20110105 Christian Orienteering, News, and an Interview with a New Priest

Shownotes for 20100105 Show (click here to download)
Homily on the Reading of the Names and the Birth of Christ (St. Matthew 1)
Three points: what we are to do with all these names; the standard of evaluation; and the place of Christ in all this.
1.  Ancestors – the reading of the names.  Why do we honor them?  Scandalous.  Do we redefine virtue around what they did?   No, virtue and truth are timeless; and very little of what they did was virtuous or true.  But “what is truth?”
2.  We wouldn’t know truth if it was standing right in front of us.  We see the world through the log of pride that is stuck in our eye.  We have even lost the undestanding that there is a single underlying truth: there are only things that people believe.  This post-modern relativism is the Matrix, the hegemony, of our culture.  Hollywood is fantastic at making fantasy look real.  Ironically, we have become so lost, so detached from the Truth, that good fiction is the closest many of us come to it.
The example of maps and orienteering.  Given a map and the data around you, you should be able to figure out where you are; what the world looks like; what the truth of things is.  But we are so lost and muddled that we cannot do this.  Instead of using the map to figure out where we are in relation to where we want to be, we use it to tell us that we are already there.
  •  It’s like if you wanted to go to the big mall in Providence, so you take your map of Providence, and you lay it down in front in front of you and compare the features on it to the ones in the world around you…  So you look up and you see not the gold domes of St. Michael’s, but the dome of the State House; then you look just over there and you see not the useless (but very beautiful) Woonsocket train Station, but the Amtrak station.  A little further and you see not Chan’s, but the Cheesecake Factory.  And as a result, you end up shopping at the Salvation Army instead of Macy’s and thinking that Nick’s New York Style Weiners is the center cut filet at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  This is ridiculous, but I think it describes pretty well just how delusional we are about the truth and virtue.
  •  Let’s explore this idea of maps a little bit more.  Because I’m less concerned about you getting to Providence Place (even I can find it without my GPS) than I am about getting us to see Truth and Virtue and how they conform to our own lives.  It’s silly to think that anyone could mistake Salvation Army for Providence Place, or Nick’s for Ruth’s Chris; but this kind of phenomenon really does happen to orienteerers when they are lost, and I am pretty sure it happens to us when it comes to virtue.  Work with me here: imagine the virtues as a map of what our lives should look like:  Humility, Charity, Gentleness, Temperance, Joyfulness, diligence.  Now we take that map and put it over our own lives.  Talk about turning molehills into mountains!  
  • We have some serious terraforming to do!  Build up those anemic swells of virtue!   Tear down the false virtues of pride, freed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth.  Don’t settle into believing that the map of righteousness describes your life.

3.  Our ancestors often got it wrong.  Left on our own, we will get it wrong.  But the thing that our ancestors got right prophesied and prepared the world for the coming of the Source of All Virtue and Truth.  For us, Christ is the perfect model of what we should become; the “Orient from on High”; the perfect map and compass that allows us to see exactly who and where we are, how far we are from who and where we need to be, and what road or changes we need to take to get us there.  He is the “Sun of Righteousness” that illumines our lives and drives out every dark fantasy.  And we celebrate His Incarnation, His Light, His Truth, at the Nativity.

Are you ready?  I daresay that you are only ready for him if you use your own map and your own reckoning.  We prepare through repentence, we prepare through fasting, we prepare through humbling ourselves to the support of all those around us.  We are not ready: don’t let this Nativity be just another day; don’t let its celebration be just another service; don’t look to the past for what is right and true; don’t look to your own life to define what is good.  Look to Christ.

God is with us: understand you nations and submit yourself.  For God is with us.

Fr. Vasily wants priests from the Independent Galitsian Orthodox Church to know that it is okay for them to wear beards: priests were always immune from Peter the Great’s prohibition.  He also wants to point out that the mystical elder Aintsuchaman of the Noerthern Thebaid exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11:14 definitively describes how that passage means exactly the opposite of what it sounds like it means.  This is reaffirmed by the angel Nefactivnius in the dream vision of elder Devoid’ovtruth of the Eastern Expanse, when the angel told the monk; “the priest without a beard is not a real priest; and the priest without a ponytail should never be allowed to serve.” He also wanted me to thank all our listeners who generously supported the beard drive for poor baby-faced priests.


NEWS  [Music from This Side of Glory]

Housekeeping News:  

We are up to 113 episodes!  Lots of growth and some changes over that time.  First, we added a website w/ shownotes.  Second the content has evolved: less baritone playing and singing and a longer format with regular features (e.g. mail, news, and the “Vol’ya” segment) and in-depth presentations.  Over the last month, there have been two changes designed to improve your experience, the implementation of which I hoped would be transparent to you.  Alas, neither was.  First, I moved the notes over to a new server in order to encourage your feedback (moved from a self-published website to Blogger) and started using a new paid host for the mp3’s.  The problems have been minor, but noticeable (I have not yet transferred the domain over, and the updates to the feed messed up the dates of the podcasts I moved), and I hope that they have not negatively affected your OrthoAnalytika experience.

Church News:

One serious topic, and one less so.

First, Fr. Gregory at Koinonia (one of my favorite blogs) makes a good case for having serving clergy submit to psychological testing and credit score checks.  The point is not just to screen against potential pedophiles, but to protect parishioners from all kinds of misconduct.  I think he is right, and I think that our reactive treatment of clergy scandals makes us culpable.  We can’t screen out everyone, but we can certainly do a better job that we are now.

Second, RISU has a routine article about how the Ukrainian government is working with the churches to make sure that nothing bad happens during Nativity celebrations.  But they make one slip that may well be Freudian (or at least Orwellian); “Salymskyi [Deputy Head of the Department of Public Security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs] assured that the police will do everything that is necessary to ensure appropriate celebration of the holidays.”  I wonder if they will allow Christmas trees on the amvon or didukhs in the parish hall?

Crunchy News:
Fr. Gregory at Kiononia
Fr. Gregory at Kiononia is doing a series of book reviews on books that I think you would enjoy, most notable Finke and Stark’s The Churching of America and Ridley’s The Rational Optimist.  I have covered both of these in previous shows, but Fr. Gregory is much smarter and better educated (this is NOT false modesty – just check out his blog – it’s awesome!) so it’s well worth our time to check out his take.  On Finke and Stark, the major implication he draws is the need for a stronger monastic witness in America.  He is right on the money there: and we need to have that same level of commitment in our parishes.  I know it’s a chicken-egg problem, but all of us can influence the culture in our parishes, while only a few of you may be called to monasticism.

As far as Ridely’s “Rational Optimist” goes, it is a great answer to the pessimism about our future and our instinct to turn to bigger government for solutions to our problems.  I really like the book, but, like Crunchy folks everywhere, do romanticize local autarchy and lament the loss of communalism that increased specialization and integration brings.  Crunchy folks are willing to sacrifice some “efficiency” (which is usually subsidized!) for the sake of the preservation of community.  But this is not Fr. Gregory’s focus: he is most interested in what the book implies for Christianity.  Here, his main point is that Christians should be less autarchic (self sufficient) and more specialized, finding ways to create “an environment where everyone serves the needs of everyone else.”  In other words, persons and groups within the Church need to be encouraged and enabled to develop and apply their gifts and charisms and to enjoy the result of the same development and application in others (this is the traditional “corporate” understanding of the Body of Christ, after all).  This interconnected specialization “raises all ships” and makes for a healthy communities and churches.  It is a much lamented fact that we do not do a good job with this.  In fact, there are plenty of places where the leadership actually discourages this either intentionally (as in the case of those who do not want to try new things or give up their own power) or intentionally (as in the case of micromanaging or ignorance).

So far, so good.  But when it comes to applying these lessons to the parish life, I do have a couple of reservations.  Fr. Gregory uses the concept of economic integration to take on parochialism and the culture of self-sufficiency that keeps many of our parishes from their true mission and potential.  I agree.  It is just worth noting that there is some tension.  Theologically, (and this is outside Fr. Gregory’s presentation, so it is not a critique of his work!), there is a real sense in which parish IS the fullness of the Church, so there is a sense in which it IS autarchic and self-sufficient.  The parish (and especially the Eucharist which is celebrated there) is theologically complete. Now don’t go too far with this or you’ll run into heresy: we aren’t Baptists!  We are part of the broader Church with an established ecclesiology.  It is clearly a case of “both-and”!  Again, this is just a minor clarification.

Fr. Gregory focuses on the implication of the market for interconnectiveness because the temptation among so many of our parishes is introversion, an introversion that is not supported by such dysfunctional parishes in terms of theology, but for, the sake of (to quote Fr. Gregory); “authentic liturgical or ascetical or pastoral practice or even to maintain an ethnic identity”.  He is completely right that such things are secondary (at best) to the health of a parish, and that health requires integration and extroversion.  But while the market analogy does, as Fr. Gregory says, point to the need for integration and a decline in autarchy, it also supports the very kind of things that are typcially associated with the exact opposite thing.    Rather than being an excuse for unhealthy introversion, the market analogy suggests that such ethnic, cultural, linguistic, ascetical, and liturgical variations should be thought of in terms of specialization.  Not all of the specialized parishes will be viable; but it is this kind of variation that makes for a healthy market.  As with so many parts of our fallen culture, it seems that even such things can be baptized and blessed.

Let me conclude with one more thought: folks worry that “administrative unity” will lead to a homogenous Orthodox culture.  One of the implications of works like the ones Fr. Gregory cites is that such a thing would be counter-productive and completely out of character for America.  I guess the point that Fr. Gregory and I are both trying to make is that there should be variation, but that all of the variants must be both serious (from Finke and Stark) and integrated (from Ridley).    

Struggling with Our Weight (and with eating healthy)
It’s not just about self-control: some people are behind the eight ball long before they are culpable for their choices or capable of restraint.  LiveScience (via Yahoo News) reports that “One-third of 9-month-olds [are] already obese or overweight”  Given the effects of obesity on health and the correlation between early and late obesity, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER.  A while back we shared the finding that governmental meddling with incentives, what can we change?  Let’s start with our own lives.  Let’s try simpler diets with less processed foods.  Let’s make sure that the food and drink we feed our children are healthy; not just easy, cheap or tasty.  As a culture, we are killing ourselves.  Personally, I buy into the notion that blood sugar (and insulin) is a useful way to monitor and approach this.  The Daily Beast (again, through Yahoo News) has a fun article that supports this, going so far as describe the benefits of a “Paleolithic”diet that includes periods of fasting, intense exercise, and a low glucose diet.  I love this quote; “just because you can eat it doesn’t mean it’s food”.  Awesome.

The Need for Community – and how wealth stifles it
David Wilson has a great article at Templeton’s Big Questions Online called “Rich Man, Poor Man; Can affluence be a form of poverty“.  He challenges the notion that poverty causes social pathology and turns it on its head: wealth is a stronger cause than poverty.  It all comes down to connectedness (remember Putnam et al’s concept of “Social Capital”).  Wilson ran an experiment where groups could complete for grants and plots of land to build parks.  The groups from poor areas were MUCH more capable of working together than those from the well-of suburbs.  The interpretation of these results is that “human cooperation does not emerge directly from human psychology, but rather from practicing it in everyday life.”  Nor is family life enough; circumstances have to encourage people to work with people in a broader community.  When they do, they can get more done and (insert theological implication) they become more human.  Wealthy people can avoid being around others; many poor people need community to survive.  The last quote is classic, and gains huge importance when you augment it with the Christian understanding of what it means to be truly human; 

“I worry that the affluence of modern society is eroding our capacity to cooperate at any scale, small or large.  Those of us who can pay with our credit cards don’t need to cooperate, and so we forget how.  When the need to cooperate arises, there isn’t a psychological module that becomes activated-we just fail to rise to the occasion.  Working together is like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall – practice, practice, practice.”

I’d say the same is true for how to get to heaven, and the local parish is the best place to do it.

Science and Religion News:

The new atheists are staying on message – is your parish culture up to the challenge?  The reason I have links on the OrthoAnalytika website to scientistic sites is because we need to make sure we understand what they are saying, how people are responding to their message, and how we can respond to it.  There are many wonderful things that come out of their work:  we definitely need to be challenged.  It is true that much of what they say doesn’t affect Orthodoxy as much as it does fundamentalists, but they are attacking all of us, and we need to make sure that our faith and the faith of our people is strong AND REAL enough to handle the challenges.  The primary way to do that is to make sure that their faith is based not on socialization but is grounded on the solid rock that is Christ and His Church.  If they have a mature experiential faith, then they may not know the exact response that refutes the challenges of the new atheists, but they will recognize the attack as false and weather it just fine.  As I have pointed out before: research on public opinion has made it clear that there is only one group of people that are susceptible to manipulation: it’s not the people who are convinced of their own opinion (in this case, that Orthodoxy is the right; the “believers”); nor is it the people who don’t care one way or another (the “oblivious”); it is the people whose opinions are superficial but still pay attention to the cultural debates (the “manipulates”).  The believers know are aware that someone is trying to manipulate them and react accordingly; the oblivious don’t notice or care about challenges to their way of life; but the faith of the manipulates will be challenged.

It may be tempting to try to shelter people from this debate (i.e. create a cult full of oblivious), but the real task is to move everyone into the believer category.  We need to show them that we believe is real and true, and that it is more real and more true than the scientistic arguments being made against it.  Yes, this may require that we challenge them to give up “rationality” as the new atheists define it; but they will know that there is nothing more rational than putting your complete trust in the Loving God who is the center and foundation of all knowledge, all truth, and all love.

So, having said that, let’s see what the new atheists have come up with over the last few days to stimulate our minds and test our faith.

We’ll Win the Baby War
Perhaps we should just wait them out (as long as we are, er, busy as we wait): the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science share an article from the Sunday Times reporting that “Atheists [are] a dying breed as nature ‘favors [the] faithful’“.  A study of 82 countries has found that religious people have more babies than atheists.  Over time, this should lead to the demise of atheism.  Hmmm…. that’s a bit of deterministic nonsense: faith is not determined by birth.  As the commentary on atheistic sites points out: the new atheism is evangelical (while Christianity is much less so).  Having more babies helps, but we have to share the light of True Reason with everyone (the new atheists will certainly shine their anemic beams everywhere they can).  The old carne that religion has an up because it can tell people to do things that reinforce it is so worn as to be tractionless: atheists can do the same thing.

Can You Defend Scripture?
One of the strongest critiques against Christianity (and Judaism) is the God inspired barbarity of the Hebrew Scriptures.  We have talked about the despicable behavior of almost all the heroes of the Old Testament; how about the behavior of God Himself?  Again, people who don’t care about the Bible won’t be affected by this, nor will people who have studied the issue from a traditional standpoint (I do worry about fundamentalists, though – I believe their position is both wrong and untenable); the danger is for people who think they know the Bible but don’t.  Recently, Mano Signham did a great job using this tactic.  He doesn’t let people get away with their sanitized version of scripture.  To show just how effective this is, he tries to make people feel just how horrific the great flood would have been, then tries to to use people’s natural empathy with the victims to judge God for this horrific act.  The manipulates will not be up for such tests.  So what is the answer?

We read scripture in the Light of Christ; we interpret it not in the way fundamentalists or atheists do, but according to the way the Church has always interpreted it.  The flood was a terrible thing; but it will only cause you to lose faith in a loving and all-powerful God if you don’t trust Him.  The Hebrew Scriptures describe how a certain people were being prepared for the coming of the Messiah.  They were a hard-headed people, so it took some tough love to keep them headed in the right direction.  The innocent who died in the flood, just like the innocent who died during the Egyptian plagues and the attempted genocides of Joshua, are not punished for wickedness.  They are enfolded within the bosom of Abraham, along with all the innocent.  The new atheists do not have this perspective and they would prefer that the “afterlife” kept off limits during “rational” discussions.  But doesn’t it seem perverse to allow people who hate your belief to interpret it for you?  To learn more, please listen to Presvetera/Professor Jeannie Constantinou’s excellent podcast: “Search the Scripture.

The Promise – and Challenge – of Neurotheology
I love psychology.  I studied it in graduate school (and in interrogator school before that) and haven’t stopped since.  I am currently fascinated by neurotheology.  I have presented some of their findings in previous shows (most notably the ones on ghosts).  As these articles point out, we should expect more information about what the brain does during different types of religious practices.  We should also expect to see scientists demonstrating the ability to artificially generate brain activity that simulates spiritual (numinous) experiences.  I just picked up a copy of Dr. Andrew Newberg’s book “Principles of Neurotheology”.  I’ll share a review as soon as possible.  Better yet, I hope to lure a real orthodox psychologist onto the show to talk about it.

In New York Times’ blog “Opinionator”, Tyler Burge points out the inadequacy of looking at the brain to understand the mind (and the nous).  First, it is descriptive.  It can tell what parts of the brain are active when certain tasks are done etc., but this is the “illusion of understanding”.  It does not explain what is going on.  Second, it confuses levels of analysis, using micro analysis to explain macro phenomena.  It is true that explanations must have a micromechanisms to be convincing, but just as you don’t use quantum concepts to understand biology; you can’t explain psychology by looking purely at neural phenomena.  To think otherwise is “as naive as expecting a single cure for cancer.”  Third, “neurobabble… has a pernicious feedback” on science itself.  It gets funding so it gets more attention and is assumed to be more important.  This is the same kind of process that led to people “thinking that all psychological ills can be cured with drugs.”  He argues for a psychology that has more meaning: perceptual psychology.  This looks at how the mind receives and interprets the world around it.  I like both approaches.  One day, scientists will be able to connect them.

Paranormal News:

I have something ready on Near Death Experiences, but it will have to wait so that we can go on to our interview!



An interview with Rev. Fr. Borslav Kroner of St. Luke’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Warners, New York.  Fr. Boris was ordained on October 9th, 2010 at St Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Boston by his eminence Archbishop Antony of the UOC-USA.  We ask him how things are going, how well his training prepared him for priestly ministry, and what some of the personal challenges he has faced in his new service to the Church.