Catechumen

Crazy that I haven’t posted anything here since near the end of June. I’ve been putting off writing a few different post ideas, but I didn’t realize it had been that long! Some of the ideas I had are still going to be put off a bit more, because I want to write about something else today.

What is that something else? I’m glad you asked.

Back around the time when I last updated this, I was just finishing up with the last few Sundays serving at Collective Church. Since I didn’t really talk to anyone other than those necessary about my departure because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it… I guess I can start this off talking about the why of it, in case anyone from Collective reads this (I’m always surprised to find out people actually read these things).

After months of reading about the Orthodox Church, I decided to visit one. So, around the end of May, I visited a Western Rite Antiochian Orthodox parish. I was intrigued enough that I continued to attend every other week. After that first visit, I reflected on it for a week before deciding I would ask for a leave from being on the production team – I wasn’t sure if it would be temporary or permanent. I visited a couple other churches and ultimately found that I really felt comfortable at one in Potomac – part of the American Carpatho-Russian Diocese – called Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church.

I’ve been to Holy Resurrection 5 or 6 times now, and recently made the decision to make it my home parish. Even before this, I had already decided that I want to start Catechumen classes to being the process of being received into the Orthodox Church. However, deciding on a home parish needed to be done first. About a week ago, I spoke with the priest about starting those classes and they should be beginning in the next week or so.

I look forward to beginning them – I’ve done a lot of reading but I’m sure I will continue to have more questions and I’ll get things answered that I didn’t even know that I should be asking.

What I found most interesting as I began researching and visiting is that in many regards I already agreed with a lot of Orthodox theology in many ways – by which I mean that when I read it I sort of thought – “you know, I’ve felt that way about this for a long time” – particularly their theology on original sin differs in a significant way from the western church (read: Catholics and Protestants both). I still have so much to learn regarding Saints and the Church fathers – but I feel so much more connected to the history than I ever did before.

I guess some folks might be wondering why I would want to become Orthodox. Perhaps even simply “What made you decide you weren’t happy at Collective?”. The answer to that question is… nothing. I didn’t really seek out something different so much, I just got there through looking at historical Christianity – searching for things about the early church, etc. I became enthralled with it, and I was also surprised by how easily some of the things I initially felt that I disagreed with I was convinced on.

So – I’m not sure how long I have to go to truly become Orthodox – but that is what I’m on the path toward now. And I’m pretty excited about it.

The Modern Heresy


“There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
-Leo Tolstoy

“He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man … might become the son of God.”

-Iraneus of Lyons

“The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.”

-Athanasius of Alexandria

“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self — all your wishes and precautions — to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’.”
-C.S. Lewis

A few months back (I think, it can be hard to keep track of time) I decided to take a break from following politics. Now, I still look at the news sometimes, and might catch some political stories here and there, but what this really means is that I stopped listening to the political podcasts that I had been listening to. Also, I severely cut back on watching such youtube videos (The intent was really to not watch those at all, but, I confess that sometimes I find something enticing and watch it). The result of this was actually what I pretty much figured it would be: No real net loss to me in any area and I generally feel less frustration and probably am generally happier than I otherwise would be.

Much of what gets thrown under the political sphere these days though would probably be more correctly identified as culture. It only becomes political if you decide that government should have some sort of role in everything. A character in a game I was playing the other day said “Everything is political”. While I disagree with the statement myself, I think there are a lot of people out there who hold that to be true.

The Tolstoy quote I referenced up top has a shorter, punchier variant that is perhaps more popular: “Everyone thinks to change the world, but no one thinks to change himself.” This is a big part of what I want to talk about here. So much of how we engage with each other in the modern world is through trying to change other people to fit into our idea of what a better world would be. Everything becomes political because the government becomes a tool to enforce that change. Most times when people propose a law or a regulation, it’s to bring the world more into line with what they believe would be better.

I think that there is at least one major problem with this line of thinking. That is, you could very possibly be wrong about what would be better, or good. Do you really know what all the possible consequences of enacting a certain law would be? Want to get guns off the streets? How about a gun buyback program? (Follow that link and tell me if you still think it’s a good idea.) The truth is that as people we tend to oversimplify issues and don’t appreciate the complexity of the problems that we are dealing with. Changing the big picture is extremely difficult, because there are so many small details and we are incapable of seeing how they all interact.

What really gets to me though is the way in which many Christians respond to the question of how to redeem the world (to use Christian language). I think that many or perhaps most Christians put too much stock in the government’s role in this, but I am particularly disturbed by those I will call “social justice Christians.” To be clear, I am not making any judgments as to whether or not someone is a Christian – but I do believe that by engaging the world on the idea that we can achieve perfect justice, or something approximating it, via government might, is heretical to the very essence of Christianity. The world can only, and will only, be redeemed by God, through the incarnation. We should not think we can pass that role on to the government.

Western thought is really closely associated the the idea of individualism. I think individualism is a really important concept and that we’ve made a lot of great developments based on a Western understanding of it, however, I will say that we’ve perhaps overemphasized the individual by too often neglecting the communal. On this point, anyone reading this who has been disagreeing with my up until now has probably found something we can agree on. By and large, we do not value our communities as much as we should – and we often neglect to really see ourselves as part of our communities.

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which he brought up “the social contract.” It’s a term that I really hate. Why? Well, the definition of a contract is: “a written or spoken agreement”. For a contract to be a contract, there must be at least 2 parties, and they must come to an agreement. “The social contract”, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with an agreement. But while I hate the term, I don’t necessarily completely disagree with it. I do think there are certain obligations that we inherently owe each other. That’s a big part of what being in a community is. We are all made better by helping each other.

One of the things that Social Justice Christians like to point to in defense of appealing to governmental redistribution of wealth is the Church in the book of Acts. Primarily this passage:

” All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

– Acts 4:32-35

Yes, this is a picture of something approaching socialism. However, it is an entirely voluntary thing for the people taking part in it. The Roman government was not involved in these transactions. One of the key things to note is that the passage credits God’s grace for the lack of needy person’s among them, and not Caesar. The Romans certainly collected taxes from these people, but they took care of each other as a community of their own free will, not by government compulsion, and not by seeking the government compulsion of others. The modern equivalent here would truly be living in a Christian commune. You can absolutely do it – and if you really believe that you should share all you own with those you are in community with, I think you should. And I’m not at all saying you’re wrong to believe that. What you can’t do is use this passage to support government compulsion of the redistribution of wealth.

The key problem here, and why I say it is a heresy, is that when you look to the State to be the savior, you are putting the State in the place of God, and making the State into your own god. God has saved, is saving, and will save the world through his incarnation. He is bringing mankind into community and unity with Himself via the Church. Our part in that is to open ourselves to His grace and mercy and to be changed and shaped ourselves. Our part is to love those we interact with as best we can.

Our part is NOT to dictate to others how they should be helping others. It is not to tell them how they should be loving others. It’s certainly not to enact laws that force people to do what we think is best. None of us humans are perfect, and we could all do better than we do. Until such time as we achieve perfection, perhaps it would be best if we focused on changing ourselves instead of changing others.

And if we should do so, perhaps we should consider this short exchange:

Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: “Father, to the limit of my ability, I keep my little rule, my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and to the limit of my ability, I work to cleanse my heart of thoughts; what more should I do?” The elder rose up in reply, and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: “Why not be utterly changed into fire?”

“Why not be utterly changed into fire, my son? Do not stop at the limit of your ability, but neither stop before it. Strive to the fullness of your being, but never in the belief that your being is your limit. Desire, long, and journey, but every step a step with one who falls afresh in fire and glory on his servants who walk here in the ground. Why not be utterly changed into fire?”

Prayer

“We pray with fingers crossed,
But you listen patiently anyway.”

-In A Market Dimly Lit, by meWithoutYou

“Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.”

-C.S. Lewis

“The ultimate purpose of the spiritual Way is not just a person who says prayers from time to time, but a person who is prayer all the time.”

-Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

In a few of the episodes of a Podcast I recently finished listening all the way through, The Areopagus, one of the hosts, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, talks a bit about how he struggled for a long time with his daily prayer rule. He also mentions what he eventually realized was the problem: He didn’t really believe that it did anything. If it’s not accomplishing anything, then of course, you’re not going to want to do it.

It’s definitely something that I can relate to myself. I went a pretty long time not believing prayer really accomplished anything. Yet I have had, for as long as I can even remember, a habit of praying as I lie down to go to sleep. In many ways it was kind of a brain dump. I softly spoke aloud all my concerns, needs, and any wrongdoings I may have recalled doing that day. Then, not too long ago, there was a period of several months where I was simply mad at God, and I intentionally ceased those prayers.

I guess for most of my life, my thoughts about prayer have been that I’m not sure whether or not it does anything. I can’t say that I’ve ever asked for any particular big thing in prayer and had it come to pass. I mean, sure, I’ve had “answered prayers” before, like I prayed that I would get a particular job and I got it (but then again, there are an equal number of times I prayed I’d get a job and I didn’t get it). My experience just doesn’t tell me that anything is more likely to happen if I pray for it than if I don’t. And the impossible things I’ve prayed for, have, sadly, remained impossible.

Recently, I’m thinking that perhaps prayer does do something, and has been doing something, but it was not the something that I thought it should be doing. When I have asked myself, “Does prayer work?”, it has largely been self-focused. I am asking for things that I want and then basing whether or not it worked on if I get those things or not. Now, sometimes those things are things that I am asking for someone else, but still, there is a self-focused component there.

That’s not to say, though, that prayer doesn’t do anything for the person praying. In fact I believe it does. But while it is good to ask God for the things we desire, or to bring complaints when we feel we’ve been dealt with unjustly, those things should not be the goal of our prayers. The goal of our prayers should be communion with God, union with God, becoming like God. The act and habit of praying itself opens us to God and shapes us toward that end.

And when I think of it that way, I do get the sense that prayer is doing something. In the time periods I’ve prayed both fervently and consistently, I do genuinely see that happening. Prayer seems to be the very act of dying to one’s self to enter into communion with God.

A new addition to my prayers that I have discovered in Orthodoxy is “The Jesus Prayer”. I’d heard it referenced by that name several times and it took awhile before I knew what they were talking about. At first, I thought perhaps it was another way of referencing “The Lord’s Prayer” (it’s not).

It can have a few different forms, but the basic prayer is:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

A big part of the idea here is that when you don’t know what to pray, that is what to pray. Simply ask for mercy.

Schism


“The Reformers did not see themselves as inventors, discoverers, or creators. Instead, they saw their efforts as rediscovery. They weren’t making something from scratch but were reviving what had become dead. They looked back to the Bible and to the apostolic era, as well as to early church fathers such as Augustine (354–430) for the mold by which they could shape the church and re-form it. The Reformers had a saying, ‘Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,’ meaning ‘the church reformed, always reforming.’”

– Stephen Nichols (Historian)

I mentioned in my first post in this “series” that I, and I feel like many other people, feel a need to get back to the early church. To restore something that has been lost. Frank Viola felt that way and his solution was organic church. I didn’t mention it in my last post, but that was really what the Restoration movement was all about as well. And as you see from the above quote, it’s also what the Reformers were all about, and from their efforts, we got Reformed theology, and more generally the Protestant church. So clearly this sense of needing to find the early church is strong among many Christians. But the Reformation was now over 500 years ago, so evidently they didn’t figure it out. I’d imagine to some degree nearly every Protestant denomination (and non-denomination) represents at attempt at restoring the true way of doing church.

At the time and place of the Reformers, there was only one church, the Catholic church (the Eastern church existed as well, but they were completely cut off from each other. If you were a Christian and you were in the West, you were Catholic). As you’re probably aware, the Reformation is generally considered to have begun with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of Wittenberg. What this represented, really, was a call to debate the practice of Indulgences, which, along with the notion of Purgatory, was a medieval invention of the Catholic church, and quite clearly a way to make money off of the faithful. It’s not too different from a lot of those TV evangelists, I suppose. It was never Luther’s intent though, to break away from the Catholic church. He sought to change things from within. It wasn’t until he was excommunicated that he just sort of embraced it and started what ultimately became Lutheranism.

So, since we’re interested in the early church, let’s take a look at a high level timeline:

Now, on a timeline like this, “Early Christianity” looks pretty nebulous. What does that mean? The timeline above is a pretty typical layout used by Protestants. If you go to Catholic or Orthodox sources, it differs a bit:

Note that the different between getting this from a Orthodox perspective or a Catholic perspective will change whichever church continues on the straight line, and which one branches off.

The text is small, but note that the First Ecumenicial Council was in 325, and is where the Nicene creed was first developed (finalized at the Second Ecumenical council). The Biblical canon was established by the 5th century. All of this is happening during that nebulous period.

So why did it take almost 300 years from Pentecost to have a council to establish a creed? Did Christians just not know what they believed for 300 years? The real problem is that for 300 years the church was forced to largely operate underground in the Roman empire. The Church was able to establish itself somewhat even in the very early days we see recorded in the New Testament, but it wasn’t really until Constantine, the first emporer who was really friiendly to Christianity, came to power that they were able to operate more freely. Note that I’m not a historian and even with that caveat, I’ve only got a high level view of the history of this era, and I may be simplifying this. Nonetheless, all the Church structure that many Protestants don’t seem to like, such as Bishops and Patriarchs, etc, were all pretty much established in the first 500 years. A lot of Protestants object to “priests”, but that title was in use by the 2nd century.

All of this is really just to say that there was a real and unified Church during this time period. Yes, there were heresies, and there were some schisms, but the Church was largely united up until 1054 AD (though the seeds of this had probably been in place for awhile before it officially happened).

Here’s this relatively short but helpful video (Made by a Catholic, but it seems to me like it’s a pretty fair treatment)

There’s plenty more to be learned about the Great Schism, but, I’ll suffice it to say that in my opinion it seems to me that the Bishop of Rome was the one who forced the split, and that it was largely because of his insistence that he should have more power. And I do think that Catholics seem to have added a great deal to the faith – and that those were in part things that led to the Reformers wanting reform, and also in part things that forced further schism as how do you argue against Papal supremacy from within? If one guy has all the power, how do you affect change?

I think that Protestantism was probably the logical end of Roman Catholocism, and I think that the endless denominations and non-denominatiions of Protestantism is the logical end of Protestantism. And I don’t think it’s a good end, because the prayer of Jesus was:


“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

John 17:20-23

Christians are hopelessly divided, and that almost entirely comes from the seeds of the Reformation. The Reformation still strikes me as being necessary, and yet, the consequences are very dire.

All that being the case, it seems to me there is a very strong case that the Orthodox church is, as they would say, the fullness of the faith. That it has continued unbroken and in unity since the beginning of the faith. And so, I’m deciding to give Orthodoxy a try. I almost want to use stronger language than that, but I’ll be honest, I’m still in the early days of entering it… I’ve only been into an Orthodox church one time so far, after all.

Journey

Apologies for the delay on this followup to my previous post. I was a bit sick this week and as a result haven’t had a chance to write again until now.

I mentioned previously that one of the things I’ve had a big focus on for years is this idea of getting back to the early Church. I think that it’s something that a lot of Protestants have a sense of… but that we don’t really know what that means or what it looks like.

For a brief period, I thought I had figured it out: House church. Back in the days of Borders (RIP), on one of my many explorations of their shelves, I came across a book called Pagan Christianity. It was written by a guy named Frank Viola (and co-written by George Barna, whom I generally paid less attention to). Now, it called into question a great many common church practices, citing pagan origins for them (hence the name of the book). I unfortunately seem to have the book stored away somewhere that makes it difficult to access it, so I can’t really reference it to cite the exact arguments he made. But, I can see on Amazon’s preview chapters such as “church building”, “order of worship”, “the sermon”, “the pastor”, etc. I do think it’s important to note that he didn’t come down on the position that these things are inherently bad – but he did, as I recall, have either strong criticisms regarding aspects of them, or otherwise note that it was not the best thing. At any rate, the position that you really land at when you get to the bottom of it and say, “OK, Frank, what’s your point? What should we be doing?”, is what he called “Organic Church”. Don’t know what that means? Read his books, and then you still probably won’t really know what it means – but you’ll kinda sorta have some vague idea.

So then I moved on to his next book, Reimagining Church, which was more specifically about this whole organic church thing. And he had a couple more books too, including Finding Organic Church. I sort of followed him for awhile, I definitely enjoyed the books at the time and found them helpful. Anyway, remember at the end of the last paragraph when I said to read his books if you don’t know what organic church means? Yeah, you probably shouldn’t bother. Spoiler alert, here’s what appears on his website’s FAQ these days:

I also stopped using term “organic church” because it’s meaningless today, and I’m not an advocate of “house church.” I’ve not written on the subject of “church” for many years, in fact. While I stand by every word of my earlier books from 2008 and 2009, I’ve moved on to focus on my broader ministry of the deeper journey, which is relevant for all believers regardless of their view of “church.”

Frank Viola

You could also see this link if you’re interested where he “explains” the difference between house church and organic church: House Church vs. Organic Expression

You might think it’s a pretty poor explanation, so do I. And despite writing 2 entire books on the subject, he never really seemed to explain it well enough so that people could generally figure out what he meant by organic church, but the house church movement certainly did latch onto his writings. That said, that also was not a widely successful movement – depsite a lot of efforts on my part I was never able to track down a functioning house church that I could be a part of. It was very disappointing. And when Frank Viola stopped championing organic church, well, I have to feel like that was functionally the end for that.

At this point, I have to say, I think that Frank Viola’s real definition of organic church was really essentially house church as he happens to prefer house church to be, though I’m sure he’d tell you no, it’s all scriptural. But hey, Lutherans are going to tell you the way they do church is all scriptural. I bet Frank and the Lutherans can both cite Bible verses to back up their respective points. We’ll circle back to this point eventually… maybe not until the next post, we’ll see

I should also mention, when all this was going on I was sort of getting more and more distant from the church. Not in terms of beliefs or anything, just in terms of attendance. I think there were probably a lot of reasons for that, but it’d be off topic for the moment. I was primarily going to the young adults group that my church had, but within a few years of college ending, the things that I liked about that group were no more. So I quit going, and I guess you could at that point say I was in some sort of exile.

Then an interesting thing happened. I had this period where I started to feel like there was something wrong with the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment. It bothered me, a lot, like, to the point where I was almost willing to say, “You know what? If that’s what God does, maybe I don’t want to serve this God.” One of the things that I came away from Pagan Christianity with though, is an idea that Rome had fundamentally changed the nature of Christianity (but don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Viola has taken the position that Hell is not a place of eternal torment, so far as I know, he has not done that). The person who did write a book on that at about that time though, was Rob Bell.

Because I’ve been reaching for a video to work in here, check out this promotional video for the book:

It’s been awhile since I read it, but I feel like I recall the contents of this one a bit better than Viola’s works. If Hell is a struggle for you, I think it’s a good read. Really though, Rob Bell doesn’t tell you what to think in the book, he just asks a lot of questions. Now, that said, Rob Bell believes something about Hell, and while I don’t know specifically what he believes, it would be disingenuous to suggest that he believes in the eternal torment view. That just doesn’t seem likely to me from reading his book.

Interestingly, I saw this quote pop up on my Facebook feed today as something I had shared however many years ago back when this whole thing was very controversial:

“Many of the Christians who have been fussing over this subject have been uncharitable, uncivil, and ungracious in their discourse. This, to my mind, is an even greater issue than the actual controversy. How we treat those with whom we disagree speaks volumes. If we disagree with other Christians, let us disagree in Christ.”

Frank Viola

Still very good advice today when dealing with anyone we disagree with.

Now this is where I’d say I entered my period of deconstruction. I started to seek out writings from folks in the Emergent Church movement – another thing that I always found to be kind of nebulously defined. This period isn’t totally disconnected from my wider long term goal of finding the early church.. but I think the thing is, I thought I’d find real Christianity by getting rid of the stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there. This was all sort of predicated on the idea that the early church had in fact been lost to humanity; that it could not be found by discovering it where it exists, but only by taking some piece of the church and cutting away at it until everything that wasn’t the “true church” was gone. Then of course there was that whole pesky thing where perhaps the Romans had fundamentally changed the nature of Christianity, and so I also became a bit interested in books about the very early church, and also with books that had not been canonized (after all if Rome corrupted Christianity, it had likely happened by the time the canon was established). I read some books about some early heretical groups as well, really nothing that I found to be particularly compelling – though I did think iut was interesting to read about.

During this time I was also going to a church near where I was living in Burbank, CA: Central Avenue Church. For a person in deconstruction it was kind of the place to be. I don’t know if that’s still true – maybe if you’re well along the path and are somewhere near the same space that they are, and also on board with leftist politics and/or generally mixing political messages with your church. Suffice to say, if I still lived in Burbank, I would not be attending there. I could say more on that, but, I feel like I’m getting off topic.

While I was attending there, I was exposed to some books by a guy named Pete Rollins. Some folks may recognize the name. I actually met him a few times as well as he did a couple things at the church there. I found some of his work pretty interesting, but ultimately I sort of concluded that his “pyrotheology” stuff is kind of just a lot of bluster. I mean look, he’s a smart guy, but I don’t think he’s onto anything here. Maybe what he does will be helpful to some folks – there are some interesting insights in the books I read.

The problem with deconstruction in general is that it sort of forces you eventually into this place where beliefs don’t matter. It’s not just that you don’t have to be certain about everything or have answers for everything, but that you can pretty much believe whatever it is that you want. It may not be what these types teach, but I do see that it’s where it seems to lead. For a brief period, I was starting to think of myself as sort of a Christian agnostic. What I meant by that was, I was interacting with God and spiriituality through the Christian tradition but that I wasn’t really sure what I meant by God, etc. I eventually realized I didn’t want to stay in that place, and I started reconstructing. And I think that’s where the other problem with deconstruction lies: Most people forget to reconstruct. They just stay in that nebulous state of “well, I don’t know…” Of course you cannot know everything, and you shouldn’t try to be certain of things you can’t be certain of, but you should absolutely make the effort to know the things that you can know.

In any case, I had moved away from Burbank and back to Maryland. I briefly attended the church Brian McLaren (of Emergent Church fame) had started in Spencerville, MD – Cedar Ridge Community Church. He was long gone by that point, but, I did enjoy sermons I heard – though, again, they struck me as a bit political. Ultimately though, I stopped going, because I was going by myself and not a single person (aside from the Pastor the very first time) ever so much as said hi to me or shook my hand. If I was an extroverted guy, perhaps it wouldn’t have been an issue, but, well, I’m not. So, I stopped going.

Then ultimately I ended up where I am now, Collective, which I already linked to in the last post, so… one and done. As it was explained to me, they are part of a group connected to the Restoration Movement (or Stone-Campbell Movement). The quote given me associated with that movement is “In essentials unity, in everything else liberty.” Sounds good right? I thought so too, and that combined with sort of seeing them just be really authentic and really be there for people and being willing to show brokenness, is why I started attending, and also serving there. It’s a good place.

However, here’s the problem with that quote: Who decides what is essential? I mean, we could probably pretty easily list off a few things everyone calling themselves a Christian would agree with, but we’d pretty rapidly run into problems I think. You don’t even need to look outside the movement to find the problem. The original movement, calling themselves “Christian Church” split into “Churches of Christ” and “Disciples of Christ”. It was over various things, but among them were congregatings beginning to use instruments (interestingly they were against instruments in church for the same reason Frank Viola is) as well as approaches to ministry. Are either of those things “essentials”? I don’t know, who gets to decide?

Originally, this post was going to be about something a bit different, but then I realized I had a lot to say about how I got to where I am now. Since we’re basically caught up, I’ll continue on with a bit of a focus on history next time. Specifically, I’m going to talk about the church in the first few centuries a little bit, and then the Great Schism – and why, if you’re a Protestant (and if you’re reading this you probably are), you’ve been seriously cut off from a huge portion of Christian history.

Orthodox

A couple months ago, I happened upon a YouTube video. I think it probably showed up there because I was searching for things along the lines of “history of the early church” or “early Christianity”. Otherwise, not sure what would have caused YouTube to put it in my recommendations. Here is the video. Watch it if you want, I haven’t watched it since that first time but I thought it was good then:


Like I said, I haven’t watched it since then, so I don’t recall exactly what it was, but something about it intrigued me and I started searching out more regarding the Orthodox Church. I started just searching for other videos on YouTube, and then also just doing generalized Google searches, wondering what the Orthodox doctrine regarding some specific issue was. The thing that started to stand out to me the most about Orthodoxy was really that it asks different questions than the Western church does. And it’s much more comfortable with mystery.

A lot of what I was reading seemed to click in my mind – it just sort of made sense to me. And so I continued to delve in. One of the things I had discovered during my Google searches was Ancient Faith. I at some point realized that they have a huge collection of podcasts in addition to the blogs and such I had been reading. I tried to figure out what a good place to start would be, and at first started going through what is listed in “New To Orthodoxy“. It starts off right off the bat with some things that are pretty different as compared to Protestantism… Icons, Saints, the Theotokos… (I had no idea what that meant at first, so I’ll help you, that’s Greek for Mother of God – that is to say, Mary). I’ve still not listened to most of those, probably still under 10.

I also discovered pretty quickly on there a podcast called Amon Sûl. I was immediately intrigued by that, because it was obviously a podcast about The Lord of the Rings. If it’s not so obvious to you, Amon Sûl is another name for Weathertop. If it’s still not obvious to you, then, you’re probably not much of a Lord of the Rings fan. I started listening and it was a nice mix of something I was familiar with (the lore of Middle-Earth) and things I was less familiar with (Orthodox theology). I did a bit more research to see what people online recommended regarding podcasts I could listen to… One of the things that seemed like a must-hear was a podcast called “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy”. So I grabbed the first few episodes, started listening, and thought to myself… “Hey, this guy sounds really familiar.” Turns out, both of those are hosted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick. I devoured all of them (Amon Sûl was easy, there were only like 3 episodes at the time, up to 5 now), moved on to another called Faith and Philosophy hosted by someone else whose name I can’t recall offhand, and then after burning through all of those started on “The Aeriopagus”, which, again, is hosted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, as well as a Pastor of a Protestant denomination named Michael Landsman. This was another that really hit the right notes for me as again I had a little more that I was familiar with. Really something about Fr. Damick’s voice is just nice to listen to as well – this time around I specifically picked the podcast because I saw his name on it.

If you can’t tell, I’ve listened to a LOT of audio content related to Orthodoxy – specifically, Ancient Faith is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Which is a whole other thing with Orthodoxy… Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, etc… Now, all of these are just regional part of the Orthodox Church, but due to an “accident of history” as I’ve heard some Orthodox folks say, there is no American Orthodox church as such, and there are various Diocese that are under the jurisdiction of the aforementioned groups. But, all these churches are in communion with each other – and it’s worth noting, this is the second largest (Roman Catholic Church is largest) group of Christians that self-identify as being part of a single church (I’m not sure if I worded that the best way possible, but I think you’ll get what I mean). So in regard to doctrine, it’s not actually relevant which one the information comes from, they are all in agreement with each other.

So at some point during all this, actually it was probably at least a month ago, I decided to see if there were any Orthodox churches near me that I might possibly go to visit and see what it was like. As the Orthodox are fond of saying, “Come and see.” I did some Google searches and discovered two such churches in my immediate vicinity (that is, within a 15 minute drive). First was Sts. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church, and then there was St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church. It took me awhile, because as some of you know I run lights every other week for Collective Church, which I’ve been attending for the last year and a half or so, and also had a half marathon one of my off weeks, etc, but I did finally make a visit yesterday.

I ended up visiting St. John the Baptist. I had initially felt inclined to go to the Greek Orthodox church because it is a bit closer and also larger, but then I learned (if I recall, from reading Yelp reviews) that they do a large portion of their service in Greek, and well, I do want to understand what is going on, so… I decided on the other. Now, it’s also worth nothing that having grown up going to an Assemblies of God church, then a few non-denominational churches, that I had never really been to anything resembling a liturgical service (there’s kind of an exception as during the brief period I went to a Catholic high school, they had 1 or 2 services I was around for). But honestly, it’s all foreign to me. So knowing that, and having researched what to expect, I was highly intimidated about going. Also, while I have some vague recollection about dressing up for church when I was a kid, I couldn’t have told you when the last time I dressed up for church had been. Now I can, it was yesterday. I’ve never been much for dressing up. For the past couple decades it’s been for job interviews and… well, that’s it. But doing so is part of the Orthodox tradition, and so, I did it.

So I go to bed on Saturday night knowing that I will be going to the church the next day. I wake up, still feeling a bit anxious about it, but get myself to drive over there. I pull up to the church and realize it’s smaller than I had even thought it was. And there was no parking lot, just parking along the side of the road. And there were not nearly enough cars. This was not a place I could go in largely unnoticed. So, I wasn’t really sure what time I should arrive – let me explain why. On a Sunday morning, an Orthodox church will first have Matins- morning prayers – and this will flow into the Divine Liturgy, which I guess you could call the “main service”. So, since I was “just checking things out”, I decided to arrive just before the Divine Liturgy started. This was another thing I realized as I was getting ready to go in – no one else seemed to be arriving at this time really. So, it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but, I walked in, and let me just say… I have never felt so lost in regard to what I should be doing… haha. I don’t doubt that everyone there knew it was my first time ever being in an Orthodox church. But, a nice lady, who I later learned to be the Pastor’s wife, helped me find where they were in the service so I could follow along. I was grateful for it, because I was completely at a loss… haha.

So, here was my initial reaction to it – I thought, “This is weird”. Now, as I’ve said, my interactions with the Catholic church have been pretty limited, so I’m not sure if the same is true of their services, but the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is largely sung. And that felt very weird to me. That’s on top of the other various things going on that aren’t part of any Protestant service I’ve ever been to. But with all that said, I made it through, went up front as they took communion (not being Orthodox, I could not partake, but instead received a blessing) – then returned to my seat and the Pastor spoke a bit and welcomed me as well as a couple other visitors (though they were Orthodox). I had a good talk with him after the service as well.

This is quite long, and it’s getting late, so I’m going to end this here for now. Tomorrow, or whenever I next have time, I’ll continue on in my thoughts on this.

Get Used To Disappointment

Tomorrow is the beginning of the end for the television sensation that is Game of Thrones. I’ve been looking forward to it for a very long time, and I certainly hope that the ending is satisfying – but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that it’s going to disappoint me in the end, just like most of the shows I have loved before it. Now, it’s better than a show not getting an ending because it was cancelled… Stargate Universe, Colony, Firefly, I could go on for quite awhile I’m sure, those are the first 3 that came to mind for me. But then we’ve also got shows like Lost or How I Met Your Mother – shows that I loved pretty much all the way through, but that kind of went to crap in the final season.

The only show that I can think of off the top of my head that had a better than “meh” ending is Breaking Bad. I’m sure there are others, but my point is, they are the exception, not the rule. It’s hard to wrap up a long running story in a satisfying way… and if I’m honest, I don’t know how you wrap up Game of Thrones in another 8 hours or so (I haven’t done the math on the runtimes, nor do I know if the numbers that came out with finalized, but I know all 6 are generally under 90 minutes).

So I’m trying to tone down my own hype for the end. Lowered expectations are met much more easily. To be sure, I’m hoping not to be disappointed, but, I also think that’s the most likely scenario. Especially when I read articles making predictions about how things will end and all the proposed endings sound rather lame to me. Also, everyone seems to be obsessed on the idea of who will end up in the Iron Throne, and I can’t help but feel like that’s missing the point. If the ending involves the importance of some individual occupying the throne, I feel like it will be very uninteresting.

I like to think that George RR Martin came up with some brilliant ending years ago that no one else has been able to imagine and that we’re all going to be blown away by it. How likely is that? I don’t know.

But, I do have my own idea of what I think an interesting (if perhaps depressing) way to end the series would be: they lose. Despite their efforts to band together in the eleventh hour and fight off the army of the dead, Westeros is wiped out, or at least all the structures that exist there. Perhaps the seeds of some new civilization are planted, but the end of the world as they know it would seem interesting to me, and it goes against what an audience expects in the story.

Part of the reason why I think this would be better is I can’t imagine them beating the White Walkers in a way that doesn’t feel contrived in the time left – but perhaps there is a way. If we just end up with Dany or Jon or Jon and Dany ruling the 7 kingdoms with the White Walkers having been kicked off back up to the north and life in Westeros continues on with the Targareans back on the throne and they all live happily ever after, what sort of a conclusion is that to the story?

I don’t call my proposed ending a prediction – I don’t know that I have any reason to think it will happen – other than that the whole storyline seems to have been the people of Westeros fighting about things that don’t really matter whilst ignoring the thing that matters most of all… and it seems like there should be consequences for that – but, I do know that the happy ending doesn’t seem like a fitting one for this story – especially as Martin has posited this series as a bit of a critique on Lord of the Rings… which ends with the return of the king and a happy ending now that the rightful king has returned and evil has been defeated. So is he really going to end his story in the same (not to mention expected) way? It would seem an odd choice to me.

We’ll find out soon enough. Maybe it will become a bit clearer even after tomorrow’s episode. But I wanted to write down some thoughts before the season began.

Respite

Note: This is long, rambly, and self-reflective. It takes a really long time for me to get to the point, and it’s probably not a point worth getting to for anyone other than myself. But you’re welcome to read it if you like.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Which is indistinct from any other time, as my brain rarely shuts up. About the only time I’m not mulling something over is if my brain is preoccupied with something else, like playing a game, perhaps. That’s probably part of the reason that I like them.

One of the thoughts that entered my head recently was this idea that throughout my life there have been different versions of me, and I am in a very literal sense a different person than I was many years ago. It seems to me to be true in both a physical sense and a mental sense. Now, scientifically speaking, ones cells are dying and being replaced by new ones all the time. According to some folks (a quick google search tells me it’s dubious) every 7 to 10 years you’re a whole new mess of cells than you had been 7 to 10 years earlier. So by that logic (I’ll go with the 10 year span), sitting in front of this computer right now is Jason 4.0.

(If that seems off to you, remember, you’re version 1.0 when you’re born, so at 10 you are 2.0, etc.)

Then throughout life you have all sorts of experiences and meet and interact with all kinds of people. Those people have all sorts of experiences of their own, some of which intermingle with yours. They have a bunch of different ideas about things too, and often they’ll tell you about them. Some of those things might seem to you quite interesting or compelling. Some may seem foolish. Sometimes, given more time and experience, a thing that seemed foolish may later seem compelling, or the reverse.

The people that you are friends with are also very likely to shape you in any given moment. Who they are and what they believe is not insignificant in shaping you (“as iron sharpens iron”, as a certain book says.) This is more and more true the closer you are to the person. Your best friend, a girlfriend (or perhaps boyfriend, depending on who you are), or spouse most of all.

One may also just choose to place emphasis on something that they had never placed emphasis on before. Quite likely it’s not a conscious choice, it’s just a thing that happens.

So, as it turns out the versions of myself that I would identify don’t really fit into 10 year windows – but I can certainly identify what I see are major divisions of my life in which I think there was a fundamental shift in who I am as a person – (admittedly it was a little more gradual than it will be written here – I’m identifying it by major milestones):

  • Child – from about when I started having memories to 5th grade, when I switched to a Christian school
  • Pre-teen/Teen – Really just all of middle and high school – I didn’t change much in all of that time.
  • College – Probably extended a couple years beyond college… maybe 6 or 7 years of this – I’d call this a period of reinvention.
  • Married – This is definitely the shortest one, in no small part because of the shortness of one of the defining characteristics (and namesake) of this period
  • Divorced – Obviously barring becoming remarried to a person (lest you think otherwise, something that will never happen) once you are divorced from them you always will be. That said, I’m past the point of it defining me. But for probably a good 4 or 5 years, it did in many ways.
  • Dreamer – This one actually overlaps with the only before and the one after, perhaps never existing entirely on its own.
  • Philosopher – I can’t think of a better way to put it. This is where I feel I am now, and it’s marked by exploring philosophical ideas, culture, theology, history, etc.

When I write it all out and really think about it I can see the seeds of later versions of me being in place in earlier versions. I can also easily pinpoint the single largest shift in who I was (that divorce thing will do it to ya).

One of the things that happened in the marriage period that has sort of stuck with my and grown is an interest in politics. I didn’t really care about it much before that. Late in college I thought about it a bit, but it was mostly characterized by things that I knew I didn’t agree with – and there were plenty of things in both the political parties that I didn’t like (note that at the time I wasn’t really aware that you could be anything but a Republican or a Democrat). I didn’t vote in the 2004 election, which was the first election I was eligible to vote in, because I just couldn’t decide – it might surprise many to learn some of the things I felt I leaned left on at the time.

In this era we had Ron Paul make 2 runs in the Republican party and as a result I discovered libertarianism, which was pretty important for me if I was going to feel like I had a place in politics – whatever I agreed with or disagreed with the Republicans or Democrats on, neither seemed like something I felt compelled to be a part of. Prior to this discovery, politics were simply not important to me, and I wouldn’t have cared what you believed politically about almost anything (one or two exceptions I can think of).

Since then, I’ve started to follow politics quite extensively. I think it is a part of the “philosopher” mentality – political theory certainly ties into philosophy and culture and all or that. I’ve had plenty of discussions with people about it – it’s especially easy to get me talking about it if I’ve got a few beers in me and you bring up anything political at all. I definitely think it’s interesting, and, like most things, I’ve arrived at some outside-the-box conclusions about stuff. It puts me in a rather small camp. And so I’m pretty used to voting for people who don’t win (and never had a chance of winning) and pining for policies (or lack of them) that will never come to pass.

Then in recent years, things just got crazy – and when I say that I’m talking about both of those big parties. If you think only one is the problem, allow me to suggest you should pay more attention to the one you think isn’t a problem. People are super divisive, and if you disagree with someone their perception seems to be that it’s because you are somehow malicious, rather than a person who perhaps sees the same problem and has a different solution. That latter position is a perfectly fair one to take, and is how I saw Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign. I thought he identified a lot of problems very well – I just thought all of his solutions were terrible. But, that doesn’t make him evil or malicious.

I have a few friends who post on Facebook about politics almost incessantly. And it’s always negative. One of the things that I realized a few months after the 2016 election was that I didn’t want to post about politics constantly. It’s kind of just annoying. No one is going to change their mind, and you don’t accomplish anything by doing it. You just kind of frustrate yourself. So I went from posting about it fairly often to not doing so very much. Since then I’ve curbed Facebook use in general as well. I’ll often go a whole month and only post anything at all once or twice.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with people posting political commentary on Facebook. However, I do think they’re probably making themselves unhappy and accomplishing nothing of value. I believe that was the case for me. Especially if the things being posted are super negative all the time. We still have a long way to go to achieve a perfect society to be sure, but we live in objectively the best period of time ever – and I think we would do well to remember that from time to time, rather than always being angry that things aren’t perfect – much of the time I find I’m in agreement with people when they say that something is a problem, but their solution seems to be “tell people to stop doing bad thing x”. If only it were so simple.

So here’s what I’ve found. I can get super frustrated at people when the political ideas they throw out there don’t seem to me to be logical or really make any sense at all. But often those same people I think are perfectly nice and cool to be around. And I can easily interact with them without thinking even a bit about what their political ideas are.

So I wonder how often discussing politics is really valuable. One’s ability to shape politics is pretty miniscule – no matter what I think about anything, I have virtually no say in the matter (one way to put it is, in the event that it is otherwise a tie, you get to decide… otherwise you vote doesn’t matter). Where you really make headway is in changing people’s minds about things, and I really don’t think you do that by talking about politics directly. I think you do that by talking more about culture, and by simply being friends with people, sharing your way of thinking about the world with them. I won’t say there’s never a place for a political conversation, but I think we’d all do well to disengage politically for a bit from time to time, and really to focus WAY less on it in our day to day lives. We’re way too fixated on it right now.

For me, I’ve decided to take some time off from following politics. It’s actually a bit hard, because my youtube subscriptions and twitter and facebook are all full of all kinds of political stuff. But I just want to not engage for awhile. Part of me thinks maybe I should become a “post-political” version of myself. I think I’d be happier that way.

If you read all the way to the end here, I’m sorry. That had to have been painful. I’ll try to write something less rambly and more coherent next time around.

Time and Place

The initial rattlings in my brain that are ultimately culminating in this post began doing their thing a little over a year ago. That’s not to say that it’s something I’ve been perpetually thinking about, but it does seem to have been coming to mind a bit more frequently of late. In 2017, just after Thanksgiving, I took a trip out to Burbank, CA, where I had lived for a few years. I wanted to see some of my friends, and I was also really excited to go and visit the church that I had gone to during my time there.

When I had first moved to Burbank (actually, I guess at first I was in Glendale, but, same general vicinity), I knew basically no one. I didn’t have high hopes to find a church that I thought I would like, because I’d tried for years here in MD and was constantly disappointed by what I found – so why should it be different in CA, I thought. Well, as luck, or perhaps divine providence, would have it, my web search yielded a result that sounded pretty promising. I decided to go and check it out.

I immediately fell in love with the place, and the people that I met there. The very first service I was invited to go watch a marathon of the new season of Arrested Development. In a move that was actually pretty uncharacteristic of me, surely driven by my desperation for human contact at the time, I took up that invitation to hang out with a bunch of people that I didn’t know at all – all of whom would become friends of varying degrees for the next few years.

The entirety of my time in Burbank, I considered that church to be a godsend. It was exactly what I needed at that time in my life – and I’m quite glad it was there, and for the friendships that I had, and, in some cases, still have. I needed a place where I was free to doubt. I still need that. It was a place that seemed pretty accepting of everyone, no matter where they stood. There were times during my time there where I felt maybe they leaned a little too heavily into politics, but for the most part, I felt they did a good job of not preaching politics and just helping people to wrestle with their faith.

My memories of the church were very fond, and then, last year, I went to visit. I actually intentionally planned to be there for 2 Sunday mornings because I wanted to go to 2 services there – I was super stoked to go. I tried to make sure that people knew I’d be there as well, so they could plan to come to the service if it were at all possible. So, I spent the first day with the friend that I was staying with, and then went with him to church the next day… which is where my disappointment began.

The first thing that I noticed was that the message seemed to be considerably more political in nature than they had been back when I was going there. It still had some of the challenging theological content that I always enjoyed, but seeing the political intermingled with it was distasteful to me. One thing I am quite sure of is that Jesus did not come to endorse any political message – in fact he seemed to avoid it whenever possible – he dealt with humans at an individual level, and left the government to its own devices. It was disheartening to see this. And from the handful of video streams I’ve watched parts of since then, it’s only gotten worse… every time I’ve tried to visit in with the church online, I’m struck by how every week they seem to go after evangelical Christians, and also conservatives. These are the people from whom I actually learned concepts like “othering” – treating people who are different than you as less than, or as the enemy. These are the people I constantly heard talking about how this shouldn’t be done, who criticized evangelicals for doing it to homosexuals, etc. It seems so painfully obvious to me that they are otherizing Christians with more traditional beliefs, as well as conservatives, and they are completely blind to it. I see Facebook posts where some of these people assume to know the hearts of conservatives, and seem to assume the worst possible intent.

The other disappointing thing while I was there was that some of the people who I thought would be excited to see me, or want to talk to me a bit at least, didn’t seem to. There were really two that kind of hit me hard… I mean, it wasn’t like it made me depressed, but I was really bummed by it. One was the pastor, who I had hoped to grab lunch or coffee with – but I’d have settled for just a longer than a couple minute small talk chat during one of the two services I was at – but, that didn’t happen either. The other was one of my friends who I had considered to be one of my closest friends while I was out there – I had let him know well in advance I was coming, and so I was hoping he’d make a bit of time for me – but, again, didn’t happen so much. I’m not saying he’s a bad friend, it’s entirely possible I just always considered him closer than he considered me – I mean, he was way more established out there than I was. It just made me realize that the world has changed, and whatever I had out there really is no more.

I don’t know what the point of writing all this out is, but… I guess maybe just to reflect on what was.


A New Week

So my writing discipline fell apart a bit over the weekend. I’m gonna try to get back on track here this week. I felt like I burned myself out a bit, so I’m not too sure the best way to go about this… I don’t know if it would be better to just not make myself do it every day, or commit to only 30 minutes or something like that. Or maybe I’m just being a wuss and I should suck it up and deal with doing it for an hour every day.

Also, WordPress updated itself… or rather, my webhost updated WordPress for me… and… this looks weird now. I guess I’ll get used to it.

After a lot of screwing around with a few Linux distros, I finally settled on Solus. Unless I want to play a game that I cannot get to work in Solus, the plan is to use it exclusively rather than Windows (which I will only use when I want to play a game I can’t get working here). I really like the feel of Solus a lot.

Anyway, that’s it for now… I know this one is just kinda random and rambly, but… whatever. Hopefully I get this writing thing back on track.