Making the World a Better Place – Or Else

If you lurk around social media, particularly in conservative conversations, you will have undoubtedly seen something about recent statements on the part of a minor Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination. I have no interest in the politics of the matter. However, the exchange goes to the heart of the modern impulse and serves as an excellent example of modernity’s dangers. The exchange: Don Lemon: Do you think religious institutions like colleges,…

Tolkien’s Long Defeat and the Path of History

“Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letters 255). +++ History as a long defeat – I can think of nothing that is more anti-modern than this sentiment expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien. It…

The Best Place – The Worst Place – Orthodoxy in Location

From time to time, I read articles on the “10 Worst Cities in America,” or the State. There are similar articles on the “best.” The thoughts offered remind me of the article published earlier this year in which the Orthodox (worldwide) were described as the “least happy” people of any religious group. If you scratch the surface of these musings, you quickly discover that the scale of best and worst, happy and…

The Space Between

Is there a God “out there”? God is “everywhere present and filling all things,” we say in our Orthodox prayers, but is He “out there?” For what it’s worth, I want to suggest for a moment that He is not. Largely, what I am describing is what takes place in our imagination – that is, what we picture when we pray and how we think of God as we seek Him. There…

Clothed in the Image

  Begging my readers’ patience, I will take a small anthropology tour through our culture. What I want to draw our attention to is the place of the image. We are not only fascinated with looking at images, we place them on our bodies as well: t-shirts, tattoos, hats, shoes, pants – in short, everywhere. There is nothing unusual in this. Were we to examine primitive tribes, we would notice a vast…

The Management of the Soul

For who knows the things of a man except the spirit of that man, which is in him? So also no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb: One. But the lightbulb really has to want to change. I like lightbulb jokes. Occasionally, as in the example above, they contain wisdom as well as humor. There was once…

The Sacrament of the Soul

Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously said that sacraments do not make things into something else so much as they reveal things to be what they are. We hear this in St. Basil’s Liturgy when we ask God to “show” the bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ. The Baptismal liturgy does the same, asking God to “show this water…to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the…

Justice, Temperance, Prudence and the Virtue of “No”

I have sometimes quipped that children are born lawyers. Their cries of, “That’s not fair!” would be at home in any court in the world. Children reveal our instinct for fairness, the root concept in the virtue of justice. Of course, as every parent knows, that instinct is often distorted, with the desire for fairness being expressed only as “fairness for me.” Justice is a virtue with deep, visceral content. Whenever it…

On the World as Sacrament

I learned my first psalms in public school. As I recall, they were Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. No one looked funny at the teacher when she introduced the topic and no one objected. First, we didn’t know we were allowed to object, and, second, none of us would have known any reason for not doing such a thing. We were a diverse class of children: with both Baptists and Methodists. We…

The Struggle Against The Normal Life

  Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world…