Thursday, May 5, 2011

Resonating Chords...

Rod Dreher writes of his family's journey from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy (the Eastern kind) in a moving account in a piece in the Washington Post which you can read here.   While there might be a few things I could quibble with, his estimation of the "wars" going on with Roman Catholicism resonate with my own perception, albeit mine from a distance.  I have often said that those who swim the Tiber (or as one wag has suggested, "they have bridges you can cross"), it is often an exchange of different battles within much the same war as you might face within, say, Lutheranism.

I did resonate with some of what he said in the dramatic difference between Orthodoxy and the other Christian religions in America that seem far too at home with American culture and all too willing to defer to the popular conceptions of what religion is or should be.  He wrote:

Because of that, for all its dramatic beauty and rich feasting, Orthodoxy is far more austere and demanding than most American Christianity. The long liturgies, the frequent prayers, the intense fasts – all make serious demands on the believer, especially comfortable middle-class Americans like me. They call us out of ourselves, and to repentance. Orthodoxy is not interested in making you feel comfortable in your sins. It wants nothing less than for you to be a saint.

I might have put it a different way but I get his point.  Orthodoxy is not austere in terms of the building or the liturgy -- both of which are canvases painted richly in words, chant, and images (icons).  In fact, I can think of no other sacred space as well ornamented as the sacred space in a typical Orthodox church.  But the austerity is one in which the images of the world around us must fade and be replaced with the other worldly images of the Church, the heavenly Bride here on earth, and the anticipated Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end.  Unlike so many modern buildings in which nature is the artwork and broad expanses of clear glass offer an unrestricted view of that natural picture (or, in most cases, natural highways, neighborhoods, and even businesses and shopping areas), the Orthodox close off the view of the world in which we live that we might glimpse the world in which we are made citizens through baptism.

He is absolutely right in that Orthodoxy seems little concerned about the fact that their worship settings and services are absent the big screens, PowerPoint presentations, praise bands, contemporary sounding music, cup holders in the pews (or pews, for that matter), and "mall atmosphere" which seem to dominate the Christianity of so many different denominations.  They do make serious demands upon those who would enter such sacred space in which time seems much at a stand still and the clock an intrusion.  I especially like the phrase "they call us out of ourselves..."  In this, Lutherans should have much to identify with for the Divine Service attempts to do the very same -- top call us out of ourselves that we might become what God has declared us to be in our baptism.  If Lutherans are true to their identity and heritage, they, too, are uninterested in making you feel comfortable in your sins and, instead, seek to make you comfortable as the baptismal saint God has called you to be through water and the Word.

It’s common among American converts to hear that men were first attracted to Orthodoxy, and their wives followed. It’s not hard to see why. Many men are tired of a soft, bourgeois Christianity that doesn’t call them to much because it doesn’t ask much of them.

This is, perhaps, a brief paragraph form of what I was trying to say in my piece on the feminization (or emasculation) of the faith, worship, and the Church.  Christianity has become a soft religion in which the hard subjects of sin and sinful desire are left untouched and people are left with little but their feelings.  Solid, objective, eternal truth has been far too absent from the preaching, teaching, and worship of our Churches and it has begun to show.  Too many Christian churches are like an hour with Oprah on her couch instead time suspended to stand on the holy ground where God comes with power and mercy, might and love, a call to repentance and grace to make it possible.  This is exactly the problem when the Church seeks to affirm instead of call out -- and what a good job we have been doing "affirming" our people to death in their consumerism, captivity to desire, glorification of things temporal, and distance from things eternal.

My heart does actually have great fondness for Orthodoxy and yet I fear I am way too Lutheran and way too Western to actually go there.  I have enjoyed some brief but rich visits.  I have many CDs of Orthodox chant.  I read the fathers of the Church (especially those prior to the schism).  I am surrounded by icons in my office.  But just as someone no less attracted to the East departed this life listening to Bach (Jaroslav Pelikan), my own Christian heart is fixed and focused from the perspective of Lutheran confession and liturgical (and musical) practice.  Nevertheless, I feel that Mr. Dreher and I speak much the same language.  I wonder what choice he might have made if the Lutheranism of today looked more like the Lutheranism of Bach's day and the church and city where he served?  And, just maybe, that is the Lutheran side of this whole problem.


Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

"Bourgeois Christianity" is a great turn of phrase, but as a description of what goes on in churches today it is rather charitable. Most American congregations would consider themselves proudly proletarian, though its probably not the case in fact. More accurately what we see today is decadent Christianity, oxymoron though it may be. Christians and churches who know nothing of the past, who care nothing for the future; there is only now and their appetites for the trivial and the banal.

Anonymous said...

"Many men are tired of a soft, bourgeois Christianity that doesn’t call them to much because it doesn’t ask much of them. "

There are many women who are not in our pews for this same reason! "Soft" and feminized are NOT the same thing.

That said, your other points are very interesting and well worth thinking through carefully in terms of the battles in American Lutheranism -- and most other denominations -- pitting cultural accomodation against being a church that calls people to something more difficult and much more precious.

Anonymous said...

Jaroslav Pelikan did not leave
Lutheranism, instead Lutheranism left
him. His trek to the Orthodox Church
did not totally remake his theology.
He was simply a Lutheran theologian
who felt Orthodoxy was the best
expression of his beliefs as a

From the Missouri Synod to the ELCA
to the Orthodox, a journey that
included legalism (LCMS) and real
antinominianism (ELCA) and Biblical
authority (Orthodox)

Janis Williams said...

Agreed, anonymus.

Many women are tired of "mushy" church. We have the ability to see how soft we (church) have become.

I would add, many women would love to see men "take back" the church. I for one would like to see men move in and take charge as should be. It would allow us as women to have a little rest from trying to make up for things we cannot and should not do! We could attend to our proper vocations.

Anonymous said...

it's saddening to see how little you americans know of eastern orthodoxy so you are sooo impressed with it. eastern orthodox church is the most unchristian christian church in the world, i know that since i was born and live in eastern europe. come here and preach the gospel. eo priests will incite mob to burn your church building and beat you, because you a dangerous sect coming from the west (no, no, it's not that they are ignorant of the facts, they do know lutherans are, but for them roman catholics are schismatics and sworn enemies, and all protestant churches - sects).

for them, the gospel is come to the orthodox church, get baptized, fast, have comunnion, keep the feasts and other rites and rituals, church rules, etc. and then when you die, unless you are a saint, someone who has piled enough good works for his salvation, your family will pay the priests to chant and pray for you, so that you may leave hell (they don't have separate purgatory) and move to heaven. and that's it. that's the gospel.

Anonymous said...

Rod Dreher and I were Catholic at about the same time.

Unfortunately he was living in a Texas diocese that had suffered some of the worst of the priestly abuse scandals that have now come to light. He also became dismayed with the many liturgical aberrations that have plagued the RC since Vatican II.

His rosy views of Orthodoxy were discarded when, after he joined, he found that that body also had its shares of scandals but he was determined not to let them drive him away a second time, so he has remained there.

Dreher's journey into Catholicism and Orthodoxy highlights what Lutherans have long known, that sin is not just a "weakness" as it is seen in Rome and Constantinople but has infected every area of life in this world until the Lord comes again.

Before I made the huge mistake of swimming the Tiber I visited a few Orthodox parishes. The heavy influence of ethnicity still pervades in many of them and I was looked at as if I had two heads, it being quite obvious I was not a member.

By the grace of God I am so glad to be back in the Lutheran fold. My absence taught me what a rich and noble heritage we have, with our Christocentric and Biblical faith.


Pastor Peters said...

Perhaps it is not with the people of Orthodoxy or their clergy that we are so impressed but with a faith, with their fathers, and with their unwillingness to become what so much of Western Christianity has become. That said, I would never be one to suggest that Orthodoxy is some perfect church...

Terry Maher said...

Thank you EO Anonymous!

Fact of the matter is, rather than hand wringing over some sort of secularised Americanised Western church, we should find it remarkable that church in any form has any relevance here at all, rather than moon and swoon over highly stylised remnants of state Roman Imperial churches East and West, which survive only by revised connexion to modern states, are bothered with by a tiny minority and utterly irrelevant to the vast majority except maybe when someone is born, gets married, or dies, or as tourisism attractions.

Nor should we be surprised at the calls for "contemporary worship" or wonder why so many call for it. We ouselves promote contemporary worship offering our version of the A, B, C or D approach to orders, calendar and lectionary that began with Rome and is now the common property of all heterodox liturgical churches. The CW crowd does no different, just draws from different sources. Once one replaces the "usual ceremonies" and lectionary and calendar the Confessions proudly retain, it's just a matter of with what and entirely predictable that controversy ensues over which "what" prevails.