The Work that Saves

“Do not be careless. Pray as much as you can – more frequently and more fervently. Prod yourself – force yourself to do so, for the Kingdom of God is taken by force. You will never attain it without forcing yourself.” ~ Saint Innocent of Alaska Do we cooperate in our salvation? Do our efforts make a difference? These questions lie at the heart of a centuries-old religious debate in Christianity. Classically,…

Shame in the Public Arena

In 401 AD, twenty-nine Saxon “slaves,” strangled each other to death with their bare hands in their prison cells. They chose this death rather than being forced to fight one another in Rome’s arena. Better death than shame. Their “owner,” the Senator Symmachus (famously known as the “Last Pagan”), wrote of them that they were a rebellious “band of slaves, worse than any Spartacus.” In the pages of the New Testament we…

Benedict in the Suburbs

I want to note at the outset that many of Rod Dreher’s suggestions (The Benedict Option) are quite laudable and worth thinking about. This article concentrates on one particular aspect: the acquisition of virtue in the context of American suburban life. Dreher himself mentions the need for proximity and stability. These matters are even more vital than he suggests. Also, it must be said that conservative American Christianity (which seems to be…

A Deadly Communion

  Habits are hard things to break. I quit smoking almost 30 years ago (cold turkey). It was more than difficult and came only after many failed attempts. But, in many ways, such a habit is among the easier to deal with. Far more difficult, and far more deadly, are the habitual patterns of human interaction that mark our lives. They are the single most important source of anxiety, depression and despair…

The Wound of Shame

Shame is a wound made from the inside, dividing us from both ourselves and others. FromThe Psychology of Shame, Gershen Kaufman I have been working on papers for presentations at the Climacus Conference in Louisville, KY, in February. The conference is entitled, “Encountering God.” My second paper focuses on the place of shame in our encounter with God and takes me back to a topic that has never been far from my…

The Morality of Christmas

Morality is tricky business in what is an extremely moral society. I pray my readers to be patient with me as I explain what I think is the problem. First, I will note that morality is all that is left when the most fundamental grounds of a culture have been destroyed. We indeed live in just such a time, hence the rise of a vehemence in the moral life. Second, I will…

Saving Knowledge

I have often used the example of riding a bicycle as an image of knowing God. There’s no difficulty learning how to ride if you don’t mind falling off for a while. But no matter how many years you have ridden, you cannot describe for someone else how you know what you know. But you know it. I also suspect that if you thought too much about riding a bicycle while you…

Hiding in Plain Sight and The False Accusation

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…

A Virtuous Man

Virtue is not a common word in our culture. It sounds somewhat “antique.” For some, it has very little meaning, or a meaning far removed from its original. Within the Christian tradition, however, there is a very long history of the study of virtue. Until the Protestant Reformation, thoughts about what was good and what it meant for a person to pursue the good, were almost exclusively thought of in terms of…

How Good Is Your Will? Part Two of The Ontological Model

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…