Monday, January 19, 2015

The Forgotten Christian World

When we think of great historical events we naturally imagine them in visual terms, of great movements. But our mental maps are often too small. We know, for instance, that Christianity began in Palestine and swept west into the Roman Empire to develop a firm base in Europe. With such a picture in mind it is easy to imagine the Christian church establishing itself across Western Europe, in Britain and Ireland, and then eventually making the leap across the Atlantic into the New World. Nothing in that picture is actually wrong, but it is sadly incomplete. At the very same time that Christians were moving west into Europe in the first two or three centuries ad, others were travelling eastwards into Asia, and south into Africa. By the mid-sixth century, Christian monasteries were operating in China. And we are not speaking here of a few brave missionaries. As late as the 11th century – almost the halfway point of the Christian story to date – at least a third of the world’s Christians still lived in Asia. Even in 1250 it makes sense to think of a Christian world stretching east from Constantinople to Samarkand (at least) and south from Alexandria to the desert of the Ogaden, almost to the Equator.

These Christians differed vastly from our familiar idea of the medieval Christian world. Many Westerners are used to thinking of the church at this time as a narrow and intolerant affair, in which popes and bishops owed their power to their alliance with secular kings and emperors. According to this stereotype the church knew next to nothing about outside cultures or faiths and, if it did, it treated them with fear and contempt, a hostility that became most obvious in the Crusades. But in fact most early Asian Christians lived in a world in which they rarely or never allied with states and kings and always operated as minority faiths living in states dominated by other religions – by Persian Zoroastrians, by Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus. Christians existed alongside these other faiths, and regularly engaged in dialogues that were friendly and cooperative. In China and south¬ India, by the eighth century, members of the Nestorian Christian church used a distinctive symbol in which the cross is joined to the lotus, symbol of Buddhist enlightenment.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Civilization and it's Discontents

In our society, we don't critique Mohammed's religion (or any other religion) because it's wrong.  Religion is denied this honor. We make fun of religion because it is religion. In this culture we are forbidden to engage with religion at all on its own terms. We cannot publicly acknowledge the truth claims of any religion or the conflicting truth claims of competing religions. As a French editor said on the BBC, "We cannot criticize religious believers, only religions." That is what we all do.  Our gov'ts tell us that we cannot use our religion to make choices in public space. Our coworkers tell us we cannot be religious at our desks. Our neighbors complain when our religious observances are injected into the public space.  A religious minority is protected as a minority until it becomes religious. Ask the Mormons how they managed to get statehood for Utah.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Protestants and a Churchless Tradition: “Sola” vs. “Solo” Scriptura

One of my ongoing fascinations is what I have come to refer to in my head as “the Evangelical appropriation of tradition.” Charismatics are celebrating Lent. Baptists are talking about the Eucharist. The inscrutable maybe-universalist and now Oprah-darling Rob Bell is even using the phrase the tradition. Maybe this tradition stuff isn’t so bad. I can branch out a little. I can line up some Athanasius next to my MacArthur, and a volume or two of Gregory of Nyssa next to my Bonhoeffer. Osteen still goes somewhere preferable near the bottom. (Who gave me that book, anyway?) Maybe we’ll put Origen down there with him. Both are questionable, right?. Oh, hey, I’ve heard Ratzinger is kind of interesting. And that “wounded healer” Nouwen guy’s onto something. Has anyone heard of someone named “Schmemann”?

Welcome to the club, the Lutherans and certain Reformed types say. We’ve been waiting for you. Help yourself to some creeds. We hope you’ll stay for some liturgy.

And we hope you’ve discovered the difference between sola and solo scriptura.

Solo scriptura, it is argued, is what most Evangelicals would probably understand as their basic matrix of church authority—the Bible is above everything. Some might say that the Bible is the only authority in church life, while others might say it is the primary authority in church life, but it’s still over everything. What the Bible says trumps anything some teacher or cleric or council might say. They’ve all been wrong, but the Bible is always right.

Read more at (Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I think I'm going to stop celebrating my birthday

It seems that my birthday is full of sorrow and sad memories. These are not the "oh I didn't get any gifts," or "nobody really cares and didn't wish me a happy birthday," kind of saddness. No, this saddness and sorrow run so much deeper.

I guess you could say this all started around my 18th birthday, just a few days over 10 years ago. I was a senior in Highschool when I received word that my maternal grandfather was in the hospital and going to soon pass. My mother got everything ready so we could make the trip down from middle Tennessee to southern Mississippi. I told her I didn't want to go and see my grandfather lying sickly in the hospital; I wanted to remember the strong determined man i had known my whole life, not his empty, hollow shell. We had an argument but I reassured my mother that I would drive down for the funeral.

Later that day my aunt came by and picked me up. My grandfather was technically dead - his brain no longer working and machines keeping him alive - and they wanted the whole family to be present when they pulled his life support. I stood in his hospital room staring into empty eyes as I slowly watched him die.

Two days later I turned 18. Two days later I buried my grandfather.

Friends and family would say, "Happy birthday, sorry about your grandpa," but it was all meaningless to me.

Now, every year on my birthday I remember my grandfather passing away and putting him in the ground.

Fast forward 9 years. That would be 2013. My paternal grandfather passed away just two days after his birthday. His birthday was the day before mine. I dropped everything and made my way down to Miami; the last time I had been down to see my grandparents was in the winter of 2006 after I had married my wonderful wife.

I almost got fired from work because of some miscommunication. As a result I was able to attend my grandfather's memorial service, but not his grave side service. I had wanted to be in uniform and present his flag to my grandmother after military honors had been rendered, but I was busy driving 14 hours back home.

At work I was repeatedly penalized for taking that time off - they never came out and said it, but it was heavily implied - and thus I never got a pay raise nor was I eligible for promotion. My finances also still haven't recovered from taking that time off.

Now it's my birthday yet again. Shortly after arriving to work I received a message that my paternal grandmother is not doing so well. I knew she had been in and out of the hospital as of late. She hasn't been doing well at all since her husband, my grandfather - passed away. The doctors don't know how much longer she has to live, but they do know that she will pass soon. It could be a few weeks, or months (hopefully), but it doesn't look good.

In all honesty I don't think I can celebrate my birthday anymore, instead I will set this day aside to mourn the loss of my loved ones. It is good to mourn the fact that the ones we love are no longer with us. It is escapism to deny yourself a time to mourn and pretend that everything is awesome - a homecoming - because it doesn't and shouldn't make the hurt any less real.

But everything thing is not all gloom and doom in this post. I have obtained a day to mourn, yes, but I still have a day to celebrate. In the Orthodox Church people choose a saint to be their patron. This saint's name becomes their baptismal name and the name they use when receiving the Eucharist. They also usually celebrate their saint's/name day - the day their saint is commemorated - as one would a birthday. In many Orthodox countries the name day is celebrated instead of a birthday.

I propose that from here on out I will only celebrate my name day, setting my birthday aside as a day of remembrance so my loved ones' memories may be eternal.

Now, here is the tricky part... Most people have a chosen a saint that is celebrated on the same day every year. So if their saint is commemorated today then every year they would celebrate on this day. I, however, seem to have been odd. My patron saint, the Prophet King David, does not have a set date of commemoration.

The Church commemorates him together with all the ancestors of Christ on the Sunday of the Forefathers (December 11-17, depending on the day on which the Nativity falls) and also on the first Sunday after the Nativity, along with Joseph the Betrothed and the Apostle James the Just. OrthodoxWiki

So I actually have two days I can celebrate, but I usually choose the first. But as can be seen in the above quote the date can vary; this year it happens to fall on the 14th of December.

From now on I will celebrate only on my name day, leaving my birthday as a day to mourn and remember. If anyone a has trouble remembering when the date is just ask me and I'll let you know.