Tin Cans with Nothing Inside

tin-cansPeople often struggle with the question of  “how do we know God?”

Last summer one of my classmates for the training at one of my old jobs asked me about my degree. When we did our introductions my partner mentioned that I hold a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership. He told me how he was not of faith, but was an agnostic and that he really can’t know. He asked me a few questions about Orthodoxy and told me how his grandmother tried to scare him to Christ by preaching about hell to him. I told him we Orthodox would never preach what I call “Escapist Theology” (for me this means two things: those who believe in rapture and/or those who preach get-out-of-hell-free sermons). I have since heard him remark several times to others in the class about his agnosticism and what not.

Later in that same of week, I also watched a video with Fr. Hans Jacobse debating an atheist where the atheist asked about how we determine truth and what is real, etc. Yet another case of “how do we know?” being asked.

At the time, I had began reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“, which journals his travels and time spent with Father Maximos, a monk and spiritual elder from Mt. Athos who mentors Kyriacos on his journey from being a materialist atheist to being open to spirituality and faith as he explores many traditions.

It was at this point that I was beginning to hear a lot about how do we know God. This prompted much though in my life, so I thought I’d write about it. How do we know God? How do we observe reality? In the book, Kyriacos mentioned a criteria for this that a fellow professor had made known to him. The three ways we know reality is:

  1. The Eye of the Senses (empirical, science)
  2. The Eye of Reason (Philosophy, logic, math, [I also add theology])
  3. The Eye of Contemplation (systematic and disciplined spiritual practice to open upthe intuitive and spiritual faculties of the self)

Kyriacos says, “These are the three different and unique order of reality with their own legitimate and distinct domains, laws, and characteristics that cannot be reduced into one another.”

Now, let’s skip ahead to a conversation Kyriacos has with Father Maximos about this very subject of knowing. Father Maximos remarks at one point, “God,  you see, loves to be investigated by humans.” What Father meant by this is that God wants to be searched for and found. He does not expect us to commit to fideism. Kyriacos follows up that statement by asking, “…If God indeed urges us to be inquisitive, how are we then supposed to conduct our research? Are we to turn to science, to philosophy, or to theology as our starting point” (page 42)?

Father Maximos makes a point about how if we want to study things like the stars then we use a telescope. He says, “Everything must be explored through a method appropriate to the subject under investigation. If we, therefore, wish to explore and get to know God, it would be a gross error to do so through our senses or with telescopes, seeking Him out in outer space. That would be utterly naive, don’t you think?” He goes on, “It would be equally foolish and naive to seek God with our logic and intellect” (page 43).

In his book, “The Sickness Unto Death”, existential philosopher Soren Kiekegaard writes, “”Is it such great merit or is it not rather insolence or thoughtlessness to want to comprehend that which does not want to be comprehended?” This is what Father Maximos means by our logic and reason being lacking means to explore God. How do we, finite human, with our finite logic and reason explore that Other that lies outside the bounds of our logic and reason? It is quite absurd to think these are means to explore God on their own.

Father Maximos still firmly believes that we are to study God and come to know him, but it was Kyriacos’ question of how that carries the conversation forward between them. Father answers that with, “Christ Himself revealed to us the method. He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with Him, become one with Him. And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts” (page 43).

Our existential foundation, according to the Holy Elders, is indeed our hearts. Mind you, our hearts are the center of our being, the place where our personhood lies. It is the “center of our psychonoetic powers, the center of our beingness, of our personhood. It is therefore through the heart that God reveals Himself to humanity” (page 43). Those who wish to know God, to see Him, to live in communion with Him, cannot do it through logic, theology, reason, science, or by reading Plato and the philosophers. Father Maximos says, “It is only the cleanliness and purity of the heart that can lead to the contemplation and vision of God. This is the meaning of Christ’s Beatitude, ‘Blessed be the pure at heart for they shall see God’” (page 44).

Father goes on to elaborate on how if we wish to investigate and explore God that we must emply the proper method of investigation, which is none other than the Eye of Contemplation and the purifying of one’s heart from the egotistical passions that plague us. He even goes as far as to say that if those who manage to do this, truly do it, and do not see God then they are justified in becoming atheist.

Father Maximos points out that the philosophical quest for God is one that is off. It is only through the existential experiential vision of God that we come to know Him and love Him. Theology, philosophy, the senses, etc. can all point towards God, but they cannot give you God. God cannot be contained to these finite things we have created with our minds. As Father says we must “transcend the IDEA of God and enter into the EXPERIENCE of God” (page 45). He goes on to say, “As long as we do not know God experientially then we should at least realize that we are simply ideological believers…The ideal and ultimate form of true faith means having direct experience of God as a living reality” (page 45).

Father Maximos goes on to speak of the Creed and how the Christian mystical tradition is tied very much to the Creed for it speaks of a living God, of Reality.

I could go on with the conversation with these two men and the spiritual wisdom of the young Father Maximos, but I want to share one last part of what he said:

True faith means I live with God, I am one with God. I have come to know God and therefore I know that He truly Is. God lives inside me and is victorious over death and I move forward with God. The entire methodology of the authentic Christian mystical tradition as articulated by the saints is to reach that state where we become conscious of the reality of God within ourselves. Until we reach that point we simply remain stranded with the domain of ideas and not within the essence of Christian spirituality which is the direct communion with God” (page 45).

I am a huge fan of theology, of the life of the mind. I do not think the Eye of Contemplation is at all a disrespect to the life of the mind. After all, Christ told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Eye of Contemplation incorporates the asceticismthat is needed in order to kill the egotistical passions. This truth of the Christian mystical tradition of the East does not kill, neglect, or cancel out the other two Eyes. It simply means that those two cannot bring about the experience of God. They can suggest it, recommend it, or show it, but they are not a direct participation in God. Those disciplines of the mind cannot bring us into the heart, which is where our selves lie. Our true selves. I find the most beautiful thing I have read thus far on the joys of living in the heart come from Father Meletios Webber in his book “Bread & Water; Wine & Oil”:


The heart is quiet rather than noisy, intuitive rather than deductive, lives entirely in the present, and is, at every moment, accepting of the reality God gives in that moment. Moreover, the heart does not seek to distance or dominate anything or anyone by labeling. Rather, it begins with an awareness of its relationship with the rest of creation (and everything and everyone in it), accepting rather than rejecting, finding similarity rather than alienation and likeness rather than difference. It knows no fear, experiences no desire, and never finds the need to defend or justify itself. Unlike the mind, the heart never seeks to impose itself. It is patient and undemanding. Little wonder, then, that the mind, always impatient and very demanding, manages to dominate it so thoroughly.”

The Eye of Contemplation brings us to the place of which Father Maximos and Father Meletios speak. It is in our hearts where we live in communion with God and find the grace of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He brings. The only method of exploring God is to experience God. The only way to experience God is to live in the heart through contemplation and asceticism and participation with His Church and Her Divine Mysteries, which He has given as tangible means of Grace. The knowledge of God resides nowhere else.

Father Maximos said, “We lost the knowledge of God…at the moment when we transformed the Eccelsia from experience into theology, from a living reality into moralistic principles, good values, and high ideals. When that happened…we became like tin cans with nothing inside” (page 55).

I am convicted that I more than anyone else have felt the impact of those words. I more than anyone else have been living a life like that of a tin can with nothing inside. It is now, through the asceticism of the Orthodox Faith, that I’m learning I have only experience God in very small ways due to my insistence on theology, philosophy, and reason. What good is a tool-less Christianity that does not provide one with the means to know and love God and live in Him?

These tools of asceticism I am discovering and the need to experience God and to know Him in my heart by the Eye of Contemplation are the beginning of a life lived like a can being filled to the brim with life until it overflows abundantly with the knowledge of God and His love and grace.

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Millennials Need Worship that’s Been Around for Millennia

DSC01969Thom Rainer, the current CEO of the Southern Baptist LifeWay story chain, recently wrote about what type of worship the so-called “Millennials” like. He defines a Millennial as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, essentially those who grew up watching the rise of the internet and technology, or the pre-9/11 generation. The entire article is very much worth the read and I believe he is accurate. All of it is summarized by one statement toward the end:

And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

In other words, what young people want is a real worship experience, something that really strikes at the heart. The above statement is really unpacked earlier in the article, where Rainer states,

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.
  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.
  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Again, I don’t think Rainer is wrong in his assessment of what young people are looking for in worship. A lot of us Millennials were raised in very superficial environments; the message we received in music was so filtered and pacified that any deep message was quickly lost. When we first sang the stanza, “This is the air I breathe” we might have felt something, but ultimately it became another motion, a temporary fix on our search for the ultimate high. Worship in the 90s really came across as one emotional experience leading to another. Somehow that experience turned into a genre and in the 2000s we were pummeled with numerous “worship bands.”

Yet, we live in a very cynical and Nietzschean society. Everything is doubted, everything seems to have an illicit motive behind it. We view worship bands as simply trying to get one over on Christians and make a buck, or use their popularity to slingshot themselves into “secular” stardom. The preacher doesn’t really care about people coming to Christ so much as he cares about increasing revenue. Justified or not, these are stereotypes that exist among young people when viewing the church. What it means, however, is that we are perpetually suspicious of reality, always looking for the man behind the curtain; we want the authentic, but are often too cynical to appreciate authenticity when encountered. In a way, our experiences of the past shape our expectations of the present and our dismal hope for the future. Thom Rainer certainly has his finger on the pulse of the problem and I do believe he has found the proper solution…kind of.  Continue reading

Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the Future?

liturgy (1)Feelings-based, emotionally driven, stage centered “milk” has run its course. Which is a good thing! Some have noted about the intellectual pursuit the following stories have.  I see nothing wrong with the intellectual appeal to brings us to Orthodoxy. The life of the mind is great thing, and Orthodoxy has much to offer it! Orthodoxy is deeply intellectual, deeply spiritual, deeply ascetical. Some are attracted through the other paths, but as Westerners it is easy and most common for the intellectual to be a big draw. Of course if Orthodoxy is just another ideology we have adopted, and it doesn’t take root in the heart then we have a problem. It is both/and. Mind AND heart! Jesus said, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Nothing wrong with the intellectual approach nor the purely ascetical. We all come to Orthodoxy, but not on the same path.

Read and share how many Millennials are seeking after liturgy and spiritually edifying worship with symbolism and meaning. It is my sincere hope and prayer that this is a sincere move in the right direction for non-Orthodox Christians and not another fad. This could be a move towards healing schism. It is my prayer that many will unite to the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is the Orthodox Church. Don’t stop at Canterbury and Rome just to stay, but come home oh weary traveler, come home! Cheers!

Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the Future?

By Gracy Olmstead

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.

For Bart Gingerich, a fellow with the Institute on Religion and Democracy and a student at Reformed Episcopal Seminary, becoming Anglican was an intellectual journey steeped in the thought of ancient church fathers. He spent the first 15 years of his life in the United Methodist Church, where he felt he was taught a “Precious Moments” version of Christianity: watered down, polite, and unreal. His family joined a nondenominational evangelical church when Gingerich was 16. Some of the youth he met were serious about their faith, but others were apathetic, and many ended up leaving the church later on.

While attending Patrick Henry College in Virginia, Gingerich joined a reformed Baptist church in the nearby town of Guilford. Gingerich read St. Augustine and connected strongly with his thought—in class from Monday to Friday, Gingerich found himself arguing for ideas that clashed with his method of worship on Sunday. Protestantism began troubling him on a philosophical level. Could he really believe that the church “didn’t start getting it right” till the Reformation?

The final straw came when a chapel speaker at the college explained the beauty of the Eucharist in the Anglican service. Gingerich knew this was what he was looking for. Soon after, he joined the Anglican Church.

For high-school English teacher Jesse Cone, joining the Orthodox Church fulfilled a deep yearning for community and sacramental reality. Cone grew up in the Presbyterian Church of America, heavily involved in youth group and church activities. While attending Biola University, an evangelical school in southern California, Cone returned home over the summers to help lead youth-group activities. He was hired as a youth pastor and “even preached a sermon.” But at Biola, Cone struggled to find a home church. There were many megachurches in the area that didn’t have the “organic, everyday substance” Cone was seeking.

He began attending an Anglican service, drawn to its traditional doctrine. He was a “perpetual visitor” over the next few years. A Bible study on the Gospel of John pushed him further towards the high church. Reading through the book with a group of friends, Cone began to notice the “conversational and sacramental” way Jesus related to people. “There’s a lot of bread, and wine, and water,” he says. From Jesus’s first miracle—turning water into wine—to telling his disciples “I am the True Vine,” the mundane, communal ways in which in which Jesus connected with people “confirmed in me a sense of sacramentalism—that everyday aspects of life are important, in a way the modern mindset doesn’t share,” Cone says. “I started looking at the world with more sacramental eyes.”

Cone became engaged to a woman who was also raised Presbyterian. In the weeks leading up to their marriage, they sought a church together, but none seemed to fit. Fundamental questions lingering in Cone’s mind—about church history, the importance of doctrine and dogma, what it means to live a full Christian life—came to a head. He told his wife, “I don’t think I’m comfortable being Orthodox, but I want to at least see one of their services, see what it’s like out there.” The next Sunday, they decided to attend an Orthodox Church with another young couple. By the end of the service, Cone says, “We were just blown away. Just blown away.” The worship, doctrine, and tradition were exactly what they had been looking for. “We were shell-shocked. And we haven’t stopped going since.”

PLEASE READ THE REST HERE! 

Why Switchfoot Won’t Sing Christian Songs

A great piece on something important:

Why Switchfoot Won’t Sing Christian Songs

Lead singer Jon Foreman was asked if Switchfoot is a “Christian” band. His response is worth pondering.

Switchfoot is going secular. Sort of.

Switchfoot is going secular. Sort of.

“To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.

The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.

Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music.

None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.

I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.

We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.”

Foreman mentions the Christian “box” that many people want to stay in, and put others in. I agree with Foreman that this box is particularly limiting when it comes to art. So go out and create something – something beautiful, something wonderful – and do it to the glory of God.

__________

Originally posted by Dave Browning, @bigdaverino, as the dMail ”Band.”

 

GOOD THOUGHTS FROM GUNGOR ON THIS ISSUE! 

10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn

reasons-not-watch-porn-63510 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn

By Scott Christian

With the ubiquity and easy access of porn these days, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are beginning to study the effects of it on our sex lives. According to a website called projectknow.com, 420 million web pages are dedicated to porn, meaning the non-porn Internet roughly consists of..well, Wikipedia. Scientists at Cambridge University recently studied the brain scans of porn addicts and found that they looked exactly like those of drug addicts. With such an inexhaustible supply of porn at our disposal, there is a growing concern that it is beginning to effect our brains, our relationships, and even our bodies (beyond, of course, your mother’s idle threats of blindness and hairy palms). A recent survey of a Reddit community called NoFap, which is committed to abstaining from porn and masturbation, has helped researchers open the door to a better understanding of the effects of pornography on our lives. While none of the results are conclusive, there are certainly some statistics that should give a moment’s pause. Here are some of the highlights of why it may be a good idea to stick to Netflix next time you open up your laptop:

1. For those addicted to porn, arousal actually declined with the same mate, while those who regularly found different mates were able to continual their arousal. It’s known as the Coolidge Effect, or novelty-seeking behavior. Porn, after all, trains the viewer to expect constant newness.

2. One in five people who regularly watch porn admitted to feeling controlled by their own sexual desires.

3. 12 percent of NoFappers report watching 5 or more hours of Internet porn every week. 59 percent report watching between 4 and 15(!!) hours of porn every week.

4. Almost 50 percent of those on NoFap have never had sex in their lives, meaning their only experience with intimacy is purely digital.

5. 42 percent of male college students report visiting porn sites regularly.

Read More http://www.gq.com/blogs/the-feed/2013/11/10-reasons-why-you-should-quit-watching-porn.html#ixzz2mFzsktUy

The First Step to Ministering to My Generation: Millennials Like Batman, Not Superman

jesusA great post on Millennials from my friend Carson Clark over at “Musings of a Hardlining Moderate”! Read and share 🙂

The First Step to Ministering to My Generation: Millennials Like Batman, Not Superman

By Carson Clark

The last month quite a few people have been picking my brain about how to effectively minister to my peers, the Millennial generation.  The first thing I often say is, “Millennials don’t like Superman. Not like their parents and grandparents, anyway. They like Batman.” Once the puzzled looks set in I clarify, “You won’t understand my generation and won’t effectively minister to them until you truly grasp that, and understand why that is.” I’ll unpack that in four ways.

First, Millennials on the whole aren’t a big fan of things that are campy. Thus the dark tone of the acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy, the commercial failure of Superman Returns, and the recent removal of the red underwear in Man of Steel. This is why most Millennials prefer The Passion of the Christ to Fireproof and Switchfoot to Newsboys. This also explains why no Millennial I’ve ever met really likes Thomas Kincaid or Precious Moments. Cheesiness repels us. .

Second, Millennials tend not to resonate with outward displays of perfection and invincibility. We find Superman rather boring and unrelatable. He flew really fast? He picked up another plane? He punched a bad guy really, really hard? Yawn. Such superhuman physical and psychological strength is simply unrelatable. That’s why pastors need to jettison the old model public persona of the flawless, all-knowing leader. Weakness draws us.

Third, Millennials are often tired of being treated like they’re “special” just for existing. Superman was born with superpowers. Woopty doo. Batman, on the other hand, went to the Far East in order to gain his skills through hard work.  One of the latent traits I’ve observed among my generation is an eagerness to achieve something. That’s why the widespread impulse to dumb it down and make it as easy as possible is exactly the opposite of what’s needed. Challenge inspires us.

Lastly, Millennials seem to have a much more nuanced/ambiguous worldview. We snicker at Superman’s “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” We prefer Batman Begins in which Bruce Wayne muses, “The first time I stole so that I wouldn’t starve, yes, I lost many assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong. And when I traveled I learned the fear before a crime and the thrill of success. But I never became one of them.” Complexity intrigues us.

In light of all this, let’s give a couple practical examples of how to minister to Millennials. If you’re a dude and you act like you’ve never struggled with lust and never looked at online porn, we’re pretty much going to immediately write you off as full of crap. The same thing goes for a woman who acts like she has never struggled with body image issues. Be open. Be honest. Be real. Most Millennials want to know you empathize and are vulnerable. If you can’t, leave us alone.

A Church for All Generations: Why the Church Can’t Tailor Itself to Any Particular Age Demographic

Church_All_Generations_0I believe my friend Gabe Martini says it like this, “The Church doesn’t exist to cater to your felt needs; it exists to show you how stupid your felt needs are.”

I’m parapharsing, but something like that. Same goes for this article featured here. Although I don’t really find, not in my study and research of our generation, that Millennials want big bands, big stage, and big lights. In fact, I think more than that that Robert Webber’s assessment is that they are highly liturgical and looking for the opposite. See “The Younger Evangelicals” for more on that.

Nonetheless, I don’t think catering to any should occur, which is a lot of what Gabe’s point is for me. I’ve been on a kick about multi-generational communities in my own personal thinking lately. A community zoned into one generation or demographic and is made up of entirely that particular one is unhealthy and will self implode. I found this article to have some relevancy that would be great to share. Enjoy:

A Church for All Generations: Why the Church Can’t Tailor Itself to Any Particular Age Demographic

We’ve all read the nauseating statistics that disparage Millennials in regards to church. The list fails to surprise us anymore: Millennials go to church less, pray less, value the Bible less. I’m ready to move on from all this data toward a new church response.

The common line of the previous response creates church in the Millennials image. What do they value, believe, desire? Let’s use that to draw them in. Church is so desperate to reach this unchurched generation they develop a large band with loud music, buy new sound systems, promote twentysomethings to elder positions, create college-centered ministries—whatever it takes to crack the Millennial’s secret code.

What is church and whom does it exist for? Catering to this Millennial group creates a service smorgasbord where one can pick and choose his or her way across the church buffet line, like shops in a strip mall where all the needs of the customers are met in one visit. Church is a school centered on people just their age. Or church is a concert marketing itself so Millennials will attend.

The Church often sends a subtle, dangerous message that it exists only to meet all Millennials’ needs.

When the Church has extended all its resources to indulge one generation, they’ll leave the next behind. What happens when Millennials’ hair turns gray and the Church realizes it must reach out to the next generation instead?

All of this stands in direct contradiction with the picture God has given for how He intends the bride of his Son to operate. On numerous occassions Paul uses the imagery of a body to teach us what the Church should look like, such as in Ephesians 1:22-23: “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”

Church isn’t first a building, institution or club. Church is a body comprising people, interactions and relationships. Church is a people.

CONTINUE READING HERE!