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.

Sunday Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

I am not asking Christians to stop seeing superhero movies or listening to pop music, but we need to be mindful of how we use our time. Many of the popular stories in our culture leave us worse off. Instead of haunting us, they glorify vice, distract us from ourselves, lift our mood without lifting our spirits, and make us envious and covetous of fame, sexual conquests, and material possessions.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

[I]t took [John] Rawls several hundred pages of Harvard-level disquisition and ‘veils of ignorance’ analogies to restate Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mathew 7:12.

‌Antonio García Martínez, in the course of an essay on why he is embracing Judaism.

First, I almost laughed out loud at Martínez’s summary of Rawls’ best-known, laboriously-constructed, moral (?) principle.

Second, Martínez makes a good case for fleeing secular modernity to a religion of some sort, and makes a good-enough case for Judaism — pretty movingly, actually. I could gladly have quoted much more.

But he makes no case for why he needed to leave Roman Catholicism, to which all of the Old Testament is likewise available, to secure the Old Testament for his children, nor did he even acknowledge that he’s leaving Catholicism, not secularism.

Is Roman Catholicism indistinguishable from secularism to him? Was he living as secular within the Latin Church?

PRE-PUBLICATION "UPDATE": Rod Dreher, who apparently is friends with Martínez, says he "was baptized Catholic [but] lost his faith in adulthood … AGM does not make a theological argument for Judaism, explaining why he chose it over returning to the Catholicism of his youth, or over any other religious option. It sounds like he’s taking a leap of faith that God really did reveal Himself to the Hebrews, and that unique revelation was not improved on by Jesus of Nazareth or Mohammed."

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

Nobody escapes suffering. Trite words, but true ones. I think the main reason I get so mad at happy-clappy forms of Christianity is because they seem to function to deny suffering, rather than help us to let it refine us. A Christianity that minimizes suffering is fraudulent; its gospel is fake news. Mustapha Mond’s phrase “Christianity without tears” applies here. Suffering is a sign of grave disorder in the cosmos — a disorder rooted in sin, and ending in death. These are heavy mysteries.

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that [Donald Trump] will be the [Republican] nominee for president in 2024

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

I personally cannot presume to pray "Please, Lord, smite Donald Trump." But I can prayerfully share my concern about his toxicity, and that I like the USA well enough to lament it, and that our future worries me half sick when my faith is weak.

Chutpah

However the legislative gamesmanship playing out on Capitol Hill is resolved over the coming days, one thing is certain: The Democrats got themselves into this mess. They tried to enact an agenda as sweeping as the New Deal or Great Society though they enjoy margins of support vastly smaller than FDR or LBJ — and though their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress are themselves deeply divided between progressive and moderate factions.

The Greeks would have called it hubris. A Borscht Belt comedian would have talked of chutzpah. Either way, it’s hard to deny the Democrats have fallen prey to delusions of grandeur.

Damon Linker, ‌Why do progressive Democrats expect their agenda to pass with such a small majority?

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

Did you know that Russians hacked our electrical grid? Did you know that Trump was connected to a server communicating with Russians? Did you know that Russians were paying bounties for dead American soldiers in Afghanistan? Get his taxes—the answers are there. When The New York Times eventually got ahold of them and parenthetically noted, amidst a cloud of dire innuendo concerning profits and losses of his real estate business, that no evidence existed in them pointing to any ties to Russia, the narrative was already too well entrenched to dislodge.

The Russia hysteria served a psychological function for those at a loss as to how the country they led had slipped from their grasp. It allowed them to offload the blame for the serial failures through which they rendered themselves beatable by a carnival barker onto the machinations of a foreign power. It allowed them to indulge fantasies of the president’s imminent replacement. It helped media companies reverse a downward spiral and restore themselves to profitability as they turned all of public life into a mutually profitable kayfabe with the object of their obsession.

Wesley Yang (Hyperlink added because I had no idea what "kayfabe" was. Once you know, "mutually-profitable kayfabe" becomes an elegant distillation of much of our public-life-as-reported — though I get the feeling that a lot of the true political animosity between parties is all-too-real now.)

My remaining concern is: Isn’t "mutually-profitable kayfabe" at least semi-redundandant? What kayfabe is zero-sum?

Perspective

As far back as Leviticus, priests were given the power of quarantine (13:46), masking (13:45), and even the destruction of property (14:43-47) in the interest of managing and containing disease. Throughout history, political authorities have exercised all sorts of powers for the sake of protecting the health of those God has given them authority over. The interdependent nature of the created order means that there is hardly a law that can be passed which does not have some effect on health. The health of our bodies is not a penultimate summum bonum requiring slavish insistence on removing all potential hazards, but our existence as embodied creatures means that whatever other endeavors are going on, health is always somewhere nearby either as a constitutive process or an important outcome.

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

Even during the Civil War—I think we’re more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery.

Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute, explaining to Emma Green how America is more divided now than in the Civil War.

"Just differed over the question of slavery." This man is too tone-deaf to be President of the Dog Pound, but he’s atop a big Trumpist-Right "think" tank.

What if there’s no omelet?

There’s a famous French Revolution-era maxim that declares that one does not make an omelet without breaking eggs. That maxim has served as a shorthand warning against Utopianism ever since.**

But what if there’s not even an omelet? What if the movement is simply about breaking eggs? What if “fighting” isn’t a means to an end, but rather the end itself?

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

The American Political Science Association was faced with the Claremont Institute wanting two panels that included John Eastman — he of the notorious memo on how Mike Pence could legally steal the election for Trump. It offered a sort of Covid-era compromise: those panels would be virtual (thus lessening the likelihood of vigorous protests of the live portion of the meeting).

I have not read what Claremont said upon withdrawing from the meeting, but I’d wager it invoked classically liberal values:

Liberalism stands for the free and open society. But does that mean it must make space for those who would destroy the free and open society? If the answer is yes, liberalism would seem to have a death wish. If the answer is no, liberalism looks hypocritical: Oh, so you’re for open debate, but only if everyone debating is a liberal! There really is no way to resolve this tension except to say that liberalism favors a free and open society, but not without limits. It can tolerate disagreement and dissent, but not infinitely. And writing a memo to the president explaining precisely how he could mount a coup that would overturn liberal democratic government in the United States crosses that line.

Damon Linker, ‌An academic scuffle tests the limits of free debate

Tacit misogyny?

It is striking that there is no … zealous campaign to abandon the word “men” in favour of “prostate-havers”, “ejaculators” or “bodies with testicles”.

The Economist, ‌Why the word “woman” is tying people in knots

Uprooted

Even if you are living where your forefathers have lived for generations, you can bet that the smartphone you gave your child will unmoor them more effectively than any bulldozer.

In all the time I have spent with people who live in genuinely rooted cultures — rooted in time, place and spirit — whether in the west of Ireland or West Papua, I’ve generally been struck by two things. One is that rooted people are harder to control. The industrial revolution could not have happened without the enclosure of land, and the destruction of the peasantry and the artisan class. People with their feet on the ground are less easily swayed by the currents of politics, or by the fashions of urban ideologues or academic theorists.

The second observation is that people don’t tend to talk much about their “identity” — or even think about it — unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, it seems, the more you have probably lost. The range of freewheeling, self-curated “identities” thrown up by the current “culture war” shows that we are already a long way down the road that leads away from genuine culture.

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories

Cecil Rhodes, quoted by Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism.

More:

Throughout the non-industrial world, it was only if such conditions could no longer be enforced, (usually when a new nationalist or populist government came to power), that formal annexation was resorted to. As Fieldhouse puts it, “Colonialism was not a preference but a last resort”.

Slowly as traditional society disintegrated under the impact of colonialism and the spread of Western values, and as the subsistence economy was replaced by the market economy on which the exploding urban population grew increasingly dependent – the task of maintaining the optimum conditions for Western trade and penetration became correspondingly easier. As a result, by the middle of the twentieth century as Fieldhouse notes: “European merchants and investors could operate satisfactorily within the political framework provided by most reconstructed indigenous states as their predecessors would have preferred to operate a century earlier but without facing those problems which had once made formal empire a necessary expedient”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.

David Bernstein, “White Racial Consciousness” as a Dangerous Progressive Project – Reason.com

A relatively harmless polarity

Some parents react to a child being a National Merit Scholar by saying "Woohoo! A shot at Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton!" Others say "Woohoo! Full scholarship to State U!"

[I]n 2018-2019, more National Merit Scholars joined the Crimson Tide than enrolled in Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan the University of Chicago, and virtually every other top university in the land.

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

I want small businesses to succeed, but having just heard about a local Bourbon & Cigar lounge, I’ll have to take a pass.

I have no problem with the bourbon, but it took me about 16 years to kick tobacco, with pipe and cigar being my favored poisons. I haven’t touched tobacco during the subsequent more-than-half of my life, and I’m not starting 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.

Instrumentalizing God

For decades, I endured periodic sermons and political rants disguised as prayers. Because of who and where I was, and the few loose political affiliations I had, those sermons and rants almost all ranged from right to further right.

And because I thought God shouldn’t be instrumentalized and that prayer shouldn’t be pretext, I hated them, much as I hated “worship” that was really pep-talk-cum-pop-concert.

I’m pleased to report that who and where I am has changed, that my political affiliations are even fewer, and that it’s much better now. That’s a separate story.

I say all that to note this: A “letter to God” in the New York Times Opinion section. That letter struck me in places as being a left version of those pretextual prayers. But it’s not. Whatever its faults are, they seem outweighed by its merits, especially this week.

(Be it noted that George Yancy is not George Yancey.)

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Psalms

It occurred to me, as I thought about Psalm 50/51, that there may be a good reason why Psalm 138/139 has overtaken it as my favorite.

Psalm 50/51 is the repentant Psalm of a passionate young man who committed adultery, attempted to cover it up and then, failing, had his pregnant mistress’s husband killed. All seemed hunky-dory until God’s foremost prophet of the era pointedly called him on it and pronounced the very tangible coming consequences

Ergo, Psalm 50/51.

Psalm 138/139, in contrast, seems the more subdued repentance of an older man, whose youthful passions are largely gone, who rarely acts in conscious defiance of God’s will, but who appreciates the stunningly capacious scope of hamartia, and is aware of how unaware he is — self-absorbed, thoughtless, petulant at times and in some measure.

When do the sedentary pleasures of retirement become “sloth” (as if it’s easy to work up high dudgeon over sloth), enjoyment of the table “gluttony” (ditto)? When does the now-mostly reflexive appreciation for the female form cease being the “bird flying over the head” and start “nesting in your hair” with your invitation?

Were I a monastic, I might eventually be able to put my finger on things like this, but I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes time for sacramental confession because my “missing the mark” just isn’t all that self-scandalizing. So my priest hears over and over again about my sometimes-foul mouth and vague things and stuff and trying to figure out what cardinal sins are most specifically at play.

Maybe I don’t need to “figure it out”:

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my ways. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 138/139:23-24)

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

(Christian) School Prayer

Christian schools have largely failed to show students how to pray, for we have not taught our students the historic prayers of the Church. Rather, classical Christian schools prefer old books, old music, old art, and prayers thrown together two seconds ago …

The classical teacher who hastily invents a few banal sentences for God every day before class begins is sending his students contradictory messages. It may be de rigueur for 21st Americans to pray in this fashion, but classical education is committed to tradition, contemplation, reflection, and circumspection, none of which is modeled for students in glib, forgettable, and flimsy two sentence thank-you-for-this- day prayers.

The teacher who begins class with a forgettable post hoc prayer thinks he has communicated to his students that prayer is important, when he has actually communicated that prayer is easy, which is simply not true. Prayer is no easier than fasting and giving alms, both of which are nearly impossible.

Almost all student prayers are simply amalgams of stock phrases borrowed from post hoc teacher prayers: be together, learn about your world, glorify You, grow in wisdom, grow in You, grow together, have a good time, bless the community, and thank you for sending your Son. These are forgettable, disposable praise chorus prayers. If we are willing to admit that a pop Christian song can trivialize the Incarnation, we ought to be willing to admit that a prayer can do so, as well. Such prayers not only teach our students to ask very little from God, but to commit little and expect little from pious practices. “You do not have because you do not ask, and when you ask, you just kind of arbitrarily mumble something off the top of your head that you don’t really mean.” Compare the bringing-us-together-today-just- glorify-you prayer with a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’s prayer of the student:

Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.
Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.
Give me a keen understanding,
a retentive memory, and
the ability to grasp things
correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent
of being exact in my explanations
and the ability to express myself
with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in the completion.
I ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

This is a prayer which underwrites the possibility of great faith. It is a prayer worth remembering, worth repeating on a daily basis, worth meditating on. It is a worthy model for other prayers ….

Joshua Gibbs, Teach Classical Students To Pray Classically.

Every word of that resonates deeply within me.

As a Christian Reformed Elder, on those rare occasions when the Pastor was absent and Elders assisted the visiting Pastor in leading worship, I always labored over any prayer I was expected to give, borrowing surreptitiously from an old Book of Common Prayer. In a Reformed Church, that passed muster.

But the bane of “spontaneous prayer,” and being thought unspiritual if you pattern your public prayer on something as worthy as Gibbs’ example, are among the reasons I could never go back to frank Evangelicalism (Christian Reformed is not frankly Evangelical in its traditional expression). They are among the top reasons I reflexively view Evangelicalism as a frivolous religion-unto-itself.

* * * * *

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Sunday Tidbits 8/26/18

1

Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review takes seriously two kinds of critics of “liberalism”:

  • That political liberalism makes false promises, holding out the possibility of liberty and pluralism but ultimately demanding conformism.
  • That it’s past time to give up arguing for our claims under natural law. Instead, we should make our claims unabashedly for the social kingship of Christ.

(Paraphrased)

But he “gently suggest[s] that the integralist critics of liberalism may be focusing too much on the theory of liberalism and not enough on the condition of their Church.”

And what’s that condition?

See how the Reverend John I. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame University, took several contradictory positions on the contraception mandate. His school became a plaintiff, arguing against it, as an infringement of religious liberty, in the highest courts in America. But, faced with dissension among professors, he reversed himself.

This level of dissension on matters of moral doctrine is everywhere in Catholic institutions, not just in universities but on the boards of Catholic health-care and charitable organizations and in diocesan secondary and primary schools. Such dissension characterizes the whole Church in America, a country where the second-largest reported religious affiliation is “ex-Catholic.” Catholic birth and divorce rates have, respectively, moved toward Protestant norms. In their catechisms, many Protestant denominations have accepted abortion and homosexuality as moral goods. And many prominent Catholic personalities — even those with imprimaturs of Catholic bishops — are urging Catholics to do likewise.

Dougherty, too, should be taken seriously.

2

Gallagher is implicitly rehashing here the old saw that “postmodernism brings a level playing field,” when in fact it relieves the rulers of the obligation to level that field. Under the ancien regime of liberalism people needed to come up with reasons for dismissing religious positions, and typically did so, even when the reasons were very badly formed indeed; now the reasons are unnecessary. “You’re a bigot” does the job just fine. As I once heard Richard Rorty say, “The theists can talk, but we don’t have to listen.” There may be, and indeed I think there are, good reasons to abandon fusionism, but the idea that in our current order integralist and other post-fusionism arguments will have greater purchase than fusionism did is, I fear, a fantasy.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that Catholic particularism will have any more “credibility” to the society at large than Catholic fusionism did. “The Catholic tradition must be prepared to speak in its own voice” not because that will be more credible or effective but because it is the Catholic tradition’s own voice. Calculations of political effectiveness are misplaced in a social environment where all substantive (and hence exclusive) religious stances are indistinguishable from the grossest bigotry. The dogma living loudly within you won’t win many friends or influence many people. But it ought to live loudly within you anyway.

Alan Jacobs, After Catholic Fusioisn, What? (hyperlink added).

3

In the gospels it was the devils who first recognized Christ and the evangelists didn’t censor this information. They apparently thought it was pretty good witness. It scandalizes us when we see the same thing in modern dress only because we have this defensive attitude toward the faith. (1963)

Flannery O’Connor via Eric Mador, Flannery O’Connor’s Christian Realism.

4

It is not homophobia in the least to point out that a heterosexual man will not have multiple sexual relationships with adult males and also pursue boys sexually when there are plenty of women around ….

Erin Manning

5

A new micro.blog acquaintance makes his own case, and cites another, for prayer using historic prayer books (in his case, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer).

6

Hello [Tipsy],

You’ve now completed at least six hours each night on sleep therapy for 21 out of the last 30 days.

Well done. You’ve earned yourself the GOLD badge!

If you log in to myAir now you can see your progress, and you might want to share your accomplishment with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Sleep well!

The myAir Team

Next to my Notary Certificate, this myAir “GOLD badge!” is one of my great accomplishments in life.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Fr. Stephen snippets

A Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the Morning Prayers

I hear the heart’s cry in the prayer quoted above. The depth of its honesty provokes the hearts of those who read it. It recognizes the truth of our will and echoes St. Paul’s observations:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-21; 24)

There is, I think, an abiding temptation towards Pelagianism (the belief that we can will our own salvation). In Orthodoxy, the teaching of “synergy” often runs in that direction. We indeed “cooperate” with God in our salvation (“cooperate” is the Latinized equivalent of “synergy”). But our cooperation is best illustrated in the prayer above. It is the cry for help from the lips of the helpless. This is not nothing – it is synergistic. But it is not the imagined synergy that some profess. We are saved by our weakness, not by our excellence.

(May 2, 2018)

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

[A]ll of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense.

(May 4, 2018)

Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

(May 11, 2018)

Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. Such actions are incorrectly described as the “relief of suffering.” In many other cases Jesus specifically asks people to suffer: give away your possessions; forgive your enemies; take up your Cross; turn the other cheek; give without expecting in return. Again, there is no authentic Christian voice that does not demand suffering on the part of its adherents.

More important than this, is the fact that this voluntary self-denial, a willingly embraced suffering for the sake of others, is not a diminishment of our humanity, but a necessity of its fulfillment. It is this reality that modernity, in its truncated account of existence, fails to understand or to describe. The most popular ethic within the modern world entails the relief of suffering. In the name of that ethic, people are put to death. It cannot ask us to suffer without guilt. But if suffering is inherent to our existence, then only that which encompasses suffering is sufficient as an account of being human.

To be truly human is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And not just to the image of Christ, but Christ crucified. Anything less would make a mockery of our existence and a diminishment of the fullness to which we are called.

(May 15, 2018)

I have seen, more than once, the favorable outcome of a soul whose deepest hunger has, in an unguarded moment, been exposed to the light of the gospel. I know the case of a woman who found God when a priest called her by name unexpectedly. Just her name. The mercy of God is wonderfully opportunistic. I have often thought, “Give Him an inch and He’ll take your life!”

(May 19, 2018)

As I finished up, deciding what “categories” to assign to today’s blog, the quote “Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being” struck me as an instance of nominalism versus realism, so I applied that category. One characteristic tendency of nominalism was to see sin as sinful because it transgressed an essentially arbitrary divine decree. The consequence of sin was not non-being (spiritual death), but punishment by God. In this sense, the Orthodox understanding of sin is realist rather than nominalist.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

3 things, 12 rules, 1 prayer

[P]rophets are neither new nor controversial. To a first approximation, they only ever say three things:

First, good and evil are definitely real. You know they’re real. You can talk in philosophy class about how subtle and complicated they are, but this is bullshit and you know it. Good and evil are the realest and most obvious things you will ever see, and you recognize them on sight.

Second, you are kind of crap. You know what good is, but you don’t do it. You know what evil is, but you do it anyway. You avoid the straight and narrow path in favor of the easy and comfortable one. You make excuses for yourself and you blame your problems on other people. You can say otherwise, and maybe other people will believe you, but you and I both know you’re lying.

Third, it’s not too late to change. You say you’re too far gone, but that’s another lie you tell yourself. If you repented, you would be forgiven. If you take one step towards God, He will take twenty toward you. Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.

This is the General Prophetic Method. It’s easy, it’s old as dirt, and it works.

Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex, reviewing Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life.

For whatever reason, I’ve become pretty fierce about the obligations of lie-resisting and truth-telling. I’ll leave that sentence as a bit of a Rorschach test, but I’ll tell you that it includes resisting lies from sources Left and Right.

With that, and with Jordan Peterson particularly in mind, I added to my morning list of people to ask God’s blessing on “all truth-tellers, Christian or not, in this age enamored of lies” (that’s the reminder I wrote to myself).

Then an old friend — and by “old” I mean I met him in 1963 — who has remained fiercely Evangelical and activist, pricked my conscience with a video, shared on Facebook, pointing out that the United States was in a terrible spiritual state in the late 18th century — maybe worse than that of the late 20th century — but then,  voilà!, what should up and happen but the Second Great Awakening, with enormous and lasting change in its wake.

So I decided I should pray for something like a Third Great Awakening, and that’s how I wrote down a second reminder.

But it’s no secret that I’m an ecclesial and liturgical Christian. Among other things, that implies that if I’m going to pray for something every morning, I’d really like to do a bit better than “Father God, we just ask you Father to just Father bless all the truth-tellers Father and coudja just send us Father another Great Awakening Father if it’s not to much trouble — Father?”

So I was pleased Thursday night to notice, in the Prayer Book I was using, a succinct petition that, with minor adaptation, effectively rolls my truth-teller and Great Awakening prayers into one, leaving the executive details up to He Who Is At An Infinitely Higher Pay Grade:

O, Most Holy Trinity, who lovest mankind and willest not that any should perish, look, I beseech Thee, on all my countrymen that are led astray by the devil; that rejecting all errors, the hearts of those who err may be converted and return to the unity of Thy truth.

“Led astray.” “Error.” “Converted.” “Unity of Thy truth.” That seems to cover it.

Feel utterly free to make it your own, remembering that it could apply to you, too.

But if you try to type it, watch out for those dadburned modern auto-correct features. They don’t like the King’s English.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

St. John the Almsgiver, 2017

    1. Obviously, these prophets didn’t understand
    2. Contemning “thoughts and prayers”
    3. The last idol still standing
    4. Historical Ignorance, Moral Arrogance
    5. Absolute passion, utter fragility
    6. John the Merciful

Continue reading “St. John the Almsgiver, 2017”