Theology

The Ecclesial Longing of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met in Jerusalem, to commemorate the meeting of Pope Paul IV and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago.  The Ecumenical Patriarch (confirmed by the Vatican) mentioned that in this meeting the bishops want to move forward in ecumenical relations and decided to plan some form of meeting/gathering on the 1700 anniversary of the first Ecumenical council at Nicaea in Nicaea, now Iznik. This is Kind of astounding.

In our various denominational crises, we can forget that really the last 70 years has been an incredible time for those seeking to move beyond the divisions and parochialism of the various Christian denominations.  We almost take the meeting of a Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch as common place. Dialog between Christian denominations happens regularly.  Certainly, there are still lines drawn in the sand, and I’m sure a number of both Roman Catholics and Orthodox are speaking of the apostasy of either  the Pope or Ecumenical Patriarch, or both.  However, if we focus on these negatives we fail to see the signs of hope and the possible work of the Spirit.

It’s hard to say what this meeting planned for 2025 in Nicaea will be, but in it is a fruit of seeking to meet one another across our divides, to seek to be the Church. We could make to much and to little of the Pope’s and Patriarch’s meeting and of this announcement.

For Ecclesial Longings and the Priestly Goth this all points that for the church the future and the past must collide.  Also, there’s nothing pure about the commemoration of Nicaea.  And there are plenty of Christians who, even if they may want to affirm the creed from that council, find that moment and Constantine’s embrace of the Church and intervention in the Arian controversy to be highly problematic to say the least.  Yet, I say that if we want to understand Christian faith in a concrete and ecclesial sort of way, reflecting on the truth and complexity of the first ecumenical council is needed.

Christianity as a religion can have many interpretations stemming from the person of Jesus of Nazareth, bringing together all these interpretations and faiths that are called Christian probably isn’t a possibility.  But when we begin to talk about the Church as Body of Christ, which is a transcendent, sacramental and mystical reality in time and history, this gives us a lens to focus our interpretation of Christianity.  In this focus, what I call ecclesial longing, I believe there is possibility for unity.  In this focus and longing is seeking in the other Christian and in one self that sign that we are members of the same body.  The faith of the Body of Christ, the Church  was expressed at Nicaea in 325. While Arian faith is Christian it was shown not  to be  the faith of the Body of Christ.

In the least in this invitation to celebrate and remember the Council of Nicaea, we have the opportunity to think the difference between the mind of Christ and the Church and mere Christian opinions. So along with Sam Rocha, I see this planned gathering in 2025 at Nicaea tingling with possibility.  In the midst of our denominational and cultural crisis, I see this as laden with hope.

Leaving our Marks: Interiors, Exteriors, and Bodies

In the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s there was a magazine called Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.  It’s one of the few magazines from when I subscribed to magazines that I have kept the issues, and even purchased some back issues.  What has stuck with me about the magazine is that it wasn’t a showcase, rather it featured articles about the interiors of peoples actual homes as they lived in them.  Often the homes were of artists or authors, though I also remember an issue that featured the interior of the apartment of a stock broker or analyst who worked on Wall Street, and an issue that featured a home made out of milk crates by someone who was otherwise “homeless”.  The articles that accompanied the photos of these interiors were always reflective and philosophical. Each issue was organised around a theme.  The point of Nest was that we leave our trace, our mark, upon the world and attention to the interiors of our homes gives us a glimpse into our interiors (souls/selves).

We are in need of such witness to the relation between what we now call our spirituality and our physicality and the spaces we inhabit.

I grew up among Lutheran Pietists. We affirmed the Resurrection and the body, to a point, the focus of our embodiment was song and music, we had (to borrow a term from the Anglobaptist) a sonic theology.  But too much attention to clothing, the interior of our houses, or the visual arts was discouraged.  This wasn’t so much a denial of the body as a fear of mere ornamentation.  We could spend time focused on singing and playing instruments, and the beauty of the sounds these physical things made but to pay attention to my own appearance, to decorate the house, to meditate upon a painting wasn’t a priority.  Physical beauty for decoration was superfluous and secondary to natural beauty (sunsets, flowers, the well tilled earth, the night sky, the unadorned body, etc.).

I was more visual, I preferred painting and drawing to singing and playing music, I was concerned with fashion, to the puzzlement and bemusement of my mother.  Though she also appreciated that I could tell her if a certain blouse or skirt would go with an existing item in her wardrobe when shopping for clothes.

In a foriegn country staring at myself in the mirror after letting my beard and hair grow out, I realized I could communicate who I was and wanted to be through my appearance.  Not that I thought all would always interpret these signs as I intended (but that’s the way of things Cf. AKMA on interpretation).  This awareness was also the solidifying of my growing goth identity.  It was also for me a theological affirmation: Resurrection had to mean that my physicality had meaning and primary importance.  My appearance wasn’t simply frivolity and decoration but a primary act of meaning and communication.

When my wife and I got engaged we made a pact against the purely utilitarian in our clothing and household items: what we wore and the objects of our interior needed to be beautiful and meaningful as well as useful.

As a regular feature of Gothic musings I’m starting a series on the beauty meaning and self expression of our habitations, clothing, interiors, and architecture.  I invite you to think with me about the meaning and beauty of our habitation: whether in simplicity or extravagance, with meager or abundant means. I have some people I’d like to see what their interior and fashion are like and to hear them reflect on the interiors of their homes and their fashion choices.  I also invite you to leave a comment here or contact me if you’d like to share photos and/or an essay on your physical habitation and its meaning.

These will be found in Gothic Musings because the goth aesthetic is, in part at least, about giving a particular expression of an identity and outlook through dress and decor.  Though,  this theme cuts across all aspects of priestly goth, whether ecclesiology, spiritual direction, or iconography, it all is about the meaning of embodiment and beauty as an outworking of the doctrines of the incarnation and resurrection.

In the next few days, I will post photos of the interior of the Community of the Holy Trinity with some thoughts on what the common spaces of the community say about myself and the community and the other members of the community.

And to wet your appetite here are some photos of my self presentation in the world:

(Click on the photos to see a slide show and see the comments on each photo)

 

The Meaning of Giving Praise to God

When we praise God for something what are we doing?  When we thank God for a positive outcome and praise God for that outcome what are we meaning?  What are we attributing to God.

These were some of the general questions I recently dealt with in a spiritual direction session with a directee.  Praising God for God’s character made sense, and being thankful also made sense to the directee, but when it came to particularities, things got messy.  So many factors, in becoming healthy, or a healing, who or what is responsible, one’s own body, one’s own initiative in taking health inducing activities?

There is a desire to give thanksgiving and praise, even so the question haunts: for what are we thanking God, and is there reason to praise God for outcome X if we can’t be sure that God is the cause of that outcome?

This anxiety over praise and thanksgiving is in part a fear of idolatry, but also feeling that to praise or thank God truly we must find God and only God to be the cause of the situation or scenario for which we give thanks and praise.  The concern over the idolatrous act has some truth to it though more than simply idolatry may be at work.  However, I’d argue it is misplaced to think of praise and thanksgiving to God as requiring a causal link between God and situation and event over which one is giving praise.

Though, I actually wonder if such anxieties over praising God and their legitimacy, is really a failure to be fully immersed in the language and experience of the Psalms.  Praise and thanksgiving in the Psalms is varied and often also paired with lament.  Praise and thanksgiving are then complex. Praise and thanksgiving are about a particular situation, about the nature of God, and the relationship the psalmist has from God.

Sitting with the whole of the Psalms, I suggest that our anxiety around giving praise and thanksgiving to God for particular situations and “good fortune” (or is it “grace”, that is gift) occurs when we think praise and thanksgiving to be only in response to having received or experienced a desirable or good outcome.  Praise and thanksgiving over a particular situation is properly connected to who God is and one’s relationship to God.

Praise is relational, and is a response to the gift that is Given.  This donation will include any and all good things that happen to one who is in relationship to God.  This gift is not eliminated or negated by tragic or lamentable situations and suffering, thus praise and thanksgiving are part of lament, and aren’t merely celebratory responses.

Though praise and thanksgiving are also ecstatic celebrations that comes from personally knowing and encountering not only one’s own maker but the source of the entire cosmos.

When we are in relationship to God, our knowledge of God and our relation to God is found in praise of the character of God.  This is without regard to situation or suffering, thus lament is also praise.  Since we are in relation to that which is the ultimate source of all that is Good, any good thing is an occasion for celebrating in God’s presence, that is in the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the wake of a fortunate situation, even if we can’t directly link God’s action to the immediate outcome over which we are celebrating.

On Living in a Futile and Crooked Generation

This reflection is a riff on  the Sermon I preached at Reconciler on May 4th, the Third Sunday of  Easter. The Gospel text is the Road to Emmaus, the other Scripture texts are a portion of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost and the beginning of the First Letter of Peter

We can lose sight of the meaning of Pascha, of the Resurrection and this season of Easter.  Conservative or Liberal we may be tempted to see this as about morals, or justice, or ethics.  Or maybe we want the Resurrection and the incarnation to be a principle we can apply.  All of this doesn’t take seriously enough the human predicament.  Doesn’t take seriously our own, my own, predicament.

Our predicament (my predicament) is futile, it leads towards death. It is a dead end.

What was Peter preaching on that first Pentecost?  Was he calling people to repent from being part of the mob that handed Jesus of Nazareth over to be crucified. I don’t think so. Jesus on the way to Emmaus tells Cleopas and his companion that  the Messiah had to suffer, had to die, had to enter the tomb.  It doesn’t help to repent from our predicament, that we are stuck.  That we live in a world dominated by death, violence, injustice and oppression.  No, the change of mind Peter called for and which Peter still calls us to, is to decide with what will we identify, the one who was crucified, who we crucified, or the crooked generation.  Are we going to identify the one who entered our tombs our dead end world, or are we going to identify with an age and a generation that can only offer us a life that ends in our death, the dead end.

If we have difficulty understanding the faith of the Apostles and the nature of the Joy of this season of  Easter it is because we think God came to transform a dead end age into the Kingdom of God.  This is also what everyone at the time of jesus thought the Messiah was going to do, no one thought the Messiah was going to become accursed in Death, die on a Cross.  The Messiah wasn’t supposed to do that, Cleopas says so.

Jesus has to set us on a different path.

Jesus, as we know from the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter after the Resurrection still has the wounds.  Christ really died, and by death beat down death an on those in the tombs bestowing life.

If we are to understand what has been achieved for us and live it out in our daily life,  ff the joy of the Resurrection is to penetrate, we must admit that we are still in the tombs.  It is to us and all humanity that Christ has come.  The tombs, Christ undergoing death isn’t simply some past event, it is what it means to be rescued from the futility and meandering path of our generation, of this age.

This should lead us to repentance and conversion (one that is continual throughout our lives, not a one time event) as we encounter again and again how we tend to simply wander to our deaths, without purpose.  Continually repent from how we live according to this generation and age that is passing away and convert to the age of life and Joy that has come, and is to come.

The futility and crookedness of this age has little  to do with its ethics or morality, nor its principles, but simply that it is given over to death.  We can live as Martin Heidegger described in his philosophy as being towards death, or we can become identified in baptism and Eucharist with the one who is Life itself.  This doesn’t change the nature of this generation and age that is being towards death, but it changes us so that in these tombs we and those around us may have life.  This is the path of discipleship, this is the path of the cross, this is the purpose of the ascetic and mystical path, that we may be Christ, who is life in the midst of this futile age that is passing away, that is being towards death.

There’s another possible misunderstanding here, to identify this age or generation with the physical universe and the age to come and of life with the non-material.   Or to see it as a past/present verse future dichotomy.  What is proclaimed though is to ages and generations existing as alternate “dimensions”.  Or another way of putting it two ways of being, one way which is being towards death the other which is being in life.  Both are physical and spiritual, material and immaterial.  This is why it is key to affirm the bodily Resurrection of jesus and that Thomas could have put his finger in Jesus’ wounds.

I recommend also reading the sermon, if you haven’t already done so, to get the fullness of this thought.

The Great Emergence and the problem of periodization

Ed. note: I’ve edited this from a blog post on my personal blog back in 2009.  I’m in the process of reposting here some posts that fit with the themes and projects related to what I’m doing here at Priestly Goth.  I recently re-read The Great Emergence.  My opinion of the work hasn’t changed.

When I first picked up Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, I already had a bias against the work due to my historiographical training which had instilled a respect and healthy skepticism of periodization in the discipline of history: I see periodization as both necessary but problematic. Dividing up history into periods hides as least as much as it reveals. (We’ll get back to this in a moment.) But also I am sceptical about all this talk about “emergence” specifically that this particular period is particularly significant in terms of emergence. Now to be clear this scepticism is from perhaps the opposite side of what one would expect. I am not denying that things have changed, nor do I think that some static immovable notion of Christianity and church needs preservation.  Rather my skepticism stems from being a product of what was being called post-modern and what seems to be especially with Tickle being called the Great Emergence.

As one who is a product of whatever we want to and will call this shift, I am uncertain that focusing almost exclusively on change or “emergence” is the best way for Christians to keep their bearings. On some level my scepticism is that apart from rapid technological change, what we are talking about doesn’t simply happen at discrete moments or even discrete extended moments and then stop, something Tickle admits throughout her work, though all while insisting on the new . But if we leave aside problematic periodization and the desire to compartmentalize time one simply has flux of a continual emergence. Things morph slowly or quickly from one thing to another, one can choose to attempt to stabilize this flux long enough to make generalizations over extend periods of time but then one is also simultaneously needing to admit that at the beginning of period x one still has the traits of the preceding period y to a large degree and only modified slightly and by the time one can talk about period x having a full blown and distinguishable traits from period y, one is already finding traits that are to come in the period Z. And so forth and so on ad infinitum. (again something Tickle does admit, but to admit this deconstructs her framework).

My difficulty with The Great Emergence,  is that Tickle doesn’t offer this periodization as a useful construct for understanding developments in (Western) Christianity but in some sense posits that this periodization as a real happening within the flow of time and human culture, or at least what we now Call “Western” culture,  that is an empirical description of the nature of time and pan-cultural process.  I can accept it as a useful construct, that gives us a mythology with which to understand our situation,though I may prefer other mythologies, but it doesn’t pass muster as an actual description of the way things are, nor could such a brief overview of vast historical periods do so.

One of the things that is enjoyable in reading Tickle as well as listening to hear speak is the poetry of her thought. She uses the image (that she borrowed) of that emergence every 500 years is when the Church has a “rummage sale”: things get shaken up, excess is redistributed and one feels lighter. While the image of rummage sale seems apt for our time especially for those who are attaching themselves to Emergent or the emergent church. Some things thought long gone are dug up and polished off and used again and things once thought essential are tossed out, and its pretty much up to the individual or particular group exactly what is tossed and what is polished up and used again.

The Reformation (Or “Great Reformation” according to Tickle) is perhaps aptly described, though it seems to be a very Protestant characterization of what happened. I have difficulty seeing Roman Catholics or the Orthodox using such characterization to understand themselves in this period. However, I think it is an apt description what the reformers  themselves(Luther, Zwingli, Calvin etc.) were doing: digging around in the attic with a good bit of jettisoning of what was thought to be of little importance by the reformers.

Yet if we look at her two preceding periods this metaphor and the notion of emergence is more problematic. The Great Schism is a bit more complex and difficult to truly make a clear before and after. The differences between East and West in Christianity preceded even Constantine, the roots for the final split ran deep. And many would claim that language and not any real change or even actual difference between “East” and “West” contributed to the schism. Greeks stopped knowing Latin, Latins stopped knowing Greek.  There were certainly differences but those differences weren’t new, what was new was a breakdown in communication. This is at least one theory of what happened. We know the anathema’s were thrown about, but exactly why they happened at that time beyond noting the personalities involved is uncertain. It did create a new situation one we still live with, and which Tickles analysis of emergence is based on being on the Western side of the schism (we should not forget that if we sought to do this examination from the Christian “Greek” Eastern perspective the the Reformation would be a local European phenomenon, not a pan-ecclesial or even pan-Christian phenomenon).

The Schism with what are now called the Oriental Orthodox Churches, is also difficult to account in the terms of emergence that Tickle is using. Again one possible interpretation of this schism is that it was mostly a misunderstanding stemming in part from culture but again also from language. Those who rejected Chalcedon weren’t keen towards Greek philosophical language and thus did not appreciate the use of the technical use of philosophy for defining dogma.  Also, in terms of religious rite, ecclesial organization, and the use of a type of iconography etc. the Oriental Orthodox are more a variation on a theme than clearly distinct from either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholicism.  So, it is unclear how much was actually being rethought and whether or not a “rummage sale” is an apt metaphor.

Then we come to the Christ event, but can we as Christians merely list that event as a simple point in a emergent pattern of history? Sure it was the right time so there was something about the time that allowed for God to act or precipitated God acting or however one wants to say this, but surely the Christ event and its tumult has less to do with patterns in history and more to do with that something beyond the merely historical took place, and that the renewal of the entire cosmos and the meaning and end of history entered the cosmos and history. Surely the Christ event cannot either be the beginning point of a particular historical pattern nor simply part of the pattern but inaugurates something beyond our historiographic propensity to periodization.

As can be seen my bias towards a certain understanding of periodization leads me to a certain deconstructive read of Tickles mythology of Great Emergence.  It’s a good story, and in that sense it is also good history, but it isn’t the only story that could be told.  

Oh wait, I’m not alone(sort of), others are talking about the Church

I’m working up some reflections on David Fitch‘s End of Evangelicalism.  I have some questions about why one would continue with a particular identity like evangelical, when ones theology is so clearly drawn from such an ecumenical place as David Fitch seems to be coming from.  Also, I feel that what the book addresses cuts across any particular Christian identity.

But for the moment only a wetting of the appetite, because I’ve been reading others who are exploring this thing we call the church, or the ecclesia, the Body of Christ.  This extended reflection and quest I’ve labeled Ecclesial Longings should at least acknowledge these other bits of ecclesial reflection (possibly with with a bit of comment from me, most of the links here I’ve left comments on the posts themselves.)

We’ll start with some of the articles that responded to the whole controversy Donald Miller sparked by admitting he doesn’t go to church that often.

Justin Harvey‘s Peregrinatio In Defense of Donald Miller.  Like the author I’m not terribly concerned about infrequent church attendance. I appreciate that the author saw that the discussion required asking “what is the church?”.  I appreciated the basis, but in my comment pushed back at what I was seeing as a reduction and pointed to the more robust picture we find in the metaphor of church as Body, and in the mixed metaphor in Ephesians.

Relevant Magazine interview’s Donald Miller about the controversy: My thought is Donald and Relevant seem to be putting gathering together and community on one side and relationship with God and following Jesus on the other.  There’s the affirmation of the importance of gathering and community but say the real thing is having a relationship with God and following Jesus.  This parsing of the problem seems to me to lack reflection on church as Body of Christ.  My reading of the metaphor of body is to say that having a relationship with Jesus is in being connected with all others who also follow Jesus (granted there’s the question of how this is lived out locally etc., so I understand that not going to a particular “church” isn’t the same as being out of fellowship with the Body).  As I see it, this whole controversy (Both Donald Miller’s remarks and those of his critics) shows that we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about and thus why such an extended inquiry and quest, as found here, is needed.

Christopher Smith at the Slow church Blog on Patheos begins to get at this at the end of his blog post in responce to the controversy.  God gathers a people, a good place to start.

And so we leave the church attendance fiasco.

Then over at [D]mergent (don’t ask) John O’keefe posted Moving out of Ecclesiology, into Koinology .  Read it and my comment. If you, reader, want let me know what you think of it and my response.  In summary, if I followed O’Keefe I’d rename this thread and quest “Longing for Koinonia”, or “Koinonia Longings”, something like that.  I don’t think koinonia and ecclesia need to be pitted against each other. Wait there seems to be a pattern emerging: our analysis tends toward pitting thesis against antithesis. I want synthesis.  Why are we stuck in an Hegelian nightmare! 

Then over at Hope in Time, Anthony Bartlett’s Nonviolent Bible Interpretation III: Church, as you can see from the title its part of a series on hermeneutics.  I don’t know where to begin. I’m sympathetic to Girardian take on things, but I’m not one to take Girard and Mimetic Theory as gospel (as my dad used to say.)  So, that isn’t going to be my exclusive hermeneutic lens. Also, I’ll admit I think anti-Constantinianism, that is so fashionable among protestants of just about any stripe, is bunk.  Also, if you think you understand what Constantine did, and what it means for the church I think you don’t understand it.  So, I’m having difficulty seeing beyond the anti-Constantine bias in order to really evaluate the essay.  I know I’m reacting to it, and not really responding.

Lastly over at the Sub-Deans Stall the Irrelavance of Relavance. The Revd Canon Robert Hendrickson comes closest to my own sentiments about church.  But I get lost in his various uses of church, and church still then seems a little to much about what we do. However, I agree pretty much completely with what he writes, but I ask what is it that forms such a group of people?  Is church then a goal, something that is in process being built? by whom?, by human beings, or by God?  Ephesians looms large in my thinking you may have noticed, that may or may not be a good thing.

So that is what I have.  This is what thanks largely to Tripp Hudgins I’m engaging with at the moment around the nature of the ecclesia, the Body of Christ.

Have you come across other reflections on the church?  Leave a link and your thoughts on the piece if you have.

 

Suffering and Joy on the Dance Floor: or Dancing to Joy Division

My friend Tripp recently published a brief musing on suffering and death: it’s kind of goth. I’ve sat with the musing.  Part of what he’s wrestling with are the ways many Christians often make suffering trite by attempting to make God responsible for it ( in some way) or at least responsible for making it meaningful.  What stuck with me and what trips me up, is his having said God suffer’s and dies everyday.  I get it, but I can’t help but think this says too much, and is also a means to bring God too close, too understandable.

This was in the back of my mind as I headed out to the goth night Nocturna at the Metro, this past Saturday.  Shortly after arriving Scary Lady Sarah spun Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear us Apart.

It’s a great song, I love to dance to it.  As I was dancing to this haunting,melancholic, tortured song I was aware of the contrast between the  joy I was feeling as I danced and the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song.  As I danced I also recalled the circumstances of Ian Curtis’ death and his own physical and mental health struggles and suffering.

Such an amazing song.  Such beauty that touches so many.  Love Will Tear Us Apart invariably fills the dance floor.

I feel there is something here.  I have great wonderment at how such beauty, joy ( even hope), come out of  expressions of pain and suffering.

As I danced I thought and prayed (for Ian Curtis, for others wrestling with their demons like he did, perhaps dancing next to me), and I observed in amazement how my awareness of  the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song, didn’t diminish the joy in dancing to a haunting pain filled song of longing for something more.

Love Will Tear us Apart is larger than the pain of a failing relationship, Joy division and Ian Curtis’s songs inhabit a world that encompasses but is larger than Ian’s tragic story.  Even so without the pain, without Ian Curtis and his pain and suffering there wouldn’t be the music of Joy Division, nor the joy found in dancing to it, as we connect with a longing for something beyond pain and suffering.

“God suffers and dies. everyday”.

Ian Curtis’s suffering and troubled mental life wasn’t for the purpose of  my enjoyment in dancing to one of his songs more than 30 years after his death.  Even so, out of who he was and the circumstances of his life and mental state he created some amazing music, in which there is great longing and joy.  There wasn’t purpose to his suffering, but for a time at least he reached beyond pain and suffering and wove that pain into great music.  What I find in Joy Divisions songs and lyrics is longing and beauty in the midst of pain, frustration, and depression.

Things to contemplate, something contemplated in the movement of bodies on a dance floor some 30 years after the song was recorded.

“God does not give us suffering. God does not give us death.

God suffers and dies. Every day. “


“Going to Church” and the Church as Body of Christ.

I mentioned in my reflection on intimacy and public worship that I had some more ecclesiological thoughts in response to Donald Miller.  Instead of putting Donald Miller’s ecclesiology to the question,  I will simply explore how we are talking about church attendance and how we may approach that from asking questions of what sort of thing we are as the Body of Christ, the Church.

My corner of the interwebs tells me there is much anxiety and frustration about church attendance.  My sense of all this is that we want to make church many things: intimate encounter with God, community, cultural expression, an environment for learning, etc. In many ways church is all those things and more.  However, one can find those things elsewhere.  They don’t give compelling reason for why there should be church, and even less compelling reason to attend church.  These reasons for going to church or being part of a church are all good things, but not sufficient reason to bother with church.

The Apostle Paul uses the language of body to talk about the ecclesia.  This language is both political, that is in the sense of body politic, and biological, as in what makes up a biological organism.  Elsewhere Paul also uses the language of a temple, a structure that is both built and organically grows (ya, he mixes metaphors to get at what the ecclesia is).

Then we have our english term “church” , which translates the greek word ecclesia.  Our usage “church” varies. Church can, in its broadest sense, be any religious institution.  More specifically and more commonly “church” means any institutionalised group of Christians, a local congregation and/or a denomination of Christians.

 If I’m remembering correctly the etymology, is the germanic Kierke which was derived from the greek Kyrie (Lord), that which belongs to the Lord (God, Christ).

As the Church we are the people of God, an ecclesia, a gathered people, called and gathered together by God.

What I’d like to suggest is that to be the Church, and to do what the Church does, ie worship, is formative.  We are formed, built and grow into what we are.  This takes all sorts of rites, rituals, and activities.  These have various forms corporate, bodily, personal.  Yet, none of those things exhaust who we are and who we are being formed into.  This is formative and it is collective.  Church and worship are about being a body, stones built into a living temple. Through baptism, faith, Eucharist we are becoming, and are, a holy nation of priests, together.

It’s possible that we can be tempted to reduce church to only one aspect of our usage, such as  if we were to assume church is only a building based on  english usage that elides the architectural structure of our being gathered and who we are as the people of God, because the building and the group carry the same name.  However, the problem isn’t that the place of our gathering bears the name of who we are as the body of Christ, nor is the problem that it comes to be attached to the activity of gathering.  The problem is separating ourselves from what we are through seeing church as a building or an activity that exists or goes on without us.

I want to suggest that our participation is key in becoming what we are, but this formation doesn’t occur because of our action only.  Our actions are what agree with what God is doing.

We get baptised, we eat bread and wine, we are anointed, hands are laid upon us, and these things form us into a particular type of “being”, but they do so because of what God is doing in and through these rituals rites, actions, words, music, and eating.

We can neither be solely focused on God, nor solely focused on what we do.  Nor is this about my personal individual experience, unless by personal one posits the presence of others, and God as the ultimate other, as part of the makeup of the person.

What I have said here, simply scratches the surface of what church and worship are and do.  We are and are becoming what God forms us into. We are what God gathers us to, we become the people of God , the Body of Christ, the Ecclesia, the Lord’s.  We are the church and so we go to church, and we attend church as the church.  And language fails us, and language helps us  know who we are becoming, a living temple.

Georges Florovsky, Ecumenism, and Writing Icons.

I was introduced to the work of Georges Florovsky in seminary.  I was discussing Eastern Orthodoxy with my History professor Phil Anderson.  Something in what I said clued him into that I was missing something about Orthodoxy and its history.  He asked if I had read (knowing I hadn’t) Georges Florovsky.

I immediately found his collected works in the North Park library collection, and began to read.  I made use of a number of his essay’s in various papers.  Until the past month I hadn’t returned to Florovsky.  Zizioulas, Schmemann, and Kallistos Ware have been more consistent companions.

I recently acquired volume two of  Georges Florovsky Collected Works.  I’m rereading it and finding that Florovsky made a deep impact on my thinking.  Though, I don’t think I fully understood Florovsky’s presentation of Orthodoxy.  Florovsky’s Orthodoxy is generous and ecumenical.  This posture allowed me as a Protestant looking to connect with the deep tradition of the Church and of Christianity, to drink from the well or Eastern Orthodoxy.   It has kept me in continual dialogue with Orthodoxy and it may be a large part of why I eventually took up the writing of icons.

Reading Florovsky again some 13 years later, I’m seeing that both my interest in Orthodoxy and how I have engaged Orthodoxy fits with how other Lutherans (before the 20th century) also engaged Orthodoxy.  It is also interesting to see how Georges Florovsky’s ecumenical stance fits within a similar historical vane.  He engages ecumenically to offer up Orthodoxy as the fullness of the Faith.

Florovsky’s ecumenical stance encouraged me to continue on as a Protestant and to do so in dialogue with the Orthodox, and others as well.  What I hadn’t taken into account in reading Florovsky in seminary was that he also had the Orthodox stance of insisting on agreement in faith as the basis of unity.  Looking back on my work in an ecumenical intentional community and an ecumenical Church plant,  the stance I took as a prior and pastor has been to seek that agreement in faith.  Now I’ve also done it in a fairly Lutheran style; willing to make a distinction between what is essential and what is adiaphora, a distinction that at least according to Florovsky Orthodoxy doesn’t make.

As I took up writing icons (before the community or congregation were formed) I chose to do so as though I was Orthodox.  I wasn’t going to try to make the writing of icons cohere with my protestant theology.  Rather I was going to take up the practice in its fulness and spirituality and theology.  In writing icons I was going to be Orthodox.  Florovsky’s writings, though at the time weren’t prominent in my thinking, and his ecumenical stance paved the way for this posture.

Re-reading Florovsky on the other side of becoming an iconographer (and remaining Protestant) and after having engaged in an ecumenical experiment, I’m not sure what to make of all this.  One thing I have noticed is that on some level Florovsky and I have to some extent played out the history of the ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Orthodox, he recounts in some of the essays in volume 2 of his collected works.

I wonder where does all this leave me?  I write and pray before icons, the attempt to form an ecumenical congregation morphed into something else, a worshiping community and an ecumenical religious order (at this moment in the final stages of forming): these attitudes, postures and longings have lead me to strange places.   At the moment the witness of the Orthodox that the Faith isn’t something easily paired down to the essentials, it’s more holistic, both resonates with me now more than it did in seminary.  Yet, I remain outside of Orthodoxy.

I  created Ecclesial Longings as a place to explore my longings for church beyond the Protestant conceptions of it and examine what keeps me from entering either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism.  Full agreement of the Faith, makes sense.  But how is this achieved and what are the sources of all the failures in finding this agreement?  I’m no longer satisfied with the essential/adiaphora distinction in faith.  Florovsky has awakened and heightened a growing discomfort with Protestantism and my own place in the Christian landscape.

Ecumenism still seems like the only way forward. A way forward that is both generous and seeking full agreement in faith.