Wednesday, May 31, 2006


For the 3 or 4 (5 tops) of you who check out this blog from time to time, I am just letting you know that I will be away until the 3rd of July. I am taking a month off.

I suspect most of us are good at justifying those things we want to do. I know I am a master at it. My justification for this trip goes something like this: I am 51 years old, I have been at the same job for 29 years, my house is paid for, my son has graduated college and that is paid for, I have been busier at work than ever, and I need a break. How's that? Seriously though, I have been planning and saving for this journey for 2 years. Long-range planning, excellent co-workers and the miracle of frequent-flyer miles makes it all possible.

My itinerary includes 10-11 days in Georgia (see picture above), a day in Armenia, 2 weeks in eastern Turkey and a 4 days in Constantinople. My 23-year old son is my traveling companion. We are both traveling extremely light--a small backpack each.

We will appreciate your prayers for our safety, and upon return will (hopefully) have lots of stories to drone on endlessly about!


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"From Below" Christology

I love magazines and journals. Our home has always been awash in them--home and garden magazines, historical journals (the more obscure the better), travel magazines, current events, literary journals, you name it. In an effort to discipline my spending and to get a handle on the clutter, I have begun to let some drop by the wayside, even to the point of letting my 25+ year National Geographic subscription lapse. It seems NG has become all too issue-oriented. When I open a NG, I want to read about Paraguay and Bakhara and Upper Volta, not "issues."

One journal I continue to receive is the Stone-Campbell Journal. What, you say, is the SCJ? Well, my heritage church is part of what was commonly referred to as the American "Restoration Movement." As our scholars become increasingly uneasy with the implications of "restorationism," they took to calling it the Stone-Campbell Movement, after its two leading figures from the early days (that's early 1800s, in this case!). The SCJ is actually well done, with a number of timely articles and book reviews. Of course, I have moved on, as they say, but I still enjoy reading the journal to keep up with trends in the S-C churches.

Obviously, as an Orthodox Christian, I now read the journal with different sensibilities and insights. And I do not think I am being just knee-jerk critical, as the journal is still of interest to me. Yet, I had a real problem with a lead article (written by the editor, in fact), entitled "The Chalcedon Definition, Pauline Christology and the Postmodern Ehallenge of "From Below" Christology." Huh? I read the article, and then read it again. The best I can make of it is that the professor believes that the promulgations from the Council at Chalcedon are just, well, not spiffy enough for us hip, enlightened postmodern folk, and perhaps need to be replaced with "Pauline" language "from below." Okay. He writes:

...postmodern ways to understand and relate christology, especially as it relates to how Christ's humanity and divinity work are only just beginning.

Only just beginning????? Maybe the postmoderns are "only just beginning," but it seems to me the Church Fathers covered this ground pretty thoroughly some 1600-1800 years ago. Herein lies an inherent problem with the Protestant mindset: ever so often, they feel a need to reinvent the wheel.

He continues:

Many of these hold promise and should not be shackled by Chalcedonian language, much of which is rooted in its own period of history. As important as Chalcedon has been to Christianity, parts of it may no longer be the best representatives of biblical teaching for the coming era.

And where do we find that superior representation of biblical teaching? The SCJ, I suppose. Lord have mercy.

He concludes:

Those of us from the Stone-Campbell heritage have every reason to be in the forefront of these explorations since we have always been reluctant to embrace any "creed but Christ."

The irony here is that this passes for scholarship by some.

I enjoyed the book reviews somewhat better. One S-C contributor reviewed a biography of 20th Century Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov. I found his comments humorous:

Reading this volume transports one into the sometimes mysterious world of the Eastern Church. In contrast to the Lockeian simplicity of Stone-Campbell theology, Bulgakov's Russian Orthodoxy is complex and rambling. It is both speculative and richly philosophical. For spiritual descendants of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell who celebrate the simplicity of the gospel, reading Bugakov may remind us of the sometimes complex nature of Christian doctrine.

No kidding.

One review commented on a book entitled The Jazz of Preaching. Another reviewed Rubel Shelly's The Jesus Proposal, mercifully dismissing it as an "easy-to-read volume...that will simply be placed on the shelf and forgotten because it cannot be put into practice consistently..." Finally one review tackled D. G. Hart's Deconstructing Evangelicalism:

At the heart of this book, he notes that constructed evangelicalism cannot hold its center and is heading towards "deconstructing." This study should make scholars consider whether their endeavors have favored a movement and its inadequate forms over the church and its tradition. Also, scholars in the Stone-Campbell tradition should take heed as more segments of the Restoration Movement accept this "low-church" Protestantism.

Indeed. I think I'll read Hart's book.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm still here

....barely! I've been busier than ever these last few months. I have about a half dozen ideas to blog about, but I have just not had time--that whole job, family and responsibilities thing. But I do hope to post something soon. I am leaving for a "long explore" on 3 June, so it will have to be before then! In the meantime, this is a picture of some Greek friends we made on Patmos--one of my favorite pictures.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Little Foolishness

I have recently enjoyed re-reading from one of my favorite theologians and perhaps the greatest American writer of the 20th Century: Flannery O’Connor. To the uninitiated, her tales could be dismissed as Southern gothic grotesqueries. But as someone who has always lived in the small-town South, I find her characterizations are never far off mark. On innumerable occasions, my wife and I have found ourselves sitting around the kitchen table, discussing some situation or another, and remarking that it is something straight out of Flannery O’Connor. Her stories are all about the persistent intrusion of grace and redemption into our world, though never in ways that the protagonists would ever imagine.

I have particularly enjoyed reading her 1954 story, “The Displaced Person.” Often called “D.P.s” for short, the term refers to post-WWII European refugees. The story particular resonates in light of the current hubbub over immigration in this country. Mrs. McIntyre is a strong-willed, self sufficient Georgia farm woman. The Shortleys are the white couple who (mis)manage her operation. Several black farm workers live on the place, as well. Their world is turned upside-down when Father Flynn, an aged Irish-Catholic priest, arranges to place a refugee Polish family on the farm. These hard-working “D.P.s” soon engender jealousy and hostility from the insular farm community—exposing the racism, xenophobia, prejudice, selfishness and just plain small-mindedness of their hosts. The story ends tragically, but through suffering O’Connor forces her characters to face their own “displacedness” and to recognize, however reluctantly, the workings of God in their life. One of the clear messages of the story is that we are all “displaced persons.” None of us are in our true country.

I find two of O’Connor’s symbols of especial interest: a peacock and the priest. I believe that the peacock represents the persistent (and unwanted) presence of the Divine on the farm. In fact, the peacock is something of a rebuke to many of the characters, “his attention fixed on something no one else could see.” All try to ignore it, save the priest. Father Flynn was "glowing with pleasure" when he viewed the sublime beauty of the bird—“a vision for them all.” When the peacock spread his feathers, “the priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack,” exclaiming “Christ will come like that!” and later, “the Transfiguration!”

Of course, Mrs. Shortley will have none of that. The story actually begins with “the peacock was following Mrs. Shortley up the road…” Later, with its tail spread before her “she might have been looking at a map of the universe but she didn’t notice it any more than she did the spots of sky that cracked the dull green of the tree.” To Father Flynn’s admiration, Mrs. Shortley responded that it was “nothing but a peachicken.” Mrs. McIntyre was no better, dismissing the glorious bird as just “another mouth to feed.” She admitted that she kept it only out of superstitious fear, but “when the peachicken dies, there won’t be any replacements.”

Father Flynn represents—on an obvious level--the Church, or at least her testimony in the world, the Gospel. The Southern ladies are equally dismissive of this Church and all his talk about Christ. “Mrs. McIntyre’s face assumed a set puritanical expression and she reddened. Christ in the conversation embarrassed her the way sex had her mother.” She rebuked the priest and explained to him that she didn’t find herself “responsible for all the extra people in the world.” As he would talk to her about the doctrines of the church, she would wonder “where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man.” Yet, in the end, alone and paralyzed, only Father Flynn came to visit, talking to her about the “doctrines of the Church.”

Mrs. Shortley had even less use for the priest and “his visits irked her more and more.” She called him foolish—“He don’t look smart…kind of foolish.” She told her husband, Chancey, of the priest and the Poles, that “these people did not have an advanced religion. There was no telling what they believed since none of the foolishness had been reformed out of it.” Declaring that the priest was planning to “plant the Whore of Babylon in the midst of the righteous,” the undeceived Mrs. Shortley observed that “they’re full of crooked ways. They never have advanced or reformed. They got the same religion as a thousand years ago. It could only be the devil responsible for that.” Yet “she had never given much thought to the devil for she felt that religion was essentially for those people who didn’t have the brains to avoid evil without it. For people like herself, for people of gumption, it was a social occasion providing the opportunity to sing; but if she had ever given it much thought, she would have considered the devil the head of it and God the hanger-on.” Mrs. Shortley compared the priest and the Poles unfavorably to her son, H. C., who “was going to Bible school now and when he finished he was going to start him a church. He had a strong sweet voice for hymns and could sell anything.” She knew “that the Lord God Almighty had created the strong people to do what had to be done and she felt that she would be ready when she was called.”

Foolishness. I understand the mind of Mrs. Shortley--the self-sufficient, self-satisfied myth of “strong people,” secure in their own country. This characterizes much of my own upbringing. The priest and all he represents would have been to me and mine, foolishness. Like Mrs. Shortley noted, our religion had had all the foolishness “reformed out of it.” And the beauty. And the mystery. And the glory. And the humility. To the extent that I have had any spiritual growth at all, it is has been away from my own knowledge, my own logic, my own rationality, my own opinion, and towards foolishness. Thank God for foolishness. Even Mrs. Shortley at the last "seemed to contemplate for the first time the tremendous frontiers of her true country." We all do eventually, one way or another.