April 13, 2011

For those of you in the Northwest (of America, I presume).


April 06, 2011

Culture and Sacrament

A friend of mine, whom we'll call Mysterium, was written a letter from a friend of his, Ralph.  Mysterium and Ralph went to seminary together.   Ralph's nephew, Jack, is a Christian and is intending to marry his Christian boyfriend.  Ralph wrote to Mysterium for his thoughts. 

I have a few thoughts about Jack, but no advice.  My thoughts can be summed up in two points, but there is so much to say on the subject of the fate of Christianity in American culture, that my two points can't be put simply.  I will reach the two points by way of a recent experience:
I was on the campus of Oral Roberts University.  When I pulled into campus my first impression was the extreme ugliness of the buildings.  The architecture is not merely ridiculous, it is decidedly unchristian.  I say this as a former architecture student, an amatuer art historian and an Orthodox Christian.
Every culture produces art (painting, music, architecture, literature) that expresses and communicates its cosmology.  Every culture.  There are no exceptions. Roman Catholic culture as well as Reformed Protestant culture as well as Hindu or Islamic culture.  All human beings express themselves in collective as well as individual modes.
The architecture of ORU is the product of a futuristic materialism.  Many people notice this, but few will ask the important questions: How did this happen?  When did Protestantism lose its native art forms?  Or, why did it consciously (or unconsciously) trade in the transcendant architectural language of the Church for the empty language of space-age sensationalism?  The man who built these ugly buildings and named them after himself also called himself a Christian.  He was either ignorant of Christian tradition or he chose to reject it. 
Yet, if you walk around campus, seeing no Christian architecture, you will see lots of Christian words - signs inicating that one of these bulidings is a "chapel" and one of them is a "prayer tower." 
Here's one conclusion: Christianity has no language in which to express its unique Revelation.  It cannot any longer take and transform the world   It can only paste labels over the deeply etched impressions of secularity.  And for anyone really paying attention, the secularity is still the most outstanding feature.
What if my example of the campus buildings at ORU is indicative of Evangelicalism overall?  What if this hideous architecture is the norm? 
What if, in all areas where cultures conflict, Christianity has already given Secularism the upper hand - thinking that "Well, science is doing great things.  Look how fast we're spreading the 'gospel.'  Look at the all the compassion and charity we can send out to the world.  Look at the giant churches and amazing architecture we have produced..."?
Eventually, this trend continues from the external to the internal things.  Surrendering our symbolic language, we soon lose our spiritual language.  What if, as soon as we are willing to slap a Christian label on bad buildings, we are willing to (and now practiced at) re-labing morality?  We borrowed marriage and monogamy from Secularism so long ago, we think they are Christian concepts.  But they are not!  The Pagan and ancient Hebrew worlds knew marriage and monogamy.  
Now confusion is added to confusion, and we take the secular idea of equality and the naturalist idea of homosexuality, and paste on them the 'christian' labels of marriage and monogamy and we think we have made homosexuality Christian! 
The genuinely Christian concepts that correspond to marriage and monogamy are Sacrament and Chastity.  How long has been since these words were dismissed from the Christian vocabulary - especially the Protestant vocabulary?  Perhaps a century or two?  Perhaps longer: marriage-as-sacrament was rejected at the Reformation.  Slowly, the idea crept into the Christian mind that marriage performed in the church and marriage performed by the state are equally valid and equaly meaningful.
I can't stress this point enough.  For Christians, Marriage is only valid when it exemplifies the Kingdom of God.  Monogamy is only valid when it is according to and submitted to the spiritual life of the Church.  They are good ideas of benefit to humans in the fallen world, but they have no eternal value when taken from their sacred context.
So I have round-aboutly made my two points. 1, Christians gave up 'Christian Marriage' (Marriage as a sacrament) long ago. And 2, for American Christians, any thing, action, or idea is Christian if it bears a 'christian' label.   
After a few generations, no one can tell the difference between Christianity and Secularism without effort.  Christianity is a commodity for sale in the global marketplace.  Why should a young man honor marriage more than other Christians?  Why shouldn't he spend more time in front of the television than at prayer - yet call himself a Christian like his parents and other Christians do?  Why should he worry about his soul when Christians are selling Heaven under the brandname "assurance of salvation"?  Why shouldn't 'marriage' be legal recognition of his sexual orientation - like it is for other Christians?  Why shouldn't he go to an auditorium every Sunday to hear a lecture and a concert - and call the auditorium 'church' and the concert 'worship'?
This is, of course, just the context for a discussion about Jack, and it is rather rough.  I think Jack is probably doing well with what has been given to him.  But he is obviously not digging too deeply into the genuine Christian heritage. 
Very few are willing to dig deeply in these shallow days.

March 28, 2010

A Requiem for Friendship

This article first ran in the 2005 issue of Touchstone Magazine. I'm so happy Touchstone finally made it available in their online archives. It's well worth the read.

March 11, 2010

From Fr. John:

Can anyone help me find the Akathist to Saint Benedict, online?
I would be very grateful

February 10, 2010

Our Life in Christ

Does anyone know what happened to the "Our Life In Christ" podcast from Ancient Faith Radio?

September 03, 2009

St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund

I often get asked by very well-meaning people if I can recommend a charity wherein the money donated actually goes to those for whom it's intended (if you're not aware by now, much of the charity money given in good faith is actually corrupted long before it helps anyone in need). I am very, very happy to make this recommendation that has an Orthodox foundation. The St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund was set-up by two pious Christians who have spent 8 years of their life traveling back and forth to Uganda to serve in many capacities. This is just one of them.

What I can tell you is that 100% of the money you donate goes to the care of the child. Additionally, the founders of this program go to great lengths to ensure the integrity of the program by interviewing all potential children to be funded (and thereby weeding out a lot of fraud) and by ensuring that the children are going to good schools where they are treated well. (One day, one of the founders discovered that the orphans attending one school were being mistreated by the teaching staff -- picked on for being poor and motherless -- and they were immediately withdrawn and placed in another school).

If you want to know more please click on the link and check it out for yourself, or simply drop me a line (the email link is on the right, just below the icon).

August 27, 2009

"Haves" and "Haves Nots"

I've been struggling through these thoughts for two years. I'm sure I'll struggle through them for more to come.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague wherein we were talking about whether or not the support staff (janitors, housekeepers, etc) resented working with people who made so much more money than they did, or were they simply grateful to have a job (isn't it funny how it's merely the contrast that would seemingly create resentment -- if they were working for an equally poor employer 'resentment' wouldn't come up, it seems). This, of course, made me wonder about the contrast between me and those who have so much more money than me. For example, I worked for very wealthy families in Memphis, but I never resented them for having what I couldn't afford. Does Madonna's hair dresser hate Madonna because Madonna lives in a mansion and she doesn't? Do we create resentment by using language to ascribe "you are oppressed" to the 'have nots?' What if we never spoke in terms of oppression -- would people here feel oppressed wherein they are 99.9% of the population? Or do they merely act out the prescription of being oppressed because someone told them they should -- and isn't that just another form of oppression? What then strikes me beyond all that, as I read "The Life of Antony" and he says, "Let none among us have even the yearning to possess. For what benefit is there in possessing these things that we do not take with us? Why not rather own those things we are able to take with us -- such things as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, concern for the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from anger, hospitality?" I then begin to wonder why we seek to give to the poor our lust for stuff. We wish to "save Africa" but we're just giving them stuff. To be honest with you, here I live among the impoverished daily and I walk to work and I pass shanties verily standing and yet I still ask myself, "Who are the poor?" I see that they have clothes and food and family and friends. Will I be able to be at peace if I give them a TV or a wok? Can I sigh in relief at last if I give them a decorative pillow from Pottery Barn? Or maybe they will no longer be "the poor" if a wealthy CEO buys them a Rolex watch that I couldn't afford either. Diamond earrings might go well with their khangas! It seems to me that because we've lost our way, and we, too, don't know how to want what is profitable and good and eternal that we don't really know to take care of the poor. We want for them to have a washing machine. Is this their salvation? Once again I come to the place where I begin to wonder if the division between us/them isn't between me and Ugandans passing me as they carry water in a jerry can on their heads for making the evening meal, but rather the separation between us/them is between me and the Saints... among whom some of those walking with jerry cans on their heads might be numbered. In this regard it seems that I am among the 'have nots.' Certainly I understand that I am afforded a wealth that doesn't belong to those around me, but it is merely passing wealth, and relative at that. There is a responsibility in that, just as there is with any talent we are given. What if, instead of engaging in a language of "we are here to save you and have the means to do so" we instead entered into a language that encouraged all of us 'have nots' to share what we have in order to move toward what is lasting? How would our perspective on Africa and "the poor" change? How would we change if we realized we were on the wrong side of the dividing line?

June 06, 2009

Points of View

Orthodox Worship: Not for Lightweights

If you haven't read this already, it's well worth your time. It's even worth my oh-good-grief-internet-in-Uganda-is-too-slow-for-this time. :) Enjoy.

Get to Know the Original

A nice reference point for your non-Orthodox friends. :)