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.

St Augustine not talking about America.

Only let the Republic remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us?

This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden.

Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him.

Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement.

If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed.

City of God, Book 2, Chapter 20

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.”

No Revolution, but a Revelation

American Media (Left and Right) is making much of the recent vote in Ireland to legally recognize same sex marriages.  Now, why they are making so much of it is worth a whole essay on conspiracy theories.  Yet let us take them at their word: the American Left and the American Right are all susprised.  This is because they have not done their homework on the Irish Republic, on Irish History or on the Catholic Church in Ireland and her place in the Irish Culture.

Here’s an outline: a preces, if you will. A full version would be worth a history book about Irish religion in the 20th Century.

1) The Catholic Church holds a near mythical place in the hearts of the Irish and the Diaspora.  This is very true.  But this mythical Irish Church has no resemblance at all to the Church in Ireland for any number of reasons:

  • It was the Pope who gave Ireland to the English Crown.
  • The hierarchy several times abandoned the Irish People and their aspirations for nationhood.
  • Despite the support of many parish clergy in their political aspirations,  the larger Church mostly ignored or even supressed – or reported – any “revolutionary activities”.
  • The presence of the Church Heirarchy in Irish Politics in the 20th Century was written into the Irish Constitution by a politician (Eamon de Valera) who knew that the myth of Wholy Catholic Ireland would need to be played up in order to keep the funding coming in from the Diaspora.
  • The Church in the Early 20th Century taught that the Irish should support the proto-Nazis in the Spanish revolution.  This was totally ignored, thank God.
  • What has not been ignored at all is how the Church treated Childen, unwed mothers and anyone else who departed from her cultural ideas of a “Catholic Nation”.
  • The Church’s inability to repent of the various issues around pæophilia has done even more to distance her from her people in the country.

2) All of the political parties in Ireland claim some sort of allegiance to Catholicism, but none of them live up to it.

  • Despite the image of “Catholic v Protestant” in Northern Ireland, which does wonders for funding from the diaspora, the Republican parties are all on the socialist left.  The images may be shamrocks and celtic crosses in the States, but in Ireland it’s fists and guns and Che.  
  • The only folks that believe in a Wholy Catholic Ireland in Ireland are a few folks in certain Protestant chapels in Belfast. They use it to scare people the same way the Republicans use it to market to their people.
  • Irish pols go to church about as often (and with as much intent) as American pols.
3) The Church knows all this.  In Ireland, the Church has been on a “let’s reconvert Ireland” kick for as long as I have been vacationing there.
  • While there are pockets of piety around the country and more people may go to church more often than in the States, on the ground coming to the US to get a divorce or going to England to get an abortion is not at all surprising.
4) When any of this gets pointed out the dispora gets up in arms. President Mary Robinson thought The Commitments was one of the best examples of Irish Culture to ever be exported.  American Irish throught it was vulgar and wanted to boycott it.  The Myth of Catholic Ireland is important to (for example) the Ancient Order of Hibernians who want to keep gays out of the St Patricks Day Parade.  The Gays have been marching in Dublin for nearly two decades.
When I was in Ireland just after gay activity was decriminalized in the Early 90s, one of the largest and most successful pubs in Dublin was a gay bar.  There were bathhouses, sex clubs, you name it.  They didn’t happen overnight though. Hold hands on the street, make out in the park across the street from Parliament in broad daylight: no one cared.  It was less Wholy Catholic Ireland than it was Thoroughly Modern Mill Ireland.  One gentleman caught me making out with my then-boy friend on a stoop as he walked by us in Rathmines.  In Irish, he called us “English” under his breath as he passed. We laughed.  He wouldn’t dare have called us anything else, it would not have been polite.

25 Years later, I’m not at all surprised by the recent vote.

I think those parties in the US and elsewhere who are beating the drums the loudest are either clueless, or else they have their own political axes to grind: I can imagine one important message might be “See, if the Gays can do this in a really religious country what might they do here where we are lukewarm?”  This might be important to either side of the marriage debate in our country: “Look what we can do in a backward religious country like that! We’re all modern here!” It is pure political propaganda, however.

This was less a klaxon than a confirmation.  

We Have Gained More Than Ever We Lost

A Homily for the Ascension from the works of Pope St Leo.

After the blessed and glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (wherein was raised up in three days that true Temple of God which had been destroyed by the impiety of Jewry), there came by God’s providential ordering a season of forty days, the annual commemoration of which endeth on this day. The original great forty days, dearly beloved, were spent by the Lord in profitable instruction for our benefit. On this wise, his bodily presence was still given to the earth during all these forty days, that our faith in his resurrection might be armed with all needful proofs. For the death of Christ had troubled the hearts of many of his disciples ; their thoughts were sad when they remembered his agony upon the cross, his giving up of the Ghost, and the burial in the grave of his lifeless body : and so a sort of hesitation had begun to weigh on them.

Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples who had been fearful concerning the death on the cross, and doubtful of the trustworthiness of the report of Christ’s resurrection, were so strengthened by the clear demonstration of the truth, that, when they saw the Lord going up into the heights of heaven, they sorrowed not ; nay, they were even filled with great joy. And, in all verity, it was a mighty and unspeakable cause of rejoicing for all the holy multitude of believers, when they perceived that the nature of mankind was thus exalted above all creatures, even the heavenly spirits, so as to pass above the ranks of the Angels, and be raised beyond the heights of the Archangels. For on this wise they perceived that no limit was set upon the uplifting of that nature short of the right hand of the Eternal Father, where it was to be Sharer of his throne, and Partaker of his glory ; and nevertheless it was still nothing more than that nature of man, which the Son hath taken upon him.

Therefore, dearly beloved, let us also rejoice with fitting joy. For the Ascension of Christ is exaltation for us. And whither the glory of the Head of the Church is passed in, thither is the hope of the body of the Church called on to follow. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy, and give God glad thanks. This day is not only the possession of paradise made sure unto us, but in Christ our Head we are actually entering into the heavenly mansions above. Through the inexpressible grace of Christ we have gained more than ever we lost by the envy of the devil. For those whom our venomous enemy cast down from the happiness of their first estate, those same hath the Son of God made to be of one body with himself, and hath given them a place at the right hand of the Father : with whom he liveth and reigneth, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Pope St Leo, Pray for us!

Moralistic Therapeutic Blindness

In their 2005 work, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,  sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton introduced the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the spirituality they found among those teenagers.  Most of the commentary I’ve read about the topic (hereinafter MTD) has included a lot of hand-wringing and asking where we (as adults and parents) went wrong.  There has been blame laid at the feet of educators and their “everyone is special” brand of tripe.  Oprah and her newage “spiritual but not religious” attitudes showing up in Starbucks take a good deal of the credit as well. I want to blame my Sunday School teacher in 1967.

My grandfather was really big into science: even at the age of three I was learning rudiments of geography and simple meteorology.  I knew about ice crystals and had taken a telescope with Grandpa out to a dark lake shore where we saw the Milky Way: not something you can see clearly at all any more in most places in the world.  I clearly remember making paper snowflakes in Sunday School, one morning before Christmas.  This was the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Gaines, GA, in 1967. I doubt it’s snowed in that part of the world since the last ice age. But as my neighbor finished his snowflake, I put my arm around him an said, “It can’t be a snowflake because snowflakes have 6 sides. ”  His was a special snowflake with 8 sides.  And he cried.  We were three.  But point of fact, I was right.  And the Sunday School teacher in 1967 told us that if he wanted to have a snowflake with 8 sides, he was allowed.  Later we sang “Jesus Loves Me, this I know.”

It’s a wonder I didn’t stop going to church right then and there.

A lot of people older than me (and I’m 50 now, so that teacher must be somewhere between 70 and death) were practicing MTD long before millennial teenagers ever happened or even before their parents ever were old enough to have sex.

I’ve struggled a lot lately for a number of reasons. Lent was especially hard as I would talk to my brothers and sisters at church or online, and I would hear what can only be called MTDoxy.  Now, this is not unexpected at all: most of the converts that I know were MTD folks in their other denominations.  What usually drove us away from those former places was a sense that “Something here is not right”.  I, at least, didn’t wake up one day with the idea that “I have been wrong all my life and now I must get right.”  Most converts I know – including me – started with “I’m right and this denomination is wrong and I have to find a church filled with right folks”.  One online writer referred to the American Orthodox Convert boomlet as just more Church Shopping, but now it was Boutique Church Shopping.  We’re just looking for home, and now we’ve found it (welcome home, we say to new converts). That writer used to annoy the stuffing out of me, but I see his point, increasingly, everywhere.

My way of reminder, the “basic doctrines” of MTD are:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

It is possible to attend an Orthodox Church every time the doors open and still come up with that. A member of a parish I attended apologized to me for letting his sons go into Boy Scouts as if the telling of that to me would not be offensive to me as a Christian.  A long time friend who has been Orthodox about 20 years longer than I wondered if she would be able to stay Orthodox after her very elderly priest died.  She suggested, “Well, I guess we can go back to the Episcopal Church”.  Other Orthodox folks out there are seeking to find more ways to include others with different, Gnostic ideas about their sex and sexual activity without the Church asking them uncomfortable questions about their sex or sexual activity.  But it’s not just “liberal” folks.  The ultra-conservative sorts are on the same bandwagon, it may surprise you to learn.  They may not feel that way about an individual’s sex and sexual activity, but ask them about divorce, or other things that laity shouldn’t care about: most people on line (again, including myself) have very strong opinions about it.  I was surprised to see a conservative Roman Catholic Blog post pictures of an Episcopal Priest who supports gay marriage but, at least, does liturgy right. I know a whole bunch of Convert Clergy – very conservative – who left one Jurisdiction because it was “becoming modernist” as if it had suddenly happened in the previous few months since their conversions.  It surprised them to learn that all the Ethnic Jurisdictions are, in one degree or another, riddled with MTDoxy.  But the desire to run away and find a “better” church was equally MTD.

This is not a slam against anything other than our own blindness.  I don’t want a crusade against MTD or MTDoxy. It’s today’s Gnosticism, and it’s out there in Jewish forms, Pagan forms, Buddhism, even Atheism all have their “Can’t we all just get along” crap where “What we believe” has nothing at all to do with what we’ve been given to believe and everything to do with how it makes me feel and how I can fix it if it makes me feel bad.  My point is it’s not the Millennial Generation that made this up.  There were special snowflakes at the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Gaines, GA, in 1967.

The question we need to ask is how do we avoid it now.

St Augustine’s Sermon for St Thomas Sunday.

The Feast of this day is the end of the paschal solemnity, and therefore it is today that the Newly-Baptized put off their white garments. But though they lay aside the outward mark of washing, namely, their white raiment, the inward mark of that washing remaineth in their souls unto eternity. Now are the days of the Passover, that is, of God’s Passing Over our iniquities with his pardon and remission. And therefore our first duty is to sanctify the mirth of these holy days, that our bodily recreation may be taken without defilement to our spiritual cleanness. Let us strive that our relaxation may be sober and our freedom holy, holding ourselves carefully aloof from anything like excess, drunkenness, or lechery. Let us try so to keep in our souls their Lenten cleansing, that if our fastingtime hath left us aught as yet unwon, we may still be able to seek it.

 My discourse concerneth all of you who have been committed to my spiritual charge. But I address myself in especial to you who are the Newly-Baptized. The first happy week of your sacramental life draweth this day to a close. Ye are the new olive-plants of holiness round about the Table of the Lord. To you, who but a little while ago were born again of water and the Holy Ghost, I would speak particularly ; to you, O holy generation ; to you, O new creation ; to you, the excellency of my dignity ; the fruit of my labour ; my brethren dearly beloved, and longed for ; my joy and my crown ; all ye who who now so stand fast in the Lord. To you I address the words of the Apostle ; Behold the night is far spent, the day is at hand. Cast off therefore the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day ; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying ; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have, saith Peter, a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day-Star arise in your hearts. Let your loins therefore be girded about, and your lights burning in your hands, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding. Behold, the days come, whereof the Lord saith : A little while, and ye shall not see me, and again little while and ye shall see me. Now is the hour whereof he said : Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice : that is to say, the world is this present life, wherein we walk as strangers and pilgrims, far away from him who is our Home. This present life is very full of trials, but (saith Jesus) I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.

Wedding Cakes and Religious Freedom

Do you refuse cakes to Jews, Hindus, and Muslims? Non-religious weddings? Do you only bake cakes for members of your tiny little sect, be it only 5 or almost 500 years old (such old)? Do you ask if your couples will engage in sex during Lent or other fasting times? Do you ask them if they will go to Church and raise their children to be Christian? Do you ask into the sexual practices of every couple that arrives at your door, denying cakes for those who use birth control, who engage in other sex acts beyond the procreative function? Historic Christianity forbids not only sexual activities not allowing for  procreation, but also forbids sex acts prior to marriage or outside of marriage all together. Thomas Aquinas says any sex outside of marriage is intrinsically disordered – the same language used for same-sex sexual activity. He does not allow that male-female sex is “natural” as compared to “unnatural” but rather even the desire to have such action is disordered – because that’s not why God gave us sex.


Or do you only deny cakes and flowers for the one or two gay people that might show up at your door having heard good things about you from friends who love them deeply enough to wish them well at their ceremonies?

I’ve never had any qualms at all about attending the weddings of people who do not practice my faith (or any faith).  If they are people I love, I love them.  Likewise I don’t need to wonder about their sex lives, no matter what their sexes.

That is all.

I know the Orthodox Church’s teaching regarding sex and marriage. I know her teachings on idolatry, rejection of icons, and heretical sects as well. I can pray that my friends find lives more in conformity with God’s will and I can be Orthodox and – remembering the Lenten prayer of St Ephrem – assume their salvation is between them and God; but with my own sinfulness they will get into heaven before I even see the light of judgement day, on which day I will be condemned for my real sins of thought, word, and deed in exactly the same way that I condemn others now for the sins I only imagine them to be committing.

Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.  In the meanwhile, I’ll thank you to claim your own religion and leave mine and the name of my Lord out of it.

On the other hand, Do you need a cake baked?  Call this sinner. And pray for him.

St Augustine on the Miracles of Jesus

The miracles wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ were verily divine works, and they stir up the mind of man to rise by a perception of what is seen by the eye unto an apprehension of God himself. For God is of such substance as eye cannot see, and the many miracles which he doth work in his continual rule of the whole universe, and in his providential care of everything which he hath made, are by use become so common that scarce anyone permitteth himself to perceive the same, as for example, what wondrous and amazing works of God there be in every grain of seed. Wherefore his mercy hath constrained him to keep some works to be done only at some convenient time, as it were, out of the common course and order of nature, to the intent that men may see them and wonder, not because they be greater, but because they be rarer, than those which they so lightly esteem by reason of their daily occurrence.
For to govern the whole universe is surely a greater miracle than to satisfy five thousand men with five loaves of bread. At the former works no man doth marvel, yet at the feeding of the five thousand, all men do marvel, not because it is a greater miracle than the other, but because it is a rarer one. For who is he that now feedeth the whole world? Is it not the same who, from a little grain that is sown, maketh the fulness of the harvest? God worketh in both cases in one and the same manner. He that of the sowing maketh to come the harvest, is the same that took in his hands the five barley loaves, and of them made bread to feed five thousand men. For the hands of Christ have power to do both the one and the other. He that multiplieth the grains of corn is the same that multiplied the loaves, save only that in this latter case he committed them not unto the earth whereof he is himself the Maker.
Therefore this miracle is done outwardly before us, that our souls inwardly may thereby be quickened. The same is shewn to our eyes to furnish food for thought. Thus by means of those of his works which are seen, we may come to feel awe toward him that cannot be seen. Perchance we may thereby be roused up to believe, and if we attain unto belief, we shall be purified to such good purpose that we shall begin to long to see him. Wherefore, in such wise, through the things which are seen, we may come to know him that cannot be seen. Yet it sufficeth not if we perceive only this one meaning in Christ’s miracles. Rather let us ask of the miracles themselves what they have to tell us concerning Christ ; for in all truth they speak with a tongue of their own, if only we have good will to understand the same. For Christ is the Word of God, and each and every work of the Word speaketh a word unto us.