Saturday, May 14, 2005

nice pondering material

Soren Kirkegaard: “The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Triumph of the academy

Overall I'm usually nice about the fact that a seminary arrangement is more than a little bit silly in some ways. I mean come now, look at it - Here we are in a vocational school for a profession that's based on unseen faith which has as a pre-requisite that things are not always as they appear. Our solution: Study it.

Now don't get me wrong, education is great. Education has always been an integral part of the clerical caste, and this has always included an intellectual element. Still, today there was an interesting contest of priorities.

We have a student-run project, started by Theo and yours truly, which essentially goes like this: We collect money from the students, order several hundred mini-burgers from White Castle, buy some little brown sacks, economy-sized chips, and various flavors of sodas, sack it all up 4 burgers/a chips bag/and a coke apiece, and hand them out to as many people at the Emergency Assitance Unit for homeless families as we can. Cool huh?

Now I don't want to downplay student contribution; the seminarians were very very generous and the effort would have been completely fruitless without them. Still, of probably 20 people I asked to come along with us to do the manpower side of the job...well lets just say that at the last minute I ended up with 2 (both of which were one of the four who went last time). Everyone else had papers to write and books to read for finals.

Am I misreading priorities? I haven't always had the greatest ability to gauge priorities, but it seems to me like "I'll help give treats to the homeless once I've got my paper done a full day early" isn't exactly the dead-to-self WWJD kind of answer the gospel seems to call us to.

Somehow the whole mindframe behind that kind of answer seems to say a lot about how we're taught to prioritize. Sure, be a Christian and do goody-two-shoes things if you get the chance, but what's REALLY important.... make sure to keep up-to-date on your studies. Don't want those grades to slip while you're out there trying to live the gospel! I mean really, let us not overstate the point, don't make yourself stay up that extra couple of hours and break your mode of concentration just to bag a few burgers!

The whole thing in some way seems to represent the triumph of the intellectual-first nature of our religion. I should be the one to gripe I know, but it does.

Another thing that seems really... telling. I notice that it isn't the raging social justice libs that get out there. Now of course they applaud the effort from the sidelines. Hell, they're even willing to work the desk job that makes your endeavor possible, but when it comes time for the soles to meet the pavement it's always the worker bees who end up doing everything. Someday we're going to learn how to properly respect and validate the effort of our worker bees. Being only a mild one myself I'm from a family of sterling examples, and don't let anyone tell you differently - they're the ones who keep our boat afloat. Everyone else either doesn't care or, like my Amnesty and social-justice Christian friends, feel it's their job to "raise awareness" about this or that situation. Now of course they end up mostly "raising awareness" to other "aware" people, who are themselves busy "raising awareness", all the while the awareness raisers are just praying that they can lure the intistinguishable swarm to come do the real sweat and blood work of fixing the problem at hand.

Again, I don't mean to toot my own horn, or even say that I'm right. Lord knows that without him I wouldn't help a soul, and especially I wouldn't be able to tolerate it after my first endeavor (I haven't ever helped any kind of poor run where the people we were helping didn't contain at least a few ridiculously ungrateful souls). On the other hand, I wonder what the Lord would convict us of if we asked him in prayer? For me everything seems to go a little more spiritually smoothly when I do my part, both financially and physically. So really this is a bit self-rewarding for me, thus I'm not a good example. Nothing makes me happier than making someone else happier in the way the Lord would be happy about. Let happiness flow! Now of course, if I were to pray "lord, sleep in or go to matins?" I think I wouldn't like the consistent answer I received, so I'm certainly not meaning to judge, but rather I guess I'm just seeing that in the end we've all got self-centered priorities. God help us.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Christ is Risen... all over the place

This site ROCKZ

non-PC on film

I've decided it's my life's work to realize this vision - to write and film the most anti-PC movie every made.

It's going to start with a Kabal of Tibetan Buddhists and Secular Jewish Khabbalists summoning an army of hypostatic Demonic monsters who are impervious to all non-holy weapons. The secularized world mobilizes it's armies and is destroyed. Soon they turn over their hope to the only remaining hope - The Pope (an extremely by-the-catechism Papist who was in hiding in Georgia due to liberal Catholics putting a price on his head) and his band of Sons-of-the-Confederacy reenactment cavalry. After they're all baptized and submit to the full and unbridled supremacy of Holy Mother and Apostolic Church they're joined by a reserve division of the Swiss Guards and they ride off to do climactic battle with the demons armed with weapons blessed in full liturgical style (after attending a Confession).

The movie ends with with the demon army in route back to a physical hellfire. The Pope and his triumphal host then come up en mass. A majestic scene is filmed, camera lens gradually expanding due to the sheer number of horsemen, with the retreating ranks of demons parting to let the cavalry through. The host will be led of course by the Pope who will seperate them by doing the sign of the cross and all the demons will bow down before the triumphal array, who of course will be flying numerous banners, foremost among them the Vatican coat-of-arms, the Stars-and-Bars, and the Maltese Cross (since I'm damn sick of the Templars and Freemasons always getting shafted in movies too).

Oh yes, and although this might be a concession to the liberals, the cavalry will be of all different races to represent the tremendous diversity of the Apostolic Faith while the fallen demons will all be Secular wealthy white people to reflect their general make-up. Then, the heavens will break open in a massive burst of lightning and the angels will descend, Flight of the Valkyries playing in the backgroud, to take the fallen heros to heaven (can't have a proper non-PC film without some Wagner for the good guys).

Riddly Scott - eat your heart out.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Earlier today I saw Kingdom of Heaven. Overall I was pleased with my experience.

Of course most of the movie toted the Hollywood line on morality, religion, virtue, etc. All the religious clergy characters were unforgivably, all of the individually spiritually characters were good right down to their very core, and all of the fanatics were completely without merit (not to mention somehow powerful yet unskilled... how these morons ever rose to prominent ranks the world may never know).

It's interesting to see how 21st century Americans transpose themselves onto 12th century French and Syrian characters. All of the characters resembled our own personality archetypes much more so than 12th century personas. There's the humble peasant who rises to the top, the good humble peoples of the land (I mean this movie really goes the extra mile... Hitler didn't even have the propoganda firepower to make the Lander Volk quite this humble, quite this pious, or quite this innocent and unconquered), the good King (president) who wants peace and religious harmony, the Evil King (a right-wing war mongering xenophobe), and religious notions, while cute, always have to be tempered with a little secular American know-how (sure Americans weren't there, but surely their crusading ancestors in the Holy Lands were constantly trying to give the peasants their Universal Human Rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the pursuit of happiness, and the pursuit of happiness, by which we mean the pursuit of happiness on one's own materially-centered terms).

The Crusades are often used as the example par excellence of Religion gone horribly wrong. It's all a bunch of mindless hatred in the name of God and Evangelism. I take real exception to this meta-narrative. The Crusades were the logical end of two civilizations clashing. Sure, there were religious overtones, but one has to appreciate them more like the religious tensions in former Yugoslavia today - religion is but one of many complex features defining the line between two groups who view one another as live-or-die competition, just as Serbians are incidentally Orthodox, Croats are incidentally Catholic, and Bosnians are incidentally Muslims (yet all in reality are predominately secular). At the end of the day it's people who are competing for land and wealth. This idea that there's always enough to go around is basically post-Indisutrial Revolution and shouldn't be read back into older ways of reasoning.

The crusaders for their part had just seen 2/3 of historic Christendom snarfed up in 300 years by an upstart faith which they viewed as little more than a powerful heresy. Naturally it wasn't hard to stir up the drums of war to go even the score.

Also, let's not forget that learning, literacy, and social contract were all on the undeveloped end of the spectrum in the early 12th century. We have a habit of imagining a vast host of conspiring PhD's behind all the evils of history. Rather we should think of a time when different virtues abounded. Life was seen as more immediate, kill or be killed. War was waged by powerful men who were substantially more clever than those they led, but also not what we would call modern UN diplomats. So-and-so King of such-and-such didn't have to go through the Security Council to get a resolution authorizing the use of force. He simply gathered up his boys with promises of something better and charged off to take what was "his". We also shouldn't imagine that a Baptized culture is the same as a Church-going culture. Sure, the Lord might Baptize the Pigswine's kid, but the Pigswine and family probably weren't regularly expected at chapel. That's a later date. And sure, the clergy were literate to a certain degree, but not enough to challenge any kind of beauracracy ruling, nor enough to make elaborate ethical arguments on behalf of their poor, put upon parishioners. Besides, the Baron who owned their church was probably a cousin, so do we think they're going to lobby against them? These weren't seminary educated people who had 4 years of undergrad and 3 in vocational grad school, they were just certain folk set aside to do the church work.

All that aside, it's interesting to see our virtues and values personified on-screen. The movie is worth the watch if only to let your mind rest and soak in the good plot, 1 - dimensional yet inspiring characters, and to see good cinemotography at work. Sword-and-sandal epics are just good fun.

Of course it's also fun to turn your brain on and think of how comical it is to see 21st century people vicariously solve the issues of the 12th century with their ideals of justice and equality. Instead of naming the characters, just think of them as "that's the one the director wants to be" and "that's the hypocritical evangelical kid who tried to convert him in college" and "that's the one who beat him up on the playground".

The Majority Culture?

Recently I was reading the back to the cover of a book about a certain recently deceased person of some fame who shall remain nameless. The reviewer took great pride in telling the story of this person who "challenged the moral establishment of the day... for him, nothing was taboo... a penetrating insight into a counter-cultural mind."

Now last I checked, albeit that's been a while, "counter-cultural" assumed there was an opposing culture there to be countered. Where is this wonderful culture and where do its inhabitants live? A quick trip down numerous streets in NY will leave the reader certain that the book couldnt be referring to this city, nor do I believe that any of my suburban homes would cut the mustard.

As best I can tell, folk such as this, be they Madonna, Hunter Thompson, Britney Spears, or any other variety of pop idol, command a much higher degree of attention than even the most widely read Christian author. Sure, people are starting to know who James Dobson is, with his ultra-conservative views, but ask 100 people at random if they know Dobson or Madonna and I guarantee you that he will get outvoted fast.

Where is this land of Bible-Thumping prudes? Where are these sexually repressed nitwits? Where are these people who never entertain rather dark topics in the course of casual conversation? Where are these drug-adverse prohibitionists?

The problem here is that every generation follows the old military addage: "The army is always prefectly prepared to fight the previous war." Which is, of course, a backhanded way of saying they're never ready to fight the current one. The Culture War is the same thing. The well dressed rich WASP who mindlessely stifled their kids to the terrible realities around them and who really needed nothing more than a little hippy liberation army to show them the way - it's a caricature of a time gone by. If anything it's now the hippies who need tempering. It's now the religious establishment that needs help, it's now the vulgar we can't even keep off of the screen (big or small), it's the ability to believe in some and not the ability to critique that is currently lacking.

I think the reason that people are turning more conservative, particularly those of middle age voting credibility, is that they realize the pendulum swung too far. Oh and be not mistaken, these are the same hippy Baby Boomers who once believed in Sex, Drugs, and Rock'N'Roll as the catch-all solution to world issues. Finally it's come full circle. Did our society have huge sores and blisters of problems 2 generations ago? Definately. It's no wonder that the youth reacted the way they did. But, as with most crusades, it started out with divine intentions to help the folk and it ended up burning the churches with the people still in them.

There's no doubt that we live in a less grounded culture than we ever did before. Political pundits kept talking about Bush and Kerry being "divisive figures".Well, maybe. I would propose that it's more accurate to simply say that they were figures who represented a divided population.

It's true that there are two Americas, or maybe 200 Americas. It's not the have's and the have not's though. Indeed, it isn't Republican or Democrat either. I knew plenty of Republicans that felt dirty voting for a President who had gone to war in Iraq, I knew plenty of Democrats who could hardly pull the lever to sign off on an anything goes moral platform. Fact is, I knew very few true believers on either side. Most of the sincerity was true belief negative - they just couldn't stand the other guy.

In any case, the one thing I certainly can't substantiate from my own observations is that what we really need, and what's really lacking, is an envelope pushing, rabble rousing troublemaker. We're not lacking for drug addicted sex fiends like the person described in the review. What we're lacking is a few good people to tow the line - We're lacking an establishment worth attacking - We're lacking some prudes who need offending - We're lacking an envelope that hasn't already been pushed to the creases.

Orthodox Models of Atonement

I posted these as a response on Erica's website to how Orthodoxy answers Protestant views of atonement. Rather than go overly much into critiquing Augustinian-derived views (since I'm not sure whether or not Augustine meant them the way they're used), I simply posted various models of atonement that are acceptable. Keep in mind that no one theory is sufficient to explain the variety of reasons for "Why the Cross?" and "How does it work?". We've spent 2000 years trying to figure out exactly what happened, and that's the bottom line.


I agree with Bishop Kallistos. There is more than a smidge of theologoumena involved in any answer to "why" the cross.

I would offer these points as my two cents in the discussion:

1. Jesus died voluntarily, since being sinless he didn't have to die, but since he was sinless then the power of death could not hold him as it does sinful human beings. Thus his death threw a monkey wrench in the whole birth-->sin-->death cycle. Hence why he "trampled down death by death".

2. The Jewish backdrop is necessary for explaining blood sacrifice. Although not all Jewish sacrifices were bloody, blood was necessary for certain acts of contrition. Blood is consistently seen as offering a penance to God (think Passover). Jesus' blood somehow mystically took the place of all of these sacrifices, thus extenting the potential for grace to those who accept the offering on their behalf.

3. The pure horror of that form of death would ensure that people understood how serious was the call of God on their life. Doing the will of the Father, as the Son did, is the call in spite of the bloodiest and most terrible death imaginable. Hence why Jesus says, before his own death or method is revealed, that to follow him one must "take up your cross and bear it." The cross is the ultimate "thy will be done."

4. So why the cross and not any random instrument of death? Well St. Paul believes that the cross, being a cursed way to die under the law (Deut 21:22-23). It defiles the land to have a body hung overnight. Thus, the Jews were guaranteed to reject Jesus as the messiah. Therefore, the offer could be extended to the gentiles (since according to scriptures the Jews had to be given the first offer as God's people). This is why the crucifixion is a "stumbling block for JEws". When the gentiles received the same covenant, then it would make the Jews jealous and they would also desire to accept Christ and the New Covenant. This is born out in several epistle passages that I'll look up if anyone wants a synthesized and biblically referenced answer.

5. As for the Ransom, the ransom is paid to death, not Satan and not the Father. Death is the consequence of sin. "Ransom" in our minds leads to the inevitable question of "who receives it", but apparently that wasn't the biblical prerogative. The Ransom is paid to a condition, not to a hypostatic being. Bishop Kallistos stated this much more incisively that I can replicate.

I'm certain this isn't an all-encompassing answer to why the death and why the cross, but I hope it lends some insight.


(Some Questions and comments were posed in the ongoing posts, here they were)

Ray, your explanation is really good; thank you! I still don't really get the ransom not being paid to someone/thing, though.Thanks for the references, Basil...I'll look around for them. Oh, and my experience with Bajis' book is that it fulfills its purpose well (you just need to have the same purpose). And Lossky's book just confuses me. A lot.

Not to be anti-intellectual...but, one of the things I love abou the Orthodox Faith is that I don't have to understand this. I just have to believe it. And if I have trouble believeing it, there is a whole Church beleiving it for me. When I was chrismated and recited the creed, the whole Church recited it with me, supporting me. They didn't ask me how I understood what happened on the cross.When I was a Calvinist (most of my life) I was constantly having to ignore more and more of the Bible in order to keep my theolgical system from falling. But in Orthodoxy, it is assumed that we will not understand because God is inconcevieable and ineffable. Even the Theotokos stood by in amazment as her Son died. Even the angels were terrified. Who am I to understand?

Ray, I appreciate your response too. But I have a question about one thing. In addition to your post here, Schmemann -in Of Water and the Spirit- also wrote (or at least seemed to say) that Christ’s death was voluntary precisely because He was sinless and hence didn’t have to die. But is it really His sinlessness that reveals His death as voluntary? If sinlessness were the prerequisite for deathlessness, then what do we mean when we say that the Theotokos was sinless but that she died (the Dormition) before being raised and taken up by her Son?Is it proper to tie the voluntary nature of Christ’s death to His sinlessness, or is it more proper to tie it to the hypostatic union of His human nature with His divine nature? Isn’t it more correctly the latter that reveals Christ’s death as voluntary?


I would argue no. His Divine nature is certainly WHY he was sinless, but sinlessness is the prerequisite for immortality... theologically speaking (always remember that's a theological proposition, not a forensic fact).As for the Mother of God, keep in mind that dogma in this area is really sticky. There is no formal dogmatic pronouncement that Mary was sinless. Liturgical piety sometimes has a habit of obscuring or overchanneling the formal teachings of the church.


the idea behind the blood payment to death is metaphorical - the blood was the price to be paid in order to prevent the finality of death. Think of the blood stopping death short in the same way the blood of the passover lamb did. Sorry... as seminarian as this sounds I'd need to look back over some documents before I carried through with a really logical explanation of how this works.


Sometimes it's intellectually very astute to be anti-intellectual, and I Agree with you that it's not as if Orthodoxy subsists on a 900 page catechism that the reader must authorize. It's more something understood and lived. "Taste and See", not "taste and understand."

Ray,“Liturgical piety sometimes has a habit of obscuring or overchanneling the formal teachings of the church.” A fascinating admission, one that few Orthodox would utter, I think. But in this connection, I recall that some of the greatest of the Fathers, including St John Chrysostom, did not hold or propose that the Theotokos was sinless, but in fact presume personal sin in her. I can’t recall the citation, but I know I’ve read it in St John.



Let me see if I can tackle your question more fully.

We would agree there is a reparation to be made, but the difference is in the nature of the payment and who demands the payment. God sends His Son to do what we cannot do--not satisfying God's majesty or honor or to assuage divine wrath, but rather that which we were created to do: to love properly.

We can't do this because we are caught by sin, evil, and death (the condition of our mortality).We can be forgiven by God (which is essential), but the mess is still there.

Christ works to clean up the mess precisely by loving unconditionally, which, in this world means persecution, suffering, and death.Love and forgiveness destroys/undoes evil and breaks the cycle of enmity.

Jesus says, in effect, that "You want your sin to destroy me and you. I don't accept that. I love you."The question here is, who is holding us hostage, and who is getting paid?

Not Satan. If the Evil One gets paid then the blackmailer gets his payment. That means Satan wins. Such isn’t really an acceptable answer.

Not the Father, because that would mean that the Father delights in the blood of his Son. We can say that the Father accepts the sacrifice of his Son, but he doesn’t demand it. The sacrifice isn’t per say pleasing to God, but the sacrifice does right the wrong by overcoming evil and death through a sinless life. It’s the humanity of the Son “getting it right” that rights our position (deathlessness). It only takes one perfect person to set the train back on the rails.

The debt paid was the debt of Love. To love is to follow God’s commandments (as in one is synonymous with the other, hence why the opposite is what originally lead to mortality and expulsion from Paradise, theologically speaking). St. Basil’s anaphora even says “He gave Himself as a ransom to death”, freeing us from the hold that the condition of mortality has on us. So, the “debt” is what had to be paid in order to right man’s condition. By doing things God’s way 100% of the time, which is what it took to get rid of death, Jesus “paid” for it.

Let me use an analogy from Dr. Peter Bouteneff (dunno if it’s “his”, but I got it from him):If soil is corrupted, you need to restore the soil to the condition where it can do what you want it to do (grow things). This may take a lot of money and personal sacrifice to do, so you can say at the end that "I paid a price", and the price has been paid, in effect, to the situation.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cave of Blackest Despair

Last night I came back from a long hike in order to grill out, drink some beer with the other seminarians, and then... watch Phantom of the Opera? Ok, so this part wasn't planned, and I wa exaughsted from hiking, but I'm glad it happened.

Late in the movie, when Christine pulls off the Phantom's mask and he then whisks her away, the Phantom sings "come with me to my cave (or hideout?) of darkest despair." I was like wow cool, I want one! Only one person in the room could pick out what I was alluding to (that's called too much time around me). Doesn't it sound like the neatest thing to have?

Now sure, many would think that it's a little odd to want a batcave where you can go put on masks, be completely removed from natural sunlight, play dark organ music, and sulk with the other nocturnal creatures, but hey, I think it sounds cool. It's like how some people have a getaway house in the Carribbean. Sometimes you need a little more seclusion than just bottling yourself up in the old room, especially in a dorm setting such as my current predicament.

Being dark and forboding every now and again is good for the soul. Of course it has to be balanced with some sunshine and excercise, but I think it's a good investment, especially since the land value of dark underground caverns isn't exceptionally high, you should still have money to indulge your other habits with abandon.