Wednesday, October 31, 2007

better than no steps forward, two steps back

In the continuing saga of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, maybe one step forward, two steps back is the best we can hope for. The last thing I heard was that the PA and Jordan were backpedaling from their earlier recognition of Pat. THEOPHILOS Now it appears that Israel is finally going to approve his enthronement (was it waiting for the others to change their minds?), assuming it doesn't get overturned by appeal. Again, it's all about the land, which is getting to be a rather dead, bludgeoned, maimed, mangled horse.

Meanwhile, life just got a bit harder for Arab Christian clergy in Palestine . . .

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

American chant?

As usual, I'm way behind the curve on this one. In Clark Carlton's most recent podcast, he continues his musings on the role of Southern culture in forming an American Orthodoxy. He refers to the music of the Old Regular Baptists in Appalachia and its striking similarity to Byzantine Chant. Carlton alludes to prior discussion in the Orthodox blogosphere; in fact, you could get just about everything he says about it by reading this post on Christ in the Mountains (from back in February, I'm so far behind), and following the included links. There really are some interesting similarities, and given that the musical tradition goes back to the earliest days of English Protestantism, it's not out of the question that something is preserved here from pre-Reformation liturgical singing.

In any case, it would be a potential vehicle for some American adaptation of Byzantine chant, though I'm not sure exactly what that would accomplish. Perhaps in some parts of the South it would resonate enough for people to adopt it more comfortably than Byzantine chant. But I could see a lot of Northerners and Northern-minded urbanites having no more affinity for what sounds to their ears like a very depressing form of country, or southern gospel, or bluegrass (most of us probably wouldn't have a clue of the proper categories) than for Byzantine or Russian chant. The fact is, you'd be very hard-pressed to define anything as a national American musical form. Probably the safest bet is the ubiquitous, bland pop, pumped by the globalist media, but it's also the least suitable candidate for Orthodox liturgical music.

It may be that making liturgical music truly American inevitably requires a regional or local approach. For a rural area like Appalachia, maybe there are surviving musical traditions with enough popularity or familiarity that it would make sense to adapt them for Orthodox worship. On the other hand, a northern city with substantial immigrant communities might just as easily embrace the "ethnic" feel of Byzantine. For those who appreciate the sound and feel of Classical European, later Russian liturgical music might suit just fine, or at least might form the most convenient starting point to adapt something more familiar. Beyond those categories, however, I can envision a rather large chunk of the American population raised on more contemporary forms (increasingly used in churches as well) that would not care for any of the above. What do we do with them?

I really don't profess to have any answers here. Personally, I think I could get into the style used in these Old Regular Baptist churches, but then I had a quick and natural affinity for Byzantine chant, so I'm hardly the person to judge what will work for Americans in general. I like the idea that Orthodoxy could take on more indigenous forms in the South, and if Carlton is right, maybe that's where the ball will really get rolling for America as a whole. As for me, I'm just trying to learn the music as it stands right now. Lately I've been trying to learn some key troparia--for major feasts as they come along, and for patron saints. Occasionally I play around with how they're sung, since I'm mostly singing to myself and anyone in the spirit world who happens to be listening. To me, the troparion to St. Peter the Aleut (my patron saint) sounds good sung loud, forceful and raspy. I could hear it in some kind of rock ballad. St. Nicholas and St. John of Damascus sound better with a relaxed, jazzy feel (I'm sure there are more technical terms to use here--I just don't know what they are). Not that I want Orthodox liturgy to sound any more like a rock opera than it does like a free-form jazz odyssey--just pointing out how little I have to offer on the issue :-)

Monday, October 29, 2007

coming full circle

It's always interesting to see how things come back around. I mentioned in my post on Crunchy Cons how I'd started out conservative, shifted liberal, then radical, then back to some kind of conservative. This particular progression just keeps getting "curiouser and curiouser." If I haven't already mentioned my bad habit about reading, I probably should have. Julie's been saying a lot lately that I read too much. In general, that's a fairly accurate statement, but if it's seemed more applicable in recent weeks, it's largely due to how I read. When I read something that really strikes me, like Dreher's book, I comb it for references to other sources. I read those sources, and if any of them strikes me similarly, I repeat the process, until I've exhausted the library, or myself, or this crazy impulse I have. I'm pessimistic about a lot of things, but in at least one area I'm the eternal optimist--I think that if I rush through this pile of books and get them all done, I'll be able to move on to more significant things than reading. Of course, it never works that way--I just end up with an even bigger pile before I finish what I started with.

So, since reading Crunchy Cons, I've kept myself pretty busy with follow-up projects. Many of them have been fairly short rabbit-trails--books that were only marginally interesting and turned out to be much less useful than I'd hoped. I could simply skim through them and be done with that particular excursion. One of the more interesting diversions, however, has given me this weird feeling of "I've been this way before."

In something of a throw-away remark, Dreher refers to an Internet publication called The New Pantagruel. I believe he's discussing Caleb Stegall, the site's editor, as an example of a Protestant Crunchy Con (though my memory's a bit fuzzy on this point--it may have been someone else associated with the site). I thought it would be good to check out an actual, on-going periodical with this kind of outlook, and if it was Internet-based, so much the better. I had no trouble finding the site, but as I might have expected, it was defunct. (I have an unnatural attraction to dead authors, artists, projects, etc.; by the time I get interested in something, it's already gone.) Fortunately, the archives were still up, so I had a chance to browse through the few years' worth of material. I found interesting tidbits here and there, most notably a reference to an even more short-lived (by design) blog about Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists, a book by some guy named Bill Kauffman. (Dreher has reviewed the book, for whatever it's worth.) With key words like "radical" and "anarchist," my first thought was, I gotta read that book!

They didn't have it in our county library system, so I had to wait a bit for it to arrive from elsewhere in Maryland. When it arrived, I devoured it in short order. Like Dreher (at the time he wrote Crunchy Cons), Kauffman is Catholic; unlike him, he was born into that tradition and takes religion in general somewhat less seriously. Not that he doesn't see it as culturally significant--he just isn't exactly what everyone would call devout. On the other hand, the book is decidedly more fringe/radical/anarchist. (Dreher accuses him of missing the "fine line between hale eccentric and outright kook," in his chapter on Carolyn Chute, acclaimed Maine author turned militia leader. Personally, I found this particular chapter to be one of the more endearing.) Kauffman also has a more biting (and crass) sense of humor. Actually, I'm not sure "crass" is an appropriate word to use here. He certainly has his vulgar side, but I get the feeling I've missed at least half of his jokes due to my unsophisticated grasp of culture, literature, and vocabulary.

Part-way into the book, I discovered something unsettling--actually two things:
  1. Kauffman is from Batavia, NY, where I grew up (if anywhere), and
  2. Julie had already read him, long before I did.
And she thinks I held out on her! Here, all along she's been reading radical, anarchist literature behind my back, and saying I'm too political. Here's how it went down. Back in 2003, Kauffman published a book called Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive. For those of you who don't know, a Muckdog is a mythical beast that was adopted a few years back as the new mascot for the minor-league baseball team in Batavia, NY (rated best hometown in New York State by ePodunk). It became an insanely popular nickname, inspiring several little league teams around the country, and selling merchandise to the four corners of the globe. (Muck, BTW, is a rich kind of soil in abundant supply just north of Batavia--actually in Elba, where Kauffman currently lives--great for starting onions and cabbage.) The book is about Batavia, which deserves to be listed on a site called ePodunk (we have a friend who lives a couple of towns over, in the only house on Podunk Rd.--no kidding)--a small town in Western New York State, about half-way between Buffalo and Rochester. After bouncing around the country, my family settled there when I was in sixth grade and stayed until after I got married. We ended up there mostly because it was cheaper than Rochester, where my dad was working at the time we moved.

Julie, on the other hand, was born and raised in Genesee County, not in Batavia proper, but the adjacent town of Oakfield. Both sets of grandparents lived within a couple of blocks of her house. She walked to the same school her dad had attended before her. Her brother ended up moving into her grandparents' house and pastoring the church we all went to. For several years now, their high school has had an e-mail list for the alumni (all of them, since there are so few), and I think that's how she found out about Kauffman's book when it came out. She read it and liked it; I decided I was too busy with who knows what other reading and didn't think much of it. (How could we both like the same thing?) Little did I know . . .

Once I realized the connection, I requested Dispatches as well (fortunately, they had it in our library, so I was able to get my hands on it more quickly) and devoured it over the past couple of days. I must say, though, that I enjoyed Look Homeward somewhat better, where he draws on uniquely positive examples; in Dispatches, he paints small-town life in all its stark, often depressing reality. Both books are quite good (though I must warn--Dispatches has a good deal more profanity), and both are hopeful in their own ways, but Dispatches has a lot more about how small towns have got themselves into their current mess. Still, you come away (or at least I came away) with a strong message that they're worth fighting for. And it was nice to learn a lot about the town I (sort of) grew up in.

We moved to Batavia after it was pretty far gone, and lived so far out on the rural margins that we never identified that much with it. We were actually in the school district for the next town over, we commuted to Buffalo for work, and we happened to be on the side of town where most of the big-box expansion outside the city limits was going in. We made a fair number of trips "downtown," but we mostly grumbled about the ill-timed traffic lights and run-down buildings. We got a taste of what Batavia was, but in a lot of ways we were original exurbanites, as likely to head for Buffalo as anywhere closer at hand. We may have been surrounded by corn fields, but it was still just our house with the (really) big yard, from which we commuted to pretty much everything we did.

Don't get me wrong--we were hicks enough. We had our vegetable garden and a big, smelly compost heap. We burned our paper trash in a 55-gal. drum out back. We wore jeans and flannel before it was cool to be grunge. We ate venison when we could get it and beef from a locally-raised and -slaughtered cow, including the tongue and heart sandwiches I took to school to gross out my friends. My dad had an ongoing feud with the woodchucks, which did not stop short of burying our dead dog in one of their holes. (Not entirely out of spite--we had him put down in winter, when the ground was frozen solid.) I never did much with guns myself, but I can't even remember when I started carrying a knife in my pocket pretty much everywhere. When I wasn't mowing, I stumped around the homestead pruning trees with my trusty hook saw and went on four-mile walks around the block with an ax handle to ward off the dogs that were never tied or fenced. It was a rich experience in its way, but we were never really part of small-town life.

Yet here I am, finding about the strongest political resonance I've encountered, with a native Batavian, who left home for DC but returned to stay for good. Go figure. My family is long gone from that area--parents are in SC, we're here in MD, grandparents deceased, aunt in PA, and brother in Springfield, New York but still a few hours away (I normally say he lives near Cooperstown, but here I'll say he lives near Jordanville)--but Julie's parents are still there, which has made us think seriously about moving back, if the circumstances ever seemed right. Right now, it's looking more like we'll stick around in this area, but who knows? In any case, I'd really like to pick somewhere and stay put. It would be great if we could do that close to grandparents, but right now this area looks more promising for jobs. (Kauffman has an advantage--professional writers can work from pretty much anywhere, so for him it doesn't matter if every job in town disappears into a sinkhole.)

But perhaps the best part was finding that Julie and I both liked the book. If we can find common ground with something this wacky, maybe there's hope . . . (She says now she wants to read Look Homeward, America.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Clark Carlton

A few months back someone gave me a book called The Life: The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation, by Clark Carlton. I was finding that the Orthodox notion of salvation seemed to be one of the most pressing issues for Evangelicals I talked to, and I liked the straightforward presentation. At the time I thought, huh--this guy graduated from the Catholic University of America (where I went to school most recently). Since then, I've discovered his podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, which I now listen to regularly. Most of the time I find it entertaining, if not necessarily informative.

Then, the other day, someone posted a link to his testimony of how he became Orthodox. I've read a lot on that site over the past few years, so it's possible that I've already read it before. But now that I have some sense of who he is, I was a bit more interested in what he had to say. It's a very interesting story, especially as I saw a lot of common threads with my own. There are marked differences, of course. He was Southern Baptist, while my background has been in more independent churches. As such, we went through some of the same things, but his were on a larger scale. Prof. Carlton also went through the process at a younger age. From what I can tell, I explored further down the road of theological liberalism (to use the term rather loosely) before finding Orthodoxy. Still, the similarities definitely outweigh the differences.

It's a rather long story, but I would definitely recommend it as worthwhile reading.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

crunchy cons

Whether by references from his friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, podcasted interviews, or an old blog entry I ran across while browsing, Rod Dreher and his book Crunchy Cons have been drifting in and out of my awareness over the past few months. It sounded like it might be vaguely interesting, so I finally broke down and requested it from the library. Ever since, it's been hard to put it down.

It's not so much that I'm learning new information here. Quite to the contrary, it seems like Dreher and I have similar reading lists: The Geography of Nowhere, Fast Food Nation, Small is Beautiful--the list goes on. What I've been finding through other channels is all wrapped up here in one, neat package. I've been finding myself difficult to classify in social and political terms, but this may be about as good a fit as any.

It's kind of a weird experience to find this kind of resonance in one source, especially on what we might lazily call the right end of the political spectrum. I started out a fairly mainstream conservative, at least from the earliest time when I thought in such categories. I was a ditto-head in high school, who loved to antagonize my liberal teachers. I protested outside abortion clinics, joined the county committee of the NYS Conservative Party, and voted for mostly Republican candidates. Throughout seminary, I lost interest in politics along with most facets of real life. I would still have considered myself conservative, although my outlook was shifting a bit more Anabaptist, in that I saw a stronger biblical argument for staying out of politics altogether.

Toward the end of seminary and into grad school I started learning about more radical politics by way of ideological literary criticism and such overtly political music groups as Rage against the Machine and System of a Down. My interest in this area accelerated when I finished my coursework and started paying attention to social issues once again. Particularly, I found myself siding with the Palestinian cause against Zionism. Reading in this area led me to look more critically at Western imperialism in general and to explore a wide range of sources on both left and right, which were united in their opposition to current U. S. policy in the Middle East. On issues of personal morality, I still found myself leaning more conservative, but I sympathized a great deal with the left on larger-scale issues like economics and the environment. I saw some hope of fitting in with the religious left of Ron Sider and Jim Wallis, but their approach didn't seem radical enough to me. I found much that I liked in the populist anarchy of Howard Zinn and the monarchist anarchy of Matthew Raphael Johnson.

During this time, I voted for Ralph Nader, when I didn't abstain from voting altogether. Of course, I knew he'd never get elected, but I just couldn't stomach the alternatives. My second choice was Pat Buchanan, which may seem like a contradiction, but not as far as I was concerned. I flirted for a while with the idea of joining a local group to protest the war in Iraq, but I didn't figure they'd much care to have me. (When you're already engaged in activities that some would call anti-American, you generally try to avoid anyone who's in favor of violent revolt as a principle.) In general, I felt like I didn't fit anywhere politically, nor could I exactly define for myself what kind of political creature I was. I knew I was outside the mainstream, but beyond that, I couldn't say much about it.

What Dreher calls a "crunchy con" is someone who values permanent things--tradition, family, the environment, religion, etc. I may not agree on every particular (I don't think he expects me to), but in general, I think I identify with the major points. I like the idea of conservationism (vs. environmentalism), and the push toward smallness makes a lot of sense to me. I'm certainly more comfortable classifying myself as a conservative on issues of personal morality. Plus, I've tended to see where there might be room for someone like me in classical conservatism anyway, as distinguished from the unbridled economic libertarianism and imperialistic madness that seem to pass for conservatism these days.

One area that concerns me, though, is his take on Islam, which isn't a large element in the book but comes out more in his other writings. Perhaps it's not an integral element of crunchy conservatism anyway. I don't have a clear stance myself at this point, but I do tend to recoil from what seems like a high level of paranoia in some groups. Conservatives aren't the only ones. I've seen the same thing--perhaps even stronger feelings, though to some degree justifiably--in Greeks, Serbians, and other Orthodox groups of the former Ottoman Empire. There's a lot of jumbling of religion and politics in this area, and I don't profess to have it all sorted out myself. I guess I tend to react with a high level of political pragmatism. I disagree with Western imperialism, so I sympathize with those who are trying to stand against it. If there's a threat of Islam taking over the West, I see it mostly as a problem we've created for ourselves. Maybe it's a force that does need to be dealt with, but it's hard for me to side with secularism over against a traditional faith (even if it's not my faith).

But assuming there's room for disagreement in that area, I think I'm pretty comfortable calling myself a crunchy con. It still doesn't give me anyone to vote for, but it's nice to know I belong somewhere.

Monday, October 15, 2007

my patron saint

If you're relatively new to this blog, you might have missed my post on Peter the Aleut, which I wrote right before I decided on him as my patron saint almost a year ago. If so, and if you've been wondering what his picture is doing on my site (and why I'm asking him to pray for me), it might be worth a look back. For a brief life of St. Peter (which is about all we have), try the OCA saints site.

As for the broader question of why one would need a patron saint in the first place, or why we ask their prayers, it's just one of those things that has been part of Christian Tradition from about as far back as anyone can tell. The early Christians met in secret, often in tombs and catacombs where they buried their dead. The practice of using the tomb of a martyr as an altar in their services links directly to John's vision of the martyr souls under the altar in heaven (Rev 6:9-11) and to the continuing practice of placing saints' relics in the altar and antimension of every Orthodox church. (I'm not sure if Catholics still follow this practice--I'm pretty sure they used to.) Back then, they had no problem understanding that departed saints were still very much a part of the life and worship of the Church. We pray for them, and they pray for us, and even outside the corporate worship of the gathered Church, their presence before the throne of God in heaven ensures that we always come before him as part of Christ's body.

The taking of a saint's name is not practiced in every Orthodox culture (though I think even when it is not each individual, or at least each family, still has a patron). But assigning of new names has been part of God's interaction with his people for millennia. He changed the names of the patriarchs Abraham and Sarah and of Jacob. The prophet Daniel was actually given a new name by the Babylonians, but it was important to retain his original, Hebrew name as well. Christ gave St. Peter his name, and St. Paul seems to have changed at least the name he went by after his conversion. Again, we see in St. John's Revelation (2:17; 3:12) an allusion to the early Christian practice of taking a new name in baptism. This practice continues among the Orthodox to this day.

When we are born into this world physically, God gives us in particular to one set of parents. Although we are called to love all humankind, we learn first to love those in our family, because love over-generalized is no love at all. Similarly, it is easy to get lost among the myriad of saints. Having one patron assigned at baptism helps to narrow the focus. All the thousands of saints remembered throughout the year are important, but one day a year I celebrate in particular the memory of my saint. Any of them might pray for me, but there is one I can always go to by default. If I can learn to love this one saint in particular, it will be that much easier to develop my relationship with others. I see his icon when I pray at home, I sing his troparion when I think of him, and I remember that the saints in heaven pray for us in our struggle here on earth.

my racist friend

(For those who aren't familiar, the fairly inaccurate title of this post is an allusion to a They Might Be Giants song.)

So, last night we were in Barnes & Noble. We almost never actually buy anything there, but Ian likes to play with the train table in the kids' section, and it can be a good place to see what's new or interesting, so we can get it from the library. (Julie was flipping through a book of Mother Teresa's writings, which surprised me. On the way in, I got sidetracked by a book called The Year of Living Biblically, in which an editor for Esquire spends a year taking the Bible as literally as he possibly can.) At one point, I was supervising the kids, while Julie was browsing, and another kid came over with his mother to play at the train table. Ian kept me busy enough by pushing his way around the track, regardless of who got in his way. Eventually, they seem to have worked out a system--the younger boy, who wasn't as intent on actually making his trains travel a full circuit, would step out of the way whenever Ian passed by. When he didn't, Ian would stop and wait impatiently, but at least he stopped. (Sometimes, with a kid his age, that's about as much as you can hope for.)

Anyway, at one point they got into a conversation. I wasn't paying much attention until I heard Ian protest, "Don't say it in Spanish; you have to talk like me!" I was relieved to see the other kid's mother laugh at the remark. I don't think he meant it to be offensive, though it could have been taken that way (unreasonably, I would think, when it's coming from a four-year-old). I might have been a bit more concerned about what led him to say it, except that earlier that evening when we were playing hide-and-seek he'd yelled at me for counting in Spanish (and Japanese). Just one of those things, I guess. This is the same kid, after all, who freaked out when Julie moved the new shoe rack from where it had been sitting temporarily in the dining room to its rightful home by the door. He gets something in his head, and anything else really bugs him. At least he knew enough not to call it "Mexican" . . .

caught by surprise

I keep meaning to say something about this but forgetting when I'm actually at the computer. The other day, on the way home from work, I caught myself repeating the Jesus prayer in my head. I have no idea when I'd started or how long I'd been doing it, but I think it's the first time I've noticed myself doing that involuntarily. I make no pretense that it's prayer of the heart (though I wouldn't say my attitude was out of line with what I was saying). More realistically, I'm just forming a habit in my head. Still, it's got to be a good first step to something, right?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

what kind of reader are you?

I don't normally post this kind of thing, but this one is kind of interesting, especially the rating I got:
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader

Literate Good Citizen

Book Snob


Fad Reader

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

The graph doesn't seem to have come across quite right in blogger, so I'll need to clarify a bit. My ratings for "dedicated reader," "literate good citizen," and "book snob" were noticeably lower by degrees, but still fairly high. I apparently got zero for both "non-reader" and "fad reader" (no surprise there).

One thing that was lacking from the quiz was a category that would let me say what I'm really reading these days--mostly a fairly narrow selection of religious and political books. But I suppose I'm still applying the same reading style that I've used over the past few years, so it's probably not far off.

Lutheran service

We attended a Lutheran service this morning. We had planned on it for next week, but Julie decided to move it up. My first reaction was to notice several similarities with the Orthodox liturgy. For some reason, I had more of a feeling that it was a very stripped-down Orthodox liturgy (at least in its shape) than I had with the Episcopal services. It probably helped that one of the first things we experienced (we arrived a few minutes late) was the kyrie--basically, a shortened form of the litany of peace. It was almost identical through the first three petitions, then finished with "help us, save us," etc. We'd missed the confession, which doesn't seem to have a corresponding element in the Orthodox liturgy, perhaps because it is intended to replace individual confession before a priest. The framing of the Gospel reading was somewhat similar to that in an Orthodox service. They recited the Nicene Creed (with the filioque, of course) before the sermon instead of after. There was a section very similar to the Orthodox anaphora: "The Lord be with you . . . lift up your hearts . . . let us give thanks to the Lord our God . . . it is right . . . ," and finishing with the pastor's prayer and "Holy, holy, holy . . . ." There's a prayer of thanksgiving before the Lord's prayer, which I suppose is meant to substitute for the elaborate offering ritual in Orthodoxy. They practiced open communion, though not as open as in the Episcopal church. You're only supposed to commune if you believe in Christ and believe that his body and blood is present. A couple of people indicated that we could go forward just to receive a blessing, which I think I saw one of the clergy (a deacon, maybe?) give to some of the people, making a cross on their forehead. They had little cups, which I guess gave people the option to take their own or drink from a common cup.

The people were very friendly. We (mostly I) talked for a while afterward with the pastor, and then out in the vestibule with his wife and another woman. They have Sunday school between the traditional and contemporary services, so there wasn't much time for people to hang around. Ian was getting pretty active and usually doesn't do well anyway with a new Sunday school, so we were heading out. The pastor said that we'd probably find Missouri Synod Lutheran was the best compromise for our situation, but offered that Wisconsin Synod might be more conservative. He also recommended a church nearby that's a bit more traditionally liturgical than they are.

I guess I'd have to say I found it to be an OK service. There was nothing particularly offensive about it. It seemed to be lacking important elements (no surprise there), but as compromises go, it certainly has its strengths. I missed the beauty of the Orthodox liturgy. There were no icons, of course, most of the liturgy was spoken rather than sung, no incense, etc. There was also a lot of missing content, and the ascesis was weak. I think I've mentioned before that one struggle I have is that I don't care for organs, which are pretty much a required element of any Western liturgical service. (This issue complicates our search for "something in the middle," since stylistically I prefer contemporary worship with a praise band to Western traditional music accompanied by an organ.) But I think I would find it tolerable if given an otherwise even choice between that and Bethany.

The problem, though, is that it's not an otherwise even choice. Julie has no particular attraction to the Lutheran service--has many of the same objections she has to Orthodox services. I know I would be unhappy with the Western theology and disappointed with the thin liturgy. As I was talking to the pastor, and he was explaining why he found it to be a good option in his own search, I found myself disagreeing with his argument. He saw Orthodoxy (and Catholicism) as too extreme in its embrace of tradition, which skewed theology, and sola scriptura as the necessary corrective. Although it may be a more moderate form of sola scriptura than what I'm used to, it's still the kind of argument I was trying to get away from in the first place.

So, I think our search continues elsewhere. I think we owe it to ourselves at least to visit the Reformed church I mentioned earlier, especially since we both already respect the pastor there. But I must say, I'm not getting any more optimistic about finding something we'll both like.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

marriage is a vast ocean . . .

Hard, but encouraging, words from "Marriage: The Great Sacrament" (a sermon delivered in the Church of St. Nicholas, Trikala, Greece, 17 January, 1971) by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos:
. . . Remember: from the moment you marry, [St. Paul] says, you will have much pain, you will suffer, and your life will be a cross, but a cross blossoming with flowers. Your marriage will have its joys, its smiles, and its beautiful things. But during the days of sunshine, remember that all the lovely flowers conceal a cross, which can emerge into your sunshine at any moment.

Life is not a party, as some people think, and after they get married take a fall from heaven to earth. Marriage is a vast ocean, and you don't know where it will wash you up. You take the person whom you've chosen with fear and trembling, and with great care, and after a year, two years, five years, you discover that he's fooled you.

It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that it is a road to happiness, as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life. "You haven't suffered? Then you haven't loved", says a certain poet. Only those who suffer can really love. And that's why sadness is a necessary feature of marriage. "Marriage", in the words of an ancient philosopher, "is a world made beautiful by hope, and strengthened by misfortune". Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. When you see your marriage from a distance, everything seems wonderful. But when you get closer, you'll see just how many difficult moments it has.

God says that "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen 2.18), and so he placed a companion at his side, someone to help him throughout his life, especially in his struggles of faith, because in order to keep your faith, you must suffer and endure much pain. God sends his grace to all of us. He sends it, however, when he sees that we are willing to suffer. Some people, as soon as they see obstacles, run away. They forget God and the Church. But faith, God, and the Church, are not a shirt that you take off as soon as you start to sweat.

Marriage, then, is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was he who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, he doesn't always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometime he takes years. We have to experience pain, otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit, "through your groanings is pleading on your behalf" (cf. Rom 8.26).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Orthodox Europe gets noticed

I don't know how long this article in the Christian Science Monitor will be available, but it's good to know it's out there. It may not be of direct relevance here in America, but if the tide of religious atrophy in Europe is going to turn, it will likely involve the Orthodox. That should be relevant to all Christians.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Reformed worship

After a substantial hiatus around Jenna's birth and Julie's subsequent gall bladder issues, we're gearing up to try visiting a few more churches. First on the agenda, this month, is a Lutheran church of the Missouri Synod. This particular type of Lutheran church is noted for its conservative theology, and I guess its conservative liturgy as well, though that part is changing. Someone has already warned us that he knows of Lutherans who live in Columbia but bypass the local Missouri Synod church for one in Northern Virginia, because this one just isn't traditional enough (or some such thing).

Beyond that, we plan to try something from the Reformed tradition, and just today we received a recommendation for a church in Annapolis, Christ Reformed Evangelical Church. It's too far away for us to think seriously about attending there regularly, but it's probably worth checking out anyway. The first selling point is the pastor, who filled in at Bethany for a communion service while the pastor there was sick. We both somehow liked his message, though for some different yet overlapping reasons. (Personally, I found his presentation of communion to be shockingly sacramental--so much so, that I questioned how much thought had gone into picking him for that particular service.) In addition, they place a strong emphasis on liturgical worship, which seems promising. Considering that it comes from an Evangelical perspective, the section on their Web site that explains their take on worship is worth reading.

One big apprehension I have is that it doesn't seem likely that we'd find a church similar enough close by to gain much from the visit. As I've said before, it's all well and good to find one specific congregation that seems to meet our needs, but if its denomination as a whole is repulsive or, as in this case, so small that finding another church like it is next to impossible, it may not be of much practical use. On the other hand, if we try a church like this, and it doesn't seem like it would meet our needs, it may help us to rule out a whole strand of tradition as unlikely. In any case, it's probably better to start there than to pick something blindly just because it happens to be close by. More to follow . . .