Thursday, March 31, 2005

Missions and the crucified life

Missions occasionally puts things in perspective. Today in missions class we were having a guest lecturer who’d grown up in a mud and thatch hut roughly the size of a small classroom 30 miles walk through the mountains from the nearest working electricity in Columbia (not exactly a nation-wide Baldor plant in the first place) with his 5 person family. They lived with a particular stone aged people and his parents are still there going on 40 years. He is a missionary in Albania (the only country to outlaw and persecute all religions), stayed when it went into anarchy, and now teaches at the theological school that has formed in that country.
When asked about the sacrifices it took to be a missionary he had a sobering message: How much do American sacrifice every day for lesser things? Think about going to med school. Years and years of tiring work, often while accepting being broke, often postponing the creation of a family, frequently miles and miles away from the family you do have, all because there is a goal there that the person feels is worth it - a good job. What about getting a PhD? How much do some completely secular folk sacrifice just to be able to grind their axes with whatever part of "the establishment" happens to be on their negative list?

We often like to wear our crosses around, but are we willing to live the crucified life? This was the challenge our professor of missions left us at the end. Haunting words. I have to ask myself, am I called to such missions? Could I rough it in these ways? I wonder... I really really wonder.

Sadly, I can’t answer the question. Is this my calling? If it is will I respond? Perhaps baby steps are necessary. I should test the field and see if I have the qualities necessary. So many blessings are possible when we do as our liturgy suggests and "lay aside all earthly cares". This is my favorite part of the liturgy (besides a well done homily). I pray that I can internalize these words and make them my true mission in life. I pray that I can live the crucified life mirroring Christ to the best of my humble ability, yet as of now I can’t say I’m there. It’s a lifelong process and we shall see where it leads.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Early Eucharist is cool

Apparently we might need to thank our Church Fathers for their nebulous statements about Eucharistic meaning. The Orthodox Church has never made a formal statement about the precise nature of the Eucharist and what happens to the elements, but rather affirms that they are the body and blood of Christ. Still, we shouldn’t think this is "transubstantiation" by any stretch as that relies on describing literally what happens to the bread and wine. Instead, we affirm as best put in the anaphora of St. Basil’s liturgy, a multi-faceted nature of the Truth we receive through the symbol of the consecrated elements.

Basically the Church did not have the understanding that much happened to the actual elements until much later in history, namely the 4th century during consolidation. Before that they took a more Pauline and less Johannine understanding to the feast. It replaced the bloody sacrifices that were accompanied by acts of praise in the Levitical practice. Christ’s blood stands in place of the animal sacrifice, and our praise renders the praise aspect. But, it’s not JUST forgiveness, but rather the main point is to discern the Body of Christ, ie the community linked to him, and to render our portion of the sacrifice - the praise accompanying the sacrifice that has taken place through the high Priest (Jesus). What a beautifully simplistic and meaningful explanation. There is no disconnect between symbol and reality, that is a later fad that thankfully we have not embraced.

Monday, March 28, 2005

torn in two by missions

I have recently encountered two very different visions for how Orthodoxy should missionize in preparation for growing in America and claiming it's place in American Christendom.

According to Fr. John McGuckin Orthodox will always be somewhat small. However, he claims that our role is to "live as a witness", not to "build structures, gain heavy endowments, and play ball with the big boys." After all, the Catholics and Protestants here are in many ways big and bad, yet internally they're a mess. They have a hard time standing for truth because they're so tied to their structures. According to this model you want a small and quantitatively elite parish setup with a maximum target of about 100 parishioners, at which time the church spawns a sister church. He points out that it takes a great deal of courage, and we have to have the willingness not to tie ourselves to big structures that are locationally unreliable - this prevents a disconnect between an oversized laity and too few priests, and also means that we can pack up and leave bricks and mortar at a moments notice. Very New Testament.

Yet, there is something to be said for both visibility and pooled resources that come from large structures. They're a standing witness to your presence and also keep beauracracy centralized rather than having to pay a more numerous number of priests, setting up even more independently minded Parish Councils, and in the minds of many quantity has a quality all its own.

I'm torn as I can see both sides, and both are advocated by intelligent and God-centered folk. I'm not sure yet where to put my money and vision.

In a way I should praise God, what an excellent problem to have.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Post on Islamic website

Just for the record

Too often when we philosophize about issues of our day we tend to reflect that hubris of "progressivism". That is, rather than consulting the annals of history, thus of actual living human experience, we over hypothesize various issues so that we can maintain our stances by avoiding experiential proof. After all, those were their problems, whereas we're 'so much more advanced'. I love the pretention as if human DNA morphed into something totally different in a generation or two. This makes sense. It's a lot harder to "prove" someone wrong in a philosophical and abstract setting than it is to make a point incorporated into actual human experience, ie experiential understanding.

I would like to note that our religious texts, be they mine (the Bible), the Jews (Torah/Writings), Zoroastrians (Avesta), Hindus (Mahabarata/ Baghad Gita), or most of nasseb's (The quran), are written first and foremost AS LITERATURE and AS STORIES OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE. That is to say, they more closely resemble Shakespear's narrative of reality than Hume or Kant or Nietsche.

It is my opinion that we should take note of this fact. We are not a creature who lives in a world encompassed only by logical syllogisms and deductive reasoning. On occasion we must apply the experiential test and realize that this isn't in any way "lesser reasoning", but rather a different and equal sphere of knowledge that must be taken into account.In particular, I point to the logical fallacy of "Slippery Slope". It is, and rightfully should be, a logical fallacy as it does not consistently work in syllogisms. Yet, I would offer that indeed it DOES very often hold true with various examples in reality. What makes it a logical fallacy therefore is that it isn't 100% factual, but what makes it useful is when experience has shown that it is 90% useful. We can't just sit smugly behind our prefered outcomes and use logical proofs to deflect reasonable if not absolutly quantifiable/verifiable arguments from life and experience.

Early in my youth I remember playing Dungeons and Dragons with a number of my friends. On the character sheet you had 6 attributes that defined the most basic abilities of your character: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Wisdom, and Intelligence. Notice... Wisdom and Intelligence were different abilities entirely, thought to be quite unrelated, and different character professions rewarded the different abilities. Namely, whereas your masters of arcane lord, the wizards, were intelligent, it was the clerics - the religious characters - who's prime requisite was wisdom.As an example of wisdom as opposed to intelligence, I would like to submit (from lack of better example rather than self promotion), my argument against the lady who led prayers in the Mosque - or rather my response to the article about it. I hope that you will see that I have based my argument on what I believe to be experiential wisdom rather than trying to awe the field with my overpowering intelligence (cough cough, wink wink). I am trying to develop this approach as I believe it is one way to confront the nominalist and deconstructionist tendencies of an overly intelligent but unwise population. The method is still being developed, so take me on record as saying this was a test case. Enjoy:

Although this is an Islamic insider quarrel, and I hate to step in from the
outside, I think you should all realize something. Now of course you are free to
reject my slippery slope argument, since technically it's a logical fallacy, but
I believe that it's experientially validated time and time again.

If Muslims in the US want to use their freedom to reshape Islam in ways
that they see fit, without the consensus of a recnogized and respected ruling
body, just realize that you are guaranteeing denominations for the future. First
there will be this split between male/female prayer leading mosques. Second
it'll be about sexual orientation. Then something about leadership style.
Finally you'll start getting splinter denominations like the Jews and Protestant
Christians who can barely even tell you with authenticity that they "are" a Jew
or Christian.

In Christianity it has been those groups, namely the Orthodox and to some
extent the Catholics, who have been unpopular, but who continue to grow - mostly
because they don't sell out to the winds of change. It may help short term, but
schisms hurt future generations and take people out of community and out of
conversation.There may or may not be room for female leaders of Muslims prayers,
but please heed this: If the precedent is set that the way to make the rules is
to break the rules, Islam in the US will be essentially unstructured in any real
sense within 2 generations.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Saint I ain't

Apparently there is a St. Roland of Riga. I'm not sure about his dates or Orthodoxy, but the only other St. Roland is St. Roland de Medici, which is well out of the necessary parameters for Orthodoxy.

Sigh, it's so hard sometimes being a non-cradle Orthodox. :-(

3 Views: Orthodox and evangelicals in dialogue

I highly recommend the book Three Views: on Eastern Orthodox and Evangelicalism.

Basically the book presents the question, can Orthodox and evangelicals agree to co-exist (I think the implied here being 'without seeing each other as a valid mission field")? Each side has a writer for yes, no, and maybe.

My overall analysis of the book is that the Orthodox win the presentation hands down. In fact, the best part of the book is how long exactly it takes the Forward writers to tell the reader what exactly an evangelical IS. Nassif Bradley, the first Orthodox writer, pounces on this opportunity to make the comment "perhaps evangelicalism is inherently a minimalist position."

Also telling is the "no" Orthodox writer Vladimir Berzonsky, who essentially says that evangelicals need to become Orthodox. While this sounds arrogant to the outside, as an Orthodox convert I sympathize and see where he's coming from. Our claim on the Church doesn't lead us to be real "ecumenical", but we don't mean it in a non-loving way. When Vladimir says this, he attacks evangelical history, but he confuses Reformed history with Pnetacostal/charismatic history. This is where the response from the Protestant authors becomes most pronounced. He shortchanged us! What about the confessional Churches!? What about the Northwest Freewill REformed Evnagelical Tongue Speaking Baptist Alliance who doesn't believe this or that at all!

While it's true that Berzonsky used an excessively broad brush to paint evangelicals with, I think it inadvertantly served to show the very problem with the Protestant position - which Protestants are we talking to? It's hard to address 15,000 different ununified doctrines. It's like playing dodge ball where only one team is allowed to move, and then cries out "haha! you missed!".

All that said, Baptist convert George Hancock-Stefan, a Romanian Orthodox by birth, nails we Orthodox in a way that is hard to resist. He does it with love of course, but he hits us where it really hurts. We all know what I'm talking about don't we? He avoids arguments of theology and simply says "Ok fine you The Church you, show me the money. What kind of parishioners are you turning out?"

SLAM! Thud! We're down for the count.

Sure, we can argue that we've produced saintly men, and even saint-producing parishes. At the same time, can we deny his charges of ethnocentrism, clericalism, ecclesialism, and liturgical immobility? I think we can't. Most of our people, whether or not we like this fact, are theologically and biblically ignorant. They know a few punch lines, but basically have no idea about Christ as their savior or their daily responsibility to put on the mind of Christ.

The biggest difference between me now and me 5 years ago is that these facts don't shake my conviction that Orthodoxy is the Truth when properly expressed. We as Orthodox must face the music and realize that we are only The Truth so far as we are fully ourselves.

I thought perhaps Dr. Hancock-Stefan's best point was that while Orthodox dogmaticians speak in terms of 'theosis', Orthodox laity (especially in the homelands) speak in terms of Baptisms. That's how we count heads both on earth and in heaven. Hardly the idea or vision presented by our scriptural faith or tradition. Before we can present ourselves as the truth we are, we must first fully live into ourselves and begin to authenticate some of our own claims.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Getting rid of that Orthodox Christian God crap

Well, I guess it wasn't even for Attaturk and co. to kill off all the Christians, now they've got to annihilate the fact we were ever there. Nice work. I'd like to give a special shout out to the German tourists who are keeping it real for Christmas-indulging-atheist-tourism.


Turkish town trades St. Nick for SantaLocal hero demoted in statue swapBy Karl Vick
Updated: 12:23 a.m. ET March 24, 2005 DEMRE, Turkey -

In the 4th century, a bishop named Nicholas was a local hero in this seaside town, living the kind of life that eventually led to sainthood. For most of the 16 centuries that followed, Saint Nicholas was known chiefly as the patron of sailors, barrel-makers, small children and Russians.

And though it's not entirely clear just when the historical Saint Nicholas began to meld into the image of the jolly man in the red suit, historians can now say precisely when the transformation was complete. On Feb. 3, the Demre City Council voted unanimously to erect a statue of Santa Claus in the town square, replacing a bronze statue of the Saint Nicholas who merely lived here.

"This is the one everyone knows," Mayor Suleyman Topcu said of the plaster-of-Paris figure put up in place of the elegant bronze. "We couldn't figure out what the other one is." They are finding out. The demotion of the real Saint Nicholas did not go unnoticed. Offended parties include Russian Orthodox tourists who venerated the saint made the patron of their homeland by Czar Alexander II; the sculptor, also Russian, who donated the bronze statue five years ago; tour operators who pitch Demre as part of a tour of Turkey's religious history; and an assortment of bystanders who see the town's elevation of Santa over Nicholas as the ultimate commercialization of, if not Christmas, something dignified and sacred.

"The one out there is a joke," said Ozay Eryener, a Turkish tour guide ushering a busload of Germans through the ruins of the ancient church from which Nicholas's bones were stolen in 1087 and spirited to Italy. The bronze statue, with its halo and arms extended benevolently, now stands at the entrance to the ruin, tucked unobtrusively between a stone pillar and a bit of wall.

Its demotion passed without comment by the Germans accompanying Eryener. "We prefer not to tell them," he said.

Demre is not a place where one more Saint Nick would necessarily attract a lot of notice. Images of the secular Santa beam from the stone archway at the edge of town. His bushy whiskers, rendered in lamb's wool, spring from the hand-woven wall hangings on sale in vendors' stalls. The city's official seal features a handsomely stylized Santa framed by a dashing red cap. A tinsel palm tree glimmers on streets lined with the real thing.

"We don't know what to think, really," said Guray Yilmaz, a local vendor. He stood in the shadow of the sun-blasted Santa, beside his display of local spices: nutmeg, red pepper, "sex tea" and black cumin. "The tour guides come and they get angry. Then other people say this is more popular.

"The local people say this is better," Yilmaz said, with a nod toward Santa. "The other was a priest, a Christian."

Turkey is, after all, overwhelmingly Muslim. Nicholas lived in Demre before the prophet Muhammad began reciting the words of God on a mountain in the Arabian Peninsula. In the 4th century, Demre was known as Myra and was part of the Roman Empire. Saint Paul changed boats in its harbor while roaming Asia Minor spreading the Gospel. A massive stone amphitheater still stands at the edge of town, drawing tourists in the lee of rocky cliffs laced with impressively carved tombs.

Nicholas, whose birthday is observed Dec. 6, was renowned both for his generosity and for his passionate, even violent defense of the young Christian church. He was said to have slapped the face of an Egyptian who questioned whether Jesus was equal to God. He also is said to have saved Myra from famine, three boys from being pickled in a barrel and several poor local women from lives of prostitution -- the last by secretly dropping bags of coins into their homes at night so that they could wed.

Such late-night largess may be the thread that connects the historical Nicholas with his modern incarnation, so famous globally that even Muslim Turkey claims a version.
Noel Baba is our citizen," said Faruk Akbudak, a senior bureaucrat in Demre, using the Turkish for Father Christmas. "We respect him. We embrace him."

"Yes, the people prefer this one," said Topcu, the mayor. "But the foreigners do, too."
That may be true of some foreigners. Numerous Germans, whose affection for Christmas is legendary and who tend to visit Turkey's southern coast in the winter months, are said to have been receptive.

"It's like 'Christmasland' in America!" said Karen Loreol, a Swiss national on a German tour bus last week. "There is a replica of the 'Silent Night' church in Salzburg!

"I love it," she said. "Christmas is wonderful."

Russians feel differently. It was a Russian sculptor, Gregory Potosky, who cast the bronze statue as a gift to the city of Demre in 2000. And it was Russians who would pile out of tour buses -- as many as 80 buses a day in summer -- and fall to their knees to pray before it.
"And without letting us know, or letting the artist know, they changed the location, which shocked everybody here and in Russia," said a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "He's a very important saint, a very important figure in Russia."

Topcu said the city would take steps to mollify the Russians. The bronze, he said, will be given a more prominent position in the Church of Saint Nicholas, which Czar Alexander II paid to restore in the late 19th century. The move is promised by the time the Russians arrive in summer.

But there's no plan, he said, to take Santa off the pedestal.

"The old one was nicer," said Mehmet Cavus, another vendor in the row of stands pitching "Saint Nicholas icons" in signs written in Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet.

"And the old one the tourists treated as something holy," added Hayriye Koc, wandering over from her stand. "They respected it. They prayed to it."

She looked up at the man in the red suit. "This one," she said, "doesn't have that."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company