Cattle Drive, Fort Worth Stockyards, April 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Let's get a life…

I can sometimes be a little shrill in my posts. It is a great temptation to stand in the wilderness of modern life, put on our spiritual camel hair and shout to the sky. This is certainly needed at times. After all the first word of our Lord's public ministry was, "Repent." If we are to follow our Master, then we can not avoid the necessary task of calling our people to repentance. But underneath the call to change our lives and our souls was something deeper. It was not simply a moral adjustment, it was an invitation to something far more sweeping. It was an invitation to life.
   Yesterday I felt absolutely awful. My lungs were still filled with plaster dust from working on a local Habitat for Humanity project and consequently my throat hurt and I could speak with difficulty. A burst and open blister in the palm of my right hand pained me, and the soreness of the rest of my body didn't help. And I got a stye on my right eye just to irritate me I suppose. (I would suggest to any younger reader to stop aging now before it's too late! I know a little gray hair is exotic and appealing, but don't do it! You'll regret it!) When I finished praying my final office I lay on my bed under the ceiling fan to try and get a little rest before beginning all over again today.
   In spite of my discomfort, I remember having a wonderful warmth of heart. I love life. We can easily get down or irritated about what is going on around us that is wrong, but we ought not to forget how wonderful life is, how magnificent Christian life is. The life I enjoy is not simply to breathe and eat… all of the air I breathe gets burnt, and all that I eat goes out in the draft. That sort of life is simply the mechanics that allow me to continue existing. No, real life is being able to experience God in all that we do. It is to know his intimate presence with us and in us at every moment.
   Real life allows me to see the sunrise and know that in it God is greeting me and painting a unique canvas to behold of his life. It allows me to see all creation as a gift and a love poem between Creator and creature. Real life drives all of my external sensual experiences into my heart as internal communion with God the Holy Trinity. Life is joy, because life is no longer divided into compartments and isolation. It makes all discomfort fade into little more than a little irritation because it is no longer central in our hearts.
   This is why we repent, that we might have life. Part of repentance is moving ourselves out of our hearts and building a shrine, an altar, to God there, that he might dwell in it and we might receive him there. It is union, communion. It is this inward orientation that allows us to see the truth of the Eucharistic mystery. It is this sense of life that allowed the early martyrs to sing praises to God as they were being brutally tortured to death. They had found life--not as an escape from this world--but as the complete consummation of this world, the integration of things heavenly, earthly and divine. The hearts were filled with what the universe can not contain and it is Life, and Light.
   I love Life! Lord, help me to constantly strip off this living death with which I so quickly clothe myself. Open my eyes to your never ending call to you in my heart. Allow me to see your handiwork and praise you. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oklahoma and Sharia Law

Last night I saw an Oklahoma congressman (for their state legislature) who has cosponsored a proposition to amend their state constitution which will prohibit their judicial system from considering precedents or components of international or sharia law. It is admittedly a preemptive strike against Muslims trying to create room for Sharia law in the United States. This is being done against the background of the imam who has written that he desires the US to become more Sharia compliant in its legal system and the sad acceptance of Sharia law in some capacity in the United Kingdom.
   I am thrilled with this Oklahoma proposition. The congressman also stated that he believes many states will have similar propositions put forward in the next few months. I trust that my native state will present such very soon as well... at least I hope so. I rather doubt that Michigan will be able to do so with the very large Muslim population in the Detroit area, but I might be surprised.
   Why is this an important issue? Well, first of all I believe that when someone immigrates to a country they must acculturate to their new country. If they don't like something there they ought to be reminded that they were not asked to come and they knew what was here.
   There is also a very important principle of law itself. The United States is a sovereign nation. She has her own laws which are based upon a very long tradition--reaching back to the Magna Carta in England in the 12th century. Our law, except for Louisiana, is English law and it incorporates English common law. This system was based on two principles. The first principle was that of ancient Rome which was the wonder of the ancient world. Roman law forms the core of all western civilizations and it is an essential component of our culture. The second component is probably more important, and that is Christianity. Our legal system developed within a Christian culture and it has Christian values. This is why Muslims don't want our system. They insist on Islamicizing everywhere they go.
   In the last few years I have personally become much more Euro-centric. It is the womb of my own culture and I would suggest that it has been no accident that western culture and society has become the dominant one throughout the world. It's music, its literature, its law are seen everywhere. I have to say honestly, that I believe it is superior. Apart from anthropologists and their views, I think it would be hard to say that our musical tradition (Mozart, Beethoven, Bach…) isn't superior to other music.
   Sharia law is an opening shot and we should not let it be rammed into the barrel. If they are unhappy about not being allowed to use a competing legal system in our sovereign nation, then they can pack their bags and get the hell out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How Rosey it all Seems

All of the Orthodox bishops of North America met recently and the reports all seem quite rosey. I suppose I'm a bit of a curmudgeon but I have more than a suspicion that not everything is a grand as is being said in official and public statements. I'm told that Archbishop Demitrius (of the Greek Archdiocese) more than ably presided at the Assembly and actually kept to the agenda as published. I admire his ability in this.
   But it still strikes me that it is certainly early days and that a lot is left to do. The local diocesan and archdiocesan practices vary a great deal and this will need to be addressed... the list is actually a long one. But the fly in the ointment seems to be how the OCA (Orthodox Church in America--of Russian background) will be handled. I suspect that it will be a real fight on the administrative council's level which may actually cause the formation of two assemblies. Bismark was right about politics and sausage being something that is best not watched as it's made.
   Orthodox unity is an ugly business and I have to say that it causes me quite a bit of heartburn these days. Unity is one of the absolutely foundational aspects of the Church (we do proclaim after all that we believe in the "ONE, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.") For years I have had to teach my catechumens that unity must exist on three levels when it is perfect: (1) Sacramental unity, (2) Theological unity, and (3) Administrative unity. I have also been forced to admit that we have imperfect unity since we lack the complete administrative unity that the Church should possess. Administrative unity is not a tiny thing either. It is a matter of the very organizational life of the Church. The early church very quickly made canon laws that prescribed particular things to the ordering of church life. We can even say, without too much of a stretch, that the Apostolic council in Jerusalem which dealt with the issue of the Gentiles in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles issued a sort of canon law and ordered the life of the Church. We ought not to trivialize administrative unity.
   We surely have sacramental unity with each other. We also have theological unity, but here I would say that it exists more in the form of consensus rather than as an absolute, like all communities there are some clergy who appropriate this better than others. But it must be admitted that we Orthodox do generally a better job here than most. This is significant too, for it has formed the basis of our unity (along with the sacramental life of the Church) for centuries. It is one of our strengths. But organization or administrative clearness is not one of our strengths at all. One of my favorite lines is "if you don't believe in organized religion, then you need to become Orthodox because we're not organized at all!" A lot of truth there.
   Here I'm probably going to irritate or upset people, but I believe that it is true that the lack of organization is also one of the signs that we need the "other lung" of the historic Church: Rome. Rome is absolutely organized clearly. The boundaries are clearly drawn and they are well known. One might not agree with all of the particulars (I'm not sure what they might be that one would disagree with, but I'm sure some would) but bad rules are better than no rules.
   But Rome has had some troubles too, but they are different than those of the Orthodox. Rome can organize but there has developed over the past forty to fifty years a great decline in unity of belief. How else can one explain a Catholic nun allowing an abortion in a Catholic hospital? or nuns pushing for women's ordination when the pope has said it is a closed matter? or clergy like Fr. Matthew Fox, who is completely immersed in new age religion? or Catholic Universities that do not teach the official faith of the Church? The problems are there and they are real. My admiration of Pope Benedict XIV and his work to correct these things is enormous. He is a virtuous and godly man, as well as a good theologian. But I believe that Pope Benedict XIV needs us to help.
   Where the East lacks, Rome is stable; where Rome is wanting, the East is strong. I believe that we actually need each other. But it ought not be surprising nor scandalous because our Lord himself desired that the Church be one. The Church indeed needs to have both lungs so that it may breathe healthily again. The reunion of the Orthodox and Rome is also the greatest fear of Islam and of those who hate Christianity. A unified Christian Church would be powerful and strong. I pray for this daily. It is one of my greatest desires. I also believe that the only ecumenical discussions that are of any real substantive value for either us or Rome, is the one with each other.
   The new National Assembly of Orthodox bishops is a good step. It all has been described in rosey colors, but my suspicion is that real Orthodox administrative unity is ultimately going to be found with real unity with the West. It is the West's charism, not ours.