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All Thorns Break And Blossom
A collection of revelations, transfigurations, and fermentations
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5th-Oct-2008 11:11 pm - October Manifesto
Tree

 

Disrobe yourself of chlorophyll,

                divest your coping and contriving

and your green glow of good-enough.

                Diverge into this self-divulgence,

brisk beneath in red and realer

                than the coat of summer's glossy gush.

Now you're new in rush, truly lush

                in letting go, in dyeing such

magnanimity abroad your leaves,

                dying more than most and oftener,

and opener, for all and all for each.

 

Fall down and forgive the summer

                its thick humid grip on leaf and stem.

Fall down and forgive the winter

                for its ashes and its emptiness.

Fall first and freely while the color burns

               and keep nothing for your own complexion.

Another blood beats in you, brighter

               than the sap of August youth,

ruddy from the margins to the midrib.

               Do you feel the breeze's tug and call?

You are made of autumn first, beforehand,

               and this wind has come to make you fall.



 

4th-Oct-2008 08:04 pm - The October Philosophy
Tree

It's autumn again, when my longing for something breaks open with a renewed crispness, like the wind between the hills here that seems fresher for its gentle chill. It has a way of reaching through the holes of a false summer security and sneaking through the seams of my hooded sweatshirts. I somehow forget to believe in winter every year. Just like I refuse to believe that the sun will burn me every May when I ditch those sweatshirts once again. Anyway, I am ever-captive in wonder that our woods seem to celebrate their own undoing every year. The blood and gold they reveal to the world for a day seem somehow deeper than the green-- a kind of final being naked and without shame, a revelation of a self deeper than the chlorophyll of daily necessity. If paradise were a place, I would plant October there. And I suspect sometimes that the listless longings that waken in me on these winds are an intuition that Eden itself stands somewhere very near, though veiled for now behind some other shade. I have a memory as sure as morning that I have lost my home. I take joy like a traveler takes rations, knowing a weariness awaiting my own bed. The joy is true but not complete, and when morning comes my back knows where it slept.

 

I think I have an autumn heart. Some kind of splendid mourning. Where it's fall year-round. Because in the midst of home here, I feel the road. My joy begs for a place out of time. I know this most clearly when I feel the love of friends robbed of its eternity-- when I sit in the saturated moment without speech, because my friends are there and we are open to each other more than words can enclose, and each self is a gift undeplete. I know that this is something sacred, something very close to Truth, and yet about to fall, like the leaf whose ruddy truth can only stand a season's gaze. I have heard the sea and seen the havens, and now my heart is to the west no matter where I go.

24th-Mar-2008 02:39 pm - Drop your agenda, get sick, and rest
Tree
Last night, I got home from our Mission Choir trip to Watervliet, NY (though I still don't know how to pronounce that).  Though all the singing from these trips tends to leave my voice a little strained and papery to begin with, I guess the flu bug is starting to get desperate to meet its quota before the season runs out, and so I found my voice clipping in and out over various frequency ranges.  Worse than that, my head felt like some tacky foil helium balloon that I was clutching by the string and dragging around behind me like a worn-out kid at a carnival.  When I took my temperature, I tried to figure out what radio station it would have been in Chicago.  I think 101.1 is an alternative station there...

15 hours of sleep and a few prayers later, I'm feeling pretty grateful for this chance at an alternative from the daily grind.  It's so easy for me to get sucked into the whirlpool of self-created obligations, stress, and necessity.  I'm always trying to get the next thing marked off the list, and leaving myself no peace until I get it done: taxes, school application, papers, car maintenance...  But that whole way of living is completely dependent on the illusion that I'm self-sufficient and in control of my life, when really, a few little microscopic things can sneak into my throat and completely abscond with my voice in the middle of the night.  And in any case, the one thing needful was not to allot more time to finish off an intimidating list of tasks, but to find some time to rest in trust of God.  A little but nevertheless debilitating illness like this is a nice reminder that my life is in God's hands, and that I can't count on it all unfolding according to my monthly planner (which I hate and never use right anyway).  This sickness has forced me to slow down and rest, and to place myself in God's healing hands.  I think it's a reminder that my soul needs healing too.  How can the soul be healed unless it finds time to rest and trust in God, and sleep off the fever of worries that dampened its brow?  I guess I'm grateful for a small experience of my own weakness and for having the bottom collapse out from under my frenzy, because it feels good to be weak and broken in the hands of God, instead of trying to carry a super-heavy load in my own arms. 

I'm profoundly convinced that the most important aspect of repentance in our time is not to work harder at any given weakness or to stack up spiritual disciplines, but first of all to recover our lost sense of sabbath: holy rest.  What a difference it makes to lay aside our earthly cares for a day and banish all worry and work from the horizon, and just rest in trust of God, pray a little, and be quiet.  "In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength."  Isaiah 30:15.  No work of ascesis or spiritual discipline or human striving of any kind will stay afloat unless it is fundamentally moored in the quiet waters of God, anchored in hope and deep trust in His goodness and love.  Clearly, I have not really learned this lesson yet, but I want to want to learn it.  And somehow, this little illness of mine brought me some peace and real rest, when I realized that the derailment of my momentum was the best possible gift God could give me right now, and that this insignificant little suffering carried within itself a gentle nudge from Love.  I know that my life is in the hands of God, and that I can trust him to direct my steps according to His desire for me.  Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Glory to God for all things,

~Christopher McG
11th-Mar-2008 05:54 pm - Response to a response
Tree
I believe Chris's responses to my “astounding anachronism” post help to clarify many of my points, and so I'm going to respond to them one by one.  His comments are in italics, my responses are in plain font. 

Let me first of all state that I have no hard feelings towards the Lutheran Church, which raised me to love Christ, taught me the scriptures, and gave me moral guidance for my life.  I left Lutheranism when I found something that seemed to complete what I already believed and to resolve the tensions of some Lutheran doctrines in a more beautiful whole.  So I do not have any resentment towards the Lutheran Church, only a firm conviction that I've found something better that exposes some of the flaws of Lutheranism that I believe leave people hungry for more.  But my conversion to Orthodoxy was in no way motivated by bitterness.

1)  All of the fathers of the church are acknowledged by Lutheranism.  We celebrate all the saints in some form if the historic lectionary and calendar are used...sadly, because we reside in individualistic America, that is not often the case.

This is a valid point.  Lutheran theology has appealed to the fathers from the beginning.  However, there is a great difference in approach to the fathers in Lutheranism vs. Orthodoxy, as became very apparent in the exchange between Patriarch Jeremias II and the Tuebingen scholars.  My point that Lutheranism attempts to approach scripture with a traditionless blank slate is still valid, because the Lutheran use of the fathers is primarily a matter of afterthought-- first one interprets the scripture on an individual basis, and then one searches the patristic tradition looking for any fathers that support that position.  For the Lutheran Church, it was the agreed-upon contemporary exegetical consensus of the Reformers which judged the fathers, and the fathers themselves were only acknowledged insofar as they agreed with this consensus reading of scripture.  If the Lutheran reading of scripture disagreed with a particular father, the father was assumed to be wrong, and was discarded.  In other words, the fathers have no real authority in the Lutheran Church and were employed primarily for polemical purposes of proof-texting in order to validate that the doctrines derived from the Lutheran reading of scripture were not innovations.  The Lutheran project was essentially an attempt to reconstruct the apostolic tradition retrospectively by an independent reading of scripture and backward extrapolation-- thus the language of the "recovery of the Gospel" that one hears so frequently in Lutheran circles.  Orthodox maintain that proper exegesis of the scriptures can only proceed from within the proper tradition to begin with, and that it is impossible to arrive at the correct meaning of scripture without launching from the apostolic tradition, available only within the visible communion of the Church, and that one must return to check one's exegesis against the patristic norm.  An individual father is not infallible.  But the Church is, according to the promise of Christ.

2)  A few things about Sola Scriptura:  Our view is the view of the church fathers themselves on the subject...that nothing trumps the Scriptures...if you say something that appears contrary, you better have a dang good reason that still fits within the framework of the Scriptures, or else you have invalidated your tradition which is not guided by the Holy Spirit...you are left with what Rome calls "Tradition" which is that theology is a seed that can have dogma develop...we believe such a stance is heretical because it seeks dogmatic development rather than dogmatic defense and growth in understanding (an example of what I am talking about would be if the Pope were to declare the Muslim god to be the same as our God).

I'm glad you said this.  I do not want to be misunderstood as putting forth the Roman Catholic understanding of two parallel sources of revelation: scripture and tradition.  Orthodoxy firmly rejects the Roman idea of the development of doctrine, and fully agrees that the dogmatic developments of the Roman church are heretical or at least very wrong: the notion of papal infallibility and the teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary being two key examples.  Tradition cannot contradict scripture, and anything that contradicts scripture is not truly tradition, but innovation.  However, tradition is properly defined as the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the living experience of the eternal Truth present in the Church, Christ himself.  In our understanding, tradition cannot disagree with scripture because scripture is tradition.  The primary guiding norm of the Church is not a text or any dead collection of teachings, it is the Holy Spirit himself.  Tradition is thus the Holy Spirit making Christ present in the Church, and scripture is a part of this.  Scripture is the written form of tradition.  However, the canonical scriptures are not the criterion of the Church's tradition.  The Church's tradition is the criterion of the canonicity of scripture.  The Church went about her life with no impoverishment before the New Testament scriptures were ever written, and continued about her business for centuries before the canon was formally agreed upon.  The Church was able to authoritatively proclaim which books belonged to the canon of scripture because she could judge the content of the various books based on their agreement or disagreement with the Tradition which she already fully possessed, that is, the apostolic tradition still being experienced in living communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit.  The scriptures themselves show that tradition supercedes the body of written text: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle."  2 Thess 2:15 and 1 Cor 11:2 "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you." I'll be going more in depth about tradition and scripture in my next post.  Suffice for now to say that in the Orthodox view, scripture's authority rests on its faithfulness to the apostolic tradition, and must always be approached from within that tradition, though it certainly does stand as the highest and most binding expression of that tradition in writing, and exposes anything contradictory to it as a false tradition of men, not of God.  No man's opinion can contradict the scriptures and stand.

3)  There is a difference of approach between both the East and the West...both lungs of Christianity need to realize that neither is wrong, just different and usually beneficial towards each other.  The East approaches the Scriptures from the standpoint of the story of God and how He has called His church through Christ.  The West approaches the Scriptrues more in a literary fashion, trying to figure out the exact historical and grammatical context of the Scriptures.  The same is seen in the Latin fathers versus the Greek fathers.  While there is indeed overlap in this area, the Greek fathers focused more on worship and mysticism while the Latin fathers focused on law and doctrine (particularly finer points in debates with heretics).

The language of the two lungs of Christianity is an ecumenical expression of the late Pope John Paul II and is in no way formally accepted by the Orthodox Church, whose authentic possession and declaration of the whole Gospel is in no way diminished by the schism of the West.  It is a grievous loss of our brothers, to be sure, but it is not a loss of the truth.  I will grant your point to a degree-- different cultures will highlight aspects of the Truth that are especially relevant to their own situation.  However the Orthodox Church would say that not every approach to scripture is equally valid, and that some supercede others, and holds some of the conclusions of the Western Church to be quite plainly in error, many of which stem directly from St. Augustine.

I also think it highly incorrect to say that the East was less focused on doctrine and its finer points than the West.  The majority of the finer points of Trinitarian doctrine and Christology were articulated by the Greek Fathers: St. Athanasius, the Cappadocians, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus Confessor.  I do grant the emphasis on law as a unique character of the West which is, I think, a legitimate approach as long as properly balanced with the other scriptural metaphors of deification, adoption, and healing, but which leads to a very unbalanced view of God if the others are not properly emphasized, and this does seem to be a problem in the West, with Luther's struggles to relate to the Father as a prime example.  The Reformation emphasis upon the consolation of the troubled conscience by the assurance of justification is surely a doctrinal concern largely motivated by a picture of a wrathful and threatening judge for God.

4)  We repudiate St. Augustine's later beliefs in double-predestination and his views on original sin.  He is arguing against Pelagius as a philosophical theologian...similar to Luther vs. Erasmus in "Bondage of the Will."  Both seek to go as far away from their oponent to say they are in error...even if they do not really accept the view they argue for fully.  One could also argue from the mouth of Christ in St. John's Gospel the view of Luther and Augustine against the Pelagians and nearly Pelagianism of Erasmus that "the soul that sins is a slave to sin."

I do not think it is accurate to suggest any kind of detached, rational distance in Augustine's polemical thought from his true beliefs for the sake of argument with Pelagius.  The opposition of nature and grace, and the divine monergism are strains permeating his thinking throughout, not a momentary exaggeration for the sake of argument, though they may have hardened and crystallized in that polemical exchange.

You will have to prove to me that Lutherans repudiate Augustine's teachings on original sin.  The Augustinian doctrine is certainly the understanding I was raised with, and is the standard explanation for infant baptism-- one pastor pointed out at the Augustana Ministerium that the Orthodox must have a different reason for infant baptism than Lutherans when he learned that we don't accept Augustine's view of inherited guilt.  I believe your contention here is based upon an argument of Fr. Weedon's, who displays Orthodox affinities and is by no means representive of Lutheran opinions by and large.  He was at the Ministerium, and it was very clear that his views stood apart from the majority of participants.  I believe if you wrote out the core teachings of Augustine on the fall, the vast majority of Lutheran pastors would identify them as their own belief.  If it is not the official Lutheran teaching but so many Lutheran pastors hold to it, (which begs the question of how any official teaching can be determined in any case), then it is only further evidence to support my contention that Augustine still has a pre-reflective strangle-hold deep within the Lutheran theological mind.

5)  We treat the fathers as human beings who were fallible and could err.  This prevents them from being an authority that can never be challenged....even when they are known to be in error (an example of this is St. John of Damascus who in his "Against the Ishmaelites" argues that the monk Mohammed met was Arian...when in actuality he was a Nestorian).

The Orthodox also recognize the fallibility of any father, and none possesses unchallengeable authority.  We look to the consensus of the Fathers as an expression of the mind of the Church, but the final authority rests not in the Fathers but in the Church, "the pillar and foundation of the truth." Even an ecumenical council is only binding when it is received by the whole Church.

6)  Our views on the will in conversion and salvation are not as in opposition as either side thinks.  A great article from a Lutheran focuses on what he called "Orthodox monergism" and "Lutheran synergism."  (http://pleroma.typepad.com/pleroma/2007/02/lutheran_synerg.html).  In other words, he is arguing that both sides are talking at cross-points, and where the East sees the West as dogmatically against the term "synergism," the East similarly does not see what the West means by "divine monergism" and how the Lutherans' take on it is strikingly similar to the Easts...as the quotes show.  You can't take your deffinition of a word and look for the same deffinition across language and developmental boundaries (Greek vs. Latin and 1000+ years of isolation).

I am hopeful that there is a greater convergence here than I am aware of.  This is an intense area of interest for me.  However, I am doubtful that the Lutheran understanding can ever be sufficiently divested of its monergistic tendencies to oppose and occlude the human will with the divine, and therefore I'm skeptical of its rapprochement with Orthodox teachings.  I do want to study this more!

7)  Holy Tradition is not so monolithic as to provide the same norming power as the Scriptures...but it is still to be respected and most Lutherans with a brain will greatly respect, acknowledge, and follow Holy Tradition (which we do have)...within the Confessions the fathers are often quoted against Rome...and in later editions a document called "the Catalog of Testimonies" was published which contained 10 Christological points defended by the fathers alone.  It has also been pointed out by Fr. Weedon several important fathers whose opinions and thoughts on doctrines are ignored by the East (i.e. St. Athansius accepting the filioque, St. Gregory denying the veneration of icons, etc.)

I think I've covered these points already.  I do believe it's possible St. Athanasius could be read in a completely Orthodox manner, but in any case, as I mentioned before, the consensus of the fathers is more important than any individual opinion and the ultimate authority resides with the Church.  Which St. Gregory are you referring to on the icons?

8.  The 7 ecumenical councils are still more authoritative than the Lutheran Confessions...the confessions are the clear expression of the Gospel against Rome's innovations.

If this were so, then the Lutherans would be venerating icons throughout their history.  I accept this statement as theoretically true in intention, but in practice I would argue that the Lutheran Church has failed to fully appropriate the theology of the councils, especially the 6th and 7th, which is true of the West in general.  This is true of the theology of icons, as well as the deification soteriology behind the conciliar articulation of Christology, the Cappadocian theology behind the doctrine of the Trinity (which is decidedly in opposition to the Augustinian trinitarianism which dominates the West), and the Maximian theology of the will behind the affirmation of Christ's two wills.  The West has appropriated the Trinitarian and Christological conclusions of the councils without the reasoning that necessitated and got them there.

9.  The communion of saints is indeed confessed properly, but not necessarliy practiced because of two or three things:  A)America sees Rome as bad.  B)The interpreters of the Confessions are fundamentalist in their view of it and thus take too literally the articles about invocation of saints...little realizing that the language of the confessions clearly says "abuse" not "innovation."  C)The practice is making a come-back and is even in some Lutheran liturgies...."before the Virgin Mary, St. Peter and Paul, etc....I confess my sins" - this to the best of my knowledge was in early Lutheran (even Mo. Synod) liturgies as acceptable.

The official Lutheran position on this is fundamentally unstable and ambivalent from the beginning. It may be true that the Lutheran confessions do not officially ban prayers to the saints. However, it really cannot be said that there is any positive affirmation of them, and they are certainly not understood as a constitutive element of ecclesiology and liturgical piety. Lex orandi, lex credendi. The Lutheran Church does not truly live the communion of the saints. It has in some cases a secret love affair. But the fact that the anaphora was sliced out of the liturgy effectively cut off any real sense of living communion between the church militant and the church triumphant, and the liturgy ceased to be the gathering of all the faithful across time and space in the thanksgiving of the eucharist. Even if the Lutheran Church can still retain the pre-Reformation calendar of feasts and saints' commemorations, the fact of the matter is that that calendar ends abruptly and that there is no such thing as a Lutheran saint. If the Lutheran Church truly believed in the communion of saints, it would be commemorating saints who lived in every century up until the present. But the Lutheran Church has forgotten about the real possibility of sanctity. There is simply no denying that on the fundamental grass roots level, most Lutherans in most times have not had any devotion to the saints, nor any confidence in the real possibility of human transfiguration while on earth. The emphasis on justification so completely superceded sanctification that the memory of what sanctification actually looks like has mostly perished from the collective Lutheran memory, and an average Lutheran, I suspect, is more likely to be convinced by his pastor that it is not necessary for him to undertake the ascetic works of the spiritual disciplines which the saints all teach are indispensable to transfiguration by the Holy Spirit.


10)  Pastor Biermann in his first class on Christian Doctrine at the St. Louis seminary focuses on what Post-modernism helped to shed light on our Western mindset...that we actually always have presuppositions about Scripture...we have never forgotten such a view.  I would highly recommend you look into Arthur Carl Piepkorn, a twentieth century Lutheran theologian who saw us as a reform (meaning fixing the bastardized doctrine and practice) movement in the Roman Catholic Church.


I'm glad to find a Christian ally who recognizes that postmodernism isn't entirely condemnable.  Awareness that we always bring presuppositions beyond our control to a text is absolutely critical to any interpretive process.  On this point I find the curious convergence of godless postmodern thought and ancient Christian doctrine, which I'll be exploring further in future posts.

11)  What the theologian probably meant was that heresies provide the groundwork for clearer theological statements...the Arian and Nestorian heresies for example gave the church clear boundaries to speak of the ineffable God.  To say that Irenaeus needed the heresy of Pelagius was to say that the theologian didn't agree with his view on the will (I would say the theologian was in error).

You are absolutely right, and the speaker did in fact go on to argue that controversies can result in positive outcomes for theological clarity.  I totally agree with that.  Otherwise the councils would have been unnecessary. What I take issue with is the assumption by the speaker that the Augustinian constellation of teachings is only a clarification of the teaching on the will and not a new doctrinal development exceeding what came before.  I also object to the idea that the Orthodox view expressed both in contemporary theology and in Irenaeus is inherently primitive or ambiguous, or that it has failed to engage with Pelagian notions of free will and salvation outside grace.  As you said, this was only to say that the theologian didn't agree with Irenaeus' view of the will, and I'm glad that you say he was in error.

Cheers to a thoughtful discussion!

~Christopher McG
11th-Mar-2008 02:22 pm - A timely response
Tree
I promised to dedicate the first few posts here to my friend Christopher Heren and the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue.  As it turns out, my post demanded a heftier response from him than my unpaid livejournal privileges permit, and it wouldn't be right at all for the person I'm claiming to honor to be silenced by such technological trifles.  So here, in full, is the post he tried to make, hopefully soon to be followed by a few responses of my own, because these are good points :


McG,

Thank you for starting to post again...I didn't link to you in vain :-D.  Would you by the way let me know who the theologian who said such a thing about St. Irenaeus was?  His comment seems thoroughly "un-Lutheran" and somewhat irresponsible.  Even though I understand what he meant....he said it in such a way (at least without my knowledge of his talk) that it seems to have backfired and given you the wrong impression.  So while I don't blame you for getting the impression that St. Augutine is our Pope, it is somewhat akin to me listenting to one talk from the "Faith of Our Father's" Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue and getting the wrong idea (there was one such talk, but the majority were excellent...the bad talk was from one of the Lutherans who was "chased away" and was essentially quite bitter over his leave).

1)  All of the fathers of the church are acknowledged by Lutheranism.  We celebrate all the saints in some form if the historic lectionary and calendar are used...sadly, because we reside in individualistic America, that is not often the case.

2)  A few things about Sola Scriptura:  Our view is the view of the church fathers themselves on the subject...that nothing trumps the Scriptures...if you say something that appears contrary, you better have a dang good reason that still fits within the framework of the Scriptures, or else you have invalidated your tradition which is not guided by the Holy Spirit...you are left with what Rome calls "Tradition" which is that theology is a seed that can have dogma develop...we believe such a stance is heretical because it seeks dogmatic development rather than dogmatic defense and growth in understanding (an example of what I am talking about would be if the Pope were to declare the Muslim god to be the same as our God).

3)  There is a difference of approach between both the East and the West...both lungs of Christianity need to realize that neither is wrong, just different and usually beneficial towards each other.  The East approaches the Scriptures from the standpoint of the story of God and how He has called His church through Christ.  The West approaches the Scriptrues more in a literary fashion, trying to figure out the exact historical and grammatical context of the Scriptures.  The same is seen in the Latin fathers versus the Greek fathers.  While there is indeed overlap in this area, the Greek fathers focused more on worship and mysticism while the Latin fathers focused on law and doctrine (particularly finer points in debates with heretics).

4)  We repudiate St. Augustine's later beliefs in double-predestination and his views on original sin.  He is arguing against Pelagius as a philosophical theologian...similar to Luther vs. Erasmus in "Bondage of the Will."  Both seek to go as far away from their oponent to say they are in error...even if they do not really accept the view they argue for fully.  One could also argue from the mouth of Christ in St. John's Gospel the view of Luther and Augustine against the Pelagians and nearly Pelagianism of Erasmus that "the soul that sins is a slave to sin."

5)  We treat the fathers as human beings who were fallible and could err.  This prevents them from being an authority that can never be challenged....even when they are known to be in error (an example of this is St. John of Damascus who in his "Against the Ishmaelites" argues that the monk Mohammed met was Arian...when in actuality he was a Nestorian). 

6)  Our views on the will in conversion and salvation are not as in opposition as either side thinks.  A great article from a Lutheran focuses on what he called "Orthodox monergism" and "Lutheran synergism."  (http://pleroma.typepad.com/pleroma/2007/02/lutheran_synerg.html).  In other words, he is arguing that both sides are talking at cross-points, and where the East sees the West as dogmatically against the term "synergism," the East similarly does not see what the West means by "divine monergism" and how the Lutherans' take on it is strikingly similar to the Easts...as the quotes show.  You can't take your deffinition of a word and look for the same deffinition across language and developmental boundaries (Greek vs. Latin and 1000+ years of isolation).

7)  Holy Tradition is not so monolithic as to provide the same norming power as the Scriptures...but it is still to be respected and most Lutherans with a brain will greatly respect, acknowledge, and follow Holy Tradition (which we do have)...within the Confessions the fathers are often quoted against Rome...and in later editions a document called "the Catalog of Testimonies" was published which contained 10 Christological points defended by the fathers alone.  It has also been pointed out by Fr. Weedon several important fathers whose opinions and thoughts on doctrines are ignored by the East (i.e. St. Athansius accepting the filioque, St. Gregory denying the veneration of icons, etc.)

8.  The 7 ecumenical councils are still more authoritative than the Lutheran Confessions...the confessions are the clear expression of the Gospel against Rome's innovations.

9.  The communion of saints is indeed confessed properly, but not necessarliy practiced because of two or three things:  A)America sees Rome as bad.  B)The interpreters of the Confessions are fundamentalist in their view of it and thus take too literally the articles about invocation of saints...little realizing that the language of the confessions clearly says "abuse" not "innovation."  C)The practice is making a come-back and is even in some Lutheran liturgies...."before the Virgin Mary, St. Peter and Paul, etc....I confess my sins" - this to the best of my knowledge was in early Lutheran (even Mo. Synod) liturgies as acceptable.

10)  Pastor Biermann in his first class on Christian Doctrine at the St. Louis seminary focuses on what Post-modernism helped to shed light on our Western mindset...that we actually always have presuppositions about Scripture...we have never forgotten such a view.  I would highly recommend you look into Arthur Carl Piepkorn, a twentieth century Lutheran theologian who saw us as a reform (meaning fixing the bastardized doctrine and practice) movement in the Roman Catholic Church.

11)  What the theologian probably meant was that heresies provide the groundwork for clearer theological statements...the Arian and Nestorian heresies for example gave the church clear boundaries to speak of the ineffable God.  To say that Irenaeus needed the heresy of Pelagius was to say that the theologian didn't agree with his view on the will (I would say the theologian was in error).

Blessings on your Lenten Season,
Chris Heren
10th-Mar-2008 09:07 pm - An Astounding Anachronism
Tree
The resurrection of this blog of mine is heavily indebted to the brotherly pressure exerted on me when my old friend Christopher Heren recently posted a link here from his own blog.  There, at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I've been occasionally engaged in guerilla ecumenical dialogue with his special brand of Lutheranism, as championed by the Society of St Polycarp, to which he belongs.  I myself have learned a great deal from our discussions on justification, the will, and atonement, both out of a necessity to try to articulate the Orthodox understanding of these doctrines as well as from a renewed interest to survey the early diversity and evolution of Lutheran theological teachings, which seem to display considerable variation both in Luther's own development and among the central Lutheran theologians after his death.  For all the impetus this has given me to learn and better understand my own faith, I am grateful to my friend, and in honor of his single-handed restoration of my blogging health, I’m dedicating a series of posts to him and the Society of St. Polycarp, in the off chance that someone should actually follow the link here.  It relates directly to conversations within Lutheranism about Orthodoxy, but at the same time addresses a question that has preoccupied philosophy and critical theory for most of the second half of the last century: how does meaning arise from a given text, and what is the relationship between a text, its reader(s), and the meaning that results?  Attempts at dialogue between Orthodox and Lutherans quickly uncover two very divergent readings of the same text.  In this post, I'll be unpacking some comments made at the Augustana Ministerium--a Lutheran gathering last August held to discuss Orthodox teaching-- comments which uncover some hidden problematics of the Lutheran approach to two central bodies of text: the Scriptures and the Church Fathers.  It will be my suggestion that the Orthodox Church offers a unique solution to the problem of relation between the reader, the text, and its interpretation, and that this solution is at once more faithful to the attitude towards texts modeled within the scriptures themselves, as well as more consonant with the insights of postmodern critical theory.  

Part 1: An Astounding Anachronism

The Augustana Ministerium was a convention held last summer to address concerns of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod at the number of people leaving the Lutheran Church to join the Orthodox Church.  Many faithful Lutherans have been embracing Orthodoxy over the last 20 years or so, and the trend does not seem to show any signs of reversing.  Sometimes entire groups of Lutherans have converted to Orthodoxy all at once.  I certainly understand the appeal myself, since I too left the Lutheran Church when I found Orthodoxy.  As one who has lived on both sides of the fence, it was a fascinating experience for me to listen to the Lutherans trying to figure us out.  The convention was primarily a gathering of pastors, and the intention was to examine key doctrinal differences regarding original sin, justification, sanctification and theosis.  I believe the intellectual wrestling with these issues was honest and well-intentioned.  

    It was extremely evident, however, that the Lutherans were often missing the point or failing to grasp the big picture because the Orthodox approach to theology was just too unfamiliar and its fundamental assumptions were not clearly appropriated by the Lutherans.  This is entirely understandable, because Orthodox do not think or theologize like Western Christians, and many of the same words are used with much different meanings, leading easily to confusion.  What kept coming up over and over again was the fact that an Orthodox and a Lutheran can look at the exact same text and reach two very divergent conclusions.  I believe the real source of these differences resides in the “pre-reflective commitments” that we bring to the text, which “predestine” the range of meanings possible for us in a given text, precluding some and privileging others.  The whole set of interpretive assumptions which guides our reading could be summed up under the more theological heading of “tradition.”  And the very fact that this heading exists in Orthodox theology, but not in Lutheran theology, already speaks volumes about the commitments that the two groups bring to a text.  

    For the Orthodox, any approach to a text will necessarily and intentionally take place within a context, and that context is the defined boundaries of a living and visible interpretive community called the Church, with its historical succession of holy saints and exegetes.  For the Lutheran (or at least, for the first Lutherans), the text will be approached as self-sufficient, with no need for mediation by a tradition or an illumined guide.  The “plain” text, approached by the “unbiased” reader, will yield the correct meaning, and therefore the text itself is the judge of tradition.  The Bible text alone determines Christian belief, and so thoroughly is this authority embedded into the text itself that the role and act of interpretation is internal to the text and never really involves the reader: “scripture interprets scripture.”  The reader’s role is marked by that same passivity which characterizes so much of Lutheran theology: the work has already been accomplished, solely by the divine agent, and the believer need only acknowledge the finished product.  

    Now, the Lutheran ambivalence towards tradition is historically understandable.  The Lutheran encounter with the text arose in an unfortunate historical situation.  The Roman church  was playing the tradition card in order to justify a set of innovative doctrines that were plainly contrary to scripture: the selling of indulgences, for instance.  The problem confronting the Lutherans, therefore, was how to appeal to an authority higher than the visible institution claiming to be the Church when that institution’s tradition seemed to be plainly at odds with the scripture it was claiming to interpret.  When the Church is the bad guy, who do you appeal to?  Therefore it was necessary for the Lutherans to circumvent the visible ecclesial body and to approach the scriptures outside of any established tradition in an attempt to “recover the Gospel.”  The solution to the problem was the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the idea that scripture alone was the criterion for all doctrine, an idea dependent on two closely associated principles-- that scripture was in fact plainly understandable by any given reader, and that scripture could interpret scripture to resolve any apparent conflicts.

    This solution did free the Lutherans from Roman tradition-- at least in the ways they were aware of wanting to be free.  However, the denial of tradition in the interpretive process yielded a naïve approach to texts that was highly susceptible to unconscious influence from pre-reflective commitments conditioned by social and historical contexts.  In other words, the Lutherans could not actually eliminate the role of tradition in the interpretive process: their rejection of the consciously Roman tradition meant its replacement by the more general and unconscious Western tradition and the construction of a new Lutheran tradition within it.  Frequently, the real figures left doing the interpreting in Lutheran theology, whether consciously or unconsciously, are Augustine and Anselm.  At other times, the Roman tradition is still doing the real dictating, and the Lutheran position is simply being defined in dialectical opposition to it.  In either case, the Lutheran reading of texts always veils its own tradition, an extra-biblical tradition it claims not to have, but a tradition which becomes starkly apparent when it begins to engage with the exegesis and theology of the Orthodox Church.

    The dependence of Lutheran theology on St. Augustine should hardly be a surprise, given that Luther himself was an Augustinian, and that Augustine was simply the doctor of the Western Church to whom every generation after him appealed for authentication of their own teachings.  So thoroughly is Augustine embedded in the apparatus of the Western theological mind that even the Eastern Fathers are understood only in their relationship to Augustine, either as further support for the Augustinian position or else as an underdeveloped failure to arrive at a greater Augustinian precision.  This leads me to the “astounding anachronism” referenced in the title.  We confront the following statement from the Augustana Ministerium last summer:

“Irenaeus could sure use a Pelagian controversy because the way he talks about free will, I think, is at the root of the Eastern view of original sin.”

You should have seen my jaw drop when a pastor tossed out that doozy.  The level of pre-reflective commitment here to St. Augustine is completely off the charts-- and this pastor is so unaware of it, that he doesn’t even realized that his statement is smuggling a veritable truckload of ammunition over to the Eastern Church’s argument for free will and against Augustine’s views, not to mention that it completely grants my argument on the necessity and inevitability of tradition, in this case understood as the necessity of Augustinian tradition to Lutheran theology.  

First, some context.  The statement was made in the first session on Original Sin, about 15 minutes in.  The discussion had speculated about the reason for the recent trend of interest in patristic sources, and one speaker had suggested that the turn to the fathers was probably hoped to yield fruit in reuniting confessional divisions.  He then goes on to say that the turn to the fathers does not really solve the problems of divergent doctrine and then cites an example of why, which is our statement under consideration.  Let’s unpack everything contained in such a loaded statement.

Quite evident in the statement is its implicit approval of the Augustinian response to the Pelagian controversy.  Pelagius taught that man, by virtue of his inherent goodness and the natural use of his free will, could achieve his salvation by his own effort in virtue without additional grace from God.  In the heat of polemics with Pelagius, Augustine essentially took up a dialectically opposite position: that man was inherently depraved and unable to do any good whatsoever on his own, so that his free will in the fallen state was in complete bondage to sin.  Grace and human nature are essentially at odds with one another.  Anything good that man does is exclusively attributed to the grace of God, which must essentially overcome man’s nature and will in order to achieve its ends.  Any sense of cooperation between man and God is thus completely excluded.  (So unbalanced did this doctrine become for Augustine that it developed into the blasphemous doctrine of double-predestination, the teaching that since grace alone initiates change in a sinner, the divine will alone is responsible for the salvation or damnation of creatures, meaning God just arbitrarily decides who he’s going to save and who he isn’t going to save before they’re even born.  Lutherans will say that they reject this double-predestination, but it’s awfully hard to get them to say that human will has anything to do with one’s salvation, belying their Augustinian inheritance.)

So why would Irenaeus need a Pelagian controversy?  Probably because his writings are utterly free of Augustinian pessimism towards human nature.  For Irenaeus, free will remains a valid category after the fall as an inherent part of human nature in the image of God, which cannot be lost.  Therefore, the response of the human free will is utterly necessary in man’s salvation.  Our speaker is quite right to note the continuity between Irenaeus’ view and the current teaching of the Orthodox Church: “the way he talks about free will, I think, is at the root of the Eastern view of original sin.”  However, he assumes that this Eastern view of free will and human nature after the fall is only possible in a rather primitive and unguarded context.  If a heresy like Pelagianism had arisen in the East, he assumes, then surely the Eastern fathers like Irenaeus (who really is a Western father from Gaul) would have been forced to refine their position to the logical conclusion of Augustine: free will existed only before the fall, and man’s will is now entirely in bondage under sin and only freed when grace changes the will and redirects it to God.  In other words, Irenaeus is a sloppy theologian whose simplistic views failed to arrive at the Augustinian fullness of truth because he had no historical controversy with a heretic to avail himself of.  The continued insistence of the Orthodox East on the centrality of the free will and human cooperation in salvation is seen as a continuation of this Irenaean imprecision, and either requires the pedagogy of an error like Pelagianism to refine it or else simply smacks of heresy itself.  At best, it will have to be brushed off with a dismissive wave as “semi-Pelagian,” the Western code-word for “not-fully-Augustinian.”  Never mind that the Eastern Church did condemn Pelagianism at the Third Ecumenical Council, and that St. John Cassian responded to the controversy as a contemporary of both Pelagius and Augustine, siding with neither and instead explaining the doctrine of synergism still held in the East today.  This doctrine is entirely consistent with the earlier position of St. Irenaeus, unlike the Augustinian doctrine, which could never be reconciled with Irenaeus.  
 
So according to our speaker, turning to Fathers like Irenaeus does not help resolve confessional disputes, because it does not clearly yield the biblical Lutheran--which is to say, Augustinian--position.  Thus:

“Irenaeus could sure use a Pelagian controversy because the way he talks about free will, I think, is at the root of the Eastern view of original sin.”

Now this is just an incredible piece of reasoning.  The statement carries the cargo of its own demise, which I’ll gladly unpack here.  In making this statement, the Lutheran pastor has conceded:

1) that the Augustinian view of free will and human nature is absent in one of the earliest Christian theologians
2) that this Augustinian view was articulated in a specific historical moment of controversy in polemics with the heretic Pelagius, dateable to the fourth century
3) that, to the contrary, Irenaeus seems to express a different notion of free will and original sin incompatible with Augustinianism, and dateable to at least the second century
4) that the Orthodox Church’s teaching to this day is consistent with the view of Irenaeus and represents the continuous tradition of the Eastern Church
5) therefore, that the Orthodox tradition displays a unanimous vision of the free will which can be traced within two degrees of separation to the apostles themselves (see below info on St. Irenaeus),
6) and finally that Lutheran scriptural exegesis is thoroughly dependent on Augustine’s teaching about free will and original sin

Now this is just incredible.  The Lutheran has virtually conceded that his position disagrees with that of the early church whereas Orthodoxy does agree.  And instead of recognizing that it might be in order for him to realign his theology more closely with that of the early church, he instead takes the opportunity to suggest that the Orthodox Church should book a date with a heretic they’ve already condemned so that they can redefine themselves along more dialectical Augustinian lines and thus recover the biblical teachings of Lutheranism.  And that’s what I mean by an astounding anachronism.  Behold the power of the pre-reflective commitment.  The Lutheran/Augustinian schema has predisposed him to force all thoughts on free will through the Augustinian/Pelagian controversy, to the exclusion of all other voices in the early church on the subject.  In effect, we have a hidden construction operating behind his thought that is categorizing and predetermining the range of possible conclusions within a text.  Since this unconscious construction has already appropriated Augustine’s opposition of nature and grace, and therefore Augustine’s reading of original sin and freedom as by definition the only possible biblical interpretation, Irenaeus must not have fully considered the implications of his theology and wouldn’t really say what he said if he’d had the benefit of Pelagius to provide some dialectical refinement.  In the final analysis, Orthodox teaching is thus either vague to a fault or else straight-up unbiblical, and can therefore be dismissed.

St. Irenaeus was bishop of Lyons in the second century, and reposed around the year 200 AD.  He was a disciple of St. Polycarp, the famous martyr among the apostolic fathers, and St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the apostle.  That puts St. Irenaeus at two degrees of separation from the apostles, and three degrees of separation from our Lord himself.  In other words, you can’t come a whole lot closer to the source of apostolic tradition than Irenaeus.  In fact, Irenaeus was intensely aware of his participation in that tradition, and wrote extensively on the question of authentic tradition because of his opposition to the gnostic sects that were claiming special, secretive knowledge that had not been passed on to the mainstream church.  Irenaeus’ response was essentially that the mainstream Church’s bishops were ordained by the apostles themselves, who continue to pass on the same tradition that they received from the apostles, whereas the gnostic sects could not locate their authority in any continuity with the apostles.  According to St. Irenaeus, an essential criterion of the true faith and the apostolic tradition is communion with a bishop who stands in succession within that apostolic lineage. 

This real and visible communion with the legitimate apostolic tradition, however, was directly rejected by Luther and his followers when they abandoned any notion of a visible ecclesiology and severely questioned the real communion of saints.  The end result is an unstable tradition founded upon individual interpretations of the scriptures with no objective or normalizing means for authenticating any teaching besides a loose confederation of like-minded Bible-readers.  The fruits of this traditionless tradition were almost immediately manifested in myriad fragmentation yielding countless disparate Protestant churches all claiming Biblical authority for their teachings.  Every time a reader brings new pre-reflective commitments to the Biblical text, a new schism ensues, because there is no legitimate apostolic tradition in place to impart the apostolic set of commitments instead of an unreflective inheritance from the contemporary socio-historical situation.

Next time, we’ll take a look at how Lutheran pre-reflective commitments guide their reading of scripture, focusing specifically on Romans 5:12.  We’ll also expose the thoroughly unbiblical doctrine of sola scriptura as a pure commitment of tradition, and contrast it with Orthodoxy’s biblical hermeneutic.  Then, in a third session, I hope to discuss the liturgical implications of tradition and scripture, focusing on the centrality of the communion of saints in the Eucharistic gathering of the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran amputation of this Nicene doctrine by the excision of the anaphora from their liturgy.

Hopefully I’ll get around to some more personal updates, as well! 

Glory to God for all things,

~Christopher McG
 
5th-Mar-2008 06:22 pm - Anastasis
Tree
Do you ever forget who you are?  For some reason my life has been haunted by an unsettling sense that the most perfect moments are marked with a tragic ephemerality-- not only the inevitable transience of the passing present, but a sense of the ether-like fluidity of my memory, which may evaporate and be carried away with the breeze.  I seem to know where I am, but not how I got here.  Where was I trying to get?  Most of the time, the busy current of life carries me happily along my way, but every now and then, a gentle bend in the stream throws me into an eddy and gives me a little time to circle around awhile and think.  When I almost hold still, the haunting comes.

I've found my way into one of those eddies.  We have three days off this week for a break before Lent.  No sooner does the dorm empty out and I get a few hours of solitude than thoughts sneak up of happier relationships and more certain community and some sense of having lost most of the things that matter in some kind of diaspora that I didn't know I was a part of at first.  Like I've been living in a foreign country so long that I forgot what my own home looks like.  It's like I ripped up the only photograph I had of home and gave a piece to each person who ever lived there with me.  Then everyone took their little piece and went away.  Sometimes, when I meet an old friend, they show me a piece of that photograph again, and I remember a part of home that I had forgotten.  Some of you have big pieces from me.  I wonder how I could have let myself forget my home, why I didn't try to put the pieces together sometimes.  Why did I neglect my friends, and my own family?  I've known for a long time now that we make each other more alive, more ourselves, and we are each other's memory.  I'm not me without you, and I miss you.  Please forgive me for hoarding little bits of photograph to myself stolen from everyone else. 

I'm back.  I made resolutions for the first time this past New Year's: to write more, and to spend more time outdoors.  Since the fierce March lion-wind is roaring outside, and the fields and trails are soggy with slush and meltoff, I didn't really have to think about which resolution I'd be keeping today.  It's the most brooding weather possible: big angry clouds over the mountains, and the snow running away in streams down into the monochrome valleys, everything saturated with cold and damp.  A good day for writing.

I'll show you how out in the country I am here.  I decided to drive to the little gas station/convenience store that marks the crossroads of this little town, to get some groceries.  It's no more than half a mile.  But I couldn't go a hundred yards from campus, because the road was flooded out that runs between two lakes, both overgorged with melt-off and now connected by a liquid isthmus spilling over in the street.  So instead I decided to risk the dirt road that I've never taken before, but I knew goes the right way.  I'm not sure which was really the greater risk: killing the engine in the lake or fishtailing up and down the mucky hills, with no idea if the road would hold out the whole way or itself be cut in half by seasonal streams.  Thankfully, it wasn't a complete bog yet, and I made it to the store without spinning my tires.  I made it back out of the cold, and now I'm sipping a cup of Stephen's gourmet hot cocoa, which I haven't had since Oregon.  It's still the best I've tasted.

Well, maybe a few untethered reflections, an apology, and a weather report seem like a very modest resurrection, too full of winter still, like March, but for today, it's enough.  Eventually, maybe I'll remember how to write again.  For now I remember the first line of a poem I like: "Resurrection first tastes like death."  It gets better from there, but I don't remember how it goes.

Glory to God for all things,

~McG
17th-Jan-2006 11:43 pm - The Story of Lorenzo's Glasses
Tree
Hey everyone,

it's been a long time since I've posted here, for which I apologize. I have a list of things I want to write about, but so often they're more theological and reflective and I put off posting about them both because I'm afraid of people losing interest and because I tend to scribble down a lot of thoughts and never get around to organizing them. But I know people are really curious about my work with Emmaus, and so I've finally thought of a story that I'd like to share.

On a little disruptive sidenote, hopefully most people reading this blog received a copy of my poetry chapbook in their email, but if not and you'd like to, send me an email or post a request right here.

Alright, so, the story of Lorenzo.

Lorenzo is a man who has been involved with Emmaus for years and years, a real old-timer who can tell you how things have changed-- he's been there longer than most of our own staff. At this point, there's absolutely no way that Lorenzo is hustling any more-- he's hit middle age, with the accompanying weight gain and all the rest of it, and you can just tell that his hustling days are over for good. But he's had a relationship with Emmaus for a long time, and is still homeless, and is also one of our favorites, so he continues to be welcome in our Ministry Center for lunch and laundry and whatever else we can help him out with.

Lorenzo is our happy homeless man. His story is sad, but his personality is immediately likable. He smiles and says "eeeeeyyyy, Budddyyy!" every time he comes in, and gives you the street-style handclasp and hug. He's also the only guy who calls me "McG" in all of Chicago-- he seems to really like my nickname. And he's generally pretty easy to get along with, very earnest, and good-humored. He likes to bring in his own hot peppers to add to his dinner. It's true that he's a little crazy-- but it's kind of in a childlike way, as in being unable to really take care of himself or plan ahead for the future very well, and occasionally taking a while to catch on to an idea. But you'd never think that he was mentally ill or anything if you just met him and talked with him for a while. He also made an enjoyable foosball opponent, while we still had the foosball table down in the ministry center.

Anyway, while everyone loves Lorenzo and he seems to be basically content with his homeless condition, his life is torn by the streets like everyone else who has to call them home. Lorenzo is an active alcoholic, and on outreach we've seen him drunk out of his mind far too many times. We know from that that he can't really be at all content about his life, but what do you do for a person who doesn't seem to have the desire to take care of himself, and seems to be happy with his condition?

One other thing about Lorenzo is that he wears these really thick glasses-- if there are coke-bottle lenses, these are Coca-Cola-Classic-coke-bottle lenses. He's almost blind without them-- to the point that it's really scarily dangerous for him even to cross the street. Almost since I first met Lorenzo when I came to Chicago, his glasses were broken-- not the lenses, but one of the legs of the frame had broken at the hinge and was always falling off. So Lorenzo was constantly fiddling around reattaching the leg to the hinge. I'm sure his nightly drinking sessions didn't help it to stay in place.

Anyway, this went on for quite some time-- in the middle of a foosball game, his glasses would start to fall apart and he'd have to fix them, or whatever. He was always fixing them. Well, after a month or two I made some remark about it and discovered from him that he already had a new pair waiting for him at a Lenscrafters in one of the suburbs. Apparently he had gotten a voucher or something for an eye exam and a pair of glasses, and had gone out to the burbs to do the exam. They gave him a new prescription and made him a new pair of glasses, but he had never gotten out there again to pick them up. So all this time putting up with broken glasses was totally unnecessary.

We started to encourage Lorenzo to go out there and pick up his glasses. He would say that he needed to do that soon, but then each day he would show up again fixing his glasses. After a while, I decided that at least in the meantime I could make his life a little easier if I brought in some superglue and tried to fix his current pair. So I brought it in and fit the leg over the hinge and glued it on, and for about a week or so Lorenzo wasn't fixing his glasses.

But then he came in one day and the glasses were resting on one ear only, the other leg missing from the frame entirely. I don't remember what he said when I asked him what happened to them, except that apparently the hinge itself had broken now and was beyond glueing. So now not only were his glasses broken, but having become completely one-legged, they were constantly sliding off his face. I was worried that he was going to lose them entirely now-- wake up one morning and find them missing or shattered. But he put up with his avalanching glasses for another week or two without complaining and without trying to get his new pair.

Finally one Wednesday he came in before our Wednesday afternoon meeting, and some of us suggested that instead of doing his goal at the ministry center (we always require our guys to accomplish something or to attend the meeting during their time at Emmaus) it would count as his goal if he would go out to that Lenscrafters and pick up his new pair of glasses. We gave him a CTA card for transportation and sent him on his way.

About 6 o'clock that evening, around the time we have dinner, he showed up at our door again, wearing his one-legged glasses, a smile, and a shrug. "Lorenzo, where are the glasses?" I asked him. He told me that he ended up taking the wrong bus-- he got out to a mall with a Lenscrafters, but it was the wrong mall and the wrong Lenscrafters. So he just came back empty-handed. I would have beat my head against the wall, if it weren't for the fact that he took everything so good-naturedly and seemed to have an earnest sense of humble inevitability about his mistakes. All you can do is shake your head and grin-- he just doesn't seem to get it.

After a few more days of watching his glasses slide off his face, I finally told Lorenzo that I really wanted to see him wearing his new pair of glasses, and that I was personally willing to drive him out to Lenscrafters the next day after the ministry center closed, if he would show up.

"Let's get this thing taken care of, man-- I really want you to have those new glasses, don't you? Just come in tomorrow and we'll do it, ok?" I said to him.

"Really? You'd do that for me?"

"Yeah Lorenzo. Just stop by tomorrow and we'll drive out there."

"Thanks buddy!" he said, with his handclasp and hug.

I was really hoping Lorenzo would show up, and worried that he wouldn't come in and this glasses crisis would go on for another several weeks. And by this point I was wondering how much longer Lenscrafters was going to hold onto his new pair for him.

The next day I came into work and was checking in our guys as they showed up at the center around lunchtime. I'd checked with my co-workers and had the green light to take off with Lorenzo in the afternoon if he showed up. As planned, Lorenzo came walking through the door around noon.

Wearing a new pair of glasses and a huge grin.

!!!!

I almost fell over-- probably would have, if I hadn't been sitting down already.

"Lorenzo, are those what I think they are? You're wearing new glasses! You got 'em!"

He just kept grinning. And then he said one of the most meaningful things anyone has said to me at Emmaus.

"Yeah, I went out there last night on my own and got 'em myself! I figured if someone cared about me enough to drive me all the way out there so I could pick 'em up, I oughta care about myself enough to be able to do something for myself. So I took the bus out there and got my glasses. I thought if you cared about me like that, it should make me want to care for myself, too."

This almost made me cry. In fact, I probably would have cried with joy, if it weren't for the fact that I still had to check in a bunch of other Emmaus guys.

I still think of this as one of my best moments at Emmaus-- the moment when I knew that what I'm doing really means something to people. All I wanted to give Lorenzo was the chance to see clearly without having to pick up his glasses from the floor or the table all the time. Unwittingly, my concern for him gave him the chance to see something about himself that his glasses couldn't show him, whether with one or two functioning earpieces: that he was worth taking care of. I never expected bumbling-and-happy-homeless Lorenzo to show that kind of initiative-- I just hoped he would show up so that I could make sure he really did get out there to get what he needed. But I guess my concern for him surprised him, and motivated him to surprise me back-- and he couldn't have picked a better surprise.

Right now Lorenzo has gotten himself a job, and things are looking good for him to get a place of his own. Please pray for him to have the courage to hold down a job and stick out the difficulties, so that he can finally stabilize his life a little bit and get off the streets after all these years. And please pray that he'll continue to grow in his desire to take care of himself and to know the abundant life God desires for him.

Peace and love,

Chris McG
14th-Nov-2005 11:58 am - The Fast Track to Joy
Tree
This is the eve of the fast for Advent in the Orthodox Church, which means that for the next 40 days Orthodox Christians around the world will be eating two light meals a day and abstaining from dairy and meat. However, this fast, unlike the more rigorous fast for Great Lent, is especially strongly marked by a character of joyous and hopeful expectation, preparing for the coming and reception of new life into the world: the coming of God into our midst in the Incarnation. And so fish and wine (alcohohl) are permitted. This will be my first time observing the Advent fast, and I’m actually very excited and happy about it—I’ve been looking forward to starting a fast for some time. Maybe that sounds funny—as, no doubt, does the idea of a joyous fast. But Advent is a good lesson in the meaning of fasting and repentance to us, which are both intended to produce joy and livelier life.

Repentance, for the Orthodox, is not focused on dwelling at length on one’s sinfulness, guilt, and shame. It isn’t about a state of penance, beating yourself up physically or emotionally, for the mistakes you’ve made. Repentance is about acquiring a fuller vision of the abundance of the life that God wants to give us—basically, about acquiring a new, more fiery desire for the true beauty of God’s infinite love, and seeking to make room for that love to dwell richly inside of us. So yeah, that includes yanking your attention away from distractions and addictions and bad habits that keep you from experiencing God’s presence, which means turning away from unhealthy and unprofitable things, but it more fundamentally means turning toward something better, something more absolutely filling, something incredible that makes life seem worth living and sharing with others. It can hurt and we can be upset with ourselves when we realize how pathetic our own attempts to mold our lives into happiness were, and how stubbornly we avoided a better life that was offered to us all along. But the most important aspect of repentance is the rejoicing that comes after we come to our senses and receive God’s gift of love to us, which we don’t even really believe we deserve. Repentance is like Jesus’ parable of the man who discovers some treasure buried in a field, and is so excited about it, and wants it so bad, that he sells everything else that he has in order to buy the whole field in which the treasure lies. The most important part of repentance is the discovery of a treasure worth more than anything else in life, because it itself is a source of life—and that treasure is to know and experience God directly present, alive, and active in our lives. The word for repentance in the New Testament is “metanoia,” which means a transformation of your mind. I always think St. Paul sums it up well when he says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Repentance is the rebirth of life into us, the reopening of a fuller awareness, the sudden widening of your horizons into an unimaginably beautiful vista. And it is in order to acquire that vision that we do everything else we do in a season of fasting—the dietary strictures, the increased prayer, the extra liturgies—because we want more than anything else to open our minds again to the reality of the beauty of God and the beauty of his creation. All these things we do are not the end in themselves, but the means of cresting a hilltop from which we gain a new vantage on the world—a place where we can see things better, where it’s all so much more beautiful than it was down below and on the road up.

Also contrary to many people’s concepts of fasting, our intent is not the renunciation of the material world, but rather the attempt to be more fully alive within it, and to acquire a vision in which God shines through all things. We are not world-fleeing gnostics who distrust the weight and shape of material things, hoping to fly to some refuge realm of spirit divorced from body. No, we are those who believe that the body has a key role to play in our salvation, and is partner to the mind and spirit, no less integral than they are to our transformed selves. We believe that it is important not to bypass the body in our search for salvation, and that it is impossible to find a way to God if we pretend that our true identity is a disembodied soul that comes to know God in some imaginary otherworld. We believe that our bodies are spiritual, too, and that what we do with our bodies can really have an impact on our ability to be present to God. Fasting is the natural result of a holistic spirituality, and is actually the total opposite of a gnostic dualism—the gnostics so disregarded the body that they believed it didn’t really matter what became of it—and so they either tortured and starved and beat themselves to prove their bodies’ insignificance, or they indulged in every imaginable hedonism, gorging on food and wine and orgies in ridicule for it or because they believed none of these things were truly real, and that therefore no physical act had any real consequences.

So anyway, fasting comes down to a holistic spirituality that affirms the body’s goodness and its ability to play a key role in our lives as complete human beings who long for God. I’ve come to appreciate some of our fasting practices as really just some very practical advice for how to draw near to God—simple observations of what bodily conditions work for prayer, and what don’t. I mean, think about it: it is our practice to fast before liturgies. Why? Because it’s easier to pray when you’re a little hungry, and when you’re more awake. It’s definitely a bad idea to try to pray right after you’ve stuffed yourself at Thanksgiving—it’s easy to be totally content with your life and to think that all your needs are fulfilled because you have a full stomach. And you’ll probably fall asleep. You just can’t pay attention. And I can say from experience that longer periods of fasting make me feel light at heart and happy, and it’s a lot easier to resist unhealthy distractions, and prayers come more naturally and feel less like a drudgery or a time-wasting obligation. All of this fantastically complements the work of the mind and spirit: that search for a better, fuller vision that we want to acquire in repentance. It teaches the joy that comes from resisting some of our abyss-like appetites and refreshing ourselves with obedience to the life of delight God offers us. We have a lot of impulses and worries and addictions and appetites that preoccupy our attention most of the time and keep us running in circles, chasing a happiness that is always one step ahead of us, while all the while we are so absorbed in ourselves that we don’t notice how beautiful the world is, how beautiful other people are, and how much happier and more fulfilled we are when we’re giving for their sake and not trying to sate ourselves with the next fix, whatever it might be. Fasting is about breaking out of that addictive cycle into freedom. And I’m very much looking forward to the chance to search my life and uproot some of the frustrating addictions and cares that seem to eat up my time and energy. I’m looking forward to the chance to acquire perhaps a few more acres of that field with the treasure buried in it.

Advent is a joyous fast. And it makes me happy to dive in, to do something courageous, that takes some effort and some restraint and some hope, and to stop being a lazy slave who lets things control me. I said that Advent is probably the time of year with the most days in it that Orthodox can drink wine. Maybe it’s possible to think about Advent like this: For once, we’re not joyful because we drink wine; we drink wine because we’re joyful already. That’s what fasting and repentance are about: learning to think of the whole world like that wine. We want to seek the joy that comes from God so that we’ll be able to embrace the whole world in his infinite joy and love, instead of trying to devour the whole world looking for joy without ever being satisfied.

So, anyone up for some fish and chips and a good ale to celebrate?
25th-Oct-2005 09:56 pm - Fragile and Invincible
Tree
Every day, twice a day, I spend about 25 minutes driving along the coast of Lake Michigan on Lake Shore Drive. This time has become an important ritual of my day, which I not only endure, but often welcome. I admit, there are days when I’m just exhausted from the stress of the day, and it takes all my strength to drag my temper through the extra 30 minutes it takes before I’m going to be able to kick back with a brew and not have to worry about anything. (And there are those moments when I’m halfway through changing lanes before I realize that the guy from two lanes over had the idea to merge into the same middle lane, like we’re trying some kind of synchronized Star Trek docking maneuver.) But a lot of days, the drive to and from work seems to pass without the passage of time—it’s just a place I live in, where my inner world and my outer world run together and become momentarily indistinguishable. I sing along with MxPx at the top of my lungs, and the turns in the road become the turns in the song, and the waves on the beaches and harbors crash with cymbals, I drive the lyrics, and they steer the car in between other cars and down the lanes. It doesn’t really feel like going or coming, just existing—and on a good day, it feels like living. Especially these days, now that we have reached high Autumn. Whether the sky is bright or dour, or embattled with both, the trees themselves are alive with fire that no rainy day can extinguish. And the rain beats down hard here, and the wind blows back and forth and threatens to fan the trees’ flames right out, and waves explode along the coast—and the next day all the upheaval together has produced the most still and peaceful autumn day, with a crisp, crystal clear night. Right here on Lake Shore Drive, twice a day I get to watch all the elements collide: sea and sky and earth and fire, nature and the city, summer and winter, light and dark. I like to be set adrift in that maelstrom, and see where I finally beach my thoughts.

The lake tonight was grey-green against a charcoal ash sky, and there were big white breakers along the piers. The clouds were stark and encamped in jagged patches, as though fortifying the front lines against an equally stark and bright sundown. It’s been bipolar weather the past few days, with a few moments of downpour playing tag with a few moments of sunshine. It’ll be raining on you from beautiful blue skies overhead.

I saw a rainbow tonight, fragile and invincible. It was a big fat one, bright and unmistakable and wrapped in all seven colors (assuming you really believe indigo exists somewhere between blue and violet). It stood solitary on top of the churning waves and splashed up through the clouds as if their murk were only a monotonous fiction—a dull old story that nodding old men tell and retell to themselves to make sense of the whole world. But that story was now suddenly pierced by an almost forgotten wealth of life and an infinite spectrum of colors and possibilities. For about two minutes, the rainbow mastered the sky, indomitable, implacable, unassailable. No darkness could match its vibrancy, and all light only gave it more life. The winds could only increase its girth; and no solid object could have moved it, or cut it, or pierced it. And then it was gone. Completely vanished without a trace, without even a wisp of stealthy indigo to sneak around the sky a while longer. It had all the invincibility of beauty—peerless, unmistakable, unforgettable—and yet the paradox of beauty is that its most perfect strength is its unimposing fragility. It speaks for a moment with words more eloquent than poetry, and then it leaves as gently as it came. Only those who have the patience take notice. Beauty never lingers uninvited. And it never visits without inviting our return, to meet it again somewhere else, sometime soon-- if we’d like that. Most of the time we tend to politely decline the offer. I wonder how many people even noticed that there was a rainbow tonight, in the few brief moments it was there. I wonder how many people got distracted in their daydreams about what they’d do when they got home, or how many people were frustrated waiting for the red light to change, and never even noticed how grey the clouds were, much less how colorful the rainbow was. I wonder how many times I was one of those people. I know that yesterday I count myself among their number: someone told me there was another rainbow then, as beautiful as today’s. The window opens briefly; the fresh air drifts in; how deep do we breathe before we leave the room? Or is winter so old that we have forgotten the difference between stale and pure air? Or have we ourselves become so chilled that we would flee to the same stale old air because it’s warm and doesn’t startle us awake like the cold and pure air?

I couldn’t help thinking that the beauty of God’s promises are just like the beauty of a rainbow. They are eternal and indestructible, and yet so very quiet and fragile in their dependency, waiting for us to notice them. They will never pass away, and yet they emerge in a fragile moment of honesty and total disclosure, which passes by swiftly if we don’t respond with wonder. They are everywhere, popping up every moment, inviting us to discover them woven into the fabric of the whole earth and our every experience, and yet we will only see them if we watch for them eagerly, hoping for them to erupt through our monotonous stratus-cloud fictions that curtain light from our lives.

Peace and blessings,

Christopher McG
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