These rough and undisciplined thoughts begin in politics, touch on art, but ultimately, I hope, plead for thoughtful engagement on persuasion to a more beautiful way of living. They have been catalyzed by the dismaying outcomes of the political processes of this election year. But they have been a realization that has been dawning for some time. Though I am going to attempt to be as charitable as I can in their expression, I doubt I can utterly diminish the deep frustration and irritation I feel at the state of the conservative movement and, relatedly, traditional, or small-o orthodox, conservative Christianity.
To everything there is a season, and the 40 days of daily memorial prayers for my father has come to an end. We will continue to remember Dad in our daily prayers, as we commemorate the departed by name, but the prayers reserved to accompany the departed from this life into the next will now become less frequent. We will pray them again in a little over four and a half months, and then annually. We will commemorate Dad on the memorial Saturdays which occur periodically throughout the year. But this special period of forty days has come to an end.
As much as these prayers are a comfort to the bereaved, it is nonetheless a good thing for us to rest from these labors. And make no mistake, dying, and grieving too I am learning, is labor.
About a month ago, fellow Orthodox blogger and erstwhile podcaster, S-P wrote a post entitled Does God Have a Wonderful Plan for Your Life? wherein he takes on a rather common theme in the Christian milieu here in the U.S. My path is not dissimilar to his in some ways (though I think he’s slightly further along this mortal coil than am I, but not by much). I don’t think I have so much a response as a reaction. We’ll see if I can attain coherency.
When we are confronted with a reality grim, horrible, painful, our tendency is to avoid it, to pursue the hopeful, the possible, the therapeutic. Out of compassion, we do well to allow a little of that to those suffering, that the wrenching blow that has been suffered might be better absorbed. I will not decry those who wish to hold on to optimistic dreams. But let’s face it, last night’s election outcome is very bad news. It is hard not to be apocalyptic about it.
[Note: the following is an unspoken sermon, a sermon written but not preached, for my Grandfather’s funeral. It was Grandpa who gave me the opportunity to preach my first sermon, and so it seems fitting that on the occasion of his repose in the Lord, I compose a sermon in his honor.]
Twice in the ministry of Elisha, prophet of Israel, these words are spoken: “My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel.” The first occasion is when Elisha doggedly follows Elijah across the Jordan and sees Elijah translated alive into heaven in the fiery chariot and horses. Elisha is given a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah and begins his ministry. The second time is when the evil king, Jehoash (or Joash) of Israel goes to Elisha when Elisha is dying. Seeing Elisha dying, Joash cries out, “My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel.” Whatever we may say of these two occasions and the meaning of these words, we can at least say that both times they are uttered, the men who utter them are recognizing the end of a ministry, the gathering to his fathers of a man of God.
A bewildering array of semi-professionalized terminology awaits anyone who simply wants to know how to fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples. Formation. Paedagogy. Spiritual direction. Ascetical theology. This doesn’t even touch on methodology. Cell groups. Class rooms. Home studies. But one thing you can be sure that nearly all of these “programs” and “methods” will be chock full of: information. Information is reproducible (I won’t be so cynical as to say marketable, but there you are). One thing you will not find so much of is twelve men shuffling dusty through the Galilean countryside. That’s a problem.
The way we train and educate fellow Christians today says a lot about what we believe about the Incarnation.
When we think of the Apostle Paul we think of the missionary journeys, the evangelization of the Empire, writing the bulk of the New Testament, his martyric death, his ability to perform miracles. We think of the Damascus Road experience and how God accomplished such mighty works through him. His calling is truly momentous. Apart from his ministry, many of us, descendents of Europeans, may not ever have come to Christ. The effect of God’s grace on one man . . . it boggles the mind.
We forget, however, that his calling was a calling not simply to carry the name of Christ to Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. It was also a calling to suffer many things for the sake of the Name.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions, but I do find it a useful opportunity to reflect on the larger picture of my life, God’s will, and the needs and opportunities that present themselves to me–of course, insofar as I am able to discern them. Fully cognizant of James 4:13-15 and Proverbs 19:20-21, I take occasion to reflect on where and how I want to focus my energies. I usually set out some goals as to what I’d like to accomplish, but normally with a focused awareness on how the goals interconnect with one another and with the whole of my life and responsibilities. A sort of sanctified reflection on the stewardship of all that I’ve been given.
It has been popular within American religious circles in the past couple of decades (since, say, the Jesus Movement) to deny being religious but to affirm being spiritual. If one is religious one is “going through the motions,” is concerned with form over substance, isn’t really a Christian. If one is spiritual one has a “personal relationship” with Jesus, can worship in the forest as easily as in a church building, is a real Christian. Yes, religion has taken a beating. No one wants to own up to being religious. Best to be spiritual. The problem is this is a false dichotomy.
The Gospel story, told in Matthew 9, Mark 5 and Luke 8, is a familiar one. Jairus’ daughter is dying (Mark and Luke), or has died (Matthew), and Jairus seeks Jesus to heal his daughter. He is in a mortal hurry. He bids Jesus come that he might heal his daughter and save her from death. There is no time to waste. She may die at any moment.