Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Of Interest" Clean Up

There is a definite reason I categorize the links on the sidebar as "Of Interest." They don't fit neatly into any particular category, but for the most part are simply interesting sites to visit that usually have something significant to say. Certainly, there are scads of Orthodox links--but even these cover a broad spectrum (from official church links to JN1034). And then there is a Anglo-Catholic link, a Lutheran link, a lefty-Episcopal link (that's you, Jared!) and so on. Among these sites and the political/current affairs sites, you can find political endorsements ranging from Mike Gravel to Fred Thompson, and most everyone in between.

It seems that some bloggers have lives outside their blogs, however, and wisely choose to shut them down after a time. This has been the case with many of my favorite sites. I kept the links listed, hoping that they would reconsider. But in the interest of housekeeping, I will drop the links to the following, until I learn of their return:

Forty Days
Hispania Sancta
Oh Taste and See

I started to drop the link to Mustafa Akyol's White Path, after his posting about the Armenian Genocide. But, he has redeemed himself in subsequent articles, and I realize that if I refuse to communicate with those with whom I differ, then my course of action is no better than, say, our current foreign policy. So, he stays (for now).

I have added the following sites, however. They are all excellent.

A Conservative Blog for Peace
English Christianity
Scyldings in the Mead-Hall
The American Conservative

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Scriptural Worship or Scripture Worship?

Outside of an occasional reference, I have avoided much in the way of my personal "conversion story" on these pages. First of all, it's too soon. Like one of my history professors said about the study of the Vietnam War: "It's not history yet." A certain time has to pass to reflect, and put events in proper perspective. Second, the fact that a person believes differently than before naturally infers that they believe their current belief to be superior. To feel the need to automatically defend the decision perhaps suggests more of a need to convince yourself than others. Finally, unless approached with care, such efforts can come across as triumphalist, which destroys any good that was intended.

That being said, I feel compelled, nevertheless, to toss a pebble or two in the direction of my old religious affiliation, the Churches of Christ. I owe much to these churches. Ultimately, they primed me for the fullness of Orthodoxy. I seriously doubt if I would have become Orthodox, save for my Church of Christ background.

But as a close friend and former preacher (Tim) told me recently, "you were never a good fit." And I suppose he was right. I always felt ill at ease with a number of things, not the least being much of our terminology. Our language seemed to convey the idea that we worshipped scripture itself, rather than He to whom scripture testified. I vividly recall the matriarch of our little church always saying that "we had to get back to the word," as she would peck on the cover of her Bible with her finger. Scripture--the word, if you will--was emphasized repeatedly--the Word, not so much. This summer, my wife and I were travelling in Arkansas. As my wife remains a faithful Church of Christ member(and Orthodox churches being as scarce as hen's teeth in Arkansas), we attended a worship service at an upscale Little Rock congregation. I followed along as the preacher gave an edifying talk taken from the Parable of the Prodigal. Amazingly, the name of Jesus Christ was not mentioned once--not a single time--not even in the "invitation" afterwards. It was all as dry as toast.

This seems so strange to me now, for in Orthodoxy, our worship is absolutely saturated in scripture, while at the same time it is Christocentric to a degree that I could have never imaged before. What led to this reflection on my part was (as always, it seems) an article in the paper. I actually read all the little ads in the Dallas Morning News Religion section. One of the Church of Christ advertisements got to me a bit. This particular congregatin set it out as plain as can be:

The Church and the Bible

Some people believe the Church gave us the Bible; that at some time in history religious leaders pronounced the 27 books of the New Testament inspired by God. Prior to this pronouncement, they think the books of the Bible were merely human writings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The church did not give us the bible, the word of God gave us the church. God's word is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). It carries its own authority. All humans can do is recognize what is already inherently true about Scripture--that it is the inspired, authoritative word of the living God.

Join us Thursday at 7:00 PM for a workshop on how the Old and New Testaments have been preserved for us.

To me, this little statement encapsulates the worship of scripture. And it is just so misguided--wrong--on so many different theological and historical levels that one really doesn't know where to begin. Any thoughts?

Spengler on "Moderate Islam"

Spengler has a good article on the current state of anti-Americanism in Turkey, and how it got that way, here. Frankly, I'm a bit peeved at their latest temper tantrum over the Armenian Genocide resolution fiasco, and am not overly concerned that they disapprove of us. For Turkey, it seems from a recent survey, has the distinction of being the most anti-American nation in the world. Strange how one doesn't get a sense of this while traveling in the country.

Spengler makes the point that there are Kemalist Turks and Islamist Turks. Actually, I think this is too neat a split, for many secular Turks have voted for the Islamist party as a blow for good government over corruption. And I think these voters may be the decisive factor if the country swings towards coercive Islamism. But the jury is still out on this. I could be terribly wrong.

Spengler also charges that our notion of "moderate Islam" in Turkey is fallacious. In fact, he states that there is no such thing as "moderate Islam." I tend to agree. Turks are not moderate, merely unobservant, just as our Easter-only Christians are "moderate."

Spengler has a way of cutting to the chase on issues:

I have never believed that such a thing as "moderate Islam" exists, any more than I believe that "moderate Christianity" exists. Either Jesus Christ died to take away the sins of the world, or he did not; if one believes that Jesus was just another preacher with a knack for parables, one quickly will be an ex-Christian. Either God dictated a final revelation to Mohammed which invalidates the corrupted scriptures of Jews and Christians, and the sign of the crescent should rise above the whole world, or he did not.

We can talk about "moderate" Islam all we want (and save me the lecture about Cordoba), but ultimately it comes down to Spengler's conclusion.

In Praise of Used Bookstores

I made a quick trip up to Dartmouth College and back during this last week (left after work on Tuesday and was back at my office on Friday morning). The ostensible purpose was to attend a performance of the Zedashe Ensemble, as well as a symposium on Georgian culture. The venue served as something of a mini-reunion for 6 of us who traveled together last June, and our Georgian friends associated with the Ensemble.

I pulled off the interstate in central New Hampshire on Wednesday, looking for a local place to eat. I found something even better in Henniker, a stereotypical New England village. Here, I stumbled into one of those marvelous old used bookstores which still pepper the state. Such like are hard to find here in Texas, but seem to be still going strong in the Northeast. This particular establishment contained 155,000 volumes in 2 wonderful, musty floors of a barn-like building. My take was:

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (illus. by Gorey), T. S. Eliot
Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye, Florence King
Anthony Powell: A Life, Michael Barber
The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes, 1401-1407, translated by Marios Philippides
Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of Michael II, The Last of the Romanov Tsars, Rosemary and Donald Crawford.
The Chronicle of Theophanes (A.D. 602-813), translated by Harry Turtledove
A Lermontov Reader, Guy Daniels
The Heart of a Dog and Other Stories, Mikhail Bulgakov
Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormity in Literature and Politics, Russell Kirk

Friday, October 19, 2007

Vlad to the Rescue

I believe that much of the overblown rhetoric about Iran is just that. For all the bellicosity from the Bush administration, I don't believe that we even have the capacity to expand the war into Iran. That said, incidents such as this week's cringe-inducing press conference remain troubling. But it seems that Vladimir Putin may have just saved George Bush (and us) from himself, as Srdka Trifkovic reports here.

Trifkovic posits that "Mr. Putin is effectively helping President George W. Bush avoid an adventure that would bring ruin to all involved, save the promoters of an Islamic end-times scenario." He is referring, of course, to the recent Caspian Summit in Tehran. The Declaration at the summit, signed by Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, effectively preempts any threat to the existing balance of power, by any non-Caspian state. As he notes, there will be no "Operation Iranian Freedom" for the remainder of the Bush presidency. Trifkovic concludes:

If there is one thing to be thankful to Mr. Bush, it is for his unwitting contribution to the emergence of a multipolar world. External restraint, unimaginable a decade ago, is being imposed on America. It is dictated by the perfectly normal desire of Russians, Chinese, Indians and many smaller nations, to prove—contrary to Mr. Bush’s repeated assurances— that “History” has not called America to anything.

It is to be hoped that the emerging new global balance of power will reflect internationally what the system of checks and balances does at home. Its re-establishment will render ludicrous the hubristic ravings of Benevolent Global Hegemonists. It will also help re-legitimize the notion of America as a nation among other nations and a state among other states, with definable and limited national interests as the foundation of its diplomacy. Contrary to what Mr. Bush and his dwindling band of apologists may claim, this is neither defeatism nor isolationism; it is sanity.

Why a resurgent Russia just now? It's not hard to figure out, and it's not just about the oil. Pat Buchanan sums it up here, better than most. His conclusion is damning and spot on:

At the Cold War's end, the United States was given one of the great opportunities of history: to embrace Russia, largest nation on earth, as partner, friend, ally. Our mutual interests meshed almost perfectly. There was no ideological, territorial, historic or economic quarrel between us, once communist ideology was interred.

We blew it.

We moved NATO onto Russia's front porch, ignored her valid interests and concerns, and, with our "indispensable-nation" arrogance, treated her as a defeated power, as France treated Weimar Germany after Versailles.

Who restarted the Cold War? Bush and the braying hegemonists he brought with him to power. Great empires and tiny minds go ill together.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Texas Roundup

Texas is a weird place. Weird, but never boring. This is one of those weeks when much of what I read in the papers strikes me as funny or ironic. So please excuse a little snarkiness on my part with the following Texas-flavored news items.

  • Texas Governor Rick Perry has endorsed Rudy Giuliani for President. If you are starting a list of reasons not to vote for Rudy, this should go on page 1. Governor Rick says that he decided to support Giuliani after he had "looked him in the eye" and determined that he would appoint the right kind of Supreme Court judges. I wonder if Rick was able to "get a sense of his soul" as his former boss did with Vladimir Putin?
    Anyway, Governor Rick goes on to say that he is not interested in the Vice Presidential nomination. And neither am I, though I would consider an ambassadorship to the Bahamas. Maybe I'm looking at this wrong, but it seems to me that choosing a Vice-President from Texas-particularly in the current discrediting of all things Texan-to balance out the Republican ticket makes about as much sense as choosing a Vice-President from, say...Wyoming.

  • Baptists are big in Texas, and the biggest, baddest Baptist church of all is First Baptist Church of Dallas. Dr. Robert Jeffress, author of the best-selling "Hell? Yes!," made news recently when he urged his flock not to support Mitt Romney. Jeffress reminded First Baptist that Mormonism was a "false religion" and that Romney could in no way be considered a Christian. In his sermon, he concluded that "Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise." Thank you, Dr. Jeffress. I'm afraid Mitt was trying to sneak that one past us. Geez. I have my own ideas about Mormonism, but that is not the issue here at all.>
    I was appalled that this would be the sermon for the largest Baptist church in Texas--and apparently it didn't cause even a ripple of concern in FBD. Does it strike anyone else as wildly inappropriate for Dr. Jeffress to be making these attacks during a worship service? Does this tell us anything at all about warped views of the church's nature and worship? But that's just me. Baptists have always got into trouble with this sort of thing. I suspect they will this time, as well--and deservedly so. Joel Osteen of Houston's Lakewood mega-mega-church assured Larry King that Romney wouldn't be a problem for him. That makes it all better.

  • And much closer to home, its time for our annual Rose Festival here in the crown jewel of East Texas. Rose Festival events go on all year in these parts, but October is when it all comes to the fore--when the social elite and wannabees pull out all the stops--parties, teas, ceremonies, more parties, parades, parties and coronations (yes, we do it twice). Diabetics are advised to avoid local newscasts and the newspaper during Rose Festival Week. Right-minded folks either flee the county or hole-up inside their homes until it all passes. I had thought my recent conference in Toronto would cover me, but I missed it by a week.
    This morning, though, I made the mistake of reading an account of last night's Festival Vespers Service. There were readings from the Psalms--in English, Spanish, French and Igbo (a language, apparently, of some 35 million Nigerians). The Queen's pastor comforted the crowd with the assurance that "God has an endless bucket of Grace." And the Queen's father (would he be the Queen Father?) observed that ours was "a city blessed by God....a wonderful place, with a unique identity that He has given to us that other cities wish they had. Its a God thing." And as the newspaper reported, "gold wisps of clouds framed the blue sky as the sun went down on the evening and service." (I'm not providing a link for this one--that's all anyone needs to know!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

But It Is Always Easier To Do The Cautious Thing

On the Armenian resolution, Democratic congressional resolve has folded like a lawnchair. Read their excuses here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's Never Wrong To Do The Right Thing

I've commented from time to time on the Armenian genocide question, here, here, and most recently, here. The U.S. House of Representatives seems poised to vote on a resolution labeling the death of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stated that she plans to move ahead with the vote, here. In response to criticism that this would harm relations with Turkey, Pelosi observed:

"There's never been a good time," adding that it is important to pass the resolution now "because many of the survivors are very old. When I came to Congress 20 years ago, it wasn't the right time because of the Soviet Union. Then that fell, and then it wasn't the right time because of the Gulf War One. And then it wasn't the right time because of overflights of Iraq. And now it's not the right time because of Gulf War Two."

I've never put much stock in symbolic, empty, feel-good resolutions--the recent Congressional circus over the MoveOn.org resolution (where our junior Texas senator was allowed to be ringleader) being a case in point. The Armenian genocide resolution is not of that nature, however, and the time is now or never, as the last remaining Armenian Genocide survivors are quickly passing on.

Predictably, President Bush is dead set against the resolution, maintaining his consistent policy of coming down foursquare on the wrong side of history. Comments by Republican leaders are appalling. Senator Mitch McConnell noted that "there's a genocide museum, actually, in Armenia to commemorate what happened," as if to ask, "What more do these people want?" Senator Lindsay Graham stated "I'm not worried about World War I. ... I'm worried about what I think is World War III, a war against extremists, and Iraq is the central battle front and Turkey has been a very good ally," as if our current mess in Iraq exists in some sort of ahistorical vacuum, totally unconnected to the consequences of World War I.

The Turks are recalling ambassadors, threatening and blustering. Their armed forces chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit noted--instructively--that "we could not explain this to our public." Probably not--particularly after almost 90 years of the Big Lie. I love Turkey, and have a genuine fondness for the country and the friends I have made there. But on this issue, they can, to put it in East Texas vernacular, go butt a stump. This resolution is the right thing to do, at the right time.

As one would expect, Daniel Larison monitors the situation in 4 recent posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Also, Spengler connects Turkey's current Kurdish problem with its unresolved Armenian genocide issue. I have never been as enthusiastic as some about Kurdistan, as noted here. This prejudice is based on their more than willing complicity in the Armenian genocide. As Spengler notes, "Turkey’s military leaders enlisted Kurdish tribes to do most of the actual killing in return for Armenian land. That is why Kurds dominate eastern Turkey, which used to be called, “Western Armenia”. It is not without irony, that as Spengler observes "the Armenian genocide, in short, gave rise to what today is Turkey's Kurdish problem."

And this behavior is not all ancient history, either. In the 1980s and 1990s, while the Turkish government looked the other way, Kurds in southeastern Turkey murdered and terrorized the Suriani Christian population of Mardin province. Most fled, and Kurds took possession of their businesses, homes and farms.

More from Spengler:

Nations have tragic flaws, just as do individuals. The task of the tragedian is to show how catastrophic occurrences arise from hidden faults rather than from random error. Turkish history is tragic: a fatal flaw in the national character set loose the 1915 genocide against the Armenians, as much as Macbeth’s ambition forced him to murder Banquo. Because the same flaw still torments the Turkish nation, and the tragedy has a sequel in the person of the Kurds, Turkey cannot face up to its century-old crime against the Armenians.

Shakespeare included the drunken Porter in Macbeth for comic relief; in the present version, the cognate role is played by US President George W Bush, who has begged Congress not to offend an important ally by stating the truth about what happened 100 years ago. The sorry spectacle of an American president begging Congress not to affirm what the whole civilized world knows to be true underlines the overall stupidity of US policy towards the Middle East.

It is particularly despicable for a Western nation to avert its eyes from a Muslim genocide against a Christian population.... It was not quite the same as Hitler’s genocide against the Jews, that is, the Turks did not propose to kill every ethnic Armenian everywhere in the world, but only those in Anatolia. But it was genocide, or the word has no meaning. To teach Turkish schoolchildren that more Turks than Armenians died in a “conflict” is a symptom of national hysteria. [and] touches upon a profound and well-justified insecurity in the Turkish national character.

Oot and Aboot in Toronto

I am back home after spending a few days in Toronto, where frequent flyer miles facilitated my attendance at the 33rd annual Byzantine Studies Conference. I attended 31 lectures in all--on such weighty subjects as "Barking at the Cross: A Curious Incident from the So-Called Chronicle of Zachariah of Mytilene," "Theopaschism in the Aftermath of of Chalcedon: An Early Prefiguration of Neo-Chalcedonianism," and "The Multiple-Domed Basilicas of Cyprus: Date and Significance." You get the picture, but I just love this sort of thing.

The fact that the booksellers were out in force was icing on the cake for me. At these events, the normally obscenely over-priced scholarly tomes are marked down to merely over-priced. I was excited to obtain a couple of hard to find works on St. Ephrem.

Most everyone there--besides myself--was either a professor or graduate student. I was designated as "Independent Scholar." I enjoyed myself immensely, and I briefly wondered what course my life would have taken had I pursued this career option. There's little regret, though. Academia is a fascinating place to visit, but I'm not sure I would want to live there.

A few observations, following:
  • Toronto is a nice, pleasant city, just teeming with nice, pleasant people. The area around the University of Toronto, as well as some of the closer-in neighborhoods, are attractive and still retain something of an English feel to them. But much of the city--and particularly in the outlying metropolitan areas, with its horrendous traffic, box stores, malls and warehouses--could just as easily be...Houston. I found the sameness of our adjoining modern cultures to be striking. When you travel, passport in hand, to a foreign country, you expect things to be different. There's no real sense of this in Toronto. I spent a day before the conference driving through some of Ontario--or at least the part between Toronto and Buffalo. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations based on a brief exposure, I still have to say that Ontario is very much of a piece with New England, New York, etc. I'm not saying this is good or bad, just striking. In fact, the only Canadian "ey" I heard was from my new pal, Shaun the panhandler.

  • On the northwest corner of the university campus, sits the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), a large, stolid 1920's structure housing treasures of Ontario's history. While the building was not exactly awe-inspiring, it fit in well with the surrounding university community. Or at least it did. In June of this year, the new addition to the museum was opened. The powers that be decided to jazz it up a bit, the result being the picture at the top of the post. It is as though a giant steel and glass meteor had crashed into the side of the museum, leaving a vicious, ugly scar on the cityscape. Museums, by their very nature, are meant to impart to future generations something of the collective consciousness of a culture. Perhaps this monstrosity will indeed speak to the chaos and confusion of our own age. Alarmingly, the architect is one of two awarded the design for the new World Trade Center. In one of the presentations, the New York Times was quoted regarding 19th-century Byzantinist painter, Benjamin Constant, who paintings were described as "an aching void where taste should be." The same can now be said for the ROM.

  • One of the great highlights of the trip was meeting and visiting with Daniel Larison, a young man whose work I have admired for some time. A Ph.D. student in Byzantine history at the University of Chicago, he presented an excellent paper on monothelitism at the conference. Daniel is a brilliant thinker, whose interests are wide-ranging. I find his blog, Eunomia, a must read, as are his articles in The American Conservative and other journals. He is an astute observer of foreign policy and political philosophy. On top of all that, he is a heck of a nice guy.

  • To say that academic groups can be a bit insular would be putting it mildly. But that said, I had enjoyable visits with several others at the conference, as well. I met a professor at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Boston and discovered we had mutual friends from Holy Trinity in Dallas. I also had an enjoyable visit with a professor who presented a paper examining a phenomenon in the year 518 when, at the festival of the dedication of the Cross in Jerusalem, some Monophysites "became possessed by demons and bark at the Cross." I asked her whether she was aware of a similar occurrence on the American frontier, at the Cane Ridge Revival, in Kentucky, 1801. (This event played a pivotal role in the birth of the American Restoration Movement churches. Although well documented, church historians have always been a bit sheepish about the "barking" associated with the revival.) She was fascinated to hear of this and eager to know more. This led into a discussion of her research into Byzantine medical issues, which led, in turn to her reference to "Pontic honey." To which, I replied, "Oh, you mean crazy honey?" This led to the retelling on my anecdote about crazy honey in the Kackar Mountains, discussed previously, here. I can't imagine having such a conversation in any other setting!

  • I went to Toronto a day early, specifically so I could rent a car and drive back into the States to do a bit of genealogical investigation. One branch of my paternal line stayed settled on Cape Cod for 5 generations, before decamping to western Massachusetts in the mid 1770s. Stopping there for a generation, they pushed on to far western New York, northeastern Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. One branch moved on to Missouri, from which two families stumbled into Texas just in time for the Civil War. Anyway, I tagged a couple of cemeteries that contained the graves of my g-g-g-g-grandmother, as well as 2 of my g-g-g-grandfather's siblings, among others. I do this for the same reason some people work crosswords or do puzzles--the hunt is the thing. But I was struck by just how attractive this part of the country was: the gently rolling hills, the forests, the neat, tended farmsteads with their massive barns. I wondered just what it was in the American psyche that made our forebears leave such homes--for the lands they found were often baser, less attractive and less productive. Obviously, everyone couldn't stay, but I wonder if any of these pioneers who later found themselves on a thin hillside in Missouri, Arkansas or Texas ever had buyer's remorse.

  • And finally, a Canada joke: One our way to a concert presented at St. Anne's Church, one of the Canadian professors commented on the innate indecisiveness of Canadians (and how we Americans could stand to be a tad less decisive in all things). He told of a nationwide contest held to arrive at a slogan for Canadians that would parallel the saying "as American as apple pie." The winning slogan: "As Canadian as it is possible to be, under the circumstances."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An Orthodox Sampling

A couple of recent articles of an Orthodox nature have caught my attention.

First, at Sword in the Fire, found here, Theron has an excellent post on What will you do with Ignatius? This is the question all Evangelicals must grapple with if they ever venture into the Church Fathers. For if you believe that the nature of the early church was basically along the Protestant format, and that the rise of bishops and the sacramental view of the Eucharist and of baptism were later developments--innovations, in the Protestant view, that led the church down the wrong road and required the corrective of the Reformation--then what, exactly do you do with St. Ignatius?

His writings show the general understanding of the church in regard to the Apostolic teachings on these subjects--an understanding, I might add, at great variance with later Protestant interpretations. At the time of his martyrdom in AD 107, Ignatius was the aged Bishop of Antioch. He was of the First Century church, a slightly younger contemporary of St. John and the other Apostles. How exactly could these "digressions" have appeared and become generally accepted right under the noses of the Apostles? Either St. Ignatius must be wrong, or the Protestant presuppositions of 1500 years hence.

My first contact with the writings of St. Ignatius was an eye-opener for me, as it was for Theron. And with each of us, his work moved us down the road towards Orthodoxy. So, do read Theron's post. Better yet, read St. Ignatius. Just curious, has anyone else out there had the same experience with his writings?

Second, Frederica Mathewes Greene examines--in the face of an increasingly feminized Western Christianity--what exactly attracts men to the Orthodox faith. She canvased 100 Orthodox male converts for this study. Read the entire article Men and Church, here, from which the following is a brief summary:

1. Challenging. Orthodoxy is active and not passive…[It] is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it’s also about overcoming oneself…not to ‘feel good’ but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor...find[ing] liberation.

2. Just Tell Me What You Want. Orthodoxy presents a reasonable set of boundaries…It’s easier for guys to express themselves in worship if there are guidelines about how it’s supposed to work-especially when those guidelines are so simple and down-to-earth that you can just set out and start doing something…People begin learning immediately through ritual and symbolism…This regimen of discipline makes one mindful of one’s relation to the Trinity, to the Church, and to everyone he meets.

3. With a Purpose. Men appreciate that this challenge has a goal: union with God. Orthodoxy preserves and transmits ancient Christian wisdom about how to progress toward this “theosis”…Every sacrament or spiritual exercise is designed to bring the person, body and soul, further into continual awareness of the presence of Christ within, and also within every other human being.

4. A New Dimension. Excitement at discovering a dimension somehow sensed [in previous Christian experience] but unable till now to identify, the noetic”--the reality of God’s presence and of the entire spiritual realm…had become completely distorted in the Christianity I knew...Either...subsumed into the harsh rigidity of legalism, or confused with emotions and sentimentality, or diluted by religious concepts being used in a vacuous, platitudinous way. All three-uptight legalism, effusive sentimentality, and vapid empty talk-are repugnant to men…Participation in the Holy Mysteries [sacraments], observing the fasts, daily prayers, and confession with a spiritual director means making progress along a defined path that is going somewhere real and better.

5. Jesus Christ. He is the center of everything the Church does or says…Orthodoxy offers a robust Jesus…the “Marine Corps” of Christianity…Christ in Orthodoxy is a militant, butt-kicking Jesus who takes Hell captive…Compared to the Orthodox hymns of Christ’s Nativity, “‘the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay’ has almost nothing to do with the Eternal Logos entering irrevocably, inexorably, kenotically, silently yet heroically, into the fabric of created reality.”

6. Continuity. The Orthodox Church offers what others do not: continuity with the first followers of Christ…continuity, not archeology…A catechumen writes that he had tried to learn everything necessary to interpret Scripture correctly, including ancient languages. “I expected to dig my way down to the foundation and confirm everything I’d been taught. Instead, the further down I went, the weaker everything seemed. I realized I had only acquired the ability to manipulate the Bible to say pretty much anything I wanted it to. The only alternative to cynicism was tradition. If the Bible was meant to say anything, it was meant to say it within a community, with a tradition to guide the reading. In Orthodoxy I found what I was looking for.”

7. Worship weirdness. It’s amazingly different…The prostrations, the incense, the chanting, the icons—some of these things took getting used to, but they really filled a void in what I’d experienced till then…Some men initially can’t make heads or tails of what we do in worship, because it’s not purely intellectual, and employs poetic worship language…It’s that there is such a strong masculine feeling to Orthodox worship and spirituality.

8. Not Sentimental. A hearty dislike for what they perceive as a soft Western Jesus…[which] presents Jesus as a friend…someone who ‘walks with me and talks with me’…Or it depicts Jesus whipped, dead on the cross. Neither is the type of Christ the typical male wants much to do with. men are drawn to the dangerous element of Orthodoxy, which involves “the self-denial of a warrior, the terrifying risk of loving one’s enemies, the unknown frontiers to which a commitment to humility might call us…Men get pretty cynical when they sense someone’s attempting to manipulate their emotions, especially when it’s in the name of religion. They appreciate the objectivity of Orthodox worship. It’s not aimed at prompting religious feelings but at performing an objective duty…Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice (think ‘Mr. Rogers’). Orthodox churches call men to be courageous and act (think ‘Braveheart’).

9. Men in Balance. There are only two models for men: be ‘manly’ and strong, rude, crude, macho, and probably abusive; or be sensitive, kind, repressed and wimpy. But in Orthodoxy, masculine is held together with feminine; it’s real and down to earth, ‘neither male nor female,’ but Christ who ‘unites things in heaven and things on earth.

10. Men in Leadership. Like it or not, men simply prefer to be led by men… It’s the last place in the world men aren’t told they’re evil simply for being men.

For me, the main reason for my journey to Orthodoxy was obviously Jesus Christ, the faith being Christocentric far beyond my understanding and practice as a Protestant. But beyond that, Categories 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8 played a large role in my decision. What about you other guys out there?

And third, the UK Catholic journal, The Tablet, has a good story on noted Orthodox scholar John D. Zizioulas, who is also Metropoliltan of Pergamon. Yes, Pergamon. Zizioulas is noted for his Being as Communion (which I have read), and he has a new book in print, Communion as Otherness (which I have not). The interview touches on a number of topics and is well worth a look. Read it here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Time to Spit

In recent months, I have refrained from commenting on the on-going war and American politics, as I realize I am becoming increasingly radicalized in my views. So I have tried to stick to travel and some occasional religious insight. The following post should get it out of my system for a while longer.

I recently watched once more "O Brother Where Art Thou," George Clooney's clever retelling of the Homeric epic by way of Depression-era Mississippi. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the movie, primarily for the scenes of Charles Durning as Governor Pappy O'Daniel. In my book, Durning is one of the best character actors of all time. Give him a few lines and/or a dance number, and he will absolutely steal a movie--as he did this one. One of my favorite scenes was the one where the ample Mr. Durning did a little jig up to the microphone while the Soggy Bottom Boys were singing. This scene, however, followed perhaps the most satisfying scene in the movie. O'Daniel's opponent, the demagogue Homer Stokes, tried to turn the crowd against our errant heroes. Instead, the crowd turned surly towards Stokes, despite his pleas of "Is you is, or is you ain't my constituency?" The boos gained the day and the incredulous and sputtering Stokes was pelted with produce before literally being ridden out of town on a rail.

I had a brief sense of this same satisfaction while watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia last week. And while I am alarmed at our administration's self-serving demonization of Iran, this guy is a real piece of work. He was clearly offput, and in obvious discomfort, by the questioning of Iran's persecution of homosexuals. With a straight face, Ahmadinejad declared there were there no homosexuals in Iran, and that he couldn't understand why anyone would even think such a thing. Yeah right, and there are no left-handed people in Iran, either. Jeez. [While indeed the modern understanding of homosexuality is a Western concept, the behavior itself is thoroughly rooted in the East.] And of course, that doesn't even begin to address Iranian persecution of Christians, Kurds, Bahais, Zoroasterians, etc. Anyway, such a bald-faced inanity was met with hoots of derision from the Columbia audience. Again, very satisfying in a Homer Stokesian sort of way.

This brings me to this excellent story by Taki. It seems that Taki, wife and son were celebrating Mrs. T's birthday at an exclusive Manhattan establishment of the type people like Taki would frequent. An acquaintance stopped by their table, and in the course of the conversation, let it be known that he was with a group honoring Paul Wolfowitz in a private dining room. Taki became incensed: "You actually are sitting down with that lying pig who has caused so much death and is responsible for tens of thousands being maimed and killed?” Then it gets interesting. Taki determined that he would go to the room and spit at Wolfowitz. Mrs. T pleaded with him not to do so, as it would ruin the birthday celebration. Taki reluctantly agreed, but not before some of the waiters had expressed to him their disgust for having to serve such a man. I'm with Mrs. T on this. I am foursquare against scenes in restaurants, believing that one of the best gauges of anyone's character is how they comport themselves in restaurants, particularly in their treatment of waiters and waitresses. So, Mrs. T was correct to reign Taki in. But I do sympathize with the understandable disgust at this ringleader of the bloody cabal that engineered our current debacle.

Taki concludes:

We should not take these liars lying down. These scumbags have caused so much misery and death, so much suffering to so many people, they should not be allowed to walk around with impunity. Forget the think tanks and networks and newspapers which still employ them. The neo-cons know how to survive. The only way to make them realize that they cannot fool all the people all of the time, as they have done until now, is to humiliate them whenever and wherever they appear in public. I had my chance and blew it. Perhaps I will have a second chance while I’m still around.