Modernity’s Sacraments

My newsfeed must be set for “shock.” Never does a day go by that there is no something outlandishly alarming featured as a story, somewhere, illustrating the insane march of modern culture. Much of me would like to think that the problem is in the newsfeed and not in the culture itself. However, on a basis that is frequent enough to be alarming in itself, I find something in my daily experience…

The Ontological Model Part 2: How Good Is Your Will?

Suppose I give you a bicycle for the convenience of travel. Suppose, however, that the bicycle is broken: flat tires, missing spokes, a chain that slips frequently. Nevertheless, you figure out a way to make it go. The ride is bumpy and you often have to stop and fix the chain. You fear that one day the wheels will just come apart as the spokes yield to the weight. Nevertheless, in fits…

Being Saved – The Ontological Approach

I cannot begin to count the number of times I wished there were a simple, felicitous word for “ontological.” I dislike writing theology with words that have to be explained – that is, words whose meanings are not immediately obvious. But, alas, I have found no substitute and will, therefore, beg my reader’s indulgence for dragging such a word into our conversations. From the earliest times in the Church, but especially beginning…

With Envy and Justice for All

We use many words and concepts in our daily lives without bothering to consider their true content. In my experience, few words are less examined than “justice.” It is a word that is foundational in the modern world with deep roots in religious tradition. Most people would agree that the desire for justice is virtually innate in human beings. However, it has a dark side of which very few seem to be…

The Ladder of Divine Ascent and Moral Improvement

The Fourth Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, is dedicated to St. John Climacus, the author of the ancient work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a classic work describing “steps” within the life of the struggling ascetic. There is an icon associated with this work, picturing monastics climbing the rungs of a ladder to heaven, battling demons who are trying to pull them off. However, ladders are dangerous…

Why How You Feel Is Not All That Valuable

We live in a culture of strong feelings. How we “feel” about something is generally taken to mean “what I believe.” This is not at all the case. Most people have a set of feelings or sentiments that largely serve the purpose of supporting the story they tell themselves about who they are. “I am a person who cares about animals.” It does not actually pierce through to the level of describing…

Hiding in Plain Sight

In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. (Wisdom 3:7 RSV) ____ The story is told of St. Macarius that he was falsely accused of fathering a child by a young woman in the village. After being beaten and humiliated by the people there, he returned to his cell and gathered all of the mats and baskets he had made and gave…

Sentiment, Suffering and Death

I awoke in the middle of the night to a strange thought. It did not seem to come out of a dream but was simply there in my mind. The thought was something like this: “They will have parties to celebrate suicides.” What the thought meant was that a day is coming in which people will gather for something of a “send-off” party, to celebrate someone’s decision to die. Euthanasia parties. It…

Existential Despair and Moral Futility

A couple of years back, a comment was posted on social media that described my writing as consisting of “existential despair” and “moral futility.” It was not meant with kindness. However, after I reflected for a while, I realized that it was not only accurate but quite insightful. It also made me say, “I have become Dostoevsky!” This tenor in my work does not come from careful planning or systematic thought –…

Transformation and Forgiveness

There are various applications in our culture directed towards “feeling good about ourselves.” In contrast to being shamed and condemned it is an improvement. But it also misses the truth of things. Pretending that everything is ok does not make it so. There is within this, a kinship to the Penal Substitution Theory of the Atonement, in which God agrees to see us as righteous (because of Christ’s sacrifice) even though we…