The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

In early centuries, [the catechumenate, that process by which we initiate persons into the life of the Orthodox faith,] lasted as much as three years. Surprisingly, it consisted primarily in “moral instruction” (teachings on how to behave). Instruction in the doctrines of the faith did not take place until after Baptism! The assumption behind this was (and still should be) that catechumens needed spiritual formation before they were ready to receive doctrinal instruction. This assumption has been greatly weakened in our modern culture.

We labor under the myth of being an “information-based” society. We imagine that we are deeply informed, have ready access to massive amounts of information on the basis of which we are able to make free and well-considered decisions. This over-simplification of our human experience is deeply flawed …

Catechumens, if given only a diet of information, … fail to thrive. Above all else, it is the practice of the faith that makes faith possible.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32)

“Abiding in the word” (keeping the commandments, engaging in the practices of the faith) is the necessary pre-condition for “knowing the truth.”

This suggests to me that we set our minds to become “perpetual catechumens” in which we give our attention to the softening of our hearts rather than inundation of our minds …

The heart’s learning is the true point of salvation. Information does not save us – but there is such a thing as “saving knowledge.” We speak of this, formally, as “holy illumination.” It is the consistent teaching of the Church that holy illumination is our desired path to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

Had I read this 25 years ago, I’d have wondered what kind of squishy Kum-Bah-Yah cult taught such things as "spiritual formation before doctrinal instruction."

Not a digression: I remember a rather fringe figure in my Evangelical years, Col. R.B. Thieme, Jr., teaching sometime in the 1976-79 range that "God loves nothing better than doctrine in the frontal lobe."

I didn’t believe him — but I lived as if it were true, or as if enough doctrine in my frontal lobe would eventually cure my disordered life. It never did, and it never would have. The trajectory it put me on was that of an irascible "discernment blogger" with a hot steaming mess of a private life. Only the lack of a consumer internet spared me that fate.

When I entered the Orthodox Christian faith some 20 years later, I did so expecting to get my doctrine straightened out, having seen a couple of fundamental flaws in my prior approach — the kinds of things you can’t un-see — and having somehow gained an implicit trust in the Church.

But for some reason, early in that same transitional period of my life, I saw in re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that I needed to forsake one particular moral failing, lest it make me the kind of person who wouldn’t even like heaven had he inherited it. In that regard, Anglican Lewis — and his message to my imagination, not my intellect — was my Orthodox moral catechist.

And now, twenty-four more years down the road, Fr. Stephen makes perfect sense to me. To my surprise, "Orthodox" Christianity turned out not to be all that much about doctrine. Beyond the Nicene Creed, there are few doctrinal dogmas. We are conspicuously apophatic, a tendency that Col. Thieme presumably would have anathematized.

What it is about is — well, you’ll just have to come and see.


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.

The end of the world as we know it …

THE EIGHT PRINCIPLES OF UNCIVILISATION

‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

The Eight Principles of Uncivilization (Dark Mountain Project)

I wonder whether Paul Kingsnorth, an author if this Manifesto some years ago, would still unequivocally endorse this from Priniciple 5 now that he is a Christian:

Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet …

It seems to me that it is defensible from one standpoint, but also incongruent with, for instance, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man” from the Nicene Creed, which he now confesses.


[T]ime has not been kind to the greens. Today’s environmentalists are more likely to be found at corporate conferences hymning the virtues of ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical consumption’ than doing anything as naive as questioning the intrinsic values of civilisation. Capitalism has absorbed the greens, as it absorbs so many challenges to its ascendancy. A radical challenge to the human machine has been transformed into yet another opportunity for shopping.

Dark Mountain Manifesto


“At a time when fewer Americans attend religious services, religious narratives about Christian nationhood may have their strongest political effects when, and perhaps because, they are detached from religious institutions.”

Please read that sentence again.

Richard Ostling, Did January 6 attack on Capitol highlight ‘D.I.Y. Christianity’ as decade’s next big thing?.


[T]here is no such thing as independent media; there are only different kinds of dependence. If your financial security is derived from the approval of others, you are not independent. You can be dependent on different people and that difference does matter. I have been remarkably successful here in a crowdfunding context but I probably would never have been able to get a staff writer job at any traditional publication. (Such a job would probably pay a third of what I’m making, but that’s for another time.) But my generous readers are themselves stakeholders whose interests I will inevitably weigh and value. A consequence of this dynamic is that “independent” media is subject to external pressures too, in ways both good and bad. If you don’t like something about what is typically branded as the independent media, you can yell about it, which increases engagement and helps who you want to hurt; you can hope that it will go away, which it almost certainly won’t; or you can try to use the power of incentives, that very universal dependence.

Freddie deBoer


[In t]he attempted suppression of the old Mass…, Francis is attempting to use centralized authority to complete the revolution of Vatican II, to consign definitively to the past a liturgy that’s often a locus of resistance to the council’s changes. (It’s many other things as well, but Francis is not wrong to see it playing that role.)

Ross Douthat, ‌The Ungovernable Catholic Church

I love that parenthetical, because I know it’s true from conversations I’ve had with the kinds of Catholics who support the Latin Mass. But at present, Pope Francis is keener on making the big catholic tent big enough for German progressives than for those who resist some or much of Vatican II.

As an Orthodox Christian, I tend to support the traditional Latin Mass simply because it is at least recognizably Christian Liturgy (unlike the Novus Ordo).

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. A Church nourished on the Novus Ordo apparently is friendly to gay marriage and women priests, hostile to 2000 years of tradition.


During the hundred days after George Floyd’s death, one heard frequently about unrest in the city of Portland, Oregon. Every day, the journalist Andy Ngo posted video on Twitter that seemed to show horrendous clashes between the police and black-clad rioters that Ngo identified as antifa … At the same time, the journalist Bret Weinstein on his DarkHorse podcast told tales of ongoing, bitter antifa provocation and violence. Not long ago, the writer Douglas Murray visited Portland and compared the city to third world war zones he had visited. “This is not normal,” he said again and again.

How did the Times respond to the situation in Portland? There had been criticism of the paper by conservative outlets for under-reporting the events in Portland and under-playing the violence when it did report. In July, a couple of months after Floyd’s death, when the troubles had been going on for some time, the Times sent the distinguished journalist Nicholas Kristof to investigate. He wrote a piece, much of it tongue in cheek, about how very hard it was to find a genuine anarchist in the whole city of Portland. The demonstrations, as he saw them, were overwhelmingly instances of peaceful civic engagement. “We see dueling narratives. One is Trump’s, and it portrays Portland and other cities with protests against police brutality as teetering on the abyss and requiring his Lincolnesque hand to hold America together. The other is—well, shall we call it reality? Yes, there’s violence and vandalism, as well as opportunistic looting, and it will be a challenge to manage it, but local officials are much better placed to do so than the White House.”

Now of course Trump reacted in predictable fashion, sending federal officers into the city. If in fact there was horrid violence in Portland, then Trump was right—and one began in time to sense that in this paper, Trump could almost never be right. So who was one to believe? Should I credit the Times’s distinguished representative? The paper newly committed to an agenda would surely prefer that there was nothing terribly dangerous going on in Portland. So Kristof had some reason to see some things and block out others. Or should I believe Andy Ngo, who has been fighting a one-man war against antifa for some time? He’s surely more sinned against than sinning in all this—antifa members put him in the hospital with a brain injury not long ago—but obviously he has his views and biases. Should I believe Bret Weinstein, an admirable one-time science professor who stood up against a mob at Evergreen State College? Weinstein now hosts a podcast for “curious minds and free thinkers” and his view of Portland is far more dire than that of the visitor from the Times.

Ten years ago, this question of belief would have been very easy to answer. I would believe the Times, of course. A decade ago I would never think to measure Ngo and Weinstein’s views of the truth against the truth dished up by a Times stalwart like Nick Kristof. But for many readers like myself, that kind of confusion will, I suspect, become more and more the order of the day as people begin to see that the Times has transformed itself.

Mark Edmundson, Changing Times (boldface added).

A very good point. The Times versus Donald Trump? No problem. The Times versus Andy Ngo and Bret Weinstein? Should be no problem, but it is.


The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today has been riveting thus far. But dare the flagship publication of a movement of mostly independent churches ultimately indict Mark Driscoll’s D.I.Y. independence itself as a major cause of the spiritual damage?

While waiting for the next installment of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, I listened to The Roys Report‘s recent two-parter on Trinity Church, Driscoll’s latest venture. It’s now clear to me that Driscoll has gone full personality cult, and that people should flee while they still can.


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.

Biggest sinner on the block

Roosh V was a nasty piece of work, but it’s all cool now

Rod Dreher distills the story of Daryush Valizadeh, a/k/a Roosh V, a red-pill manosphere pickup artist and social media personality who in 2019 stopped all that crap cold turkey, returned to Christianity and eventually (May 2021) entered the Russian Orthodox Church. Valizadeh is full of zeal and has found other men who are full of zeal as well — almost a baptized religious version of the manosphere but without the misogyny.

I found the tale sorta interesting, but found one thing creepily evocative about it: “I was the biggest sinner on the block” testimonies were tiresomely common in Evangelicalism, and this brought back those memories. Those big-sinner-who-got-born-again types seemed to turn into creeps of various sort with suspicious regularity. Part of it was that Evangelicalism just could not help itself; as soon as some celebrity announced getting born again, they’d thrust them in front of their congregations (later their cameras) in contradiction of scriptural warnings.

His history is what it is, and I don’t know how much the foregrounding of his sleazy history is his doing and how much is just thrust upon him by others. I hope it’s the latter and I wish they’d stop.

For Dreher, the tale evoked his own triumphalist zeal for Roman Catholicism — which zeal and faith he lost calamitously 16+ years ago covering the clergy sex abuse scandals as a journalist. Those were not fun, liberating times for Rod, and he cautions Valizadeh to be careful of triumphalism lest he face a similar crisis of faith when first he encounters an Orthodox scandal.

I guess Rod and I share a common theme of concern for Roosh, still a relative novice in a 2000-year-deep faith, that he gets formed well and isn’t exploited for his celebrity.

After lamenting how his personal story dissuades him from aggressively proselytizing for Orthodoxy, or even for Christianity generally, Rod concludes:

Still, there is a particular reason I recommended Orthodox books to the visionary writer Paul Kingsnorth when he first began to inquire about Christianity — and there is a reason he embraced Orthodoxy quickly. There is a reason why Dr. Iain McGilchrist, the author of The Master And His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, told me that he is not a believer, but if he were, he would be Orthodox, because of all forms of Christianity, it is the one that has … maintained the best balance between logical and intuitive modes of knowing). There is a reason why, after sixteen years (next month) of worshiping and praying as an Orthodox Christian, faith in Christ is sedimented into my bones in a way it never was before.

Rod Dreher. I am not surprised at McGilchrist’s observation, having fairly recently finished ‌The Master And His Emissary.

I have no reason to think Rod reads my blog, and there’s no way to comment on his Substack offerings, but I’d like to point out to him that it is difficult to speak eloquently, truthfully and adequately about Orthodox Christianity precisely because of the extent to which it relies on intuitive modes of knowing. Speech is largely a left-hemisphere creation that relies on logic and analysis to make its persuasive points, and intuition translates poorly into the left-brain’s dialect.

Or as Dr. McGilchrist notes in the book:

one feels so hopeless relying on the written [or spoken – Tipsy] word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations.

and again

It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous.

That, I think, emphasizes why the invitation “Come and see” is as important for making Orthodox Christians today as it was for making disciples at the beginning.

“What we believe” pages

I’ve been off Facebook for several years now (I’ve lost track).

I’m not bragging. I got on for honorable reasons (to reconnect with high school friends, who since I went to boarding school, were more important to me by far than college friends) and got off it for honorable reasons as well (I didn’t like Facebook turning some of my family members into trolls, nor did I like lining Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets).

But while I was on, I hurt somebody a bit. A high school fried was deeply involved in an Evangelical megachurch in a major city. I visited its website, found a page on “what we believe,” and found a roll-your-own substitute for the historic creeds of the Church. The net effect imbalanced if not heretical. I critiqued it without naming the church or why I’d visited the site.

Unfortunately, my friend figured it out and was wounded by what seemed like a gratuitous insult — even trolling her — the reason for which utterly escaped her.

That incident came back to me recently, and though I regret hurting my friend, I don’t regret calling out the arrogance of churches that think themselves entitled to create bespoke religions for their respective clienteles and call them all “Christian.”

Okay, that was a bit harsh. But consider:

  • First Baptist Church of Dallas (friend of Trump, and of Sean Hannity, it created a choral anthem Make America Great Again) is so big that they have both a “What We Believe” and a “Articles of Faith.”
  • Willow Creek Community Church, imitation of which was a major fad 25 years or so ago (I don’t know if it continues) has a Beliefs and Values page and a lengthy Elder Statements pdf.
  • Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has, at least on paper, beliefs far less vacuous than what comes out of Osteen’s mouth every time he opens it.
  • The Wheaton Bible Church, where I was baptized about 55 years ago (and where my wife and I worshipped as newlyweds in the Chicago area), has become a full-blown megachurch, and it, too, has an “About” page.

I’m not going to stop to try to analyze and critique these. My point is they inherently confirm that there is no single “Evangelicalism.” Without a strong denominational identity, each local church must decide for itself, and publish, what it thinks the Bible clearly teaches.

The inability of denominations, let alone independent churches/fiefdoms, to agree on that clear (“perspicacious”) message is one of the things I saw one day, can never unsee, and made me forever non-Protestant.

Of course, my Church has a statement of faith, too, which we recite (oftener, sing) every Sunday Liturgy: The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, written not by us but by two Ecumenical Councils of the Church in the Fourth Century (when some heresies (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Macedonianism and Chiliasm) were riling the church and it was imperative to define the true faith in contrast with those heresies).

If you’d care to compare the Nicene Creed to these ersatz “What We Believe” statements, you’ll note that at least one thing in all the ersatz statements gets nary a mention by the historic Church. Can you spot it?

It’s sola scriptura (in today’s hyperbolic marketspeak, “we’re all about the Bible”) and its corollaries, the bedrock of Protestantism.

Interesting, huh? And yet somehow there remains one Orthodox Church and countless big and little churches, each marching to its own drum.

Anti-Promethean conservative

Americans have always had a thing for Prometheus — the Titan god in Greek mythology credited with (or blamed for) stealing fire and giving it to humanity … Today, those ambitions have moved to the private sector, with Promethean billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos working to make space travel far more commonplace … Is Promethean dynamism a good thing for human beings? … But which end is more compatible with happiness understood as human flourishing?

Damon Linker

One big dispositional difference between me and David French is that he applauds, enraptured, these Promethean stunts.

He needs to look more closely at what drives Jeff Bezos, and to re-read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Heck, finish the trilogy: read That Hideous Strength, too, David.

I may have just found the perfect label for my kind of conservatism: anti-Promethean.

[T]he fantasy that humans can somehow shift ‘offworld’ and recreate such systems on Mars or the Moon when we can’t or won’t live with Earth anymore, is just that: a fantasy, peddled as we saw in the last essay, by the likes of Jeff Bezos and his fellow techno-apostles.

Paul Kingsnorth.

Last acceptable bigotry is alive and well and living just about everywhere in the USA

Martin: Cries of anti-Catholicism are too frequent. Anti-Catholicism is nowhere near as prevalent as racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Not every critique of the Church is an offense against religious liberty. And The New York Times is not anti-Catholic. But from time to time, it’s important to remind people that anti-Catholicism is not a myth.

Green: I wonder if there are instances where this has become politically complicated for you. For example, when now–Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was in her hearing for the Circuit Court of Appeals, Democratic senators questioned her about how her Catholic faith would affect her rulings on issues like abortion. Senator Dianne Feinstein famously told her, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

A lot of people thought that was open anti-Catholic bigotry—a U.S. senator expressing fear that an accomplished legal scholar couldn’t be a fair judge because of her faith. Did you think they had a point?

Martin: Well, first of all, I thought that that phrase was inherently funny. The dogma lives loudly within you. It was just strange—almost nonsensical. But I think it was appropriate for Senator Feinstein to ask, “To what extent will your religious beliefs influence your legal decisions?” That’s not unreasonable.

Green: Do you think so? I mean, the Constitution says that no religious test should be required as a qualification for public office. It’s a founding principle of our country that Americans don’t consider religion when we vet people as public servants.

Martin: I think the difference is that Justice Barrett is well known as a devout Catholic. I didn’t think that was an offensive question. The way it was put was a little ham-handed.

Emma Green, Father Jim Martin on Anti-Catholic Prejudice (the springboard was an issue of the New York Times that “deferentially cover[ed] a language shift meant to show respect for Roma people but … also print[ed] a story that relished a film scene in which a holy Catholic object is defiled.”)

Not a fan of Fr. James Martin, so it’s tempting to add “In other words ….” But I’m going to resist the temptation. You can do your own critical reading (no paywall).

Standpoint

There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.

H. Richard Niebuhr via Lance Morrow

Which reminds me of “what you see depends on where you stand.”

Christian athletes

Soccer

[T]he future of Christianity is going to be black and brown — at least in the UK. The other day I was somewhere in this Central European region, can’t remember exactly where, and was talking to a group of fellow white Christians about migration to Europe. I asked them if they had to choose, would they prefer to live in a Europe that was predominantly black but faithfully Christian, or predominantly white, but atheist. Everyone agreed: black and Christian.

Black Christians, British Football – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher

Basketball

‌Giannis Antetokounmpo As An Orthodox Christian And Star Of The 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Who knew? Or rather, who knew the first part?


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.

Entangled musings

So long as worship of the Emperor as a God was required by law of all citizens, to become a Christian meant to become a criminal. In consequence, the Christians of the first four centuries A.D., subject like everyone else to the temptations of the Flesh and the Devil, had been spared the Temptations of the World. One could become a converted and remain a thorough rascal, but one could not be converted and remain a gentleman.

(W.H. Auden, in the Introduction to The Complete Poems of Cavafy)

My former activism on behalf of unpopular causes (e.g., against abortion, against mandatory social leveling on behalf of practitioners of trendy vices) was never a strategy to “get my name out there” so people would seek my legal services. Insofar as it did bring me clients, they strongly tended toward eccentricity if not outright crackpottery.

We were not formally criminals, my clients and I, but we knew that we could not aspire to unequivocal worldly respectability, either. (That is not a characterization of all my clients — just the ones who I knew as co-belligerents in lost causes.)

Most of these activism-related clients were “conservative” Protestants, as was I then. Most of them plainly were either tacitly Nominalists or at least utterly incapable of framing a confident argument in Realist terms. They were the proverbial “Bible-thumpers,” pulling out their favored proof-texts that sodomy is sinful, or that God knows each of us en ventre sa mère. The problem came connecting such things to law.

In a recent podcast, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon opines that Nominalism is probably, “the deepest flaw in the whole Protestant enterprise” (Luther referred to William of Ockham, the Franciscan popularizer of Nominalism, as his “mein meister”, and the Church of England still commemorates Ockham on April 10.) Fr. Pat’s podcast is actually a pretty succinct introduction to the Nominalist-Realist contrast. (Quick: is adultery wrong because God forbade it or did God forbid it because is wrong — contrary to reality as he created it?)

Somehow, I was a Realist, or leaning strongly Realist, even before I knew the Nominalist-Realist distinction and well before Orthodoxy. I frequently lamented, if only in private, the embarrassing and counter-productive arguments of my co-belligerents in the causes we all supported (or, likelier, opposed).

My tacit Realism (which I’m fairly sure developed unawares after my adolescence) may have been another factor, along with my earlier-in-life onset of temperamental partiality to contemplation more than action, that made Orthodox Christianity click for me when I finally encountered it. I wish I were confident that North American Orthodox Christians, especially my fellow converts, were solidly Realist, because we’re living in parallel ecclesial realities if they’re not.

But I began talking about “my activism.” Do I contradict myself, interjecting contemplation? I think not. My “activism” was argumentation, verbal and in writing, which is a fairly contemplative form of activism. I’ve never raided a draft board, lain down in a street, or otherwise gotten into the physical scrum.

And is there some latent negativity in my oppositional activism (rather than supportive activism)? Again I think not, though it may, once more, dovetail with an aspect of Orthodoxy: apophasis, known in Latin as the via negativa. More specifically, I’m less confident of the location of the “this is right and good and pure” bullseye than I am about “wherever that bullseye is, it ain’t here.”

After more than 22 year in Orthodoxy, I’m still picking up threads that I think helped to lead me here. Picking them up, and acknowledging their entanglement and, sometimes, ineffability seems true to life — which is notoriously messy — more generally.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Liturgy, mimesis, humus

I went to a symposium over the weekend, the intimidating theme of which was For I Am Holy: The Command to Be Like God.

Like God?!

But this was my fifth year. I have people who are becoming like family to me. I wanted to see them.

Boy, am I glad I went.

There were no formulae. Holiness formulae can only turn us into delusional, self-righteous Church Lady prigs.

So the emphasis was how the liturgy and encountering great literature (sometimes with holy protagonists) and practicing humility at the most “humus” level can shape us toward holiness.

The Eighth Day Symposia are always ecumenical in the sense that the three main speakers are Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The commonality comes from moderate to deep knowledge of the Church Fathers.

Christians are divided. This is a fact. We have been since the schism between East and West at the turn of the first millennium and since the Protestant Reformations in the sixteenth century. This is a tragedy. That’s why we believe we have a duty to facilitate a dialogue of love and truth, one that acknowledges our real differences, but one that also seeks to achieve a common mind so we can stand reunited in the One who is the Truth.

There is a separate Florovsky-Newman week to focus on our differences. I’ve never been to one, but I think that’s going to change.

Eighth Day Institute is mutually and enthusiastically supportive of Eighth Day Books, a Christian bibliophile’s “happiest place on earth.”

EDB has just published a paper catalog for the first time in eight years. Get one before they’re gone!

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

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.

Tragedy and Triumph

Beto O’Rourke says, in the special Thursday Democrat Pander-O-Thon for LGBT votes, that churches, colleges and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

That’s the succinct version. But I wouldn’t blog if that’s all I had to say.

Liberals will say, “Don’t worry about it. Beto is scraping the bottom of the polls. What he says doesn’t really matter.”…

This conservative said that, too, but

… Huh. Don’t you believe it. If this belief isn’t already held by all the Democratic candidates now, it will be. As Brandon McGinley says, there really is no principled reason to resist it, given what the Democrats already believe about the sanctity of homosexuality and transgenderism. Haven’t we all lived long enough now to recognize that the Law of Merited Impossibility — “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it” — is as irrefutable as the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Even at this late date, we hear from many liberals that orthodox Christians are “obsessed” with homosexuality. They can’t grasp why, aside from bigotry, that we are so concerned about the issue. It’s largely because the march of LGBT ideology to conquer our culture tramples over the rights of orthodox/traditionalist religious people, and indeed of anybody who objects to whatever claim LGBTs make.

What Beto O’Rourke said last night is a perfect example of why many orthodox Christians who despise Donald Trump will vote for him anyway. The survival of our institutions depends on keeping the Democrats out of the White House (and Congress) for as long as we can ….

Rod Dreher (emphasis added).

Insofar as Dreher is describing why many Christians will hold their noses and vote for Trump, he is surely right.

Insofar as he is saying that the survival of our Christian institutions hinges on Donald Trump’s reelection, he is selling God short.

But this is admittedly a situation with high stakes, where the horrible terribleness of Donald Trump has emboldened the Democrats to veer sharply to their left and to promise their base the heads of orthodox Christians on a platter.

Trust in God comes hard in these circumstances, and the trusting ones need to abandon any illusion that Romans 8:28 means only good things happen to those who love and are called by God.

I’m still strongly inclined never to vote for Trump, come whatever may.

It’s not just “all things considered and on balance.” It’s a question of my ingrained, pre-theoretical ethical orientation. I just couldn’t vote for Richard Nixon, in my first Presidential election, once I’d concluded he was a crook. 47 years later, with a bit more ethical theory under my belt and a lot less starry eyes in my residual optimism, I still cannot begin to articulate a convincing deontological or virtue ethics argument for voting for Trump, and I reject Dreher’s implicit consequentialism.

I’d encourage any Christian readers inclined to vote for Trump to grapple with articulating at ethical case for voting for Trump, aware that consequentialism squares pretty badly with Christianity.

On the other hand, my scriptures (the Christian scriptures before the Reformers bowdlerized them — see this, for instance) do include this bit of consequentialism:

A large force of soldiers pursued them, caught up with them, set up camp opposite them, and prepared to attack them on the Sabbath.

There is still time, they shouted out to the Jews. Come out and obey the king’s command, and we will spare your lives.

We will not come out, they answered. We will not obey the king’s command, and we will not profane the Sabbath.

The soldiers attacked them immediately, but the Jews did nothing to resist; they did not even throw stones or block the entrances to the caves where they were hiding. They said,

We will all die with a clear conscience. Let heaven and earth bear witness that you are slaughtering us unjustly.

So the enemy attacked them on the Sabbath and killed the men, their wives, their children, and their livestock. A thousand people died.

When Mattathias and his friends heard the news about this, they were greatly saddened and said to one another,

If all of us do as these other Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.

On that day they decided that if anyone attacked them on the Sabbath, they would defend themselves, so that they would not all die as other Jews had died in the caves.

(Emphasis added)

Make of that passage what you will. It does seem a pretty consequentialist, and Judas Maccabeus remains a mythical hero.

Maybe the polls in your state will say, in 13 months, that your state’s a toss-up, so that choosing between evils feels compulsory.

What I make of the passage from I Macabees is that I at least must be gentle with fellow-Christians who vote for Trump or (because of his horrible terribleness) his Democrat opponent — and that I should hope and pray that they will recognize such a vote as at best a tragic, not triumphant.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

An open letter to Josh Harris, seeker

Dear Josh:

I hope I can call you Josh, though we’ve never met and I was way too old in the 90s to get caught up in “purity culture.” (Heck, even my son was a bit too old.)

What I have to offer, despite that, is the different way to practice Christian faith that you reportedly are looking for and most certainly need. I was discovering that different way when purity culture was turning into a big deal, and I’ve been following it for more than twenty years now.

I thought of your recent announcements as a kind of “apostasy,” though I hadn’t focused on what you actually said. Still, since I was no longer in the Evangelical world, I wasn’t threatened by it. I had no “horse in that race” so to speak. I’ve known for a long time now that “Christian” doesn’t have a very clear, agreed meaning in the U.S., and leaving some kinds of “Christianity” may be a very good move (especially if you move toward the right kind).

I felt kindly toward you for honesty: not reinterpreting scripture so you could go on being a megachurch pastor and Christian celebrity. From the way I see you telling your story now, that may not even have been existentially possible for you.

In fact, I’m dropping the label “apostasy.” “Rehab.” “Recovery from PTSD.” Those seem more apt.

Not all those who wander are lost, J.R.R. Tolkien observed. The corollary is that not all who lead know where they’re going. Both these statements are true of Joshua Harris, the former pastor and author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (1997), who acknowledged on Instagram last week that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

[*I Kissed Dating Goodbye]’s message became “a big part of my identity, and almost my own sense of self-worth,” Mr. Harris told me last December. “So to even open the door to think that maybe it was, on the whole, unhelpful, and hurt people—it was just hard to go there.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Wall Street Journal (emphasis added).

Apparently you did open the door and go there, and got an earful that would shake up any conscientious person. I’ve read some of them, and my godson is one of those who got poisoned (he’s recovering well).

Thus:

In July, Mr. Harris made two personal announcements on Instagram: He and his wife were separating, and he had “undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus,” he wrote. “Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.

Many Christians responded with mourning, but I’m hopeful. Abandoning untrue beliefs is progress ….

(Emphasis added again)

I can whole-heartedly recommend “a different way to practice faith” than you’ve ever known, and of which you may even have no clue (having a clue and knowing something are not the same).

Ignore any “different way to practice faith” that baptizes the sexual revolution. Doing that would harm people as much or more than anything you’ve done before.

Ignore (I’m sure you will) any way that permanently anathematizes all who’ve ever sinned sexually. Ignore them if the first sexual sin gets you kicked out or branded with a scarlet letter of some sort.

Get thee to an Orthodox Church, with a capital-O, and just observe for a few months.

The Orthodox Church is probably a mystery to you because you grew up in the West, where the only visible claimant to the title The Church was Roman Catholicism. We Orthodox know that body well, because a thousand years ago, Roman Catholicism was Orthodox (and, to be fair, Orthodoxy more freely used the moniker “catholic”). We were one big family, with a few minor quarrels and personality differences. But then the Bishop of Rome, one of five Patriarchs of the Church, got too big for his britches (a crude shorthand, I know, but I’m not writing a theological treatise or Church history here) and eventually split — went into schism — from the other four Patriarchs and the Churches they represented.

That schism has never been healed. The Bishop of Rome increasingly took his church off the rails, adding doctrines that didn’t belong and tying down things that needed to remain freer.

The other four Patriarchs (Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch) never closed up shop, but they’ve been concentrated mostly east of Rome’s turf. They have preserved the ancient Christian faith without innovations and defining everything to death.

So Orthodoxy will probably look a lot like Roman Catholicism to you. (They’ve screwed up the Mass, bless their hearts, but it’s still recognizable.)

Like I say: Don’t commit. Just go and observe for a while. Russian, Greek, Romanian, Antiochian, even my own obscure Carpatho-Rusyn — Orthodox is Orthodox, and we’re working on shedding those ethnic labels in the U.S., since they don’t really belong.

That reminds me: If you stumble onto an Orthodox Church that doesn’t worship in English, keep moving. They’re not “wrong,” but you probably won’t get much out of it. There are plenty that use English now.

When you get there, open your heart and your mind. Those icons that may trouble you are stand-ins (and more) for the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews.

Talk to the Priest with your questions. The people around you may be less knowledgeable, in a Protestant doctrinal sense, than you’re used to, because the center of the worship is Christ and His Eucharist, not the sermon. But the Priest almost certainly has formal education and has some idea where a Protestant inquirer is coming from. Odds are, he was once a Protestant, too, if you’re in the U.S.

Then settle in for the long haul. There will be some formal catechism and then a formal reception service if you decide to stay.  They may even conclude that you should be baptized again (though we don’t re-baptize if a prior baptism was done more or less as we baptize, as mine was, for instance).

Don’t count on being a leader again. Maybe, maybe not. But do expect that some well-meaning someone-or-other will make a big deal of it if you officially become Orthodox. We are in America, after all, and we’re sadly susceptible to celebrity culture. I wish it weren’t so. People can be destroyed by getting elevated too fast, as the Apostle Paul knew.

My advice: Say something like “I’m still healing from my past life and I don’t think it would be helpful for me to get into the limelight again.” Because that’s probably true, and I think you know it now.

Don’t let any elation about entering Orthodoxy make you think you’ve arrived. It means you’ve started in earnest. There’s going to be some serious interior remodeling, not just rearranging some furniture.

This is, after all, a really different way of practicing faith.

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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).

Serenity in leisure

There is a certain serenity in leisure. That serenity springs precisely from our inability to understand, from a recognition of the mysterious nature of the universe; it springs from the courage of deep confidence, so that we are content to let things take their course; and there is something about it which Konrad Weiss, the poet, called “confidence in the fragmentariness of life and history.”

Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, page 47.

Boy, could I use some of that!

I’ve joked that my headstone should say “Darn! Just when I almost had it all figured out!”

But I know I’ll never figure it all out — not even close. I am confident in a sense. But something about the compulsion to figure it out tells me that my confidence is shallow.

Pieper’s book, which I shamefully am only now reading for the first time, is going onto a very short list of “books I must re-read regularly.” Another by him, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, is already on that list.

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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).

An anniversary and a testimonial

Today is the 52nd anniversary of my high school graduation.

It might sound odd to remember that, but high school was formative for me because, almost impetuously, my parents and I agreed that I should go to a Christian (specifically Evangelical) boarding school. So off I went at age 14 (specifically, Labor Day 1963) to forge a life somewhat separate from my parents — an experience most of my contemporaries postponed for another four years. By that point in my life, living in dormitories was “old hat,” college “same old, same old.”

I should qualify the preceding paragraph by noting that only 40% of my school was boarding students. The other 60% was commuters from the nearby Evangelical Jerusalem: Wheaton, Illinois. I suspect that Wheaton Academy itself was “old hat” for my commuter classmates, many of whom had attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School, whereas I had attended public schools to that point in my life (with my parents requesting some exemptions to let me observe Evangelical taboos about, say, dancing — public schools were not yet required to teach fornication).

We Evangelicals, of course, were very focused on the Scriptures (which we received from the historic Church pretty much unacknowledged) because they, in theory, were our final authority. But those Scriptures are many (66 by Evangelical count, more than that historically) and varied. The inability to fully harmonize them, or to credibly discern the science of cosmic creation therein, leads some Evangelicals to the shipwreck of faith.

There is a different and much more historic way to approach Scripture, and it always amuses me when the New Atheists and their ilk presume that the Evangelical (shared closely with Fundamentalists) approach is the exclusively correct one — before using it to rip such Christian faith to shreds — a presumption betraying an ignorance so profound that they really should just shut up.

* * *

As I write, early in the morning, I’m still re-orienting from a very intense weekend wherein my Orthodox Christian parish Church was consecrated by our Bishop with the assistance of multiple priests and with me leading the singing of unfamiliar hymns proper to a consecration. My Christian pilgrimage has taken me there, deep into the historic roots of Christianity and thus a long way from Evangelicalism, for Evangelicalism is rooted mostly in the frontier revivalist vein of the Second Great Awakening of some 200 years ago.

Over my intense weekend, I made the acquaintance of a professional who joined his son, a recent Purdue graduate who was active in our parish, for the consecration and following Liturgy and banquet. His professional specialty is the same as one of my Wheaton Academy classmates, whose practice has grown large and, by what reputation I knew, very prominent.

I asked our guest if he knew of it, and it turned out he knew it, thought very highly of it, and almost joined it after interviewing with my classmate, his son and his daughter-in-law, all professionals in that field. He confirmed the practice’s excellence, and confirmed my impression that my classmate is still “very tightly wound” (my characterization) — adding some praise of the family’s Evangelical and charitable involvement as well, for it sounds as if the large practice is still owned and controlled largely or entirely by my classmate’s family and presumably has yielded considerable wealth.

Such thoughts of my classmate, and of my different Christian path, brought back to mind our different “life verses” (an ironically extrabiblical bit of Evangelical youth piety). Any time I say “life verse” from now on, you may gloss it as “important Bible verses favored by or associated with this person.”

My classmate’s life verse at the time seemed to be II Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” That always seemed to me (though I don’t know my classmate’s mind) like the outward-looking verse of a doer, and my classmate has done a lot — enough that I felt like a slacker in comparison until I went back to school at age 30 for some graduate work of my own. He himself uttered that verse as a life verse (or close to it); the association isn’t my projection.

I’m pretty sure I never declared any “life verse,” but I believe I wrote by my signature in schoolmates’ yearbooks “Ephesians 3:17-19” which reads (in the King James Version):

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

That always seemed to be to contrast with my classmate’s verse — in my favor, of course, or I could have changed.

I was also quite taken by Hebrews 5:12 – 6:3:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.

This puzzled and challenged me, as “laying again (and again, and again, and again) the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” seemed rather the whole point of our revivalist (remember: Second Great Awakening) “altar calls,” and I thought “the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” were very deep — meaty, not milky.

Finally, although it may (though I think not) have first obsessed me somewhat later than high school, Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” What makes me think it may have grabbed me later than high school is that I pretty much translated that to “thinking Christianly” (which “mind” justifies better than does the untranslatable Greek nous), and I think that “translation” came in college or even a bit later still.

All three of my passages/”life verses” seem to me introspective, or at least relatively so — “figuring stuff out” more than “doing,” and sinking roots more than (to use the modern barbarianism) “moving fast and breaking things.”

* * *

I don’t know if the best way to characterize our different verses, mine and my classmates, is as acorns, as in “mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.” That metaphor seems like the idea that encouraged us Evangelical lads and lasses, very wet behind the ears, presumptuously to grasp the nettle by picking a life verse anyway.

I tend to think a better organic metaphor is “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree,” or even Immanuel Kant‘s “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”

Scriptures are many and varied. There’s no scriptural reason why one should be guided primarily by II Timothy 1, another by Ephesians 3, Romans 12, and Hebrews 5 and 6. I suspect we latch onto verses because of how our twigs were bent by our DNA, our upbringing and such — even our our gut flora, as science seems to be finding. But I don’t think relativisticly that Evangelicalism is the “right” Christian tradition for my classmate, Orthodoxy for me, because of such things.

I believe there is a deeper human nature to which Orthodoxy responds fully and of which Evangelicalism at its rare best only dreams of. Orthodox Christianity is what I was dreaming of unawares as I dreamed of  being rooted and grounded in love, filled with all the fullness of God, going onto perfection, renewing my nous.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

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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

* * * * *

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).

Making it up on our own

Over the Christmas holiday 1969-70, I attended Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s “Urbana 70” Missionary Conference, along with, as I recall, 10,000 or so other young people.

Two episodes at the conference stood out in my memory these 50 years later. One is irrelevant for present purpose.

The other was an epiphanic episode wherein it was first announced that communion would be served to conferees at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall in a New Years Eve service. It made me feel all warm and comfy inside.

Then some spoilsport posed a question that conference organizers felt they must answer: By what authority was a parachurch organization enacting a sacrament of Christ’s Church? The question stunned this low Protestant boy, who had no answer, yet somehow felt that the proposed service was meet and right.

Organizers farmed the question out for answering to the late John R.W. Stott, low church only by the standards of high-church Anglicanism, who invented, live and in front of mostly smart and pious kids, a completely unpersuasive (and thus unmemorable) answer.

The show went on, but I was left pondering a conundrum, whenever that memory came back, until events decades later cut the Gordian knot: The questioner was right: IVCF had no authority to administer sacraments and should not have.

Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship was tacitly Inter-Varsity Low Protestant Fellowship when the rubber met the road, just as Christian Legal Society was really Low Protestant Legal Society. It’s an error it’s easy to make in America, where even the public schools in my childhood were tacitly Protestant.

That episode in my life came back to me as I read the following in a paean to the late Rachel Held Evans:

At every conference she hosted, Communion was served, and the table was always open. She knew how important its tangible reminders were, especially for those told they had no business imbibing the bread and wine.

I crave your forgiveness if it seems too proximate to her death to say anything, but I didn’t go looking for this; RHE’s own friends brought it up to eulogize her, and I’m loathe to let it pass.

I don’t doubt that this felt right to her, and that she meant as well as she knew how to mean. But at this point in my life, it shocks me, as something analogous apparently shocked someone 50 years ago at Urbana 70.

My shock today has little or nothing to do with her table being open, with all that implies in the context of her life, because surely all that was on the open table was “bread and wine,” not the body and blood of Christ. My shock has to do with the scotoma of “sacrament” without church. (Learning the meaning of “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” was part of what cut that Gordian IVCF knot for me.)

Some critical analysis in a long-form piece from 30 months ago, which I just discovered, is highly relevant: Alastair Roberts, The Social Crisis of Distrust and Untruth in America and Evangelicalism. It surprised and delighted me with its insight into how we get anti-vaxxers, President Donald Trump, autodidact super-peers — and, by implication, your Uncle Harry the climate denier (who has “done a lot of research on this hoax”) and churchless sacraments. It’s longish, but joins a very select club of clipped articles I’ve tagged as “important.”

Let he who has ears to hear, hear: This is not about Rachel Held Evans; it is about Church, about rightful authority, about the erosion of trust in rightful authority, and about the unreliability of most of those who, uncredentialed, fill the resultant void.

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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).