Showing posts from January, 2017

The Problem of Orthodoxy, Part 2--The Endless Spiral

In the last post, we looked at the idea of the Problem of Orthodoxy.  Let's take a moment to lay out exactly how this plays out.

It begins from the premise that what is primarily important to be a Christian is to believe the right stuff.  In the next post, we will tackle some of the problems with the idea of "believing," but for now, let's define "believing" to be "having the right ideas in your head and accepting those ideas as being true."  So, being a Christian under this view is first and foremost about understanding and then accepting a set of propositions about God and about the world.

But both the "understanding" and "accepting" prongs of this idea create what you might call "downward pressure."  Take for example the first line of the Apostles Creed--"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth."  If a core part of my identity as a Christian lies in "believing" this li…


1.  Metanoia is a wonderful Greek word that you find in the New Testament in literally hundreds of places.  Literally, metanoia means "to change your mind" (meta=change; noia, from nous=mind).  And that literal translation is, in my view, the best one.  Unfortunately, most biblical translations render metanoia as "repentance," which loads up a whole host of associations onto the word that reflect a very specific way in which one can change one's mind.  Repentance is a kind of metanoia, to be sure, but I think that limiting the meaning of metanoia to "repentance" neuters the word of its full meaning.

2.  If, up until very recently, you had asked me "do you think you have good social skills?" and I was answering honestly, I would have told you, "no."   Not the worst, but certainly below average.

Now, I was never actually asked that question in a direct way.  If I had been pressed on this fact, I would have suggested that people who …

The Problem of Orthodoxy, Part 1--Identifying the Problem

There are many different ways to know whether you have stumbled upon an idea or insight of significance.  Sometimes, the idea itself is so compelling that it just stands out, such that you can't avoid it.  Other times it is precisely the right idea in the right circumstances--it fits like a key in a lock.  But other times, you come across an idea being presented by two or more entirely different people in two or more entirely different circumstances.  These people have little in common, and yet they find their way to the same basic conclusion about something, such that it makes you go "a ha, well, there is something that is really there and these folks have found it on their own."

About a week ago, I realized that two people that have almost nothing in common--James Alison and Rob Bell--have the same basic diagnosis of a problem in the way Christianity is thought about and expressed.  They use their own sets of terminology, and talk about their own specific contexts (Cat…

Do Not Become That Which You Despise

So, as basically everyone knows, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States tomorrow.  Like all inaugurations, there is a great deal of pageantry involved.  And, as has been the case numerous times before going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, there will be a prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  The National Cathedral is the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, as well as serving (as the name implies) in an informal way as the closest thing we have to house of prayer for the entire country in a place as religiously diverse as the United States.  In addition, it appears that the choir of the National Cathedral will be singing in some capacity at the inauguration itself.

I have made my views clear on the idea of the presidency of Donald Trump, and nothing that has happened since Election Day has changed my position one iota.  I do not and will not celebrate Donald Trump becoming the President of the United States.  Neve…

Quick Hitter: Show, Not Tell

I have said this in a couple of places already, but my basic status is that for the last six months I have been exclusively attending an Episcopal Church, and I am beginning the process of becoming an Episcopalian.  In the simplest terms, my move is the product of reaching two conclusions: (1) I did not have to sacrifice any of my first order, small "c" catholic beliefs and values in becoming Episcopalian; and (2) I could no longer accept certain second order positions of the Roman Catholic Church, more specifically its approach to gender and (relatedly) its approach to human sexuality.

In saying this, I basically have gotten two types of responses from people who are upset or concerned about the move.  One response is some variation of "you are totally wrong about the gender and sexuality stuff.  The traditional positions are correct and directly from God."  To those people, there is not much I can say, other than we just disagree.

But there is another group.  Th…

Good Christian Sex, Chapters 8 and 9--Hedging Your Bets and Other Relationship Problems

Good Christian Sex ends with two topics that, often, are taboo when talking about sex in a Christian context--infidelity and ending relationships.  Or, if not actually taboo, then so clear as to not be worth talking about--you shouldn't do either of them, so what is there to talk about?  McCleneghan argues, rightly, that there is quite a bit to talk about on these topics, actually.

Before getting into the meat of the matter, there is something that I think is worth highlighting in the way McCleneghan approaches these topics, and it demonstrates how important it is to not limit the voices in these discussions to guys.  There is an idea out there--in more conservative contexts especially but not exclusively--that infidelity and lust and recklessness in breaking off relationships is primarily a guy problem.  Women by contrast, in this narrative, are "naturally" built to be faithful and relationship-focused, and thus have to "civilize" these out-of-control men.  Th…

In a Mirror, Dimly

Perhaps the most beautiful passage in Scripture is the 13th chapter of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians.  It is, ultimately, a beautiful ode to love and the qualities of love.  Perhaps its most famous part, often read in the context of weddings, is verses 4 through 7:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

That part is undoubtedly lovely, but for me the most interesting section comes at the end of chapter 13.  There, it seems to me that Paul is making a case for prioritizing love as a religious principle (or, really, a principle for anything) above any other possible religious principle.  This is because, Paul argues, all of those other principles are one way or the other grounded in some form of knowledge, and our knowledge…

A Coda

I was home in Florida for Christmas with the entirety of my family.  On Christmas morning, I went to the 10 a.m. Mass with my parents at the the Catholic parish I had grown up in and was confirmed in, San Jose.  San Jose had been through a lot since I left home twenty years ago.  The guy who was the pastor during the end of my time there (and who, parenthetically but importantly, had been the assistant to the bishop prior to his arrival) had stayed on for years and slowly but surely ran the place into the ground.  This culminated in the pastor literally running off with the music director, with whom he had been apparently having an long-term affair.

My parents left San Jose several years before the final collapse, in favor of Holy Family, led at the time by Fr. Fay.  Fr. Fay had, and has, the reputation as the "turn around" guy in the diocese; the person who is sent to troubled parishes to fix them up and make them strong.  And he had done that in spades at Holy Family--buil…