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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Looking For Help...
Ok, I have been presented with something at school that I am desirous of some assistance with. Please note, I an NOT looking for someone to do my assignment for me, but rather some tacts to take in its accomplishment. That said…

The assignment is in essay form. I have three essays from which to choose. The third one is somewhat intriguing, especially as I believe my professor may have put this particular question on there specifically because of the short dialogue we’ve had (regarding Orthodox soteriology, and my critique of his understanding of it). In his reply to me (this done via email), he admits that his understanding of Orthodoxy in general is limited.

The question itself is thus:

Discuss the fundamental differences between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology.

Now as much as I would like to answer this question for the essay portion of my exam because it would take little to no research on my part, I’m asking myself how to tackle this in the amount of space he is looking for (800-1200 words), or even if it can be done in that limited amount of words and still have any meaning. Keep in mind that he self describes himself as “more the social scientist and phenomenalist, rather than philosopher/theologian”, and this is the perspective he would really like to see flushed out.

My question is, can it be done in that short of space (I admit I tend to be long winded), and if so, how would you perhaps narrow down the focus in order to keep it short enough to fit roughly into the length requirements?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Many Years!!!

Today is the feast day of my God-father's Patron Saint, James the Brother of the Lord. What follows are what was sung in his honor last night at Vespers. Many Years Nuno.

Troparion in tone 4
You embraced the Gospel as a Disciple of the Lord;
As a martyr you did not betray it, O Righteous One!
As God's brother you have boldness before Him;
As a faithful Bishop it is yours to intercede for us.
Beseech Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion in tone 4
The Word of God, only-begotten of the Father,
Who has come to dwell among us in these latter days,
Chose you to be the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem,
A faithful steward of spiritual mysteries!
Therefore we all honor you, Holy Apostle James!

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Part II: Why I Haven't Been Posting Much Lately (though the title may soon become quite the piece of irony)

This started in my previous post, so if you haven't read it yet, and are wondering what this is all about, scroll down to the next post, then read the comments, then come back here. This is the response to the responders in the comment box. I thought about putting the comments I am responding to in this post as well, but this was already three pages in a Word document, so I decided it wouldn't be too terribly difficult to leave the previous comment window open and go back and forth. Sorry for the mess, I'm not real good at brevity.

Karl...I agree absolutely, much could be said. But before I go any further here, I want to make clear what my position is not. It is not that Orthodox people should not have blogs, nor that we shouldn't have an active presence in the digital world. On the contrary, I affirm that we should definitely have both. Beyond that, I don't really have a position per se, just a bunch of thoughts floating around in my head that seem to have a pattern, though I will in no way vouch for the truth contained in them as yet. That is actually why I started this topic, to help settle some ideas. It is the nature of our presence I'm trying to get at; what it should and perhaps should not be.

I also want to make another point clear about my post. It was written as a VERY general introduction to the topic from my perspective. From that standpoint, it is also very brief in thought. I repeat, it is only the tip of the iceberg (I know, it's also the longest post I've ever written [though it was just eclipsed in size by this one]...what can I say).

To address your points specifically:

a) I agree whole-heartedly that "One can state that they are right and still listen at the same time to the other person...these two can coexist at the same time" My question is...Is that enough? What if both parties can stay absolutely calm and genuinely listen, and yet in their minds and hearts, have not the desire nor intent to gain anything from it? What will be the result? Probably nothing (this is not meant to rule out supernatural intervention). How many times have we seen this. But it doesn't even take both sides to have this attitude. If one does, the result is likely to be the same. We must be willing to grow from it, and growth means change. Not necessarily will it be change away, it could be change towards, or change in depth, but change nonetheless. If both parties are not coming willing to be changed by the other...well I've never personally seen anything good come of it. And this is my frustration with the Anglican I mentioned. He not only seems to be unwilling to grow, when confronted with the consequences of his ideas, he has either retreated further away from the issue, vigorously tried to sidestep the issue, or even grown angry. I love this man dearly, but unless we can both come to the table with a willingness to grow, to explore the consequences of our ideas, what do we have to discuss? And as far as patience...My love for him has spurned me on in spite of the fact that he seems to have given up on dialogue with me. Every so often, I ask him if he still wants to dialogue, but he hasn't responded to me in some time. There could be a number of reasons why, and so I make no presumptions as to the reason, but it is the case nonetheless.

b) I'm not sure I see the connection you're making here. Blogs and books are two very different communications formats, with characteristics very distinctive from the other. It is precisely these distinctions that in my mind can be problematic. Books are for the most part a one sided communication, blogs are not. You can ignore a book and no one gets their feelings hurt. Ignore someone that comments on your blog, they may take is as an affront, whether intended or not. You can allow your passions to become inflamed over what you've read in a book, the book doesn't care. People in the comment box may not feel the same. Books, if well written, generally have enough time put into the writing of them that it communicates what the author intended. The immediacy of blogs is not always conducive to this. I could go on, and if need be I will, but I hope you see what I'm getting at.

c) I would need you to more clearly define how you're using "true community" to address the first sentence. But as to the following sentences, I can only offer personal anecdote. I have seen a couple of people, after only one personal interaction, have a drastic paradigm shift in two hours or less of conversation. I know of another person, who knew almost nothing of Orthodoxy, who read one book over a weekend, with no other communication, and he was ready to convert. I've never seen or heard of anything like this happening in the internet communities. Granted, this is only anecdotal support, but it is my experience. Again I want to make clear, I am not saying blogs are worthless. I want to make sure not to be misunderstood. I'm not suggesting we "throw the baby out with the bathwater". I am saying let's be responsible stewards, whatever that entails. It seems to me that the inherent hindrances of online communities make Ecumenism much more difficult, more practically un-pragmatic, more likely to cause harm where none was intended etc etc. Sure, you might get a couple of good people involved in a great discussion in the comments, but what happens when someone else joins in who isn't as responsible, loving, committed to honest dialogue etc. How we handle these situations, and how others on our blogs respond, to a certain extent reflects not just on us, but on the appearance of the Church herself to the outside world. Again, please note that what I am talking about here is active Ecumenism, not a more general Orthodox presence on the internet.

d) I'm not afraid whatsoever to let people rant and rail against the truth. If that is what it appeared I communicated, I mis-comunicated. I too have witnessed situations where a rant/railing turned into conversion of thought. It's not a matter of being able to handle rants. It's more a matter, I think, where often the nature of internet communication, especially the immediacy without consequence, is more likely to encourage this kind of thing. Sure it's going to happen sometimes in any situation, but I would rather see us do what we can to avoid it rather than encourage it. But that's just me, maybe you feel differently, maybe I should feel differently. That's why I'm bringing this up in the first place.

e) I think for the most part we agree here.

f) Again, I think overall we agree here. My only contention would be the mechanism in which we do so. I agree that speaking the truth needs to happen. But let us ask ourselves. Where would the Church be today if Christ had come, and his only work was to leave us the truth in written form (Indeed, many Protestants live and think as if this were true)? We need to speak the truth, but we must remember that the Truth was incarnate, and that same Truth will be best spoken when it becomes incarnate in us. It is my thought that this ought to be the main focus of our energies. I know we've all heard the saying (I forget who it's attributed to) "Preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words." On the internet, all we use are words. Let us expand our circle of influence in the lives of others in an incarnated way, and live the Gospel as faithfully as we can, and I believe we will do much more for the Kingdom of God than our mere words. Yes, words can be effective, but only because of the Incarnate Christ, seen through the lives of His Church. I can think of no better example of this than the Monastics. Their words are much fewer, if any at all, than ours, but I believe they do much more for the world, are much brighter beacons of the incarnation than we will ever be, short of becoming monastics ourselves (and probably even then with the state of my wretchedness). It has been in wrestling with this very paradox that has brought me to this place.

You wrote "The irony is that if you are correct, that the blogosphere is not a good place to discuss ideas, you've made this point *in the blogosphere*. Now what do we do? *grin*" I am not at all suggesting we ought not discuss ideas, even in the blogosphere, only that we ought to be careful which ideas we discuss, and the manner in which we do so.

James...As far as amongst friends, I could not agree more. In this way, there is a real incarnational aspect to it. You are very right to note that in some way your words had an effect on me. But this only came to be because I have known you for the better part of my life. I was willing to listen to you precisely because I already knew you as someone whose words carried weight. But your blog is also very unique, in that attempts to be as incarnational as possible. You share yourself for the most part rather than just ideas. Ideas mean nothing without an incarnation to back them up (think Christ and the Bible again). I don't consider your blog to be "actively ecumenical" in the way that I am discussing. Your blog to me is living (or digital) testimony that we Orthodox can have a presence, and a strong one at that.

Aaron...Seriously...ditto to every last word you said, including the implications of the removal of the anathemas.

I love you guys, (even though I don't really know you Karl, I'd really like to, wink wink). Hit me back on this, I'm really looking to grow here.


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Why I Haven't Been Posting Much Lately

Okay, so it's been a while since I've posted anything besides interviews of/for either myself or someone else. Sorry about that. Life has been kinda hectic over here. I'm shopping for jobs for after I graduate (YAAAAAAAAYYY!!!!!!!) in December. I guess the fourteen year plan has some merit to it after all. But there has been something running around my head lately that I was wondering if I could get some input on from all y'all out there. Been thinking 'bout lotsa things actually, but this one in particular stands out.

Ecumenism........

I know, for some this is a dirty word, for others it's a lifestyle, and still others it a mission. Not dogging anyone here, but I thought I would run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes (even if it's the one fingered kind...whatever). Not that I am stating what follows as my absolute belief, I'm just ruminating towards an idea, and hoping some input from out there would move the process along.

In a nutshell, where I'm at, I'm not a big fan of the E word. First let's start with Professional Ecumenists. I can't think of a bigger waste of time and resources. Really, and I'm pretty sure on this one, though very willing to be corrected if need be. But does anyone really think this accomplishes anything? Perhaps it has and I'm just ignorant, but when was the last time some RC and EO theologians or bishops got together, hashed through some stuff, and one side or the other said, "Hmmmm....I never thought of it that way; we change our position." Or how about hopes for ECUSA and either of the two aforementioned camps? Anyone think that's going to happen? Now please keep in mind that I'm only talking about professionals here. I know many of you Orthodox came out of ECUSA, so please understand that at this point I'm not talking about personal witness or whatnot (though we will get there shortly). But overall, I think those who are participating at that level are wasting their talents. At this point the only possibility of something happening anytime soon that I see is with the Coptics, and even there we have a long road to haul still.

Now here is where I may step on some toes, and I promise that if I do, it certainly is not my intention. Please further understand that none of my comments that follow are directed towards anyone in particular; these are just my thoughts, not even on the level of my beliefs, just my thoughts.

Personal Ecumenism...specifically in the blogosphere. I've said it many times in past posts...when I first started this blog, I was full of convert zeal, and this was going to be the place where I was going to convert the world. How naive I was (two thousand visits, and still not a single convert). But I'm ok with that now.

I guess my reasons are many. My first criticism of this idea is that more often than not, things eventually degenerate to the point that they generate more heat than light. I've seen it time and time again. I truly believe that when this happens, we've done a disservice to a) ourselves...we've likely allowed our pride or passions to get the best of us, b) the other party(ies) involved...how likely are they to hear what we have to say at that point, and c) the Church...what kind of impression does this make of Her.

If this were my only criticism, I suppose a case could still be made though. Perhaps some out there really have a gift for keeping things both civil and constructive. I've seen one or two of you do ok there. But here comes my next question. How effective are we really? I'm genuinely and honestly curious here. Has anyone out there ever converted to Orthodoxy because of someone else's blog. I would really like to know if they have. I'm not saying it hasn't happened or it couldn't, so I'm asking, hoping to be corrected. As I said, I'm willing to be wrong.

Here is the fundamental problem I see with this. How many of us want to find out we're wrong. Or how many of us don't care if the other doesn't want to really hear what we're proposing to them. Here's a little personal anecdote. There is someone I really love and cherish, someone that had a profound impact on me, that I used to dialog with. But the last few times we got together, things were very unproductive (not that I am suggesting that productivity is the measure of worth). But a few times ago, I asked this particular person why he continues to have these conversations with me. His response, while extremely loving and gentle, was disheartening. He said, "At the root of it all, I still harbor a hope that you'll come back to Anglicanism". I love him dearly for his response, but there is a certain frustration there too.

What that said to me in effect was, "I'm not hearing a thing you're saying to me, I'm right, and you need to see it." In effect, the same things I thought when I started this blog. But let us turn the coin over and ask ourselves that same question. Are we willing to be wrong, to be corrected? Or are we only coming to the table with our "right answers". Are we willing to come to the table and admit our faults, both personal and corporate. In ecumenism, ironically, it is often easier to admit our personal faults, while either diminishing or outright dismissing our corporate faults. We've found the Church, and we forget what it's like to be on the other side. We forger that we once had serious critiques of Orthodoxy, some of which might even have been valid. And for the record, no I'm not having a crisis of faith here; on the contrary, I'm more firm than ever. I'm just saying if both parties aren't coming to the table willing to present the whole picture, warts and all, it is unlikely we will ever get anywhere.

And so that brings me to what I think (please note the intentional unsurity [sp]) is the real issue. Real personal involvement. I don't go out to other non-Orthodox blogs, chat-rooms...etc, looking for people to dialogue with. Maybe I should, again, perhaps I'm wrong. But I can't imagine anyone I would encounter in the digital world really being that interested in what I have to say. Why? They don't know me. Let that sink in, they don't know us, at all. There is no personal involvement, no real personal investment, and I don't think true conversion ever really happens without personal investment.

I was thinking the other day, and began to lament the fact that I don't really have any personal relationships, any real friendships, with any non-Christians. I really hope that changes someday. I wish my wife and I had friendships with non-Christian couples. I want to invest my life in them. That's where true evangelism happens. In that place where we invest our lives in loving others. That's real hard to do in an online format. Think about it this way. Who of us would marry someone we only knew online? I know...some people do...but does anyone think it's healthy? But that is exactly like what we're trying to get others to do, commit their life to something based on our online dialogue. I wonder how many of us, if we spent the same time being involved in other's lives personally that we do online, would realize better results. I know, it's harder, infinitely harder, but I think it's a hundred times more effective. Again, please note that I'm judging no one here (except perhaps myself). I'm just as guilty as anyone. But just as in online dating, it's too easy to only show others what we want them to see, in hopes we can sucker them in. That's ugly.

And I'm ugly too. Maybe that's why I don't have non-Christian friends. My life's probably not all that attractive to them. I'm not looking for a pity party, I'm just trying to be truthful with myself. I have a hard time working on myself, working on my relationship with Christ and His Church, working at my own salvation, the only work that will really effect the salvation of others. And so I look for the easy road, the cheap road, the wide road that leads to the death of myself and those around me. I do it everyday.

And so we come back to my original question in all of this. Is there really an effective way to participate in Ecumenism. My last communication with the previously mentioned person resulted in him trashing this Church that I love so dearly. This in spite of my expressing my fear that he would do so. I have always told him that my desire in our communication was that we could share ourselves and our relationships with God with each other, invest in each other, and just let what happens happen. I really think that's the only way we'll get anywhere. Until we stop trying to convert each other, and simply try to love them, which it is my opinion can only really be done within the confines of personal relationship, all words are meaningless. And in the online world, that all we have...just words.

Please...I'm really looking for input here. Even if you disagree with me....no, especially if you disagree with me, let me know. I'm really trying to feel this question out.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

My Reply to the "Bishop":

What follows is part two of my trilogy of interviews. I chose the "Bishop" because he fulfills the role of the person who doesn't really know me at all. I have never met nor spoken to him. I have only seen his blog recently. I thought it might be interesting to see what kinds of questions someone in this position might ask me, based purely on what they know of me from my blog. Part one of the trilogy can be found here (well "here" was supposed to be a hyperlink to that entry, but alas something is screwed up and it bring up another post, so just scroll down and find August 28, 2003, or if you are reading this sometime after it falls off the front page, check the archives to the left). Part three is yet to come. If you're interested, either in being interviewed, or interviewing me, read the rules that follow the interview. Bold=his questions, with my answers following.

What part of Kentucky did you grow up in? What do you miss the most about Kentucky? The least?

As far as where I grew up, it was kind of all over. Our first house was in a rural area (though most of it was rural at that time) outside Lexington just off the Kentucky River. We had 800 acres of farmland that, from what I hear, is now semi-developed high income houses. At that time it certainly was NOT a high income area. We lived there until my dad was run over by a bulldozer (yes, you read that correctly) and we had to sell to pay his medical bills.

We then bought a smaller farm (3-400 acres) near Georgetown, which I'm told has a Toyota plant now (weird how things change). We lived there until my parents divorced, at which point my dad sold and moved to Richmond, where we lived in a couple of different places, and last we lived in Fayetteville for a short time.

What I miss most....that's tough, as I miss a lot of things. Real seasons for one; there are none here in Southern California. A slower pace of life. Here, everyone’s in a hurry to get nowhere in particular. When we lived there, everyone took their time getting nowhere in particular, and weren't to concerned with whether or not they got there. I miss farming, especially tobacco farming. I can think of no better smell than that of tobacco hanging to dry in the barn. Farming, in my estimation, is one of the few honest occupations left these days. It’s one of the only occupations where you don't have to compromise your soul on some level to exist in it. It's also a great way to participate with God in creation, second only to child rearing, which I hope to participate in soon with my wife. Last, I miss really miss the endless forests and creeks to explore. For a young kid with a big imagination, there's always something interesting to find...treasures to be searched for, armies to hide from, trees to be climbed, abandoned vehicles to pull apart, animals to chase, etc.

What I miss least....easy one. Having the Kentucky river overflow it's banks and fill your house with it's water, thus forcing you to move to a RUN DOWN shack (not that our house was much more than a glorified shack) that really wasn't even suitable for livestock. That and outhouses that are a hundred or so feet away in the winter with a few feet of snow on the ground. Two of our first three homes had no running water in them when we first moved in, nor for quite a while afterwards.

What was your experience in beginning to fast? Were you able to jump right in or has it been a transition?

Yes, no, and both. At first, in my convert zeal, it was easy. It was also very easy to get "pharisaic" and proud about the fast (Luckily my priest picked up on this and told me NOT to fast except for from one thing during my catechumenate). The Wednesday/Friday fasts are still difficult sometimes, only because half the time I have absolutely no idea what day it is, and I forget until sometime later in the day, at which point I have often already partaken of "the forbidden fruit".

Other than that, the longer fasts can be painful, but I've learned that it is my weakness that makes them so, and so have learned to embrace and appreciate them because of it. It is the shorter fasts that are the most difficult, ironically enough. When you’re settling in for 40+ days of fasting, you know you're in it for the long haul, and have spent some time preparing for it mentally and spiritually. But so often the "minor" fasts sneak up on me, and because of their short duration, I think to myself, "No big deal, it'll be over before I know it." And so I don't prepare, and thus frequently forget we're even fasting. And thus we see my failing which I so often must confess. Often I'm just "doing" the fast, rather than "working" or "participating in" the fast. Often I forget the other aspects of it that are part of the not eating. I don't pray more, I don't often meditate on the particular season it is we're fasting for in the first place. I forget the important things, of which the absence of food is perhaps even supposed to be secondary. But such is the state of my wretched soul. Anyone care to join me for a cheeseburger, glass of wine, with an olive oil chaser?

Who is your patron saint? How has learning about your patron affected you?

St. Paul is my patron. I actually wrote a blog here (note again that bloggers tags aren't exacting, see 4/28/03 on that page) that talks about how that came to be. I find it is actually the "darker" side of Paul's life that I identify most with. And it is in these identifications that I have been able to establish my relationship with him. It sheds light on my supplications to him, gives inspiration and light to the darkness of my own humanity. Knowing that he has, is, and will pray for me, and as far as I can tell, might relate rather intimately to my struggles, is a very beautiful thing. I would however be quite thankful if anyone knows of a thorough telling of his life, if they would inform me of it. I suspect there is a lot more known of him than just what is known from the Bible.

If you were a chess piece, what piece would you be?

Probably a pawn. No this is definitely not some attempted self-identification of humility as one might suspect. Pawns often are the first pieces out there, the first to stick their faces out in the battle, often alone. In this place they often realize the need for backup, a kind of "What the hell did I just get myself mixed up in?" Here they show their frailty. But in most games that I have loved, when they manage to stick it out, to hang in there through all the surrounding adversity, it is here where they begin to shine. They now become the bulwarks, they find their strength. Now the other pieces are able to make bold moves they were not formerly capable of. They are now the powerful backup of the defter. They are the jack of many trades, who can move slowly or quickly as needed. They can sidestep issues that others cannot, and even perform uncharacteristically when the situation warrants it (en passant). And in the end, if they make it that far and have fought the good fight well, only they can pass on to greater glory, a refashioning into the image that the creator destines us to. But only by making sure to be in the place the creator designs for us. Last will be first in the Kingdom?

How have you overcome the "World View" (East vs. West) differences while staying in communion with your men's group?

The most important answer to this question is that we have a very unique group of men. All of the men who come regularly are very gracious, loving, and self-reflective. None, so far as I can tell, are staunch, rigid, and unwilling to examine themselves. This goes a loooong way. We all have a very sincere desire to grow beyond ourselves.

Second, and this has often proven most difficult for me, and for this I pray nightly to St. Isaac of Syria (“Above all things love silence.”), is to keep my mouth shut unless there is truly a good reason to open it. This does not mean that I do not share, but I share my life, and only when asked do I think there is a need for my "theology". Sure, this means that often I will speak of my confessions, or something I learned in a homily, or a point in the liturgy that carried some special significance to me. Those things come up all the time, and it is my hope that the breadth and depth of the Church will shine through in that. The Church is changing me, reshaping me, challenging me forward. These things I share more than "theology".

Third, for reading material, we try to stick with "universally" recognized writings. Right now we are reading St. John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent. This is a writing that is appreciated in both the Eastern and Western camps. Pre-Schism writings are especially helpful here. Our last text was Athanasius' On The Incarnation (which I think is especially great in challenging us to examine the roots of our belief; it changed me in so many ways).

Sure, our "World View" differences come up from time to time, and often questions are asked that pertain here. This is where who are Orthodox share our distinctives. But for the most part, I prefer to let the Saints speak for themselves, they are so much more adept with words than I am, and garner more respect from the audience. I let them speak, and I just try to live it while sharing my life with others.

NOW YOUR TURN: READ THE RULES AND I WILL INTERVIEW YOU AS WELL.

Official Rules:
1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying, "interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different.
3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions
6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.

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