On Hiatus

14 03 2008

I never dreamed when I started this blog that I would be so blessed.  The feedback I’ve received here has been a gift I will always treasure. 

But I must confess that as I’ve embraced Orthodoxy, my spiritual life in general has suffered as, outside of the blog world, it has been a solitary journey that has resulted in my being spiritually isolated from my other Christian friends and, most importantly, my family.  

I knew this was a danger all along, but I’m surprised by how quickly it has effected me.   I am now in a state of profound spiritual depression and feel like I must take a break from my interest/obession with the Orthodox faith.  

Perhaps I just don’t have the courage to make the leap at this time and will be better prepared to bring this matter before the Lord when I have some distance behind me.  For now, I’m just not strong enough to take this any further. 

I am much obliged to you all for the kindness and love you’ve shared with me.  May God bless you richly.      


The Hardest Part

6 03 2008

When my wife and I began planning to become parents six years ago we suddenly developed an interest in how other parents were raising their kids.  Our suburban Washington DC neighborhood  was like something right out of Leave It To Beaver.  Young families were moving in every week and we had a strong sample group to closely observe. 

In general we were appalled by the interaction we had with the neighborhood kids who were ill mannered, irresponsible and highly sexualized as pre-teens.  It quickly became clear that the only exception were the children of the evangelical Christian families, many of whom were homeschooled.  

They were much more mature, thoughtful and considerate across the board.  If you wanted a babysitter who didn’t smoke and actually cleaned up some, you knew to go the kids of the families who had the neighborhood Bible study. 

It wasn’t long before we joined the Bible study and left our mainline Presbyterian church to become evangelicals.  It felt safe and the support and encouragement we received from the families in that Bible study was something we had never encountered.  When someone got sick or anyone had a need, they rallied the troops within hours to chip in and help. 

Most impressive is that the kids were participants and expected to help out.  I remember one conversation I had with an eleven year old who stunned me with her explanation of why she loved being homeschooled.  She told me how she was able to complete most of her course work before Noon, which allowed her to visit nursing homes and do mercy ministry in the afternoon.   She was an accomplished pianist at the age of 14.  

Of course the wrap is that it doesn’t stick.  Many critics claim that these kind of kids are over sheltered and oppressed to the point that you are guaranteeing an eventual rebellion.  That may be true in some cases, but I recently visited my old neighborhood and those same kids are now preparing to go to the college and the rebellion hasn’t started yet.  These teenagers stand out in such an impressive way.  It was shocking to have a teen actually ask me questions about my family.    

I haven’t been around enough Orthodox families to compare, but this is easily the biggest concern I have about converting.   For all of the evangelical church’s many weaknesses, I have to admit that our church seems to be doing a pretty good job of discipling its children.  

One of the things that drove me away from Catholicism was the low ethical standards I saw, even in the most conservative parishes.  They made a big deal out of their children’s baptisms and confirmations, but apparently not much happened afterwards.  Their kids didn’t seem to be any different from families who have no church affiliation.  

It could be fairly pointed out that evangelicals are overly dependent on their mega-church’s youth program, but I hear alot of serious discussion lately about the need to make the family the primary place of discipleship.  What happens at church should only reinforce what our children learn at home.   

In my Reformed confessional church, I see more good than bad when it comes to discipling children.  This is something I’m going to be watching very carefully before I turn my back on evangelicalism.         

A Presbyterian Mystic

25 02 2008

Here’s an idea that crops up from time to time.   I don’t have to actually become Orthodox.  I can continue to attend occasional Vespers services and a Divine Liturgy from time to time, read Orthodox books, take up praying to icons and do other Orthodox type things around the house like burning incense. 

I will say the Jesus Prayer throughout the day and incorporate all the things I learn from Orthodoxy into a sort of evangelical mystical mish-mash.  I will grow a beard and become a semi long-hair and listen to people better.  When I take communion, I’ll consider that it’s the real presence of Christ no matter what others think. 

This way, I don’t have to cause family upheaval and go through all the agony of leaving yet another church.  I’ll get all benefits of Orthodoxy without dealing with all the heaviness, and I won’t have to sell all my reformed and evangelical books.  

If only it was that easy.  Trying to be a Presbyterian mystic is a recipe for misery.      

Jammin For Jesus

22 02 2008

We might have anywhere from six to ten members in our “praise and worship” team on Sunday mornings.  Lately, one of our pastors has become enamored with playing his mandolin, making for some uncomfortable pauses while he cranks out an unexpected riff.  Sometimes we have the mandolin and a trumpet vying for solo time in the same song!  The result frequently being that my daughters get a good laugh because I’ll sing out when no one else does. 

Recently I mentioned to my wife that I thought the added instrumentation was a result of boredom.  They get so bored playing the same songs over and over that they have to spice it up with different sounds.   

For an interesting perspective on this from a “worship leader,” check out this posting, from an Orthodox inquirer with a serious case of burnout.    

Independence For Kosovo?

18 02 2008

2kosovodemog_468x311.jpgHow is an American Orthodox Christian supposed to respond to Kosovo’s Independence Announcement? 

I understand that there’s more to this than is reported by the mainstream media, but I still have an extremely hard time garnering up any sympathy for the Serbian government. 

I know very little about this, but I do know that the land Kosovo is claiming has significance for the Orthodox Church and I would be interested in hearing some fresh perspective on this hot topic. 

Depression, Alcoholism and Orthodoxy

15 02 2008

I’ve been sober 13 years but it took more than two years of “slips” for me to learn a painful lesson: 

We cannot think our way into right living.  We must live our way into right thinking. 

Like many newcomers to AA, I loved going to meetings and talking about my problems.  I read about the 12 steps and memorized them, but I failed to understand that the key to sobriety is to actually do the 12 steps, which of course requires taking action.  Not surprisingly, I picked up alot of white beginner chips in those first two years after slips.      

Apparently I’m one of many Orthodox inquirer or converts who is familiar with addiction and depression.  It’s a package deal.  I’ve never met a recovering alcoholic who does not also struggle with depression. Often the depression and anger gets worse after one sobers up.   

It is no coincidence that I’ve heard from so many fellow recovering 12-steppers and depressed blog friends.  From my little experience and reading, I see many parallels with Orthodox Christianity and Alcoholics Anonymous.    

Few ever maintain sobriety in AA without a good sponsor, a guide to help you take the steps and continue taking them after you get sober.  Trying to work an individual program in AA is a recipe for disaster (as I know) and I see the same kind of problem with evangelical Christianity.

Although evangelicals understand the concept of repentance, it usually comes down to private confession.  More and more I hear pastors urging their flock to seek out spiritual mentors, but my hunch is that few of us ever practice any sort of gut-level honesty with another person.  

Our guilt and shame stays in our head.  I have few other Christian men that I “get real” with.  Just about the only relief comes on Sunday morning when I’m reminded that my sins are covered by the blood of Christ.  But by Monday morning I’m on my own.  

The truth is that I need an earthly spiritual father.  I need someone to tell me things I don’t want to hear and to help me see my sin and warped motives, which I am not very good at diagnosing.  Left on my own, I usually come to the conclusion that my problems are the result of what someone has done to me.  

I need the sacrament of confession and the opportunity to give thanks in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper along with those I’m in communion with, who go forward to receive the body and blood of Christ every Sunday.    

I liken my first two years of attempted sobriety to what I’m currently experiencing in my evangelical mega-church.  It’s not like we don’t acknowledge something ain’t right.  Go into any evangelical Christian bookstore and counseling books by the prosperity preachers on TV now top the rapture books on the bestseller list.   

Christian counseling is offered in almost any decent sized church.  Last year I took a Biblical counseling introductory course at the same time my wife and I were in marriage counseling.  All the solutions to our problems are right there in the Bible we were told.  The way to deal with our problems was to write down Bible verses and keep them in our wallet or purse and read them when despair or temptation to sin cropped up.  

But what this boils down to is essentially talking, reading, and praying about my problems. It’s very similar to what I experienced when I first tried to stop drinking.  I had plenty of information and a desire to do the right thing, but I was basically self-guided and of course my prayers were all self absorbed.         

What I’m discovering is that the path has already been trod for 2000 years, and that “program” hasn’t changed.  I’ve heard that in the first decade or so of AA, the percentage of those getting sober and staying sober was very high.  Today it’s much more of a revolving door as individualism threatens to stamp out the actual taking of the 12-steps.  The phrase “Take what you want and leave the rest” would’ve been a heresy at an AA meeting in the 1940’s. 

My battle with depression and continuing sobriety is always contingent upon God’s grace and my taking action.  The evangelical “program” has given me glimpse of His grace and mercy, but I don’t have anymore room left in wallet for more Bible verses.      

Contradictions About Mary

13 02 2008

Having undertaken a serious exploration of Catholicism before venturing eastward, I understand the difference between veneration and worship.  I just re-read most of Bishop Ware’s The Orthodox Church where he leads off his discussion of the Mother of God with this:

“Just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another and ask for one another’s prayers, so they pray also for the faithful departed and ask the faithful departed to pray for them.”  

Okay, so far so good.  But just as I was reading Ware, I was simultaneously reading Father Arseny – Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father.   This book comes highly recommended by Fr. Stephen Freeman, and is revered by just about all Orthodox for good reason as it describes the courageous faith and inspirational leadership of an extraordinary Orthodox Priest who suffered extreme persecution at one of Stalin’s most notorious death camps.    It is mostly short stories about Fr. Arseny and the faith he inspired amongst his beloved spiritual children.  

Sprinkled throughout this volume are references to Mary such as this:

“Prayer to the Mother of God was always the most saving and unfailing protection from all physical  and spiritual dangers.” 

“I entrust you to our defender, the Mother of God. You must each take a little icon with you and pray to her the whole trip.”  

“Oh Mother of God! O blessed St. George! Help them, save them, and protect them.”   

This goes well beyond merely honoring or venerating the Theotokos.  In the above citations, Mary is assumed to have saving powers and she is clearly being prayed to, not being asked to pray or intecede before the Father or Son as explained by Ware.  The Father and Son are bypasssed altogether, at least in their utterances.  

In two stories, Mary actually appears and saves women from danger.  These aren’t just poor, uneducated peasants.  They are Fr. Arseny’s spiritual children – people who take their faith very seriously and receive instruction from Fr. Arseny.   

I was a little surprised to see these kind of references to Mary in a book that is frequently recommended as introductory reading material for inquirers.  I’ve heard versions of Ware’s above explanation many times and have completely changed my understanding of the communion of saints. 

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is written in the present tense!  I take great comfort in knowing that at an Orthodox liturgy, heaven and earth are joined together.  Therefore, we can ask for the prayers of the saints at any time, and just as we may ask a friend to pray for us, we can ask them to do likewise.  

But what we have in Fr. Arseny is the expectation that The Mother of God will take direct action herself.  This is sanctioned by Fr. Arseny and at least one other Priest in the stories.   

I’m sure someone will say that I need a more nuanced understanding of this and that I’m still seeing this through my “Western eyes.”  I mean no disrespect to Fr. Arseny or any his spiritual children who managed to keep their faith in the face terrible hardship.   

But it sure seems that Mary is coming awfully close here to adding to the trinity.