Wednesday 9/6/17

Much frustration with the computer Tuesday, but I had already decided that maybe the best thing I could blog was Ron Belgau’s letter to Rod Dreher and Rod’s response. It’s long, but very rewarding if you’re interested in the kind of discussion I’ll now summarize:

Ron is a celibate Christian gay man, founder of Spiritual Friendship, all of whose contributors are celibate Christians with same-sex attraction. He was disappointed with Rod so enthusiastically endorsing the Nashville Statement, telling his experience growing up Southern Baptist and gay, and reminding Rod of many things Rod has written that seemed to run contrary to his enthusiasm for a statement Ron found quite defective.

Rod’s reply started was basically, “Remember, I’ve never been Evangelical. In my Christian circles, the problem hasn’t been gay-bashing ‘preaching to the choir,’ but deafening silence on sexuality, which the Church really does have ample resources to deal with. As a new convert who had been sexually promiscuous, I could have used guidance that wasn’t forthcoming. That’s why I so appreciated a forceful and clear statement of a more-or-less orthodox position on what the Statement covered even if it didn’t cover everything.”

Belgau is masterful and kind to Rod. Rod’s response surprised me; I keep forgetting that his spiritual history was direct conversion from horny young bounder to Roman Catholicism, later Orthodoxy, with Evangelicalism not really having been so much as a familiar phenomenon from his geographic environment — and that he was left to his own devices after conversion on matters of chastity. These are two guys who’ve thought a lot about sexuality and hold each other in high regard, as do I hold both.

If this is the sort of thing you go for, then you’ll really go for this.

Here’s my take on what Ron says:

  • I don’t doubt a word of it, though I cannot recall ever sitting through any “preaching to the choir” gay-bashing sermon.
  • I’ve encountered few people (but not none) who can state a principled position against homosexual activity other than “the Bible forbids it” or “it’s icky.” Neither suffices to meet the present challenge.
  • I’m inclined toward the Spiritual Friendship type response to the “gay identity” questions raised by Nashville Statement Article 7, though I see both sides and see a big risk in the wrong take on “I am a gay person.”

Here’s my take on what Rod says:

  • I suspect that Parish Priests, with few exceptions, do not feel that they have personal mastery of the resources to deal with sexuality (even if the Church does). They need to develop that mastery.
  • Some priests may have some cognitive dissonance going on.
  • Parish priests in weekly homilies are rightly constrained by the appointed Gospel and Epistle texts; it would be inappropriate to go off on a discourse about Christian anthropology or the Trinitarian explanation of the ontological impossibility of same-sex marriage, just because, say, Obergefell was just handed down, when the Gospel text is the Parable of the Sower. We can’t let the world’s shenanigans make us forever reactive.

After Rod published, Denny Burk, both a signer and (I think) prime mover of the Nashville Statement, stepped in:

I think where we disagree is whether The Nashville Statement addresses the fact that evangelical churches are already woefully compromised on the issue of marriage. I think it does. He believes that it doesn’t. Our difference is over this paragraph in the preamble:

Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

Ron reads this paragraph to mean that the church may become compromised but is not compromised yet. I understand this paragraph to mean that although many among us have already bowed the knee to Baal, there are many who have not. This paragraph frames the document, in my view, as a statement for a compromised church. The question is who is going to win out? The ones who have bowed the knee or the ones who have not?

(Emphasis added) What Burk supposedly understands the paragraph to mean is sheer fabrication. It means no such thing.  It  gives not a hint that all is not well in Evangelicaldom, let alone that it is woefully compromised.

Burk continues:

One of the most important things to understand about The Nashville Statement is that it was not primarily aimed at the outside world. It is aimed at the evangelical Christian world where so much confusion on these questions seems to remain. As I said in my opinion piece for The Hill over the weekend:

The Nashville Statement is not a culture-war document. It is a church document. It stakes out no public policy positions. It advocates for no particular piece of legislation or political program. Rather, it was drafted by churchmen from a variety of evangelical traditions who aim to catechize God’s people about their place in the true story of the world. And fundamental to that storyline is our “personal and physical design as male and female.”

This doesn’t strike me as false or as wishful thinking, and it’s part of the reason why Nashville’s Mayor had no business dissing it. Whether the tone matched that aim I’ll leave to others to debate.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes

Sunday, 8/20/17

The Orthodox Church is committed to a ministry of reconciliation, insisting that all her clergy and faithful hold fast to the Christian message of healing, salvation and love offered by Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. She exhorts our clergy and faithful to reject any attempts by individuals or groups to claim for themselves the name of “Orthodox Christian” in order to promote racism, hatred, white supremacy, white nationalism or neo-Nazism. This is in keeping with the Holy Gospels, the decisions of the Holy Councils and the experience of the Saints.

Membership in the Church is not, nor has it ever been, restricted to those of a particular race or nationality. Quite the contrary, the Church has historically, and continues to this day, to welcome all in the multicultural and multi-ethnic context of North America. Saint Justin Martyr, writing at a time when Christians were persecuted in the second century, said, “We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”

May that same spirit be ours today as well, that we, as Orthodox Christians, embrace our neighbors, be they black, asian, Native American, Islamic, or whatever, as our brothers and sisters. As Christians, me must recognizes that black lives matter, just as all lives matter, and commit to reaching out to everyone in the love of Christ, ever recalling the words, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)”.

(Abbot Tryphon)

I wish this were self-evident, but it’s not because there is at least one excommunicated Orthodox Christian who was “on the dais,” so to speak, in Charlottesville. Moreover, I have read essays to the effect that some on the radical right are claiming Orthodox sympathies or even affiliation (e.g., attending an Orthodox Church though not formally received). And around bedtime Saturday, I read of another ex-Orthodox, also excommunicated for his racist views, who is some manner of intellectual and knows the Orthodox lingo well enough that one of his books (not racist, but calling for return of monarchy and such) found its way into the bookstore of a canonical Orthodox Church.

So far as I can tell, having read a smattering of alt-right material, the only basis for that reported affinity would be shared skepticism toward many things Western — and, frankly, some desire for monarchy especially among Russian Orthodox in North America.

But this quoted statement by Abbot Tryphon is made in the true Orthodox spirit, which allows zero room dogmatically or ecclesiastically for anything close to racism, and condemned as heresy the related concept of phyletism. That condemnation arose precisely in the context of “the creation of a separate bishopric by the Bulgarian community of Constantinople for parishes only open to Bulgarians,” which sort of thing had not been condemned previously because nobody had presumed to pull such a stunt.

And much of the alt-right, white nationalist and neo-Nazi sentiment today is explicitly contemptuous of Christianity in all forms, Eastern and Western, perhaps on Nietzscheian grounds.

* * * * *

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Less bark, more wag

Blessed Feast of Transfiguration to you.

I’m aware that not all Christians commemorate Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor. That’s regrettable — another sign of the Reformation or its progeny throwing out baby, not just bathwater.

Christ’s transfiguration was shortly before his crucifixion. Some of the Orthodox Apostica verses at Vespers for the Feast:

He, Who of old, spoke through symbols to Moses on Mount Sinai saying: “I am He Who is,”
was transfigured today upon Mount Tabor before the Disciples.
In His own person He showed them the nature of mankind
arrayed in the original beauty of the Image.
Calling Moses and Elijah to be witnesses of this surpassing grace,
He made them partakers of the gladness,
foretelling His death on the Cross and His saving Resurrection.

David, the ancestor of God,
foresaw in the Spirit the sojourn with mankind of the only-begotten Son in
the flesh,
and from afar, called the creation together to rejoice with him,
prophetically lifting up his voice to cry:
“Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Your name!”
For You went up to this mountain with Your Disciples and were
transfigured, O Christ,
making the image that had grown dark in Adam to shine once again like
and transforming it into the glory and splendor of Your own Divinity.
Therefore we cry aloud to You:
“O Lord and Creator of all things, glory to You!”

When the chosen Apostles beheld upon the mountain of the
the overwhelming flood of Your light, O unoriginate Christ,
and Your unapproachable Divinity,
they were caught up in a divine trance.
The cloud of light shone around them on every side.
They heard the voice of the Father
confirming the mystery of Your incarnation,
that even after taking flesh, You remain the only-begotten Son
and the Savior of the world!

Today on Mount Tabor, O Lord,
You have shown the glory of Your divine form
to Your chosen Disciples, Peter, James and John.
For they looked upon Your garments that gleamed like the light
and at Your face that shone more than the sun.
Unable to endure the vision of Your brightness that none can bear,
they fell to the earth, powerless to gaze at the sight,
for they heard a voice that bore witness from above:
“This is My beloved Son
Who has come into the world to save mankind!”

Then the Troparion and Kontakion (i.e., more hymns, different place and function):

You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God,
revealing Your glory to Your Disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light also shine upon us sinners,
through the prayers of the Theotokos!
O Giver of Light, glory to You!

On the mountain You were transfigured, O Christ God,
and Your Disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could see it;
so that when they would behold You crucified,
they would understand that Your suffering was voluntary,
and would proclaim to the world
that You are truly the Radiance of the Father.

The Old Testament readings for Vespers are typological, echoing that hymnody:

  1. Exodus 24:12-18 (e.g., “The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.”)
  2. Exodus 33:11-23; 34:4-6 (e.g., “And the Lord descended in a cloud, and Moses stood there before Him and called out in the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before his face, and called out, “The Lord God, compassionate and merciful, longsuffering, greatly-merciful, and true.” And Moses, making haste, stooped down to the earth and worshipped the Lord.”)
  3. I Kings 19:3-9, 11-13, 15-16 (e.g., “and after the fire a voice of a gentle breeze, and the Lord was there. And it came to pass when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his mantle and went out and stood before the cave.”)

UPDATE: Maybe some readers don’t know the basic story of the transfiguration. Here’s the Gospel reading for Liturgy this morning.

* * * * *

I’m continuing to help plan my Evangelical boarding school’s 50th class reunion, and anticipating curiosity about my “conversion” to Orthodox Christianity.

“I write to see what I think” is quite true of this blog, which explains why I’ve not checked viewership in months. (Okay, I did just now. I think that’s up a little.) My darkest thoughts or premonitions go elsewhere, half-baked, but here I discipline myself to be grammatical and things and stuff.

So one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how to tell my conversion story truthfully, but with less “less bark, more wag.” My current iteration is that it reflects my “life verse.” My life verse(s) led me to a different place than theirs led them. This has the advantage of being true, or as true as I can get in a highly, highly distilled telling of a complex and life-changing decision made well into middle age.

If you didn’t grow up Evangelical (and maybe if you did, but not in my little Jerusalem), you may not know what a “life verse” is. We were encouraged (note the passive voice — I don’t recall whether it came from our teachers or from pious peer pressure) to pick an inspiring verse in anticipation that it would guide our whole lives. (Yes, that does sound pretty precious, but it’s still evocative; bear with me.)

One of my classmates chose the bracing verse II Timothy 1:7 (“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”) He is confident, has accomplished much in life, and still is viewed as a leader.

His is the only life verse besides my own that I can remember. My life verse was Genesis 27:11, “Behold, my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am an smooth man.”

Just kidding.

I think I had some trouble finding a life verse. I believe I settled on, and my classmates probably have inscribed by my signature in their ’65-’66 yearbooks, “Ephesians 3:17-19 (Living Bible)” — a prayer 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.” 

But I was also fascinated with Romans 12:2, about transformation by the renewing of our “minds,” which stands in (lamely) for the substantially untranslatable Greek nous; and with Hebrews 6:1-2, which refers 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.”

Elementary!? Why, that was virtually all we knew! Many sermons ended in an “altar call” of repentance and faith toward God, our personal “come to Jesus moment.” Some of us even got born again and again and again.

Baptism was a piece of cake (it was a kind of liturgical dance, with water, to express your testimony). Laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment surely were upper level courses, right? Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) didn’t think so.

I just couldn’t imagine what more there could be beyond these “elementary” things, but I wanted it, and I wanted that transformed life by a renewed mind, which I took to mean scarfing up doctrine until it stuck in the heart, not just the head.

Ephesians 3:17-19, Romans 12:2 and Hebrews 6:1-2 stand out now as icons of my longing for the fulness of the Christian faith and for true worship (just look at those Transfiguration hymns above!), which I’ve found in the Orthodox Church, and for which I had to learn, as Tom Howard put it, that “Evangelical is not Enough.” Not nearly enough.

Had I honestly been able to say that what I wanted above all — my “life verse” desire — was to live in a “spirit of … power and of love and of a sound mind,” I might still be Evangelical today. But my desires — for love, depth, roots, nourishment, transformation, progress beyond the elementary toward perfection, for meat, not milk — endured, and probably drew me more powerfully into Orthodoxy than any doctrinal arguments or stories about Evangelicals who had gone down that route before me.

In a “whatever works for you” world, that “wags,” doesn’t it?

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.