St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote in one of his theological orations against the Christian mistake of debating theology before a worldly audience (cf. John 13:35). It's hard not to apply this wisdom to some conversations I occasionally get baited into on social media.
My wife recently posted a question on Facebook, asking any of her pro-choice friends to offer their rationale for abortion in the wake of the current Planned Parenthood revelations. The question was couched in terms of a desire to "understand" the basis for such thinking and involved a request of any pro-lifers that they refrain from turning the comment thread into a boxing ring. Essentially, my wife was attempting to create a "safe space" for people with contrary views to express them, the thought being that under such non-confrontational conditions, the likelihood was higher that a clear statement of pro-choice rhetoric might be forthcoming. I'm glad my wife did that, because the two pro-choice responses that she garnered--one in particular--offer a teaching opportunity. In the interest of preserving that safe space on my wife's Facebook wall, I decided to offer these thoughts here on my blog.
Liberal evangelical personality Tony Campolo recently shocked no one by formally announcing his approval of monogamous gay marriage, coupled with a plea that other Christians do the same. A more surprising similar announcement came almost simultaneously from former Christianity Today editor David Neff on Facebook. The latter put conservative Evangelical "thought leaders" on social media into a relative state of disarray, and Christianity Today issued a response to the whole ordeal aptly titled, "Breaking news: 2 billion Christians believe in traditional marriage."
On April 16, 2002, I was in the living area of my dorm watching something stupid on TV when I heard my phone ring down the hall. It was my Dad. "Hey Dad," I casually answered. My dad has never stood on ceremony for much of anything, and this moment was no exception. "I have some bad news," he said. "Nani came home from running errands this morning and found Papa dead in his armchair." I was instantly breathless. "Oh, wow. Oh my goodness," I managed. In the moment, I was as stunned by the news as I was confused about how to converse with my Dad about his father having just died. I quickly resorted to logistics. "When is the funeral? Where is it? Do I need to fly to Corpus Christi?" I asked. My Dad responded with some details about plans that were in the works, but I was beginning to glaze over. I was having a vision of Papa greeting me as a little boy in his driveway when we'd arrive for summer vacation. I was thinking of his hugs (they were way too tight and always painful). I was thinking of his voice and the gap in his front teeth when he smiled. Then Death whispered to me: "He doesn't exist anymore." Mentally I rejoined the phone conversation at that point, but only to tell my Dad that I needed to take some time to myself. "I gotta go, Dad," I interrupted, my voice clearly faltering. "Ok," he replied, his own voice no longer strong. I hung up the phone, then fell on my face in my bed and wept aloud like I hadn't since I was a toddler.
Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the hanging death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Hence it was an occasion for meditating on the German Lutheran pastor who, amid Nazi atrocities during WWII, was driven to take part in an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer's unapologetic writings on ethics and theology have factored heavily in my own spiritual and intellectual development since I first began studying him in 2003 as a senior in college. Specifically, his formulations on "costly grace" put a fire in my belly about the gravity of deeds in the Christian life, and their inescapable role as the true indicator of living faith.
When I was in college, I went to a bar in downtown Chattanooga, TN to see Derek Webb in concert, he of Caedmon's Call fame. That night he introduced a new, as-yet-unreleased song that immediately became a favorite of mine. It was called "Wedding Dress," and it pulled from repeated themes in the scriptures of harlotry. One thinks of Hosea's wife, various other Biblical allusions to the nation of Israel and her prostitution of herself, and also a few notable courtesans of the New Testament. If you're unfamiliar with the song, have a look at it here:
Right now for reasons many of you may know, my family are confronting the topic of infant baptism (and the baptism of toddlers for that matter). Plenty theological blood has been spilt over that topic in recent centuries, so my purpose here is emphatically not to mount a defense for one view against another. I only want to mention that the subject has me thinking generally on the question of the nature of faith. How much is rational? How much is implicit trust? In a recent reading about infant baptism at OrthodoxBridge.com (the site is linked to in the sidebar as well), the writer observes:
This post is the second in a multi-part series chronicling my journey from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. See Part 1 here.
[UPDATE: Let the reader be advised that most in this ongoing series of posts will begin with a snapshot of an event late in my Orthodox journey, followed by a return to picking up chronologically where the previous post left off. I had the original idea of that literary approach becoming evident over the course of the series, but a friend has pointed out something that necessitates a preemptive explanation of that choice. Specifically, it was brought to my attention that my parents appear in an unflattering light in this post because of their initial question to me when we sat down to discuss our new church inclinations. I mean to convey in upcoming posts that I've had more than a few fruitful discussions with both of my parents in the last year, and they have both entertained my family's venture into Orthodoxy with grace and love. They have blessed my wife and I with the space to do this to a degree many in our position have not been so fortunate as to experience.]
As a 34-year-old who was raised and formally educated as an Evangelical, it may sound strange that my family are on the cusp of entry into the Orthodox Church. It's particularly confusing to Evangelical friends and family who have known me for a long time, and this series of posts I'm beginning is meant largely for them. But it's my hope that these might also serve as a soft touch point for Orthodox inquirers out there who, like myself once upon a time, are looking for present day conversion stories that may help them better understand their own journey (and give them hope!). So to you, inquirer, fear not. The journey is necessary and worth it. To my friends and family asking "Why?," I hope this account will be accessible, personable and satisfying. It's probably unavoidable that some will find grounds for disagreement or even frustration with some of my theological turns over the last 4+ years, but after this series is complete, at least my journey should be demystified.
My Orthodox journey to this point can be divided into two phases. The first and longest phase was the theological exploration. The second, and which I find myself in now, is coming to a greater understanding of Orthodox worship. Even as someone deeply inclined toward Orthodoxy, some of the finer points of the Divine Liturgy (their weekly, Sunday morning service) have prompted personal skepticism as to whether the ritual sprung from the meaning or vice versa. I still have volumes to learn in that area however, and the purpose of this post isn't to examine the development of any one liturgical aspect. The objective is simply to relay some recent thoughts of mine on what is probably the most repeated phrase in the Orthodox worship economy: "Lord, have mercy."
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