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Category Archives: Christianity

Found a very interesting debate from Newsweek between Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) and Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life).  Take a look here.

Also, when gathering the inks for this post, I noticed that Mr. Harris, as part of ongoing research, is seeking volunteers to answer surveys regarding beliefs.  “We especially need Christians to respond, as one of the goals of these surveys is to design stimuli that a majority of Christians will find doctrinally sound.”

I do not envy him.

OCF Podcast

Episode 1 of the OCF Podcast is finally ready for public consumption!  This weeks episode features part one of a talk by executive director Fr. Kevin Scherer entitled “How to Survive College as a Christian.”

Download/subscribe here.

Here’s an ad for an upcoming OCF event at UT.  Come and check it out if you get the chance.  7 pm on Thursday Feb. 21


Some people really irritate me. If they find out someone isn’t a Christian, or that the person was a Christian but has left the church for some reason, they think they have the job to start evangelizing outright to the person. Many assume that they know all the answers, and that all the person needs to do is just listen or something like that. I’ll admit, I’ve been there.

Surely, sometimes it is all that’s needed. But this isn’t always the case. I would imagine that it’s rarely the case, in fact. Often, people have been turned off by false gospels such as that of the Health and Wealth movement in the Evangelical church. As Fr. Thomas Hopko puts it, these are the people who teach that all you have to do is believe in Jesus and you’ll be healthy, you’ll have plenty of money, and your color TV will work.

Some have been utterly disgusted by the antics of people who call themselves Christians while shouting messages of hate, all in the name of expanding the Kingdom. Recently, here on the campus of UT, there was a demonstration staged by a travelling ministry called Soulwinners International. How did they go about “winning souls”? By preaching on the pedestrian walkway in front of Hodges Library with signs and t-shirts saying “Homos Go To Hell.” This went on for a couple of days, and eventually escalated to a shouting match with the UT chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance.

As a Christian, this disturbed me. It’s entirely contradictory to preach that “God so loved the world…” and then say that someone who is gay is going to Hell, simply for being gay. Now, I’m not going to debate the concept of homosexuality being a sin or not. But, if you consider it to be a sin, then bear in mind that it’s no worse than any other sin. Cheats, liars, thieves, and adulterers are also sinners, and I don’t see anyone condemning them to Hell on the sidewalks of my campus. So often, evangelicals will say “Sin is sin. No one sin is worse than the others.” Yet, when it comes to that sin, they’re all going to burn without question. I don’t get it. Besides…have they forgotten verse 17 of John 3? “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…”

When it comes to presenting the Gospel to those who don’t rightly know it, we are commanded to do it in love and patience. (cf John 13:35, 1 Cor. 13:4-8) The God that is revealed by Christ, who is our ultimate model, is one of love and not judgement. Is he the Judge? Absolutely. But, as Fr. Stephen says, we know nothing of God’s judgement, only his mercy. If we are to show what we believe is Truth to others, we have to do it within the truth that is contained therein, that “God is a good God and loves mankind.”

St. Francis of Assisi said, “At all times and to all people, preach the Gospel. Use words if you have to.” If someone is really looking for answers, searching for truth honestly, that’s all you have to do. I’m utterly convinced of this. If they really are running hard after the Truth in spite of their preconceived notions and the junk that they carry with them as a result of whatever previous misrepresentations or abuses of the Gospel message, then they’ll respond to it if they can manage to have an encounter with it. That encounter doesn’t need to include a list of everything wrong with them; many of them already know all of that and hear it from the rest of the world, making any such approach no different from what they’d find elsewhere. Instead, that encounter should be filled with honesty and love. “I don’t know” and “I don’t really understand why you feel that way, but I understand that it’s where you are in your life, and sometimes things like that take time to deal with,” and like assurances are essential. And it shouldn’t be done duplicitously, just so you can say you’re being a good witness. It takes grace to do this, and we should all seek it daily and moment by moment.

Moreover, you don’t even have to quote scriptures or the Fathers or the homily you heard last week. Sometimes it’s just enough to take someone in and tell them that they’re human beings and worth attention and love and grace, and that you want to give it to them as best you can. By what I see on TV and have heard from some minsters and just everyday people over the past few years, it’s a rare occasion that this happens anymore.

In his first epistle, John says to love “not with words or with tongue, but in action and in truth” (3:18) He also says that “God is love” (4:8). So, it seems to me that, if you can love someone in what you do for them, they will see God. I’m starting to believe this is the only essential task. (Of course, along with things in our spiritual lives that serve to change us more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.) Their conversion is between them and God. But, as I said, if they’re looking for it, and this really is the Truth, then it just follows that it’s what they’re looking for, so it’s only a matter of time, however long that period of time may be. More to the point, we evangelize and God saves in His good time.

I’ve been reminded of the simplicity of this several times recently, and I felt it was worth saying here. I hope it makes sense. 🙂

When I was in Chicago recently, I was involved in a conversation with a local Methodist lady who happened to decide to come to the ACAAC conference and was asking all manner of questions about Orthodoxy. At one point, a couple of people also engaged in the discussion mentioned the word “feeling.” What it “feels” like to worship in the Church. The “experience” that you have.

I readily admitted that the use of the phrase and the notion of “feeling” and “experiencing” things in the church made me cringe. I saw far too many people get too focused on that aspect in my years as a Protestant. But, I was just as readily reassured that “feeling” and “experience” were meant in a different context. I kind of got what they said, but I guess it was slightly acquiescent for me not to pursue that point further than I did.

Fr. Stephen posted a wonderful reflection on what it means to really want to “know” and “experience” God. I think my befuddlement is fairly defused now. 🙂

Glory to God for All Things: “To Know God”

In just under 11 hours, my friend Kevin and I will be embarking on a journey to Chicago to attend the 14th annual Ancient Christianity and African-American Conference. From what I hear, it’s a can’t-miss event. It will feature Fr. Moses Berry, Fr. Patrick Reardon, Fr. Paisius Altschul, and a small host of others. I’ve also heard a rumor that an Orthodox celebrity might be in attendance. We’ll see.

On the way, we’ll stop by our sister OCA parish in Nicholasville, KY, to see some old friends and probably make some new ones. Also, this will allow us to split the driving up into two chunks. We really didn’t relish the idea of driving for 9-plus hours only to run into Chicago-area traffic at the end of the long journey. Yuck.

As a result, I’m going to try and follow the suggestion of a friend and blog about the journey. I imagine I’ll mainly do it here. But, I’ll also going upload to flickr as much as possible, and perhaps post a few random things on YouTube. We’ll be coming back on the 4th, so that should provide plenty of stuff to note, observe, or generally ponder in the interim.

I’m really excited about this trip. Not only is it pretty college student-friendly (read: inexpensive), but it will allow some networking and a chance to simply meet new people. Also, I’ve never been to Chicago or anywhere in the Northern Midwest. (The closest has been Cincinnati, which is barely outside Kentucky, so it basically doesn’t count.) More than that, though, I’m excited to attend the workshops and lectures. Which, it looks like this year’s conference will focus on repentance and its different aspects as revealed in the story of the Prodigal Son.

I’m not sure what I’ll post here. But, stay tuned and see. As Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel would say, “The next song I’m going to play is *insert title*. I hope you like it. I can’t wait to hear it myself.”

Oh…and if any of you will be at the conference, let me know. I love meeting new people. 🙂

VT Poem
As mentioned in my last post, I came across a poem at one of the memorials on the drill field while on a recent visit to Virginia Tech. The memorial belonged to gunman Cho Seung-Hui. The full text of the poem follows.


To Cho:

I am a Hokie.
You can not strip me of that, or
My love, my passion, or my truth.
My innocence is mine on the cross
And you can not have it.
You will not now nor will you ever
Have power over me.

The truth is I miss you.
I wish I could have shown you
His love, His passion, His truth.
It has set me free
And I wish I could share that with you.
I missed you.
I’m sorry.

So I must tell you now:
Even though you took innocent lives;
Even though you tried to put fear in our hearts;
Even though I hurt to the core;
Even though my eyes are tired of crying;
Even though campus, my home, will never be the same…

I forgive you
And I love you.

Erica

Virginia Tech Memorial

Amidst all the reflection on what happened yesterday and in similar horrific acts (Columbine, Paducah, etc.), the following poem by Steve Turner came to mind. So, I offer it today.


“Creed”
by Steve Turner

This is the creed I have written on behalf of all us.

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in
horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same–
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

“Chance” a post-script

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

TWLOHA Title

A few months ago, I came across a non-profit organization called To Write Love On Her Arms. So, I checked it out. I saw this story that was posted on the website, a story that apparently gave the background of how it got started with the focus of helping just one person named Renee survive long enough to make it into rehab, and being there for her after she got out to continue to love her and to let her know she has worth. And, so I read it.

I was very moved. I’ve rarely been so moved in all my life. I’ve known people like Renee. And one of them was ever on my mind as I read that story. In fact, after I read the story, I sent her a message to say that I was thinking about her and that I love her.

To Write Love On Her Arms is far beyond just another cause to fight for. It is a movement dedicated to providing hope to those who struggle with depression, addiction, suicide, and cutting. The people that run it have no delusions of grandeur. They are broken people reaching out to broken people to show the healing and life-changing love of Christ.

Please take the time and read the story. All of it is true. Renee is real, and she has real struggles. You likely know someone who has similar struggles, but just aren’t aware of it. Even if you don’t, there are people in your town and at your place of work, at your church, in your classrooms, and riding next to you on the bus who have these struggles and are crying out for help, if anyone would just listen.

If you have the desire to get involved, this organization needs you. You can buy their distinct shirts, you can donate money, you can provide connections to professionals who help those who battle with these issues, you can spread the word, or you can simply pray. Contact them and they’ll let you know how you can become involved.

Here’s the story, as written by founder Jamie Tworkowski.

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience. She smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”

I would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.

I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes.

Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.

Stop the bleeding. Rescue is possible. Love is the movement.

To Write Love On Her Arms

Pondering

From my journal entry dated March 7, 2007:

After being prompted by something I saw in a friend’s Bible, I read Isaiah 40 this evening. I reread vv. 27-31 over and over again, narrowing my selection with each pass. I finally rested on the last bit of v. 28: “his (the Lord’s) understanding no one can fathom.”

As I stared at that verse, I came to realize this is a huge problem I have. Too many thoughts to write about them now. Yet, even as my own words spoken to someone else come back to haunt me, I need to be less focused on my desire to understand and more focused on the need to act in spite of the lack of understanding when it does not easily come. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). Perhaps my insistence on understanding what is going on is my effort to find something other than God to lean on?