What Exactly Is Changing?

The Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his magisterial work on St. Gregory of Nyssa, offers this observation: The journey towards salvation is marked by a successive elimination of all that we “have,” in order to reach what we “are.” The safest path and surest refuge is not to be deluded and fail to recognize ourselves – who we truly are. We should not believe that we are seeing our Selves…

The Truth of the Soul

“Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving, forever?” In the classic film, The Third Man, Harry Lime, a racketeer in post-World War II Vienna, quizzes his old friend, Holly Martins, about the value of an individual life. They are standing in the carriage of a Ferris wheel, looking down on the city scape. From Lime’s perspective, the distance provides a detachment that makes morality obsolete. “Have…

Face-to-Face – Without Shame or Fear

We are apparently living in the age of the face, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.  I know all the complaints about our culture of “selfies,” and there are certainly many things in that to make us wonder, but our fascination with our faces long predates the technology of our phones. In the usage of the early Church, the word for face (prosopon) is also the word for person. It is…

The Frontier of Personhood

The word “frontier” has long been associated with certain aspects of American mythology. “Frontier Days” is short-hand for log cabins, flintlocks, and the rugged life. Occasionally it takes on aspects of the “Wild West.” In recent generations it has been moved off-planet, such that we hear Captain Kirk intone, “Space…….the final frontier.” It is also a word whose meaning has been forgotten, as our mythology has overtaken it. Originally (15th century), the…

Every Generation

In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” It was a semi-polite, Southernism designed to elicit essential information about a person’s social background. The assumption was that you, at best, could only be an example of your “people.” It ignored the common individualism of the wider culture, preferring the more family or clan-centered existence of an older time. It was possible to be “good people”…

The Gift of Pascha

It is impossible to describe the joy of Pascha, particularly as I experience it as a priest. This year, I was deeply aware that I stand in a place that was both created for me, and for which I am unworthy. The joy of such a combination is the realization of the Gift. When you are trying to find a gift for someone, the most difficult part, it seems to me, is…

Venerating Icons – It’s So Much Other Than You Think

In 1991, I sat in a room at Duke University with Geoffrey Wainwright, Stanely Hauerwas, and Susan O’Keefe. The purpose was the defense of my thesis, “The Icon as Theology.” I was an Episcopal priest, who was turning his doctoral work in Systematic Theology into an M.A. and heading back to parish life (a long story, that). The defense was friendly, thorough, with few surprises. The one major surprise, of course, came…

A Patient Joy – Finding the True Self

Among the weakest things in the world of social relations is the truth. That might seem to be an odd statement. However, the weakness of the truth is the limitations placed upon it by its very nature. It cannot say just anything, nor can it ever pretend to be something that it is not. Those restrictions are not shared by lies. It is the nature of a lie that it can assume…

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…

Mary: The Blessing of All Generations

In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” It was a semi-polite, Southernism designed to elicit essential information about a person’s social background. The assumption was that you, at best, could only be an example of your “people.” It ignored the common individualism of the wider culture, preferring the more family or clan-centered existence of an older time. It was possible to be “good people”…