Disorder as Liberation

One year in High School our Marching Band raised money by working at Six Flags in Atlanta. I’m unclear how it worked, but basically we performed various minimum wage jobs around the park for one of three half-day shifts and all the money went to the band. In exchange for working 4 hours the volunteers got to spend whole day in the park. It was a fun day (although I will never eat park food ever again) and I got to ride the Mind Bender 15 times.

The Mind Bender opened that summer and was billed as the world’s first triple loop roller coaster and I had no reason to want to do any of the normal stuff which I’d done before. This was not only new to me, but new to everyone! Until the pre-monastery purge, I still had the commemorative coin they gave out that year. Anyway, that day I rode the thing until I got bored, literally. After 12 times through (in fairly rapid succession, since I had an employee pass and needn’t stand in the whole line), I couldn’t have cared less: all my adrenaline burned out, the endorphins went away, and all I had was a jolting and jerking sensation caused by the motion. I was numb. Still, I rode it thee more times, then I stopped.

I was talking to my brother in Christ yesterday over wings and biscuits; there was some beer as well. We were talking about how moral theology has basically two categories: the way God intended something to be (aka properly ordered) and every other way we try things, (aka disordered). It’s important to realize that moral theology doesn’t use “disordered” as we might when describing a mental disease. It’s more along the lines of putting a penny in a fuse (if you are old enough to get the reference), or what happens when you use a flat head screwdriver that is also too small on a Phillips-head screw.

Since the human spirit is made to follow God’s will – and yet we do not – we are disordered. Disorder is a sign of the fall. To find in one’s life is disordered is to admit that one is human – no less than any other. Given what we know about the human propensity to sin, as my friend said, even ketchup packets are a sign of the Fall. All of Creation groans under the situation caused by our fall: man was intended to be the crown of creation, the Primus below God. That we have fallen from grace disorders all things.

The Jesus Psalter, a 16th Century English Catholic devotion closes with two prayers referring to the disorder of our dance: Jesus, grant me grace to set my mind on thee; and, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to thee. Both of these points (our minds and our lives) are to be ordered – focused, line up behind, pointing at Jesus. When we say something is disordered we mean its pointing the wrong way. That “wrong way” may only be a fraction of a degree off course, but in the distance of Eternity, that fraction grows until we miss the mark. Please note: disorder, itself, is not missing the mark. We miss the mark when we deny the disorder, when we treat SNAFU as “right”.

Imagine that you have a square peg – and you have to fit it in the proverbial round hole. Imagine you spend your whole life shoving and pounding, chipping off corners, trying to stretch the hole, all in vain. In the end, you give up: you settle down, the hole unpegged, the peg without a home. What if someone came by and said, “I have a square hole over here…” It would finally feel as though you’d found a home. You’ve finally connected. Only connect, as E.M. Forster sys in Maurice, it’s the solution to the isolation that cuts us off.

In talking about human sexual expression, “disordered” as category applies to everything outside of the procreative act within sacramental marriage. Anything else is using tools given by God in ways not intended. The Church’s tradition, beginning in scripture and unfolding in the lives of the saints, is pretty clear about this. There are degrees of departure from plumb, but all such – even by half a degree – proceed from a fall and miss the mark entirely.

My friend asked me how I – a Catholic man who experiences sexual attraction to other men – felt about that label “disordered”. I did not think twice before I said, “Liberating!”

All of our modern world is about catering to our whims, our desires. Everything we do is “because we want too/feel the need to/crave…” It’s bloody exhausting! To “follow my bliss” when what I want to bliss out on changes from moment to moment is like trying to navigate with a compass through a maze made out of magnets. We are told that we must consume, that we must get our just desserts, that we deserve more than we have, that when we die we should leave a proper viking horde of stuff and experience behind to prove that we were here at all: when the sex and the shopping stops, we’re dead.

Worse, we become so involved in this that we don’t even notice when we continue the pattern in strange parts of our lives. Amazon – mistress of all the vices – feels better than therapy. Online dating is only a 70s Singles Bar or Bathhouse that needs no brick and mortar expenses. Church shopping and parish hopping is just the Tinder or Growlr app, but with God. We choose our name, religion, job, residence, friends, medications, and whatever all based on only our drives and tastes; only in hindsight do we realize that “drive” and “taste” are more matters of “peer pressure” and “marketing”. “My” taste is not personal to me. I can walk out of the house in purple sneakers and yellow socks firm in the knowledge that there’s probably another 100k or so people dressed exactly the same way within 500 miles.

Disorder is a way out! To realize that this not at all how it has to be, or even how it’s supposed to be; to realize that this chaos is not what is intended, that this chaos is self-replicating, and only a re-ordering from outside will fix it is to be graciously liberated from the ever-spinning wheel of illusion.

Living a life fulfilling every desire, every whim, running away from every pain and every sorrow, is like trying to dig one’s way out of a pit: each fulfillment gives rise to more craving – even if only for a repeat performance. Mmmm that felt good. Do it again! Like my ride on the Mind Bender, we do it over and over until all the chemicals in our brain burn out. Then we just keep going on some autopilot function. Our cravings have turned into an addiction, our lives into empty recreations of patterns we claim to enjoy. But we are not free: we are enslaved to our reasons, our cravings.

No! You don’t have to fulfill that whim, that craving, that lust! Let it go: if you hold on it will only take you further and further off course. Simply: Let. It. Go.

Disorder, as self-realization, is discovering the square hole for the square peg. It’s realizing that one is human: not special, but average; not unique but a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve. There is nothing unique or special about your desires: they are shared by millions of others in history. There are only differences of response. Desires, as such, are only a sign of being part of our fallen humanity. They are not needs to fulfill, but rather comments on or signs of our human weakness. A disorder – experienced as an action or only as desire – is a sign that we need God. Knowing it is a disorder, something that needs to be reordered, to be fixed, turns it into an on-going opportunity for grace to be poured in. And the Church is both the fountain from which grace is poured and the vessel that contains us as we are filled with that gift.

In riding the Mind Bender, I not only got bored, I also kinda ended my fear-love relationship with Roller Coasters. I don’t really like the adrenalin rush that one gets. It’s not at all heathy to trigger one’s own fear mechanism. I feel the same way about horror movies too. Like, I have only so many “Endo-Dolphins” as a friend’s daughter once called them. I don’t want to waste them by crying wolf too many times. Using the endorphins this way – a hit of adrenalin, a rush of fear – is disordered in a minor way, just has a hit of lush, a rush of sweaty fun – is disordered in a major way. But we live in a society that says “fulfill it!” at every turn. That’s not what we are here for. In fact, we’re here for the opposite. And when you grow tired of jamming the square peg into all the wrong holes, you can finally settle down and let the proper ordering of things take over. The Church is the school that not only teaches that solution, but resolves the conflict, and heals the resultant pains.

Recognizing the Disorder and yielding to grace are, in fact, the first three of the 12 steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over Fill In the Blank —that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 

St Paul says, in Galatians, “Christo confixus sum cruci. Vivo autem, jam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus.” With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. Our cravings produce a false sense of need and that need/craving produces a false self. This is not me. I am not my cravings. I am not personified by my temptations. We crucify our fallen self, as Jesus gave himself up for us so that we can finally live – yet not us, but Christ living in us. Grace (which is God’s energy, God’s presence in our lives) orders our life to Christ. We can only get there when we see everything is not good as it is. We are liberated by seeing the disordered lives we lead, the disordered world in which we live for exactly what it all is: Disordered.

The Rosary: Pentecost

The Mystery of Pentecost, the Out-Pouring of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles and all of Creation, is the beginning of the fruits of Christ’s actions among us. The Holy Ghost makes all of us divine if we will but let Him into our lives and reform, reshape, heal, cleanse, make whole what is shattered, make up what is lost, and in our weakness to fill us with strength.

This is my own parish’s feast day and why I answer anyone asking “What should we pray for?” with “Revival”. This is what my parish should be doing: holding the heavenly doors open for the continued outpouring of the Holy Ghost on us, on San Francisco, and on the world around us. But it is also what all of us should be doing as Christians.  As we are the Body of Christ and as Christ prays for the Father to send the Spirit so should we be likewise doing.  Not for some sort of Benny Hinnesque back-falling of moaning with our mouths flecked with foam.

But for salvation. Peace. Joy. Holiness. Love.  Against these the only thing standing is our refusal to pray.

The embolism I use is “sending us the Holy Ghost from his father.

The texts I’ve woven in below come from the Vespers and Matins for Pentecost.

The Third Glorious Mystery:
The Coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost

LET us Contemplate in this Mystery, how Our Lord Jesus Christ, being seated on the right hand of God, sent, as He had promised, the Holy Ghost upon His Apostles, who, after He was ascended, returning to Jerusalem, continued in prayer and supplication with the blessed Virgin Mary, expecting the performance of His promise.

Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen

Marvelous things have all the nations seen this day in the City of David, when the Holy Ghost came down in tongues of fire, as Luke, God’s mouthpiece, declared, saying: When Christ’s Disciples were assembled, there came a sound as of a mighty wind, filling the whole house where they were sitting; and all began to speak with strange words, new doctrines, wondrous teachings of the holy Trinity.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Holy Ghost always was, and is, and ever will be, with neither beginning nor end, but always together with the Father and the Son; life and giver of life; light and bestower of light; goodness itself and source of goodness; through whom the Father is known and the Son glorified and by all is known, one power, one order, one worship of the holy Trinity.
Hail, Mary, &c.

The Holy Ghost is light and life a living and spiritual fountain to all. Spirit of wisdom, Spirit of understanding; good, right, spiritual, ruling all, and cleansing faults. God who makest us Divine; fire from fire, speaking, working, distributing the gifts of grace; through whom all the prophets and Apostles of God with the Martyrs have been crowned. Strange tidings, wondrous sight: fire divided in the distribution of gifts.
Hail, Mary, &c.

In sending down thy Spirit, Lord, to the Apostles as they were sitting, then the children of the Hebrews saw it and were beside themselves with amazement; for they were hearing them speaking in other, strange tongues, as the Holy Ghost gave utterance; for though simple, they were made wise; and having caught the nations in thy net, the Apostles preached things divine. We also cry out to thee in joy: Thou hast appeared on earth saving us; Glory to thee, O Lord!
Hail, Mary, &c.

Once tongues were darkened because of the presumption of building the tower; but now tongues are enlightened through the glory of the knowledge of God. There God condemned the impious for their offence; here Christ has enlightened the fishermen with the Holy Ghost. Then discord was wrought as punishment; now concord is renewed for the salvation of our souls.
Hail, Mary, &c.

Blessed art thou, Christ our God, who hast revealed the fishermen to be most wise by sending down to them the Holy Ghost, and through them thou hast drawn the world in thy net: Lover of mankind, glory to thee!
Hail, Mary, &c.

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, he parted the nations; when he divided out the tongues of fire, he called all to unity, and with one voice we glorify the All-holy Spirit.
Hail, Mary, &c.

The Holy Ghost gives all things: making prophecies flow, perfecting priests, teaching the unlettered wisdom, revealing the fishermen to be theologians, welding together the whole body of the Church. Consubstantial and equal in majesty with the Father and the Son, our Advocate, glory to thee!
Hail, Mary, &c.

We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, who hast saved us.
Hail, Mary, &c.

O Heavenly King, the Comforter and Spirit of Truth! Who art everywhere present and fillest all things. Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One!
Hail, Mary, &c.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

O SACRED Virgin, Tabernacle of the Holy Ghost ! we beseech you obtain, by yours intercession, that this most sweet Comforter, whom your beloved Son sent down upon His Apostles, filling them thereby with spiritual joy, may teach us in this world the true way of salvation, and make us to walk in the path of virtue and good works. Amen.

Carnem et Sanguinem (Reponse Series, Part 4)

Pop culture of late has become enamoured with indicating disasters via portameaus: Stormageddon. Snowpocalypse. Sharknado. Despite the number of conservatives in my social media, and the number of hipsters – and conservative hipsters – no one has yet come up with a word for the recent Supreme Court marriage decision. I have been waiting with a certain amount of apprehension for the label or hashtag that should be the title of this post.  Perhaps it is a measure of the seriousness of the topic that as yet no one has come up with a slightly tongue-in-cheek parallel to natural or man made disasters. It may rather be that no one has yet fully processed their feelings enough to make fun of the event.

The most common first reaction I heard was one of several variations on an alliterative phrase with two initial Fs as an opening to a vulgar commentary on “the Gay Agenda”.  There were notes posted about a bait-and-switch when discussions of polygamy and polyamory made it into various think-pieces.

To engage this in a theological way we have to dig into the metacontent of our Christians comments: it is exactly the same content as the “No H8” campaign in California. It assumes that anyone who disagrees with me is a “hater”.  It does not allow us to imagine the people on the other side are people of good faith attempting to do exactly what they claim. They are not defending an article of religious faith nor are they creating a safe space where their non-traditional families will be allowed visiting rights at one’s deathbed.  They are “phobes” or “haters” of all that is good and true.  I’ve tried to point out in previous essays that the Christian revelation as regards the proper place of man, woman, and sex and marriage is not self-evident. In fact it is quite the reverse in today’s world. “The Gays” are not, properly, hating on Christianity if they don’t know what it is. Likewise, I wish every defender of traditional marriage would sign up to work on next year’s Gay Pride Parade in their location or to volunteer at the local gay community center: a period of such work would do away with any concept of “the Gay Agenda”.  To believe in such you have to imagine there is a sort of Gay Illuminati that even the local gays and the HRC don’t know about.

As Christians we cannot afford the luxury of enemies. There are, certainly, many people who classify themselves as enemies of the Faith, of the Church, of Christ. There are those who call themselves enemies of more abstract concepts: God, faith, and believers. No matter what they call themselves neither individual Christians “on the street” nor the Church herself can ever afford to see these self-titled enemies as anything other than the one sheep lost in the mountains, the one coin lost in the darkness of the house. As each one of us is a sinner in need of salvation, so are each of them: icons of God may reject him and us but are loved by him all the more. So they must be loved by us all the more. If any one of them are lost at the last day may God have mercy and not require their souls of us for any failure of charity on our part.

We cannot forget this crucial point: Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae, in caelestibus. (Eph VIxii)

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Our enemies, indeed the enemies of all who in good faith seek the Truth, no matter how mistaken they are in their journey, are the common enemies of all God’s creation: the demons. This, too, is revelation.  Almost no one believes in demons (to their own peril) but Orthodox Christianity is quite clear: they are the source of our temptations, and that includes the temptation to anger and hate as much as to lust. Someone may be engaged in sin or its promotion but that does not make them our enemies. Their sins, their promotion of sin are only signs that our enemies – and theirs – have been hard at work. The sinner, himself, is not our enemy, no matter how hard he swears he is so.  Rather than hate – rightly reserved for the demons and my own sins – any sinner, weeping at the Church door, desecrating her from the inside, or shooting at her members deserves my pity, my love, my blessing, and my prayers.

If you are deluded by the demons into attacking the truth and I am deluded by the demons into attacking you, we are both lost: for you have attacked God and I have attacked his living icon. Only the demons win and will laugh at us through eternity. Through prayer and love there is a chance that you, at least, can be saved. No matter how they treat us as the Church of Christ, no human being created in the image of God can ever be my enemy.  Else, I will forget to live the Gospel with them, they will not get the saving knowledge of God in Christ, and I too, am damned.

The “No H8” and “LoveWins” campaign will – probably forever – classify all who disagree as “H8ers”. Our Christian love must make it clear that this classification is a lie. When our faith is classified as hate, let our lives prove the truth of the Gospel. Let us dig deeply into the sacramental grace  of God’s love given us and pray for our enemies, let us love them, let us bless them, let us turn the other cheek. Let us work for the restoration of the icon of Christ in them. Let us also remember that when persecution of any kind falls on the Church it is because of our sins. Let us repent and ask God to take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh and lives more pure to better bear his love into the world.

Totally Unnatural Marriage (Response series, Part 3)

It is clear that the Church and the World mean different things by the word, “Marriage”.  These things have never been the same, although at times the Church has come dangerously close to accepting the definition used by the world. To wit: parents or society in general recognize that this couple has permission to have sex.

Think of this for a moment: Eucharist is a Sacrament, but it is a perfectly lovely meal as well: a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine. I’d like some cheese with it, but that’s another issue.  We take a perfectly normal meal, and make it a vehicle for grace and salvation.  A Eucharist is a meal, but not every meal is a Eucharist (despite the attempt so some liberal prots to water down the sacraments by turning everything into communion – butter on the “bread made holy” makes an interesting addition to “communion” at these events).  A Eucharist is a special type of meal.  It is a sacramental subset of dining: it has its own rules, its own etiquette. Imagine if the “High Sacramentalists” got so hung up in the meal quality of the Eucharist and decided to force the state to serve bread and wine to everyone, or outlaw Chicken and Waffles because they are not the right sort of meal.

Sociologically Marriage in the Church is a sacramental subset of “personal pairings” in the world.  We have our own rules, our own etiquette, our own understanding of what it is: two vastly different human beings merging, becoming one flesh, to further their own salvation and the salvation of those around them. Children are a part of this – but not required.  Sex is a part of this – but not required.  Christian marriage is a sign of “Christ and the Church”. The husband is head of the wife, the wife is to yield to her husband’s leadership in love and charity. The husband is supposed to sacrifice his life for his wife’s salvation – which sacrifice will become his salvation as well.  This marriage is supposed to be a Sacramental sign or icon of the Marriage of Christ to the Church (and thus all of Humanity, united to God in Christ).  The Church takes the feminine role to Christ as her husband, as mankind is made anew as God’s bride. We are not replicating cultural functions here: the Church is creating them in response to revelation; as she did in Eucharist. We did not have to invent bread and wine to have Eucharist, but rather we had to give them new functions, new meaning, new purpose.

But this is interior content: this is the Church revealing the sacramental face of  something the world thinks they understand.  As the Eucharist teaches us that eating is not about the consumption of life-sustaining nutrients but rather about human participation in God’s life-sustaining grace in all things, so also marriage shows us that sex and human relationships (with or without sex) are not ends in themselves, but rather are portals to deeper life in God.  No signed secular contract can be this thing.  No heretical wedding can be this thing.  No Hindu or Muslim rite can do this. No handfasting, no broom jumping, no justice of the peace can perform it or make it happen.  Like the Eucharist, like Baptism, Christian sacramental marriage can only happen one way.

But sometimes we have treated Sacramental marriage as a fiscal transaction: with the boy (or his family) paying  to receive permission to have sex with his new bride from her parents.  We’ve given in to the cultural, secular understanding. Sometimes we’ve treated Church marriage as a doorway to respectability and “adulthood”.  Especially in America, the churches have all bought in to these secular meanings. The churches allow their ministers to serve as state functionaries, and even allow that state marriages are “real” marriages needing only a “blessing” from the church to become Sacramental ones.

To allow for this we’ve come up with an odd idea: “Natural Law”.  This fiction allows us to imagine that Christian marriage is part of the natural order.

If it were, it would not be salvific at all. There is grace in the natural order, of course: but it is not saving grace: it is prevenient grace there to bring us to God.  The natural order can give us food, but it can’t give us Eucharist. It can give us bathing, but not baptism.  It can give us sex, but not Christian marriage.

What is part of natural law, of course: it takes sperm and and egg to make a baby.  It takes a man and a woman to pop out children.  If we insist that baby-making is the main function of marriage then we might be able to say Marriage is part of the “natural order”.  That’s not even the primary function!  Getting the daily requirement for carbs is not the purpose of the Eucharist. Getting washed up is not the main purpose of baptism. The main function of marriage – as with all sacraments – is the salvation of the participants.  This may include children, may not. It may include sex – it may not. It may include sleeping apart as “brother and sister” and praying a lot more – it may not.  Christian marriage is not to be evaluated by earthly standards of happiness: frequency of sex, satisfaction with partner’s skills, romance, shared wealth.  It’s something completely different. The content of Christian Marriage is revealed by God to our fallen world as a way out: or else our marriages are meaningless. We’re just taking worldly marriage and dressing it up with a cross and some cool ritual.  I know a lot of so-called churches do this.  Real, Christian Marriage has theological, moral, sacramental and mystical content.  it’s not done by reading the same words we use: it’s done by getting martyred at the altar. As eating is to Eucharist and washing to baptism so secular weddings to Christian marriage.

We cannot make the assumption that when we say “Marriage is one man and one woman” that any non Christian even knows what we’re talking about.  It’s not at all natural: watch primates and other animals. You’ll see many permutations. Watch human cultures around the world, again: many permutations. Our marriage is something else: the real purpose,certainly, the prelapsarian ideal, maybe (we have no idea what that would have been) but not natural.  Nature like us is fallen.  The Church is constantly trying to take the world out of itself, and Christians out of the world.

Regardless of how the world or legal system allow for marriage contracts,  we need to add the descriptors “Christian Sacramental” to “Marriage” any time we want to use the world to see that.  “Christian Sacramental Marriage is one man and one woman”.  CSM and SSM are different.  We are not talking about he difference between “traditional marriage” and something new.  We are talking about “What the world does” versus “What God has revealed to us about using the human process as part of our working out our salvation in fear and trembling.”

I know the heretics will yell out “All the sacraments of all God’s people” but I have no idea what god they worship or what sacraments they practice.  That’s their problem, not mine.  When the world decides it likes the heretics better than the Christians we will suffer for marriage the way our ancestors suffered for icons and for the sacramental faith itself.

Revealed Religion (Response Series, Part 2)

Christianity is a revealed religion.  This may or may not come as a surprise to my readers. Christianity is not contained in the text of the Bible in any way.  It is the other way around: the Bible is contained in Christianity. Bibles in Hotel Rooms are as effective as bumper stickers in  teaching the content of the Truth of Christianity.  Revelation is neither in reading, rites, or rules: God is in Relationship.  “God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us,” we sing at Matins.  His revelation to us is in love: as from a Creator to his creation, as from a Father to his children.  His love for us brings about the world, and all that is in it including us and our salvation.

Or else the world is dead matter and nothing has any meaning unless we make it up as we go along. These two competing worldviews are the only two that matter.  There are only versions of them on a spectrum.  
For a long time – since Constantine, if not before – our story seemed easy to grasp because the world view was shared.  You may not have worshiped our God, but matter wasn’t dead matter.  It was imbued with something. As our story became the dominant story in our culture, it was not even necessary to train folks: we just had to take what they already knew and “activate it”.  Take a passive Christianity and turn it into an active one.  This wasn’t always very easy: in fact, most of Christianity for most people was a passive. Most of the religious culture engaged in, for want of a better label, what we now call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. God was important for fixing things – sickness, the crops, the afterlife. We see this in religious artifacts from pagan cultures and from ours; prayers to fix things.  But if teachings on how to hear confession, east and west, are any evidence at all, the commandments got broken just as much.  
When I read things likes Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels or, when reading Jeeves and Wooster, I am amazed at how much church knowledge the writers can assume of their readers. Snippets of hymns, quotations from theBible, the Mass, or the Book of Common Prayer, all assume a huge cultural dictionary that was shared by everyone, even if they didn’t go to Church. There are hints of this even in earlier Doctor Who episodes. Back in the “golden age” of television, the 1950s and 60s, even the early 70s – everyone had Christmas specials.  No sitcom or variety show was without one, every radio show had one, many dramas did, too: some moment of sentimental softness even in hard cop and detective shows.  No explanation was needed.  Everyone, Christians or Nonchristian understood what was going on.  I particularly remember an Episode of the Brady Bunch, The Voice of Christmas, from 1969.  Carol was too sick to sing her Christmas Solo.
Now: think about that.  That means they go to Church and she’s a member of the choir. It’s not as if the pastor went out into the streets to find some random stranger who could sing.  This “blended” family with six kids goes to Church often enough for Mom to be in the choir  and get picked for a solo on Christmas.  I don’t know if their churchiness ever comes up again (I will be binge-watching the Brady Bunch as soon as I can).  But here it was, without apology.  And it wasn’t some silly, meaningless “love, hugs and white Christmas” song either: 
No explanations, just some good musical theology and lots of family hugs.  As far as I know the only “real” Church person in the show was Ann B. Davis, an Episcopalian who, at a later time, was the chauffeur for the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles.  
Would never happen today, of course: most of our “holiday” specials are warm fuzzy feel good things with no reason for the season – or, rather, where the “season”, devoid of content, is the reason for the warm fuzzies.  In fact, increasingly, the warm fuzzies are the content.   While a few folks will know “birth of Christ” in abstract and may (from Charlie Brown) understand shepherds, angels, and Wise Men, the idea of God, “who for us men and for our salvation” was “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary” is meaningless jargon from an “Organized Religion”.  Devoid of theology or even the ability to converse in theological terms it becomes very easy to mislead people with pseudo-theologies, pseudo-gospels, and even fake churches.  You know Christians stole Christmas from the Pagans. We might as well just worship the Solstice Sun, at least it’s real.
In that older culture we are used to not having to explain anything. Taking that route today, in our culture devoid of the content using our normal shorthand or even our internal jargon, can be dangerous. When we discuss “traditional marriage” and the “polarity of the sexes” as if everyone should clearly understand what we mean we are forgetting that we are in a fallen world, in a fallen nature, discussing things that while one time common, albeit week knowledge, were revelations.  The secular response to “marriage is a sacrament” is “well, in your religious cult it is”.  That people do not follow the Christian teaching on marriage should not surprise us if they are not Christians. That a democratic society allows such a change despite a vocal minority should also not surprise us: that’s how a democracy works. That we believe marriage to be a sacrament unaffected by gov’t laws is the surprise.
Fr Andrew Stephen Damick has a wonderful post over on Ancient Faith, Do we preach Orthodoxy… or Christ? He is not talking about our topic at all.  But he hits the point, I believe, solidly, when he says, 

[The Apostles] did not preach what might be termed “church life.” They preached Christ crucified and risen from the dead, that we should therefore repent and be baptized into Christ. That is their public proclamation of the Gospel, their kerygma. That is what is supposed to be preached. 

When the Lord gave the Great Commission, He gave four commands: 1) Go into all the world and 2) preach the Gospel to every creature, 3) baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and 4) teaching them to do all that He had commanded. 

These are not all the same thing. Preaching the Gospel is not the same as baptizing, nor is it the same as teaching all the Lord’s commandments. I saw one commenter want to call everything in the Church “the Gospel,” including relics. But that only works as a sort of metaphor, not as a precise action. Can you hand someone a relic and say, “There, I have preached the Gospel”? Or can you teach them about fasting and say, “There, I have preached the Gospel”?

It is not within the scope of this series of essays to fix this cultural vacuum. This one installment is only intended to point out this vacuum exists.  Telling people, “Ick, God said don’t do that!!” has three meaningless words, “God”, “said” and “don’t” which, filtered out, becomes “Ick. Do that?!?!?!?!” And it’s easy to see how that might be mis-heard as “hate”.  If you pass a “Defense of Marriage Amendment, can you  say “There, I have preached the Gospel”?  I don’t think so – not because of our “hate” or our “message is not relevant” but because all we’ve done is enforced a Christian morality without content.  We’ve opted to make it see as if we are the cultural majority by virtue of having the right laws on the books. We’re trying to bring back the day when Florence Henderson pretended to be a devout and church-going Christian without ever having to see her in Church or at prayer: because it makes us feel better to pretend to be in the cultural majority.
The Apostles did not wander into the Roman World and lobby the SPQR to pass laws forbidding idol worship, abortion or fornication until the entire empire was converting.  You have to preach the revelation before the implications of the revelation make sense.  You have to bring the worldly man into relationship with God before the readings, rites, and rules are of any use for his salvation. Imposed conversion by legislation (everyone acts Christian, no matter what their religion) is just us avoiding our duty to Teach the Good News.  We are damning a world to life without Christ (but we will feel comfortable in it because it’s homogeneous). It is a two-edged sword, however: within the Church, however, to our own people, we need to remember this vacuum also exists.  If we have marches for marriage without “marriage teach-ins” we deserve what we get.  Nature abhors a vacuum and when our kids (and our adults) leave the theological desert of the March for Marriage, nature will suck the unsupported teachings right out into the vacuum like a like an astronaut in a bad airlock.  
Next up: some theology.  I promise.  This discussion, again, is aimed internally.  How do we, among ourselves, teach the theology of marriage.

A Theological Response: Intro

The current moral panic over same sex marriage replaces what could be a great theological depth on the part of the supporters of traditional marriage. Their appeal is mostly to emotion: Who would even dare? (what one Orthodox priest in Chicago called the “Ick Factor”) Or else on emotional abstractions, What about the children? Both of these classes of objections are easily answered: the majority of people do not object in the first way any more and the second one leads to an infinite regress about childless couples and the elderly.  In other words the emotional objections lead to emotional responses.  Which ever emotion you support in this world is up to you: just don’t bring me down, man.

The problem, of course, is that the real, well-reasoned and deeply theological response is not a sound-bite. It’s more a book-length issue, hardly well-presented even in a long form essay, let alone a blog post.  It needs foot notes and or hyperlinks and theological training to understand and digest.  It also needs faith.

There is an Orthodox hymn from the Byzantine rite that says the Angels did not understand the Incarnation and the Resurrection was hidden from the soldiers guarding Our Lord’s tomb because “Both of these truths were from those who questioned them: but they are revealed to those who worship the mystery in faith.”

The correct Christian response to Same-Sex marriage is not emotional, nor is it a mere appeal to authority (God said it, so don’t do that!) In a fallen creation it does not do to appeal to history or nature, for both are filled with opposing examples. We must abandon the idea that our response is culturally relevant (it is not) but a response we must have: “A good reply for the faith that is in you”.

I do not mean that those who are spilling both digital and analogue ink over this topic have not, themselves, theological depth: but rather that they are not using it. The appeal to emotion and authority assume that either or both will be recognized as valuable. In that they are a shared value, they are preaching to the choir to stir up a moral panic. They are not strengthening their own arguments. They are not winning coverts (the primary goal of any Christian assay into the world) nor are they preparing any Christian for his final witness (the primary goal of any internal Christian education). These are the only two acceptable purposes of Christian writing: to present our case and to train our martyrs.  I have a few ideas about what “stirring up emotions” is for, which will come up later: but stirred emotions never get anyone saved.

I don’t think anyone writing ins support of SSM has engaged any depth either.  There is no writing from the Fathers or Saints that can be used to support SSM. Indeed, writers in support of Gay rights (including myself at points on my journey) have only had a semblance of depth whereby we take the clear words of scripture or the saints and show how they “really don’t mean what we’re doing now.”  “Culturally, Paul knew nothing of monogamous, loving, same-sex relationships” is 100% true, 100% beside the point, and about as deep as the dew on the lawn.

To that end, this is the first in a series of  blogposts attempting to lay out a theological response.  I suspect it will be meaningless to a majority of my friends and readers who support SSM, and, ultimately, it is not intended for them except as an attempt to lay out the Christian argument beyond “Cuz. God. Said. No.” This is intended for the two goals stated above: state our cases and to edify the faithful.

By way of outline, I hope to cover Salvation, Sex, and Marriage; there will be side excursions on individualism, nature, Caesaropapism, secular morality, and liturgy.  It may require several posts in each topic, but I hope to not over-tax my readers’ attention spans.

To make following along easier, these will all be tagged as “Theological Response.”