Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You've got to know the right story to tell them

I just saw Walk the Line, a movie about Arkansas music legend Johnny Cash. At one point as a boy he's laying in bed with his brother who's reading the Bible. When he says to his brother "how is it that you read and remember all those stories in there?" his brother responds "Well JR, I wanna be a preacher someday, so I've got to know the Bible front and back. You can't help nowbody if you don't know the right story to tell them." So beautifully simple and poignant. If only we could see things as such. It makes me proud of all the Bible literate, although otherwise nearly illiterate, self-trained backwoods Baptist preachers in my family. Theology aside, this represents the best of the congregationalist evangelical Christian upbringing from which I come. Although I find myself in a Church they would barely recognize, I think that they were offering salvation to the many and pastoring to the best of their ability the sheep entrusted to their care. May I one day be worthy of calling myself their descendant, and May their memory be eternal.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I'm often struck by the fact that devout Orthodox people qualify every statement they make with some reinforcement of their own sinfulness. You ask if it's ok to murder five people as long as you eat the meat and you're libel to get some answer like "Well...of course I'm just a worthless sinner myself. After all, you killed five people and I spilled the coffee on my brother without the proper amount of remorse and so we've both fallen short of Christ, but I think maybe you should think about..." etc.

It strikes me that as late as the time of Constantine there was still a very open and undecided debate within the Christian community as to whether or not one could sin after Baptism. Now obviously the side of the sinful people won out, and rightfully so. I certainly don't find sinless people in my life. However, I think it shows that people didn't think on their horrible, sinful nature in terms of every passing thought. If I had to guess, I'd say it's got to do with the good old fashioned monastic influence again, but I'm not positive.

On the other hand, I think there's a right and a wrong way to affirm it. The wrong way is to walk around slouched over with a huge beard and your face to the ground to avert thine eyes from the light while prayerfully contemplating your own sinfullness. The right way is more like the Apostle Paul when he writes one letter saying "do as I do" and another claiming that he has a thorn which is always with him. It's fine to have weaknesses, and we should own up to them, but we need not dismiss the diea of the heroic quest and the virtuous life. Life can be lived with more and less virtue, even if we shouldn't be so prideful as to name who is and isn't virtuous per say. Otherwise we're going to stick ourselves in conundrums like 'if you're happy that you did the Lord's Will then you're a prideful sinner", or some similar catch-22. Too annoying.

Did you keep the fast?

A Moment in Pharisee history:

Me: Hey where have you been?

Person: We've been at the Chinese Buffet. Oh man, I ate so much I can hardly walk.

Me: Did you at least keep the fast?

Person: Uhh well... I didn't eat meat or cheese. How exactly do you 'keep the fast' at a buffet?

hahaaha. That's great.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mathews-Green article on late marriage and cultural speed

Whatever you think of her, occasionally Frederica Mathews-Green has some really nice things to say. In particular I appreciate this article on the abnormality of our social arrangement where youth and dating are concerned.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Letter to Christine Whalen

I have recently had some nice correspondence with Catholic social commentator Dr. Christine Whalen who wondered if I had any input for her in terms of ideas for future articles on the Busted Halo site, which promotes Christian sexual ethics for the unmarried. This was my response:


After reading all of your articles I've now synthesized what might be my input.

As someone looking at going into 1. The priesthood but also 2. Orthodox priesthood, which not only allows for but in many ways rewards married status, several things strike me, namely that those who are serious about their faith are often willing to consider options others consider relatively 'extreme'.

One I"d like to touch on is the very conversation I had with some other seminarians here before I stumbled across your writings:

Can we, as Christians, simply make the best of a bad system? I'm always critical of copying secular methods and expecting to 'Christianize' them. As a wise professor of mine in undergraduate said "When culture and religion collide, the majority will always be won by the culture." This is further explicated in the works of the great Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas in his book 'Resident Aliens' who argues that for Christianity to be taken seriously Christians must become comforatable being aliens to the culture at large. They must become comforatable with the idea of being considered by the majority "those peculiar people who don't kill their young and nurture their old beyond their years of productivity."

I think our courtship methodology must be considered a co-worker in this process. Protestant author Joshua Harris in his book "How I Kissed Dating Goodbye" makes a great case for what he calls 'courtship'. Although often scoffed at as undoable, he is not the first author to suggest such a thing. In fact the Catholic Tensely Center has for years advocated a similar view.

One thing is for sure - it's not enough to ask heroic individual efforts from the faithful. If we merely say "date, but don't have sex", then we're wanting to put cake in people's faces and tell them 'but don't eat it please'. Rather, we must as a community be willing to radically revisit the idea of dating. This needs to be backed up by some inter-denominational dialogue, even by Catholics and Orthodox who tend to see themselves as a breed apart. It needs to be supported across the spectrum - official teaching pronouncements from our higher clergy and proponents from pulpits in parishes nationwide, advocating such methods especially in college groups which are notoriously ineffective in providing a substantial counter witness to the culture at large and settling for mere damage control.

This will also require so many of us to revisit our own past. We cannot go into it with a view of "well I'd be a hypocrite", but rather we need to think of it as a possibility to give something we never had to those younger than us. It can't be an ambiguous thing. We must do things the only way authentic Christianity allows - as a body.

Another part of this I believe is asking the question about marriage trends. One of our social authors Frederica Mathews-Green has a really nice article on her website ( ) about early vs late marriages entitled "Let's Have More Teenage Pregnancies". Again, for many of us (the two of us included, assuming you're unmarried) this will entail a critique of our very success. Those of us who have remained pure, or realtively so, must remember that we are a critically small exception to the rule. It's not really natural to be an unmarried 30 year-old and it entails such a large variety of additional pressures. However, if we make the move to younger marriages it would, as Mrs. Green admits, necessitate a massive community effort.

Do we have the strength and fortitude to do something signiifcant? Can we really stand against the Ba'al's of this culture with strength and conviction? Or must we sell out our ideals for occasional personal success stories and trite answers that ignore much of why we're failing in Pure Sexual love and descending into generationaly name calling (you'd think that those under 30 simply share a defective DNA making them inherently more promiscuous than previous generations. I believe it's a way of deflecting failure in our raising).

That's my input for a potential article.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lady Stardust

"The femme fatales emerged from shadows to watch this creature fair, boys stood upon their chairs to make their point of view, and I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey, Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay, and he was alright, cuz the band was all together, and he was alright, and his song went on forever, and he was, up all night, and really quite out of sight, and he sang all night, all night long." -David Bowie

It's cryptic, I relate to a piece of it I think, I'm also being cryptic, just had to put it on paper somewhere to remind myself later, about things that simply aren't going to be in the public forum, ever. ;)

Sorry, this is a private sort of entry in a public forum, but decoding it would be impossible except for my tightest associates - they'll get it. Mwahaha!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Come receive the light

Tone 5 - Pascha service

Come receive yet the light
from the light
which is never overtaken
by night.
and glorify him
who is risen
from the dead.

Love it!

Canon Law exchange

Student "A" - a given student here
"Me" - me

A: Well, remember, at the center of Canon Law is Christ.

Me: Uh no. At the center of Canon Law is Constantinople, and I'll bet you money that I have more references than you do.

A: Are you going to stop hating on our canonical tradition?

Me: I have not yet begun to fight.

A: Seems like the mid-term would have been a great time to start.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Popular Culture - teaching our kids the sacred and profane

They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common,
and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. In a
controversy they shall act as judges, and they shall judge it according to
judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed
and they shall keep my sabbaths holy. -Ezekiel 44:23-24

This passage, which I ran across in my daily disciplines today really spoke to me. I think it's speaking not only to the Zadokite priesthood, but ahistorically it is speaking to the role of the priest to teach the different in the sacred and profane in any culture. We as priests must take a lesson from the Protestants. It's not enough to allow easy out's about the movies we watch, the books we read, the habits we have, etc. Rather, we must teach people the discernment between sacred and profane behavior, or rather, "common" behavior. We must be specific. No cop outs about "being like Christ". Fine fine fine, but what does Christ think about X and Y.

Of course this is uncomforatable because it will cause us to give up many of our own favorite vices. It also will force us to first channel our own mind so that we can become metors. No more "just vegging out" to nasty programs. We think we're immune, but hardly. In this state we're still receptive to messages and nuances. And, in the end, they will mold how we think, what is normative, and what we're allowant for. Everything has a worldview informing it - a presupposition of goods, bads, indifferences and what to do about them. We're losing right now - the culture wins more than it loses. Perhaps we need to enter the fray a little more vocally.

Lastly, I think there's something not to learn from the fundis too - I wouldn't necessarily advocate non-engagement with the culture. Rather, I think the ORthodox route should look something more like "critical engagement" of culture. It's necessary to view and be viewed by the culture at large so that we know how to engage it. That doesn't mean we should "experiement", but rather that we should actively participate as critical dissedents. We have to know something before we can critique it. It may be appropriate to watch a movie, and then have a little discernment with what we can and can't validate about its message. What is the worldview here? How should we respond to it? Where do we see it in life? Do we know anyone with this presupposition?

As the website title indicates - Wise as Serpents. We need to be. It starts with the world around us, and "vegging out" is hardly a wise enterprise.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sermon on Luke 11:34-41 and Philippians 2:17-23

We bagan today’s readings with this selection from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

"Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me."

The apostle Paul is a scary man. He’s of a particular breed of men called Zealots, which means that he exhibits the trait called zeal, usually defined as single-minded devotion a cause and/or person. Zealots cannot be easily bought, swayed, or bargained with. For them there is never the two schools of thought, but there is only one true way and it judges all other ways. They serve one master and one master only.

Our modern sensibilities have a hard time stomaching these kinds of people. They seem to us rather rude and presumptuous. When we think of zealots we tend to think of Muslim terrorists, Marxist rebels, Nazi death camps, Jim Jones, and Kamikaze pilots. Indeed we should. In their own way all of these people are zealots, and they unnerve us.

However, our faith is built on the blood of no less zealous people. The Apostle Paul, as we already heard, viewed his imprisonment and likely impending death as an opportunity and even as a cause for rejoicing. Is that how we would react if put on death row? Would we think of it as a prime opportunity to witness to other inmates? I venture to guess… probably not.

You will get no less scandalous of a witness from later martyrs. They too saw their hardships and deaths as opportunities from God. It was with their very lives that they held fast against all manner of persecutions and scorn. If anything the Church had problems keeping would-be martyrs from straying into self-aggrandizing suicide. How much we have changed since those days.

What we must realize is that zeal, like anything else, is only as good or bad as the master it serves. If it serves the various demonic ideologies and ism’s available on the modern market, then it should scare us all. Zeal derived from a lie is a catastrophe waiting to happen - witness September 11th four years ago, less than 20 miles from here. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable power to zealous believers, no matter what the cause that far surpasses their numbers and resources.

That being said, for those who do not believe in Christ, zeal for the Truth should be a little scary too. Not violently so, of course, but the secular world shouldn’t be entirely comfortable with a genuine Christian in their midst. The self-declared lords of this world fear nothing more than to have a self-denying zealot like the apostle Paul stirring up the people, willing to die rather than pay homage to false god’s. The only thing that scares them more than a Paul, content in his own persecution, is the knowledge that there is a Timothy right beside him willing to jerk the cross necklace off the grave of his teacher, put it around his own neck, and go forth to the same end.

It takes a certain type of man to think of death row as an opportunity. It took a certain breed of person to tell Pharaoh to let his people go, it took a very particular sort of character to prophecy against Jerusalem for its sins while it was a thriving center of trade. In a world where we’d all rather compromise, meet half way, and smirk it all off with "oh well, to each his own", it scares us to have Paul’s and Timothy’s in our midst. They’re a reminder of how far we come from living out our vocation to the fullest. We tend to resent that. It’s only in the fullness of time that we love our prophets.

Perhaps the fact that our instinctive identifications of modern zealots are communist guerillas and Muslim terrorists rather than Christian Confessors should tell us something about ourselves. It isn’t the Muslim terrorists or communist guerillas that have trouble recruiting these days. Misguided cults and aggressive Secularists certainly don’t have to beg and plead for their members to contribute time and money to the cause. You know why? Because they’re unambiguous. They stand boldly for a message and vision that the lazy world around them does not. They are called out of the world to serve their various masters. Their members know for a fact that they’re getting their money’s worth.

Be assured brothers and sisters that none of the terrorists who rammed planes into the twin towers on September 11th were confused as to whether or not all religions were alike... you know... "deep down". Do not think for a minute that anyone living next to the Branch Davidion compound in Waco were under some sort of delusion that their neighbor’s religious convictions didn’t make any real, tangible difference in how they chose to live.

So how do we cultivate the kind of zeal we see in others and put it into service for the
Kingdom? In some ways it’s easier than you might think. Needless to say the way of the
Cross isn’t learned overnight. It starts in the smallest of things. Saints are made every day
by parents reading Scripture with their children, ordinary people saying grace before
meals, spouses praying together for fidelity, single people staying true to their calling of
chastity, simple service projects worked in the community, and of course a few small
minutes each day spent in silence with God.

It falls on us, future leaders of the Church, to shepherd our flocks towards such practices.
If we do not, then we fail in the charge of leadership for which God has called upon us,
and we will be accountable for these failings on that day.

Let us pray to keep our eyes, and those of God’s people, turned towards things of the light that come from Christ’s self-giving love, so that we are totally illumined as Luke spoke today. Let us build ourselves, our children, and our laity with all of those small disciplines that gradually form zealots in the faith, so that when our times come, we are all willing to witness for Christ against all the Pharaoh’s, isms, terrorists, and other Ba’al’s of the world who would enslave God’s people to their falsehoods. Let it be said of us, as Paul said of Timothy to the Philippians, that although others seek their own, we seek first the things of Jesus Christ our God, who alone is worthy of our zeal.

And what separates our zeal from that of any crazy serving any other cause? Only this –
that our zeal is for Christ our God, the existing one, who reigns together with his Father
and the Holy Spirit, now ever, and unto ages of ages, amen.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Arkansan idol - Man whips buck with bare fists

What a Man!

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - For 40 exhausting minutes, Wayne Goldsberry battled a buck with his bare hands in his daughter's bedroom.

Goldsberry finally subdued the five-point whitetail deer that crashed through a bedroom window at his daughter's home Friday. When it was over, blood splattered the walls and the deer lay on the bedroom floor, its neck broken.

Goldsberry was at his daughter's home when he heard glass breaking. He went back to check on the noise and found the deer.

"I was standing about like this peeking around the corner when the deer came out of the bedroom," said Goldsberry, demonstrating while peering around his kitchen wall. The deer ran down the hall and into the master bedroom — "jumping back and forth across the bed."

Benton County Sheriff's DepartmentGoldsberry entered the bedroom to confront the deer and, after a brief struggle, emerged to tell his wife to call police. After returning to the bedroom, the fight continued. Goldsberry finally was able to grip the animal and twist its neck, killing it.
"He was trying to get up a corner wall and I just came in behind him and grabbed him by the horns and just started pushing down," said Goldsberry.

Goldsberry, sore from the struggle, dragged the dead animal out of the house.
"He got kicked several times. He was walking bowlegged for awhile," Deputy Doug Gay said.
Benton County Sheriff Keith Ferguson said that when he arrived he found the deer dead in the front yard. Goldsberry intended to have the deer processed for its meat.

Gay said that, this time of year, bucks that see their reflection in windows often charge them, believing the mirror image to be a rival.

On Monday in Pine Bluff, the principal of Coleman Elementary School rid his building of a deer by opening a door. Students were preparing for dismissal Monday when a deer crashed through a window and bounded through a hallway.

The buck floundered on the school's slick floor for about three minutes exiting via a door along the side of a hallway. Principal Bill Tietz said the deer was slightly injured from the glass and lost an antler. Tietz said the animal leapt a 6-foot fence after leaving the school.