Art of Persistence

"The art of love ... is largely the art of persistence." -Albert Ellis

Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Enough!

Okay, so I've had a few days to calm down regarding the most recent developments in the scandal in the OCA. Now maybe I can post something on it a little more edifying than my wisenheimer comments in Enough!

The Church has survived persecutions by Communists that have killed millions, by Muslims that have killed millions more, and on and on back through history to the time of Nero, when there weren't millions of Christians to kill. Through it all the Church has endured and grown. She has also survived crooked priests and bishops whose crimes make those of the current lot seem petty, and She has grown stronger. She has endured in all of this because of Who dwells in her. She has endured because there have been millions who have been willing to suffer torture and death for the sake of Him. Included in these millions are priests and bishops who have preferred exile, torture, prison, hanging, poison and bullets rather than deny the Truth.

The Church will survive this present scandal because of Who continues to dwell in Her. Despite the fact that the millions of dollars that have been misappropriated have apparently bought many influential friends, the blood that was shed on that first Great and Holy Friday has bought many more. And these latter friends are working for a more powerful Spirit than the sickly, self-devouring spirit of greed. Those who have aligned themselves against truth and goodness in the present scandal have aligned themselves against Truth and Goodness. No, this struggle is not over, and there are those who will have to sacrifice much and endure further persecutions to see it through. But looking at how the battle lines have been drawn and how similar battles have ended over the centuries, there is no doubt in my mind Who will win.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Familiar Voice

Raised in one of the more Romophobic branches of Protestantism, I had a view of Roman Catholics that was not very complimentary (unless you were looking for a fun date). So back in 1993 when I learned that my favorite Christian radio host was a Catholic, my jaw dropped. How could this be so? He knew his Bible! He had well-reasoned, sound positions on every issue he talked about! This was no foul-mouthed alcoholic who "could do anything he wanted as long as he went to confession." It turned my head inside out and started me on the research that eventually led to my wife and I joining the Orthodox Church in 1994.

Well, Al Kresta has moved on to bigger and better things. He can now be heard on EWTN radio on local radio stations across the country as well as satellite and internet radio (M-F 4-6 ET). Here is a link to his radio program archives.

Oh, and I almost forgot, I love Al Kresta! He is the best interviewer I have ever heard in the media. When guests have to pause ("Wow, I've never thought of that before. What a good question!") and think before answering a question, you know they've been Krestafied.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Plantinga on Dawkins

I love Alvin Plantinga. (Gosh, I'm so full of love lately!) A great philosopher who is also funny and eminently readable (well, as readable as contemporary philosophy gets). Here's a link to his review of one of Richard Dawkins's books.

Here's an excerpt: "[O]ne can't rationally accept both naturalism and evolution; naturalism, therefore, is in conflict with a premier doctrine of contemporary science. People like Dawkins hold that there is a conflict between science and religion because they think there is a conflict between evolution and theism; the truth of the matter, however, is that the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and belief in God."

Of course you have to read the whole article to see how he comes to this conclusion.

Here is a link to other Plantinga articles.



I love John Stossel. The kind of journalism that he practices is vital for a free republic. He does not practice the tabloid style of "journalism" that has come to dominate the Visual Age. Neither is he a reporter who merely reports what the "newsmakers" say, he reports what they do as well. So when you watch him on ABC's 20/20, you generally get the kind of stories you won't find anywhere else in broadcast news.

One of the stories he reported last Friday had to do with Rusty Leonard, a man who got fed up with Christian ministries not being accountable to their donors about how their gifts were spent. So Mr. Leonard started, a ministry that investigates ministries and ranks them for transparency of accounting, as well as efficiency of operations. What a great idea! Not surprisingly, there were NO ministries that taught the "gospel of health and wealth" that received a passing grade.

Unfortunately, I don't have to go far afield to find religious crooks. There has been a scandal in The Orthodox Church in America for over a year now about misappropriated funds (among other things). The Synod of Bishops has done a shamefully bad job of dealing with this, and I hope that too many of them haven't fashioned beautiful bejewelled millstones for their necks. I remain a committed, convinced Orthodox Christian. But I'm very discouraged and don't know what I will ultimately have to do about this. Thankfully, I've also read enough to know that throughout the history of the church there have been saintly bishops as well those who will not be remembered so fondly. God deliver us from this morass.

THE ORTHODOX WAY? by Fr. Christopher Wojcik

The man in the black robe
In search of a more impressive hat
Processes down the shadowed side of the street
He stops only to consider a beggar girl
Holding her cup with just one coin
Hoping for enough that day to eat

The man discusses her condition for a little while
He recites the words of a formal prayer
And presents his hand for her to kiss
And reaching into her little cup
He removes her only coin and says,
‘My child, the church has need of this.’

For more information on this scandal, go to the website that Metropolitan Herman wants silenced:

Thank you Mark Stokoe, Rusty Leonard and John Stossel!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Judgment of Judgment

"Christ's death on the cross is a judgment of judgment."

-St. Maximus the Confessor

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The Mystery of the Incarnation

Maximus the Confessor calls the incarnation "a mystery even more inconceivable that any other. By taking flesh God makes himself understood only by appearing still more incomprehensible."*

It is too much for the imagine to grasp how the Uncontainable can Himself be contained in a body which He created. Still more beyond comprehension how this self-emptying act of becoming human and submitting to a bloody and violent death can lead to our salvation. It seems to me that a proper response to this tenet of the Christian faith would be awe and thanksgiving. (Remind me what Eucharist means?) But many instead decide to come up with some kind of theory to 'explain' this.

Olivier Clément says of Anselm of Canterbury's (rather late to the game) Theory of Satisfaction that "Christ's sacrifice was not in the least demanded by the Father, as the only thing that could satisfy divine justice, appease the wrath of God, and incline him favourably towards the human race. That would be a regression to a non-biblical idea of sacrifice...." The early fathers of the Church understood Christ's sacrifice as "a sacrifice of praise, of sanctification, of restoration, by which he offers the whole of creation to the Father so that the Father may bring it to life in the Holy Spirit."

*all quotes are taken from The Foundations of Christian Mysticism, by Olivier Clément

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dealing With Suffering

In my own life, I've dealt with suffering in three different ways. The first, and least effective method, is to curse, grumble and whine. This is the approach advocated by Job's wife. It is the approach of the narcissist, the egomaniac, and the spoiled child shouting "I hate you!" at its parents. I've gotten stuck in this mode for large stretches of time in my life. And I still struggle with slipping into this frame-of-mind from time to time. Probably the most beneficial thing, besides the prayers of family and friends, is mere friendship and compassion (mostly coming from Christians - imagine that). Usually, talking, listening and thinking about suffering while in the depths are out of the question. For this reason I recommend reading and thinking about this subject before the storm.

The second approach to suffering is to pray for deliverance. Should we pray for deliverance? Well, obviously, yes! Read the Psalms. But there is a right way and a wrong way to pray for deliverance. In the tradition in which I was raised, I remember watching this progression in teaching. 1.) You must have faith for God to deliver you. 2.) If you have enough faith, God MUST deliver you. 3.) Don't ask for deliverance, command it in the name of Jesus! So finally God was no longer sovereign, Faith was - with enough Faith even God couldn't resist our will. But this is an extreme case of the wrong way to pray for deliverance. There are many more subtle and destructive ways to pray for deliverance. In my experience this has mostly to do with an unwillingness to accept that maybe God doesn't think that our idea of deliverance is best for us. We are merely "informing God about what He already knows and telling Him what He ought to do about it." Then our "unanswered" prayers send us right into cursing, grumbling and whining. Our misplaced faith can lead to the destruction of our faith.

For a more balanced idea of how we ought to pray for deliverance, read the Psalms. Or think about the story of the three Holy Youths and the Fiery Furnace: "Our God is able to deliver us, but if He doesn't we will still not bow down." Pray. Fervently. With faith. But remember that God is God. He is able to deliver, even miraculously, but He knows better than we do what is the best way and the best time to do this.

The third approach to suffering, willful submission, is also subject to distortions and abuses. Self-flagellation is obviously one of them. But most of us fall into traps of this sort that are not so obvious.

This is where listening to God, and a good Father-Confessor come into the picture. For a model of how to pray for deliverance while being submissive to God's will, read Jesus's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and his subsequent words from the cross. It is alright to pray, to anguish even, over deliverance, but ultimately we need to submit to the will of the Father if we are to retain our sanity. And if our suffering is to lead ultimately to our salvation, we need to cooperate with God - our Physician - in the treatment. Sick souls need a physician. Let us be transformed into the likeness of the One who was unjustly nailed to a tree. Being transformed by the renewing of the mind, and this is more than a merely intellectual process.

Writing on this third approach, I feel that I am in way over my head. I am telling you things that I know nothing about. When have I ever willingly submitted to the Lord's will if it wasn't in line with my own? Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Reading recommendation:
The Theology of Illness,by Jean-Claude Larchet

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Boy

My wife and I, much to our dismay, don't have children of our own and it seems that we probably never will. My wife's sister and her husband, realizing this, decided to let us in on their children's lives as much as possible. So while other Uncles and Aunts are merely Uncle Name and Aunt Naima, we are Nunkie and Auntie. The following is an e-mail (slightly edited) that I received shortly after our Christmas time visit.

"Yesterday the little Neighbor boy came over to play. Of course The Boy had to to be the first to tell him all about his Christmas. It pretty much revolved around, 'my Nunkie'. the neighbor kept saying, 'what??' and The Boy said, 'you know, NUNKIE!!!!' Well anyway, it was humorous because they were both so earnest. Then The Boy said, 'My Nunkie drives all the way here from Indiana and it's many long hours in the car. He makes sure that he comes here each season every year for every holiday like my birthday. He comes for thanksgiving and we eat turkey and then he comes for Christmas and lives in the basement while he waits for santa claus. He takes me to church and we take adventures together and we love God.' I immediately thought, Richard is going to die when i tell him this."

Yep, I'm officially dead. Swollen and exploded by love.

The boy is like any exceptional boy in so many ways. And it never occurred to us that anything might be wrong until he started preschool. Then with the sensory overload of a room full of kids hopped up on life, some unusual behaviors began to present themselves. Now in kindergarten the behaviors have gotten more and more disruptive and he has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). This is sometimes referred to as High-Functioning Autism.

It doesn't matter that there are worse things that a child may suffer from. And it doesn't matter if we say, "at least this" or "at least that". All that matters is that there is a child that I love that is suffering. This is so much more wrenching than knowing that an adult is suffering. And the boy really is beginning to suffer; he is starting to realize that he is not like other kids, that his acting out and repetitive behaviors set him apart from the other boys. But he can't seem to make himself stop. ARRGGGHHHH!!!!!

I want to hold the boy and say the right words and make it all better. But I have nothing but love and prayer. Nothing? I guess this is where faith comes in. Can God give us the strength to deal even with this? Can God work even this out for good? (See Higher Than the Angels)

I've thought about how to explain this to the boy, when the time comes, and this is what I've come up with: Jesus struggled and stumbled under the weight of His cross, and Simon of Cyrene had to carry it for Him. So, while as God Jesus can do anything, as a man He sometimes needs help. This is a little cross that the boy is carrying for Jesus. And the boy does love Jesus. As a Christian he is "completing the sufferings of Christ." But The Boy is not alone. Nunkie and Auntie are carrying crosses for Jesus. Mommy and Daddy are carrying crosses for Jesus, and so is little sister.

I realize that to an unbeliever this may sound like madness, and God may sound like some monster: "The Great Vivisectionist in the Sky". It is true that the existence of evil is the great challenge to belief in God. There are good philosophical answers to this problem. But notice that when confronted with concrete situations, it is not our intellects that are immediately engaged, but our emotions. So is trying to deal with these sorts of situations by appealing to logic alone really logical? No. But in the meantime, I'm adding The Problem of Pain and The Pillar and Ground of Truth to my reading list.


Friday, March 16, 2007

The Transcendence of God

"[The] simultaneous negation of affirmation and negation means that God's transcendence eludes our very idea of transcendence. God transcends his own transcendence...."

-Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism

Maybe the fact that this turns my head inside out means that I'm on the right track.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Quote of the Day

"It is easy to love people that are far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start."

-Mother Teresa

Caricatures of God

" littered with caricatures of God, like so many mental idols which have led people either to cruelty or atheism. But how, in modern times, after the growth of liberty and the critical spirit, could people have accepted a God who seemed to them worse than themselves, or at least inferior to the highest demands of a conscience secretly nourished by the Gospel?

People never cease to project on to God their individual and collective obsessions, so that they can appropriate and make use of him. But they ought to understand that God cannot be apprehended from without.... [E]nclosed as we are within ourselves and also enclosed 'in his hand', we can know him only if he freely establishes with us a relationship in which distance and nearness are made the setting for a Word, of Someone speaking to someone."

-Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism

I'd had this book on my shelf for years before I finally decided to read it. And was I ever pleasantly surprised. I bought it on recommendation, then left it unread since the title made it sound like some dry as dust academic tome. Boy, was I ever wrong. Now I try to re-read it every Lent.

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Almost Ready for Orthodoxy

Driving home from Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified gifts last night, I was listening to Protestant radio. There was an interview with the pastor and author Dr. Warren Wiersbe that I found interesting. I will admit that my attention drifted away for a moment, so I didn't catch the transition, but Dr. Wiersbe was lamenting the "killing of history" that has taken place in much of the Evangelical Protestant community. In explaining what he meant by this, he pointed to the elimination of hymn books in most congregations. He also related that when young seminarians hear the names Harry Ironside, Peter Marshall and other preachers from previous generations the response is typically, "Who's that?"

I shouted at the radio (in good cheer), "John Chrysostom! Who's that? Whatever happened to Ephrem the Syrian?"

This is not the first time I've noticed older, thoughtful Protestants lamenting the changes, and forgetting of history in their churches. This is not the first time I've thought, "They're almost ready for Orthodoxy." Almost, because chances are (if they have any idea of Christian Orthodoxy), they would suffer from the usual Protestant conflation of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It's a shame that they're lamenting the nature of the religion that they've been practicing for decades (some of them their entire lives) without realizing that that's what they're doing.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday of the Paralytic (belated)

Okay, so I'm a week late. But I was thinking about this story of the paralyzed man who was lowered to Jesus through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching and healing. What does Jesus say to him first? "Your sins are forgiven."

I can imagine the man thinking, "My sins? Can't you see? I want to be able to walk!!!"

I can imagine this because this is the way I treat God. When I ask for healing and He gives me something more fundamental, I act as if God needs me to instruct Him as to what is best for me.

Maybe it really is best to simply say, "Lord, have mercy."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kreeft and the Philosophy of Tolkien

I'll now wrap up this series of quotes. If it's gone on for a while, that's only because the book is so full of good, thought-provoking quotes. Definitely pick up a copy of the book. And if you've only seen the LOTR movies, what are you waiting for? Read the book! As is usually the case, the book is better than the movies.

One thought that keeps echoing in my mind is that the LOTR is so popular because it gives us a true taste of Christianity without all the emotional and cultural baggage. I truly believe that if it weren't for all these emotional scars, there would be many more of us who aspire to be Christians; I believe that most people who reject Christianity are not rejecting Christ, but the failings and outright hypocrisy of those who claim to be Christians. This is also why it's much more important to strive to be a saint than it is to "witness"; it's better to be one of the Lord's works of art than to be an outspoken caricature of the faith.

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Oversimplification of the Critics

"[Some] critics label the heroes of The Lord of the Rings as simplistically moral, yet the antiheroes of most modern novels are much more simplistically immoral or amoral. It is the critics who are one-sided; Tolkien sees both the good and the evil sides better and deeper than they do."
"Tolkien is not a psychological absolutist, but a moral absolutist: no person is absolutely good or evil; but goodness and evil are themselves absolutely distinct. He believes that 'there's a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in the best of us'; but not that there's a little good in evil and a little evil in good. He believes in human moral complexity but not in logical moral complexity.... If that is his offense in the eyes of the critics, that tells us little about Tolkien but much about the critics."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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"Tolkien's classical Christian theology avoids two opposite errors, two oversimplifications. One is a Rouseauian optimism: the denial, or ignoring of evil's reality and power, and consequently a kind of spiritual pacifism, the denial of spiritual warfare. The other would be the Manichean error, the idea that evil has the same kind of reality as goodness, equally powerful and equally substantial...."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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"[F]or the ancients, a just war could be glorious, but for us moderns it it just a necessary dirty job...."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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"[T]he proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

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"Music is not ornamented poetry, and poetry is not ornamented prose. Poetry is fallen music, and prose fallen poetry.... In the beginning was music."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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"Words were to Tolkien the most beautiful things in the world. That would be a ridiculous preference for a Hindu or a Buddhist, but not for a Christian, for whom the most beautiful thing human eyes have ever seen is called 'the Word of God'."
"The power of words is based on the fact that real things are found in words. Words are not merely things among a world of things, things with one additional feature, the ability to point to other things. No, words are the encompassing frame of the world of things. Things constitute a "world" only by the creative word of the author, who names them."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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heard around the Holy Water cooler

"I'm giving up piety for Lent."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Higher Than the Angels

I've been thinking about Dad an awful lot this winter. As spring break approaches, I'll sometimes think about going to Florida to visit him. And then I'll remember that he's dead.

The guy who watches me shave every morning looks more and more like the guy who used to dandle me on his knee, and tuck me in at night, and kneel by my bed to pray for me when I was sick. Is it any wonder then that after having watched my Dad stop breathing, and held his hand as his soul left his body that I have been thinking an awful lot about my own mortality?

I've already written on the tragedy of death (A Good Word). But I mentioned something in that piece that I think needs further elucidation. I wrote "But I don't believe, and my Dad didn't believe that the story ended with the banishment of Adam and Eve from Paradise. The Uncreated One came into the world to restore all of creation. The Creator of Man became a man to redeem all men. The Deathless One endured death to destroy death. Adam and Eve are not the end of the story. Jesus is." What did I mean by that?

At the time, I'm sure I was thinking merely of the eternal life that Jesus brought into the world, that death was not the end. But recently I've been thinking about the awesome goodness and power of God. Originally, He made us a little lower than the angels. We messed that up, preferring instead to be merely animals. But God, through His assumption of our human nature, death and resurrection, has improved on His original design by making us partakers of His divine nature. In the end, through the grace of God, we are all capable of being raised higher than the angels.

Is there suffering and pain and death in the meantime (a very long meantime)? Of course, but God has made, is making, will make it better, much better than Adam and Eve had it. Incomparably better. Indescribably better.

The other night I was listening to an interview with a recently widowed woman who was struggling with her grief and her faith that God could work even this out for good. She said that in order to keep herself together she sometimes walks around the house yelling to herself, "God is in control. He knows what He's doing. Help me to trust You, God." But I'm sure that even if she had had perfect faith, it would still hurt. Even Jesus wept at the death of a friend.


First Things First

"Putting first things first is the key to the health of second things. Beauty is a second thing: it is very good, but not as good as moral goodness. And the worship of "art for art's sake" will destroy not only true worship but also art...."

"But this way of putting it is misleading, as if beauty and goodness were separate entities that could in principle clash. Rather, beauty is one of the more important forms of goodness, beauty is very good. And goodness is the highest form of beauty: the most beautiful thing in the world is a saint. Both goodness and beauty are eternal and essential attributes of Ultimate Reality, the One God, and therefore are ultimately one."

-Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I need only look as far as my own heart to find the source of all the violence in the world."