Living in a Strange Land

The Scriptural narrative is littered with stories of “strangers in a strange land.” Noah, Lot, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Israelites and Moses in Egypt, Israel in Babylon, even Israel under the Greeks and Romans – beyond the Scriptures – Israel in the diaspora. It is perhaps among the most unifying threads in story of the people of God. Only the later flirtations of Christian empire have ever made believers think themselves…

In the Womb of the Modern World

A recent opinion column on the New York Times website suggested that Pope Francis should compromise on the “issue” of abortion. The sentiments offered reveal a great deal about what passes for serious thought in the modern world – including serious thought by a professor of philosophy (Gary Gutting) at a major Catholic University (Notre Dame). It illustrates much of what I have written in the last several posts about the “Modern…

The Modern Vocation

In the modern project, human beings are autonomous centers of consciousness whose choices and decisions bring about their self-actualization. What could be more impossible than inventing yourself? What imagination, courage and daring would be required? How is such a thing possible? To the young our culture offers the incredible task of “becoming.” This is not achieved through apprenticeship or through a process of deep consideration. Rather, they are offered an education with…

Obedience and the Modern World

In the modern project, human beings are autonomous centers of consciousness whose choices and decisions bring about their self-actualization. Few things make a modern person more uncomfortable than the topic of obedience. Many Orthodox read statements declaring that “obedience is the foremost rule for monastics,” and immediately thank God they are not monastics. Our minds easily race to horror stories of cult-like obedience and spiritual abuse. Some may very well have experienced…

A Modern Conversion

A few years back I had a very enlightening conversation with one of my Russian parishioners. I had Baptized her and her family some years before.  In the conversation I referred to her and her family as “converts.” She bristled and quickly spoke, “I am not a convert!” My thoughts were running ahead. I did not say what I was thinking but was mindful of the fact that I had catechized and…

The Modern Project

When I was doing a graduate degree in theology, it was not uncommon to hear discussion of the “project of modernity.” It was an academic catch-phrase to describe the social/philosophical/political/religious efforts to construct the modern world. The Enlightenment  (17th-18th centuries) brought new ways of thinking into the mainstream of Western culture (and now the world). It newly imagined the meaning and construction of the State; it pondered and reinvented Christianity; most importantly,…

The Demons of our Time

In 1872, Dostoevsky published his novel, The Demons [Бесы]. It demonstrated in a microcosm, the insanity that lay within the revolutionary movements of 19th century Russia. That insanity broke upon the world in 1917 and has remained present with us, in one form or another, ever since. The madness that he describes takes place in a small town, away from the great capitals of Russia. It involves a relatively small cast of…

The Sin of Democracy

“Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those…

Do Faith to Have Faith

There is an adage, “Do faith until you have faith.” It is often attributed to John Wesley, who said something like it. I’ve generally ignored such slogans – bumper-sticker Christianity troubles me. But there is something worth considering beneath this nostrum. St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom 12:2). But how is the mind renewed? There is a very…

I Really Can’t Say

We’ve all had the conversation. “No one can really know who God is.” Yes. And we can change the word “God” to almost anything else. There is a seemingly impenetrable wall of ignorance between us and whatever we confront. And it is precisely at the point of ignorance that the mischief begins. The point of ignorance, which should provide a signal to stop, frequently becomes a green light for intellectual nonsense: “Since…