Who Am I?

The Didache 21 – Do What You Are Able

Posted: July 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 21 – Do What You Are Able

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

Once again we encounter the idea of being perfect, this time in connection with being able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord. All who follow Jesus are called to the same yoke, the same rule, the same way. Whether it be love, prayer, ascetism, or vocation, we are all called into the fullness of life. When you read the gospels, the yoke of Jesus can sometimes seem overwhelming. It permeates every aspect of our lives and is so foreign to what we often consider “natural”. And yet there is also boundless mercy, especially in the recognition that we are to grow in faith and practice through the presence and activity of God in our lives. We are not expected to instantly be perfect, in any sense of the word. That would be a crushing weight indeed.

And here we see that reflected here in the very early tradition of the church. Do what you can. Receive the grace of God, which is to say receive God himself, and swim in the mercy of God. Move. Act. Live. And do all that you are able in the yoke of the Lord. This is reflected even today in the life of the Orthodox Church. There is one rule for everyone within the church: monastics, presbyters, deacons, and that first order of the royal priesthood often call the laity. And yet there is economy whenever needed. If in the demands of your work, you cannot pray all the hours and have not absorbed the Jesus Prayer or other prayers to the point that you pray without ceasing, pray those hours you can manage. If for health or other reasons you cannot keep the full fast, work with your priest to find a fast that you can follow. If you are fasting and are given a meal in love and hospitality by one who does not follow the same fast, thank that person graciously and eat the meal. The person is more important than your fast.

We don’t often encounter meat sacrificed to idols in our part of the world these days. It can be hard for us to recognize how prevalent that was in the ancient world. In some markets at some times, it could be hard to find any meat that was not a remnant of a sacrifice. The tension here is the one Paul addressed many times and which the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts faced also. Paul largely dealt with the love expressed to one who offers you a meal when he wrote not to ask and to share in hospitality. Paul wrote that we are free, but that some might remember their worship of those other gods and be drawn back toward. The Council was establishing rules that would allow Jewish and Gentile believers to share the same table.

It might be interesting if we attempted to identify our “meat sacrificed to idols” today. What do we blithely consume today that is in service to dead gods?


Pentecost – The Healing of Babel

Posted: June 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pentecost – The Healing of Babel

I keep finding in Orthodoxy not a new perspective, but rather a tradition that says things that have long been my perspective. Father Stephen’s post on Pentecost is but the latest example. This arc of the story had always seemed obvious to me. The narrative of “fall” ends with the tale of Babel and the dispersion of man into nations who stand against each other and who speak with different tongues. That’s immediately followed by God calling a man to form a people and the long story of the people of God culminating in the faithful man, the faithful Israelite, Jesus of Nazareth. In him, God then forms one people from the nations exemplified by the healing of the division of Babel at Pentecost.

In Father Stephen’s post I read that that has always been the way the Orthodox Church looked at it. Further, they extend it to the healing of creation.

Thus the trees.


The Great Emergence

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I love listening to Phyllis Tickle. I’ve listened to her speak a number of times over the years (via mp3) and have loved every instance. I believe The Great Emergence is the first book by her I’ve read, though I do have The Words of Jesus waiting on my shelf. I also realize that everyone under the sun has already read and reviewed this book. I’m a latecomer. It took me a while to buy it and then with this minor matter of a celiac diagnosis, my reading has fallen behind the curve lately. 😉

With this particular book, I find myself in the odd position of wanting to like the book more than I actually did. Instead I found it something of a mixed bag. I do think she accurately captures the spirit of the present age and the tension within which we all live in the West and particularly in the US. Those are the parts of the book I found myself almost cheering along with. On the other hand, I found the historical perspective a bit light and the whole 500 year cycle somewhat contrived. Those were probably my least favorite parts of the book.

The section of the book that tried to tie together a whole host of disparate historical events while leaving out many significant realities of the era in order to create a “crisis” around 500-600 CE similar to that which occurred in the Great Schism and the Reformation was the least compelling. I have the disadvantage, I think, of a lot of familiarity with both the imperial (and contra-imperial) history and the Christian history of that era. I just don’t see the same sort of either societal or Christian crisis at that point in time, certainly not working in conjunction. Yes, the West did have some pretty serious societal issues at that time and ongoing. But that was not mirrored in the Christian schism. At that point in time, the See of Rome, largely consumed by those other societal issues, pretty much acted in conjunction with the great Sees of what is known now as Orthodoxy. The schism had as much to do with the politics of the Roman Empire, in its capitol of Constantinople, and with misunderstandings over the actual Greek meanings of the words used. The Armenian state, for example, was caught in a war against Persia at the time and the bishops of its church were unable to attend the council. When they received the council’s results in writing later, they interpreted it as a resurgence of Nestorianism and rejected it accordingly. The monophysite heresy did largely die out over time and never took permanent hold in either the Chalcedonian or non-Chalcedonian churches. The Oriental Orthodox church is not monophysite, nor are they continuing something older or even different than Orthodoxy. Rather their theology is best understood as miaphysite, which is theologically consistent with Chalcedon though it uses different language.

I think there is a deeper misunderstanding of the first thousand years of Christianity embedded within these issues. Toward the end of the book, Phyllis Tickle writes of the impact of Constantine in a way that simply does not fit the historical realities of the time. Further, she seems to attribute the renewed rise of gnosticism, the incorporation of Greek philosophical ideas, the rise of the image of an angry God, and the loss of a Jewish character to Christianity to Constantine rather than to the era of the Great Schism, which is when it actually happened in the West. I don’t disagree with the charges she raises, but they are largely exactly the same charges the Eastern Church has raised against the Western Church when it has been able to interact and speak at all between Islamic and Communist oppression, not something that entered the Church when Constantine made Christianity a legal religion.

With that said, I think her analysis of the Western Church over the last thousand years is pretty accurate for the brief space in which she has to write in this book. Her analysis of the way the postmodern mind deconstructs the structure established in the Reformation (attempting to base authority on a text) is, as they say, spot on. And we are certainly in the middle of both a societal upheaval and an upheaval in our understanding of religion today in the US – beyond a shadow of a doubt.

So I guess I give this book one thumb up. It’s worth reading and it’s a quick read. But read it with a grain of salt, especially when it’s discussing the first thousand years of Christianity.


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 6

Posted: May 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This post in the series should wrap up the meandering thread I’ve been tracing through the story of my life. For no discussion of encounters with fasting communities could ever be complete without discussing Orthodoxy. Somehow, in all my wide-ranging study, modern Orthodoxy still managed to catch me off-guard. Like many, at least in the US, I thought of them as an Eastern or even a Greek sort of Catholic (as defined by my encounters with Roman Catholicism) rather than as another Tradition of the faith. And as such, I never really spent any time looking at the thread of the Orthodox Church following the Great Schism of 1054.

Oddly, it was a distinctly Protestant book, Praying with the Church by Scot McKnight, that abruptly shook me from that complacent (mis)understanding. That book explores the tradition of set prayer within the church and includes a chapter on the manner in which it is practiced within Orthodoxy. If you recall from earlier in this series, I mentioned my love for Brother Lawrence and his The Practice of the Presence of God. One of the disciplines in that book is the discipline of breath prayers, short prayers that you can say, almost with the rhythm of your breath, as you work or engage in other activities. I’m not particularly skilled or disciplined in any of the Christian spiritual practices, but I had been using breath prayers for some years by that point in time. I had several that I found particular helpful and even compelling. These were the prayers to which I kept returning. When I read the chapter in the book above, I was shocked to discover that the breath prayer which I most used, the short prayer I had thought I had found on my own, was in fact a common variation of the Jesus Prayer, one of the oldest prayer traditions of the Church!

With that, I began to truly explore Orthodoxy to better understand it. You can’t do that for very long at all without running into their ascetical practice of communal fasting. It’s deep and rich. I would say that even after several years I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of the subject. The typical Orthodox fasting regimen is a fast from meat, fish with a backbone, dairy, oil, and wine. It’s very similar to what we would call a vegan diet. There are various periods of fasting in preparation for feasts. And they fast most weeks of the year on Wednesday and Friday. Perhaps you recall the excerpt from the Didache I posted earlier in this series? The Didache was one of the earliest rules of fasting within our faith. It had seemed to me that the practice of a weekly, communal fast had vanished from the modern landscape, but it hadn’t. I found that a very encouraging sign of continuity within our faith.

But I’m not Orthodox and I did not fast. I was intrigued, but still reluctant to jump in. I also did not live at that time with even a rudimentary rule of prayer. And I knew that a rule of fasting without a rule of prayer would be very dangerous indeed. Fasting, whether an ascetical fast or a total fast, still seemed strange to me. I did what I typically do when I’m unsure how to proceed and there is no urgent reason for action. I read and listened and waited while changing little in my daily practice.