodox experience was that, unless I labored very hard in advance to formulate a public prayer (usually with some prayer book in hand as an outline), the result tended to be a string of conventional and banal buzzwords.

Now that I’m Orthodox, the risk is the words of my prayer books becoming so familiar that I can pray them even as my mind wanders "all over the place." The advice of Orthodox priests for that problem tends to be "if you realize your mind has wandered, go back and pray it again."


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mostly from news and commentary

Chickens coming home to roost

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker on Thursday ordered nine attorneys—including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood—to pay $175,250 to the state of Michigan and city of Detroit in response to their participation in the frivolous “Kraken” lawsuits seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The Morning Dispatch

U.S. Sportsball vs. Chinese Communist Party

In an interview on The Lead With Jake Tapper yesterday,  veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas offered a measured, but forceful, condemnation of the coddling of China by some international institutions and prominent athletes. Tapper asked about the Peng Shuai situation and why the Women’s Tennis Association and International Olympic Committee have taken such different approaches to it. “The IOC is in bed with China,” Costas said. “It’s very troubling, their affinity for authoritarian regimes. … Meanwhile, you’ve got not just the IOC, you’ve got the NBA, and you’ve got Nike, and various individual sports stars in the United States who have significant investments in China, where the sports market is huge. And some of those people are very outspoken—as they have a right to be, and maybe in general you and I would agree with their viewpoints—very outspoken and sometimes offer sweeping condemnations of their own admittedly imperfect country, the United States. But when it comes to China—perhaps the world’s leading human rights abuser given its size and its wherewithal—they’re mum. Very, very few have anything to say.”

The Morning Dispatch

The Families Roe

We can’t shake the picture of the wholesome 1950s and ’60s as a time of American innocence. But no country is “innocent,” and so many of the central players in the [American abortion] drama came from some kind of deep dysfunction—sadness, family chaos, sirens in the night. Norma McCorvey, the Roe in the case, was a remorseless, compulsive liar who variously claimed to have been raped, gang-raped, beaten, shot at, preyed on by lesbian nuns. As I read her she was a sometimes charming, often funny sociopath, always uninterested in the effect on others of her decisions.

There is the brilliant lawyer who brought the first case and wound up destitute in a heatless house in East Texas; the prickly, eloquent pro-life leader who wound up unappreciated, alone and a hoarder. There is the writing of the Roe decision itself. And there is the idealism of many on both sides who were actually trying to make life more just.

Peggy Noonan, source from Joshua Prager’s book The Families Roe

Getting and spending

It is something of a cliché to suggest that the world outside is preoccupied with getting and spending. We have to put a lot of time and energy into those activities here on the island. I think the difference is that it would not occur to us to think of such activities as the main, let alone the sole, reason for our existence.

Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos

Without comment

What a fast swimmer: A University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed for three seasons at the college level as a man is now absolutely dominating the sport as a woman, breaking record after record in women’s swimming. “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” Lia Thomas said.

Nellie Bowles via the Bari Weiss Substack

Ray Bradbury, prophet

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Projection

We always have to remember that how we see the world about us is but a reflection of the state of our own inner world. Ultimately, it is because we see ourselves as existing apart from God that we also see nature as existing apart from God.

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.