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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Cosmic Sky Dad

godI had a friend tell me this week that he just can’t wrap his mind around the idea of a “Cosmic Sky Dad” and what not. He said, “It’s hard for me to grasp a Big Cosmic Sky Dad..even if He is a loving Cosmic Sky Dad that one day created everything so that it would worship or be in union with Him or Her just seems really bizarre.”

I did explain to my good friend, who is a very dear friend with sincere intentions and honest questions, that that is a deeply Secular view of God and in all honesty a caricature of God and of the Christian understanding of God. Often we all approach the subject of theology proper (the doctrine of God) with clouded lens. Myself included. We have horribly informed presuppositions about God do we not? Scripture, Tradition, and the Church has never nor would they ever speak of God as being some sort of Cosmic Sky Dad.

I don’t know of any religious faith, outside of Secularism, nor my own especial, that would say this of God.

It’s like the story a friend told me of a 7 year old girl asking her atheist father about God, to which he responds, “Some people believe there’s an invisible person in the sky that knows everything and sometimes grants wishes if they ask him.” Of course this particular 7 year old was full of wisdom and skeptical because no one really believes that.

That is not at all what any serious Christian believes, nor any serious theist, would believe of God. That is more what Secularism believes in this country. Secularism would very easily believe in said Cosmic Sky Dad, but I digress.

My friend continued the dialogue this morning after reading my responses. He asked, “If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?” He went on, “Theology, to me seems to be answers to questions about a religion, a sort of fence or moat around a castle.”

I believe my friend posted a great question! One that made me think! How do we talk about God? What do we mean when we talk about Him? Who is He? What is He?

How would you answer that question. This is my response, but I have of course edited it out to be a little more detailed for the purpose of the blog, but it is the best I could do:

Theology is the study of God. That is what the Greek root words mean. Theology, in general, but Christianity especially, just doesn’t answer a question about a religion. A religion is a set of beliefs about metaphysics, anthropology, teleology, eschatology, so on and forth. I get the feeling you may be seeing it as most Americans are, not saying you are, just a suspicion, that you are having a Secular view of it that states “religion deals with the big man in the sky per the study of theology” but this is flawed especially in regards to the deeply incarnational theology of Christianity in general, but Orthodoxy especially.

If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God? (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?”

For anyone asking along with my friend this is where some deep engagement with Orthodoxy in the form of study and participation would deeply do one well. According to what I have come across in my short time of being Orthodox, the Church Fathers speak of God as person[Disclaimer: not to be confused with theistic personalism]. Not person how we are person, but person in His existence. Of course He is the Supreme Being. He is what He is. On our icons of Christ you will see Hebrew letters or sometimes Greek, one on the left, top of his head, and on the right. that mean, “I am” essentially. David Hart writes:

To speak of ‘God’ properly … is to speak of the one infinite ground of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is neither some particular thing posed over against the created universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a being, at least not in the way that a tree, a clock, or a god is; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are. He is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom all things live and move and have their being. He may be said to be ‘beyond being,’ if by ‘being’ one means the totality of finite things, but also may be called ‘being itself,’ in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity underlying all things.”

He is!

That is God in Christianity. He is Reality itself. That which is Real. the Numinous, the Mystery.

Just this morning I discovered some blogs by a priest friend that he had just written. They are reviewing David Hart’s (Orthodox philosopher) book “The Experience of God“. In it Hart says, “God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek, but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (p. 10). Whatfollows is an excerpt from Fr. Al’s writing, but he is quoting Hart’s book here as well:

God is ‘the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things’ (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by ‘being’ we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by ‘being’ we wish to signify God as ‘the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation’ (p. 30).

The true and living God must therefore be clearly distinguished from the various gods with whom humanity has always dealt throughout history. The gods, if any exist, do not transcend nature; they belong to nature. ‘They exist in space and time,’ explains Hart, ‘each of them is a distinct being rather than “being itself,” and it is they who are dependent upon the universe for their existence rather than the reverse. Of such gods there may be an endless diversity, while of God there can be only one. Or, better, God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one’ (p. 31).”

So I hope that is at least a beginners look at personhood, the Person of God, theology proper. It really isn’t even a beginner’s look, but a humble attempt to sincerely answer my friend’s questions. I’m not a theologian, pastor, nor a priest. I highly recommend one take my blog at face value and look further at better, brighter sources. Christianity created the concept of personhood. God is person! Again, this is where 3 things need to occur if you’re reading this and you have the same questions and concerns my friend does:

  1. Engagement with Orthodox theology per study and reading with a teacher if possible,
  2. Engagment with Orthodox worship per participation,
  3. Engagement with an Orthodox priest for I am not qualified to answer many of these questions and can only do so limited by my own ignorance. I’d wish better for you than my wimpy little answers and regurgitation of others smartness.

I’d really like to help anyone with these questions the best I can though, so I hope this does. I’d recommend also checking out Father Stephen’s blog on this matter of speaking about God.

I hope to further this notion of theology proper in another blog as sort of a review of Michael Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God,” which I just finished reading. In the book, Dr. Gorman makes the case that Philippians 2:6-11 is St. Paul’s master story and a revolutionary theology proper. In these verses we can see a grand story and an even grander theology proper. I will not elaborate on that any further, but merely leave you with these Scriptures as an answer to my friend’s question and something for you to ponder until another day. If you have questions about who God is and what He is please read these and contemplate upon them. This is Dr. Gorman’s translation of Phil. 2:6-11:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

May God bless us all in our journey to find Him and know Him. May we be guided always by the Light of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to the His truth and love.

Blessings.

Living in the Hingeway: A Reflection on Church and Culture

church-and-culture-picPreface: This is just a simple paper assigned after an introductory study of postmodernity and the current cultural shifts and a reading of “The Younger Evangelicals” by Robert Webber. This paper is not designed to be very formal containing a thesis and points nor a thorough treatment of Postmodernity. It is merely a personal reflection upon 5 cultural shifts that are opportunities for the Church, 5 cultural shifts that are a danger to the Church, and 5 ways I want to create ministry in this cultural context or how to carry out ministry. I believe the ways these younger evangelicals, who come from multiple Christian Traditions, have some solid ways of engaging the culture that we Orthodox Christians can implement and learn from as we wrestle with the context in which God has placed us. I hope this will be of benefit as you continue to wrestle and to struggle in these anxious times.

LIVING IN THE HINGEWAY: A REFLECTION ON CHURCH AND CULTURE

Dr. Carlus Gupton writes, “Our time is best described as transitional, a very fluid moment where previous ways of understanding the world and functioning within it are increasingly abandoned, yet without clear definition of what will replace it. Something has ended, but the new beginning has not yet taken shape, thus we are in the uncomfortable wilderness, the neutral zone.” The Church is living in a day and age where absolutes are being denied and truth is relative. This day and age of Postmodernism can present to the Church opportunities to ministry and dangers to the Church’s ministry to preach the Gospel and be a hospital for the sick sinners.

Five Opportunities the Cultural Shifts Present

Robert Webber writes:

The younger evangelicals are conscious that they grew up in a postmodern world. One younger evangelical writes of ways postmodern thinking differs from modern thought. Postmoderns ‘no longer feel a need to bow the knee to the modern God of rationality.’ Postmoderns, he argues, ‘have a much broader conception of what counts as reason’ because they acknowledge that ‘all rationality (religious, scientific, or whatever) is laden with faith.’ Postmodern young people recognize that ‘thinking is highly indebted to others.’ Therefore, the younger evangelical rejects the modern notion of individualism and embraces community. And to be postmodern in a Christian way is ‘to embrace the kingdom of God and renounce the values of the world.’”

This is the first opportunity presented to us to witness to people. This opens the door that much of Protestantism, with its emphasis on the rational, had closed and that is the door to sacramentalism or a sacramental world-view. For too long reason has dominated the Church in the Western societies. We, as Orthodox Christians, must not let reason dominate the life of the Church too much.

The Enlightenment with the emphasis on reason and scientific method stole all the mystery from the Christian faith ranging from throwing out the sacraments and calling them “ordnances” to the rejection of Christian mysticism. This shift away from reason allows for the Church to restore a sacramental world-view for it allows for a restoration of mystery, the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (fearful and fascinating mystery). This shift opens the door for the Numinous to be once again believed, for there to be transcendence beyond our reason. This is not to say reason is invalid. The Church would be wise to follow the words of Blasé Pascal, “If one subjects everything to reason our religion will lose its mystery and its supernatural character. If one offends the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous …There are two equally dangerous extremes, to shut reason out and let nothing else in.”

“The postmodern September 11, 2001, world has led to the recovery of the biblical understanding of human nature. The language of sin, evil, evildoers, and a reaffirmation of the deceit and wickedness of the human heart has once again emerged in our common vocabulary,” writes Robert Webber, “The liberal notion of the inherent goodness of humankind and the more recent evangelical neglect of the language of sin and depravity have failed to plumb the depths of the wickedness that lurks in the human heart. The younger evangelical approaches humanity with a more realistic and biblical assessment of our estrangement from God.” This presents the Churches second opportunity to present the Christian meta-narrative of the Creation, the Fall, Israel, and Jesus Christ. This allows for the Church to tell Her story of redemption and how She has been made a part of the re-creation attempts of God.

Pragmatic Evangelicals, seeking to draw in seekers (no pun intended), neglected to preach about the wickedness of men and the depths of humanity’s depravity. David Crowder, of The David Crowder*Band, put it this way: “When our depravity meets His divinity it is a beautiful collision.” This cultural shift allows for a sacramental understanding of the Cross and Resurrection to take place. The shift allows for the preaching of humanity’s depravity coming into collision with God’s divinity, which overcomes the wickedness and clothes the redeemed in the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4-5).

The Church can present the story of the Fall, but that there is more to life. That there is a door for humanity to be ontologically changed, transformed back into an original state of glory. David Horseman writes, “”Theosis is neither a mere psychological change nor a simple behavioral change. It is both, but not in a superficial sense. These changes of thought and behavior are but the indices of a deeper, ontological change, in our nature, a sharing of the divine nature, in which we become more and more like God, changed from glory into glory, until the day of our final redemption…” This could be the story we tell with this change in culture.

The third opportunity presented by this cultural shift is in the context of evangelism. The Next-Wave web magazine states of younger evangelicals’ desire “is to see people enter a relationship with Jesus Christ. Receive His forgiveness, enter His community with the saints, worship in ways that are meaningful to them, and reach out to others in their world.” Robert Webber believes that the new landscape of the culture will provide a new type of evangelism that is ancient-future evangelism. The old is that the Church must emphasis a personal regenerative relationship with the Triune God via Christ, but the new is the context in which the Church worships and facilitates community that is missional.

This aura creates an opportunity for the Church to fashion a community focused on relationships of reconciliation: relationships with humanity and with God. The Gospel is presented through relationship primarily. A good model of evangelism in the postmodern world would be: dialogue, demonstration, declaration, and defense all lived out incarnationally in the context of our greater society but also within our communities.

The Church’s fourth opportunity within this cultural shift is to begin to see Christianity as more than a world view. Robert Webber writes, “Today the younger evangelical questions the priority given to Christianity as a worldview. Younger evangelical Charles Moore writes, ‘The idea of Christianity as a worldview is essentially Gnostic. It makes Christianity an idea, a philosophical viewpoint, and a construct. Christianity is primarily a kingdom, an embodied reality and is more about a faithful discipleship than affirming an intellectual construct.’ Moore argues that making Christianity a worldview ‘abstracts reason from history and pits the existing, choosing subject against the object. It reduces Christianity to metaphysics.’”

This part of the cultural shift is very important to the life of Christianity because seeing the faith as something to be believed, rationed, and defended can leave it shallow and empty for there is no living it out. Christianity is primarily relational and has to be incarnational in this world. The Church can benefit with this ideological shift because it allows the Church to embody Christ and be formed to His image and live as He lives.

“The Christianity Today articles reported that ‘postmodern Christians are trying to redefine the relation of faith and knowledge, that instead of coming to the faith rationally, true knowledge requires the Holy Spirit to work an ontological change in the human heart,’” writes Robert Webber. He goes on to clarify that this is not a new approach, but that younger Christians are deconstructing in order “to reconstruct an historic life of the mind”. The road to the future lies in the past. The Church has an opportunity today to revisit the past with the Creeds, the Church Fathers, St. Aquinas, and St. Augustine and let that ancient wisdom shape and mold the way the Church carries out faith and practice. Many young Christians are even reverting to the ancient Orthodox Church and becoming one with Her and Her Mysteries. This is a good thing!

Five Dangers the Cultural Shifts Present

The number one thing for the Church to distinguish in the cultural shift of postmodernity is that there are two schools of postmodernity: soft postmodernity and hard postmodernity. Milliard Erickson, in Postmodernizing the Faith, writes:

Hard postmodernism, best represented by deconstruction, rejects the idea of any sort of objectivity and rationality. It maintains that all theories are simply worked out to justify and empower those who hold them, rather than being based on facts. It not only rejects the limitation of meaning of language to empirical reference; it rejects the idea that language has any sort of objective or extra linguistic reference at all. It moves from relativism to pluralism to truth. Not only is all knowing and all speaking done from a particular perspective, but each perspective is equally true or valuable. The meaning of a statement is not to be found objectively in the meaning intended by the speaker or writer, but is the meaning that the hearer or reader finds in it. ‘Whatever it means to me’ even if it is quite different from what it says to you.”

The Church has to remember that wonderful idea by Blasé Pascal that there are two dangerous extremes shutting reason out or letting nothing else but reason in. The pluralism of today’s society is dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church must defend and live the truth of the Gospel and learn to evangelize to a pluralistic society instead of assimilating into society.

Religious tolerance is the second danger. Dr. Gupton writes about what postmodern thinkers believe, “No religion should be thought of as superior to another. Indeed, this belief in superiority is the major roadblock to religious unity.” This hard postmodernism belief is very dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church believes that She has an exclusive claim on the Truth, which She must stand by and defend.

The third danger of hard postmodernism found in this cultural shift is in the area of evangelism. Dr. Gupton writes about postmodern thought, “Proselytizing is bigotry, pure and simple. The idea of winning converts is based on the antiquated notion that one religion has more to offer than another. Our task is to help others discover the hidden inner meaning of their religions, rather than convert them to our own.” This is something the Church must absolutely reject to defend the Gospel. Only through Christ is forgiveness of sin offered and deification began. Other religions contain some universal truths, but do not contain the Truth found in the Gospel presented by the Church.

The fourth danger the Church must be careful to be aware of moral relativism or moral pragmatism. Easum writes, “In the new emerging society right and wrong will not exist. Whatever benefits the individual will form the basis for ethics.” The Church has to come to the defense of morals and ethics. The problem with hard postmodernism is that it deconstructs to the point of chaos, which cannot be upheld. This is no accountability of ethics, but the Church can account for its ethics, which stem from God and absolute truths. Society and individuals are dangerous grounds upon which to build what is moral, right, or just.

The fifth danger to the Church is privatization. The Church must be careful to fight against this idea that faith, too, can be privatized and individualized. The Church must maintain a strong emphasis on communal living both at home and in ecclesiastical settings. Easum writes, “People are preoccupied with themselves. Whatever is done behind closed doors is considered acceptable conduct. Privacy is the ultimate price…The majority of people will tend to withdraw physically and psychologically.” This is the danger to an incarnational people called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We must do well to remember that our faith is personal, but it is not private! The rampant individualism of Western culture is an extreme heresy that we must be aware of and reject thoroughly.

Five Ways to Interface with the Culture

As a young man who feels called to the priesthood, I am feeling lead more and more lately to plant a church from the ground up. There is a great outline of postmodern churches compared to pragmatic Evangelistic churches and how they function within the postmodern culture, by Eric Stanford, found on pages 116 and 117 of “The Younger Evangelicals” that I think fits perfectly how I would like to approach ministry in this postmodern society:

1. Even though I would be the priest and carry out all the sacramental duties I want to approach leadership as a team effort with all the members of the parish helping to carry out the duties of the church. Ministries may not always come from the leadership team, but from within the congregation who feels lead to start up a ministry. Christ is the head of the Church, and I am a part of that thus He moves mysteriously and powerfully in all our lives in the parish.

2. Life is about relationships. My life motto is “I am a person of worth created in the Image of God the Father, the Almighty, to live, to love, and to commune with fellow humankind and with the Blessed Trinity.” This is how I want to carry out ministry in the church. Programs, as Eric says, “are means not ends.” Everything thing we do ought to be to foster community and relationship and not just to learn and do. Developing close, healthy relationships is the focus within the postmodern context I want to employ.

3. Eric writes, “Be authentic. Don’t pretend you’ve got it all together, spiritually or otherwise. Admit your mistakes and struggles, for then we can work on them together. No posers allowed.” I believe this is core to who I am. I strive to be real and authentic. I am drawn to real and authentic people, so I want to be a part of a community that emphasizes that over excellence or perfection, but wants to strive towards those together.

4. I want to help create a community that honors “intellect and emotions, doctrine and intuition,” as Eric states. I want to take a holistic approach to faith and life. I want to focus on the power of the story that Christianity tells: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus. I see it often as a five act Shakespeare play that has last the fifth act thus we are left to write the fifth act on our own according to the authority of the other four acts. Our stories should come inside of this grand story.

5. I want to create dialogue and relationship between Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, and Orthodox. There is no us vs. them in regards to other Christians or in regards to non-Christians. After all, our Lord told His disciples when they told Him someone was casting out demons in His name that was not a part of their group, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Christians and non-Christians often face the same issues and have the same questions. It is about cooperation and not competition or condemnation. I want to clarify that I do not propose a false sense of unity or ecumenism either. The Orthodox Church is the one true Church, and I firmly believe this. We have made our conditions for unity known, but I think that dialogue is a good thing that promotes healthy conversations and understanding among those who profess Christ. I want to help foster this healthy conversation.