Mark Olson has been a software developer for a small Industrial Automation firm for the last 18 years (begun in 1990). He is a graduate of the University of Chicago (BA ’80 and PhD ’90 in Physics) and currently lives in Lemont Illinois, is married, and has two rapidly growing wonderful daughters. He pursues, as an enthusiastic amateur, interests in cycling, history, math, science, philosophy, and theology.
Mark grew up in a Lutheran household, fell away in the mid-80s, resumed regular and active attendance at an Episcopal Church in 1994, and returned to Christian belief in 2005, and has joined in 2007 and currently attends an OCA Orthodox parish, where I sing in the choir, train to be a reader, and am active in the adult education program.
Mark has been blogging at/as Pseudo-Polymath since October 2004.
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Monday, August 16, 2010, 8:22 PM
Recently I was asked my opinion on anthropogenic global warming. In the ensuing discussion, there was criticism of my rejection of “the majority opinion of ‘experts’” as a good or valid method to base my position. Having rejected that, I was asked by what means, if not the majority of experts, would I personal espouse as how to base your belief or understanding of the truth behind a matter which is in contention. In the following, first I lay out a number of different methods that people use to form opinions, next I briefly describe the two methods I try to follow.
The categories of what might be included in “opinion” here is quite open, from topical discussions of climate, political policy, to theological questions and differences. How do you (or better should you) form your personal opinion on what is the right view of various policy matters like global warming, abortion, or human rights and marriage to the (more important) questions of right ideas in theology.
Monday, August 9, 2010, 7:57 PM
Ann had an interesting meme post which I noticed today, the “Ann Rice” meme. This meme asks us to:
- Name 3 things that really annoy you about church in general.
- Name 3 reasons why you stay.
So, without further ado: here’s my list.
- When Christians make references to “those sinners” with a tacit assumption that “they” are not us. That is having the hubris to make the claim that there are groups and categories more sinful in the sight of the Lord than any group that includes me.
- That the “the road is narrow and the path is steep” doesn’t mean that there isn’t more than one road. It just means that the path to trod is difficult.
- How often we fail to treat other Christians as our brother and to love those who hate us.
Things Keeping me there:
- The Creator created, the tomb was empty, and the Spirit descended.
- Those times in which we succeed to treat Christians as our brother and to love those who hate us.
- The stories and writings of those who it seems before us did manage well to trod that narrow path.
I might add that I’d encourage other contributors to continue this meme in their own posts, …. and those in the comments to link or add their own 3 by 3.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010, 10:45 PM
Some ink (some virtual) has been spilled on novelist Ms Rice announcing that she has “left the Church” but not left Christ. Recently I have been reading and studying the five theological orations by St. Gregory the Theologian (also known as St. Gregory of Nazianzus where he was Bishop for a time). These orations (or homilies) in an important sense define what it means to be an orthodox Christian today. In the time just prior to the convening of the 2nd Ecumenical council in Constantinople, the majority of those in the area and expected in attendance were (roughly speaking) Arian in sympathy. St. Gregory just before this council gave in short succession, just outside the city, a series of 5 orations and the matter was settled in the cause of orthodoxy. And for the following 800 or so years, these lectures were the primary pedagogical examples of the art of rhetoric for those studying the art of the rhetor in the Eastern Roman world. An American analogy might be Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, after which the case for the Civil war was arguably settled and subsequently this has been a speech studied by debators and rhetors as a jewel of the art. (more…)
Wednesday, July 7, 2010, 9:33 PM
Throughout Church history, theological controversy has been one of the enduring features. Name any communion or denomination and you will find one which has struggled with this matter. St. Maximus the Confessor was imprisoned, exiled, and lost his tongue and compared to many he got off easy. For that matter, I’d be willing to guess that among those reading this very essay, if they are Christian, have themselves had discussions, often perhaps heated, of this sort. As the title indicates, I’m leading towards a question but to start I’m going to preface that with a few remarks.
Two fragments from Scripture are perhaps relevant. (1 Corinthians 13:12) “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” For the second passage, Romans 2 offers that Jesus not men will be the final judge.
We may argue about our view of the theology, Christology, soteriology, or whatever topic, but we all must admit we only see dimly the truths to which we attest. Who is right in these argument? From the second it might be said that these arguments will only be settled at the eschaton.
My question is to what end are these arguments? What is the core reason underlying our disputes? What is at stake? I’d be very curious to hear a variety of responses to this.
For myself, my answer might be as follows. Trinitarian theology and Christology, the parables and teachings of Jesus, Paul, James and so on are beautiful. They possess symmetry and a poetry have no little impact. Teachings that obscure this beauty … that is what is problematic. Why? Because it hinders others from seeing it. The core problem is not that you will be judged adversely if you’re a Calvinist and if at the eschaton Calvin’s teaching was fraught with error (and no, please don’t take this as a generic attack on Calvinism, the “if” is important there). The problem might be with Calvinism is whether his teachings obscures or conceals some important part of the Gospel. The core problems is whether that which I teach or what you teach hinders our neighbor from seeing and finding that pearl of great price.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 9:44 PM
One week from Saturday, I’m giving an oral final/homily to a (late vocations) N.T. class that I’m taking. I had a suggestion to do my homily concentrating on the topic of tolerance. Right now I’m thinking of starting (and wrapping up?) with a look at the section in John in which Jesus confronts the crowd and those who would stone the prostitute.
What I’m asking for here is other N.T. verses and sections in which the theme of tolerance is significant.
Sunday, May 16, 2010, 9:02 PM
Two well known strands of Protestant theology are the Calvinist and Arminian. There are a number of differences between these two schools but one of them keys on soteriology (salvation). Calvinists would hold that once a person is saved, he is always saved. Arminians dispute this idea. Consider the following thought experiment:
- A person, we’ll call him John, is born and arrives in his twenties. He is a devoted and sincere Christian.
- Then, in his twenties a series of circumstances arise and he loses his faith. Through his mid-thirties he is a not-Christian.
- Finally late in life and to his death he returns to the faith of his birth and is again a devout and sincere Christian.
We add to this mix “device X.” Device X is trained on John and makes him into an human Schrödinger‘s Cat. If a particular nuclei is seen to decay … he dies. The state of this nuclei is tested at points 1 and 2 during his life. So we now consider if he dies at points 1,2, and 3 in his life and the soteriological implications of this. (more…)
Monday, May 3, 2010, 10:39 PM
One of the wonderful moments in St. Augustine’s Confessions returned to me in force from out of the blue. Now, I’ve not been a Christian for long in my adult life, having been raised within the fold of the Church, but having fallen away for 20 years of my adult life until fairly recently. The point of that observation is that regular and ordinary Christian culture is often new to me. The point of that observation is that I have questions about my experiences now as a Christian for which I lack the context and background of one who has been within the community for that missing time as an adult. This question in turn requires a little background or stage setting, which in turn can be found below the fold. (more…)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 10:13 PM
Do anthropological differences between our individualistic/wealth driven culture and the honor/shame culture of the Middle East (throughout the ages) matter when reading text? Take for example the story of Noah and the flood. This question was asked when last I discussed the flood in another context some weeks back.
Geneticists inform us that the genes which govern the particular patterns which direct the construction of our cornea show very little variation from individual to individual. Other features, even in the eye, which are not tightly constrained in the same way vary far much more from generation to generation and in fact show mutation and changes introduced much more freely between generations. The cornea and the eye are tricky enough that any structural mistake or change will likely lead to complete failure of the organ for its intended purpose, i.e., sight. How our genetic material varies from generation to generation pays attention to those things which it has found important to sustain life. (more…)
Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 7:28 PM
This started as a reply about hermeneutic in the context of the flood on my personal blog. Do we take the flood literally or not. My interlocutor was exasperated exclaiming that to not take the text literally implies words have no meaning. This is exactly backwords. Here is my response to him.
Yes, you are exactly right. Words have meaning. There is this word hermeneutic, which I have used on more than one occasion used in this sentence. Yet, you gaily trounce in with replies like “Why start with the Bible at all? Why not just make up your own stories if that’s what you’re going to do anyway?” or other remarks along the “making it all up” line as if every religious person just takes their preconceptions and hammers the text until it fits. That is not what any honest theologian does (and I think the majority of people atheist or faithful are as honest as they can be). That word, hermeneutic means, “the method by which one extracts meaning from a text.” See that word there. Method. It is there for a reason. (more…)
Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 10:51 AM
Saturday night my wife and I went to the symphony. One of the pieces we heard was Symphony no. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev. In the program notes, one of the things we were informed about this symphony was that it borrowed heavily from an earlier work, which was a ballet entitled The Prodigal Son. Furthermore we were informed that the third movement borrowed from a section of the ballet which introduced/added (for sex appeal) a seductive dance by a female dancer/love interest. This element was apparently added to the story to increase popularity. So when the the third movement came around, I was expecting seductive or melodic patterns that would fit a seductive dance. Yet I got a surprise. The third movement to my ears was quirky humorous and, well, goofy. To my minds eye, the exotic dance would feature a grinning minx with strident makeup, mismatched pigtails, a flouncy dress, and a puckish grin and attitude.
Here’s my point. While this is on occasion what I might find captivating and perhaps seductive … I think of myself unusual in this regard. I’ll freely admit, for example, in the Magic Flute, I’m more interested in the Popageno/Popagena love story than Tamino/Pamina story. What do you think of humor and other puckish elements as part of seduction or romance?
Monday, March 22, 2010, 9:18 PM
David T. Koyzis offers some remarks (with helpful links) on the lectionaries used in various churches. One thing I’ve observed regarding common homiletics and the effect short readings have on our Scriptural interpretation. We are all quite familiar with exegetical methods and pastoral lessons which can and have been extracted from various short narratives in the Gospels and topical nodes of thought in the Epistles. This practice has a tendency to atomize the text, to break it up into short focused fragments.
What I haven’t seen done are homilies or thoughts offered on what sorts of meanings and lessons we might extract from these books taken as an organic whole. For example, Matthew is called the “Gospel for the Hebrews.” But so what? That has to mean more than the lesson that (especially early) Christianity was a message received or for Jews. But what I’m seeking is to consider what meaning can we extract from the overall structure of the narrative? What sorts of pastoral, spiritual, or symbolic meaning might one extract from the structure of a narrative like Mark or John?
Monday, March 22, 2010, 7:50 PM
Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 7:49 AM
In many cultures in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world there is a strikingly different approach to sexuality and the interactions between men and women. These cultures feature an emphasis on honor and shame as well as well as being on the other side of the individual/collective axis from those us in the modern West. If one takes a spectrum of human cultures and measured them by a metric which weighs their emphasis on individual vs group responsibility and sensibility one would find US and Western cultures today leaning toward the side of individuality and the individual whereas these Middle Eastern cultures were would be found at the other end, in which a person does not weigh his own advantage before that of his particular group (in this instance the primary group was the family). There are two reasons why this is important. First is, that many of us find the Bible, a book authored within the context of an honor/shame/collective culture is important. And furthermore the honor/shame/collective culture like the Middle East of the 1st century, comprises 70% of the worlds population today. Most of those of us reading this essay live in the western minority. If you think the liberal/conservative or left/right divide in the US is difficult to cross … it pales before this larger cultural division. (more…)
Thursday, March 11, 2010, 7:51 PM
Given that this post points to one digital calendar, here is another, this one, Menologion, which offers an Eastern Orthodox perspective.
And if you happen to be in or around the Atlanta area, do drop in on the parish (St. John Maximovitch) to which the author of the software attends. I did while on business and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Thursday, March 11, 2010, 7:32 PM
Frank Turk offers an example of why hermeneutics (what/how we extract meaning from text) is important. I’ll offer a quote to spur discussion:
It is curious, to say the least, that many Americans read the Bible and claim to understand what its authors mean. For early Christian authors and their audiences were radically different from contemporary US Bible readers in the way they though of persons. Americans inevitably consider persons individualistically, as psychologically unique beings. [...] in fact, first-century Mediterranean persons never thought psychologically in the way we do. Even speaking of those human beings as “persons” is somewhat of an anachronism since there is no word for “person” in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. [...]
First-century Mediterraneans knew other people “socially,” in terms of gender-based roles, in terms of the groups in which the person was ever embedded, and with constant concern for public rewards of respect and honor.
From The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels by Bruce J. Malina. I’ve only read the first few chapters so far, but its a fascinating read, applying linguistics and social anthropology to Biblical hermeneutics.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010, 8:23 PM
I have a very weird Lenten practice which I’ve attempted to hold to over the last few years. I’m a reader. I’ve always read books. It is the thing I am most likely to do given more than a few minutes free time. Somehow a few years back at the start of Lent, a rhyme that brides use for their preparations for their wedding garb stuck in my head. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” is the rhyme. It’s not completely inappropriate as the Church is the Bride of Christ and we are preparing for a feast. Anyhow …
I’m going to ask a friend to lend me a book. So I’m set there. But, and isn’t there always a but?
Every year I use the same “blue book” for now as I’ve found there are facets to it I’ve barely scratched. This book is my “blue” one, Saint Silouan, the Athonite.
So, and old book and a new book. If anyone has any suggestions, please … that’s why blogs have com-boxes. When I mean old, I mean from the 11th century and earlier.
Friday, February 26, 2010, 8:40 AM
Satan. A word which the LXX and translators of the Masoretic Old Testament chose different methods. A translator has two different choices when dealing with a proper name or title. Transliteration or translation … that is make the word sound the same, or literally translate the meaning of the title. The LXX more often than not used the latter method, thus translating for example Philistine (transliterated) as Allophyle (or “Other”) which is a translation. Similarly with Satan, the term “the slanderer” is used instead of the transliterated Satan. My thesis in the following is that there is a hermeneutic, all to common, which is best described as Satan’s (the slanderer’s) hermenuetic and that this in turn is to be set aside where and when ever one notices its use.
What then might be meant by Satan’s (or the slanderer’s) hermeneutic and what is the point of discussing such a thing? The term hermeneutic normally means how we extract meaning from text, but one might expand it to mean (as I do in this case) to mean how we extract meaning from any of a variety of forms of communication, i.e., including not just text but speech as well. Satan’s hermeneutic is then is when we (all too often) take the words of another, usually because of associations external to the topic at hand, and interpret them in the worst way we can find. We take the narrowest (or widest) or most literal (or most figurative) interpretation possible. Whatever way we can find to interpret their words in the most outrageous or most negative way possible is the meaning to which we attach their words.
This hermeneutic is often seen in discussions between parties arrive in a conversation with an implicit or explicit understanding that they have important or strong disagreements. Whether it is for lack of confidence in one’s one position, a debaters desire to “win points” in an argument and not a seeking just to understand the other’s position, or just a customary discussion style seen in the blogging and debating environments. And I have to say, this is a failing (sin?) of which I participate fully in just as do my interlocutors in discussion threads.
The primary problem, not just that this is a Satanic hermeneutic and should therefore be avoided on principle, is that in my experience it has the opposite effect from the one intended. Time after time in discussions with parties on both sides resorting to this method my observation is that the ultimate effect of this discussion is that one comes away convinced more than before the conversation began of the correctness and mistakes of your and the other points in discussion. The lesson here is obvious, … don’t do it. Instead of hunting for the most unreasonable interpretation of the others words, seek to find the core of their point and address that.
Monday, February 22, 2010, 9:46 PM
A recent post by Christopher Benson on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in which he mused about the anathematising of the iconoclasts … and what that says about him as a non-icon worshipping Christian. I’m not going to essay and defence of icons, the Lossky/Ousspensky book (The Meaning of Icons) is likely a good place to start, although accusing 8th to 11th century Orthodoxy/Eastern theologians of Nestorianism or Monophytism is something of a stretch, seeing as a primary reason we are today not monophytist is the defence of Orthodoxy against that heresy by St. Maximus the Confessor. What instead I’d like to do is offer a few points on the controversy that perhaps are less often considered.
- One of the reasons given by the iconoclasts for their practice was that it would allow for easier relations with Islam. The Eastern empire at the time was at the forefront of the struggle between Christendom and Islamic nations. Islam is strongly iconoclastic, images of God and the divine are strictly forbidden, even the stylised symbolic images used in the Byzantine (and later) Eastern icon tradition. It might be noted that today there is a rising conflict/confrontation between Islam and the putatively Christian west.
- The iconoclast/iconodule violence lasted for generations. The hierarchical leadership as well as the (semi?) secular governmental leadership (the Emperor) were iconoclasts. The rejection of the iconoclast position was something of a rejection by the common church members of a position taken by the authorities. Similarly in the waning years of the Easter Roman empire the authorities (hierarchs and political leaders) were interested in reconciliation with, now stronger Papal Christian West against the Ottoman. Like the earlier iconoclastic movement this was rejected by the rank and file. Protestant, one would think, might have some sympathy for a church which demonstrates that demonstrates has no notion of infallibility of its leaders.
- As St. Basil the Great says, “The honor shown the image passes over to the archetype.” When one takes on that idea, not venerating the image of Christ seems more in the wrong than not.
- From the Synodicon:
As the prophets have seen, as the apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the teachers have set forth in dogmas, as the whole world has understood, as Grace has shone forth, as the truth was demonstrated, as falsehood was banished, as wisdom was emboldened, as Christ has awarded; thus do we believe, thus we speak, thus we preach Christ our true God and His saints, honoring them in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in temples, and in icons, worshipping and respecting the One as God and Master, and honoring the others, and apportioning relative worship to them, because of our common Master for they are His genuine servants, This is the Faith of the apostles, this is the Faith of the fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this Faith hath established the whole world.
Monday, February 22, 2010, 9:14 PM
Frank Turk at Evangel is doing a short series on theodicy. I asked him how/when he would connect his discussion with Job and got the following response.
Job is where everyone goes. I think the Scripture pretty much screams out from about every third page an answer which we don’t need Job to tell us.
For the record, I think Jesus and the Gospel do a better job of making sense of suffering from a top-down standpoint than we get from Job.
Job makes good use of Job’s place in creation, but in Job, God says to Job, “dude: if you think you can do a better job, I’ll ask your advice when you can answer my questions.” I think the rest of the Bible says something a little more revelatory and Christ-centered.
I think this is partially mistaken, and because Mr Turk offered that he enjoys a little disagreement and discussion, what follows will be a few points on which I disagree with his remark.
The reason we go to Job (and should go to Job) for questions of theodicy is that Job isolates the question. Job stages one question and isolates that from historical accounts. Additionally the common assumption shared by the four interlocutors in Job share a common assumption of the sovereignty of God over earthly affairs. That is to say God’s assent is required for things to occur in the world, which means that suffering and evil in the world requires an accounting with God for those same things.
The Orthodox cycle of readings places three readings of Job in Holy week, those who set up the cycle clearly felt that Job (and therefore theodicy) were relevant and Christ-centered. Now one of these reasons for thinking so is that Job was seen as a type of Christ but I feel that on reflection there are other (possibly more important) reasons for doing so, which will the main point of the following.
In the Gospels, Jesus frequently confounds expectations. One of the way he does this is by inverting the natural moral algebra. The natural moral algebra is where we expect the good to be rewarded with good and evil with evil. The publican and the pharisee is one example. One would expect that the pharisee, a leader of the community would be the one found righteous, but that is not the case. The point is that we find story after story were our expectation of who should be rewarded and how they should be rewarded are confounded. This is a feature shared with Job. The expectation of his interlocutors is that Job must not be a righteous man because of his misfortune.
In much of the Old Testament in the prophets and Kings the natural moral algebra is held. For example David being punished by God for stealing Bathsheba from her husband and Israel and Judah being punished by being conquered and exiled for failing to hold to the faith of their fathers as is repeated told by the minor and major books of the prophets. In the book of Job, as with the Gospels, this natural algebra is broken. Job is in fact righteous and nevertheless God allows Satan to, well, fall on him.
From Job 42:17 (page 30/696):
And it is written that he will rise again with those the Lord raises up.
A statement which seems quite consonant with the Gospel.
Mr Turk offers a curt dismissal of the relevance of the final lesson of Job. I find this odd, in a person who derides theological liberals for picking and choosing their Scriptural lessons decides in much the same manner to decide that this is the final lesson of the book of Job. And this is a sticking point. Job is a book explicitly about theodicy, if you aren’t going to be a theological liberal who is going to pick and choose those particular passages and books which one finds pleasing to your sensibilities, then there is a problem. The non-theological liberal (Christian) needs still to demonstrate who logically their theodicy is in tune and consonant with the theodicy argument contained in Job, for the argument of Job is in fact consonant with the message of the Gospels and is exposing directly the question at hand, which was the reason for my question in the first place.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010, 8:47 AM
The West and East count Lent differently. Lent for the West begins today, with Ash Wednesday. Lent is counted 40 days to Easter and Sunday’s during that period are not part of Lent. For the East, Lent began Monday, Sundays are counted and Lent ends on Friday before Lazarus Saturday (followed by Palm Sunday). The fast continues to Pascha but holy week is not part of lent.
Like holy week, clean week (the first week of Lent) has services every night this week, Sunday night was the Forgiveness Vespers, and the next four nights we are taking part in the Canon of St. Andrew. Friday we celebrate a pre-sanctified liturgy and Saturday night (as is normal) is Great Vespers (our church unlike many in the Slavic tradition does not do Great Vigil, but splits the Matins/Canon part of the Vigil service to Sunday morning, which is I gather a Greek custom and a little easier).
Here are a few quotes from last night’s service, which was the second night of the Canon. A little background first on the Canon. St. Andrew of Crete, the author, was Bishop of Crete in the 8th century. This canon was so well received that it was established as a practice of reading it in four parts during the first week of Lent throughout Eastern Orthodoxy. Each part contains 9 sections (like the rest of the canons, but unlike them this includes a second canon). Each canon begins with a short sung hymn called an Irmos. Then the priest chants a short stanza consisting of a few sentences for meditation. The response is “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” accompanied by a prostration (or if you are not physically up to the demands of doing that many prostrations a sweeping bow called a metania which starts with crossing oneself and from the final hand position (hand at the right shoulder) one sweeps one’s hand in a bow brushing your hand to the floor is done instead. The last two stanzas have a different response, being “Glory to the Father … ” and “now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen,” and the penultimate stanzas is a reflection on the Trinity and the final is a reflection on the Theotokos, sometimes called the Theotokion. After the 6th Ode there is a break and the Kontakion (another hymn) is inserted, sung three times slowly.
Some stanzas that stood out for me tonight:
From Ode 1:
Deliberately have I imitated blood-thirsty Cain, O Lord, enlivening my flesh while murdering my soul by striking it with my evil deeds.
From Ode 2:
Joseph’s was a splendid coat of many colors, but mine is one of shameful thoughts which condemns me even as it covers my flesh.I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within — one made in the image of God.
From Ode 4:
Jacob and his sons, the Patriarchs, established for you, O my soul, an example in the ladder of active ascent. By his way of life Jacob took the first step, fathering twelve sons and offering them as further rungs which step-by-step ascend to God.But you, my hopeless soul, have rather imitated Esau, surrendering to the crafty Devil the beauty you inherited from God, two ways — works and wisdom — have you been deceived, and now is the time for you to change your ways.
From Ode 6:
Water pouring from the rock when struck by Your servant Moses, prefigured your life-giving side, O Savior, from which we draw the Water of Life.
From Ode 7:
Solomon was mighty and full of wisdom yet did wrong before the Lord when he turned to idols. And you, my soul, resemble him in your evil life.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010, 11:10 PM
Something to ponder, and this is from memory so I might get it a little wrong. But it’s been puzzling me.
St. Gregory Palamas asserted that the fall of man was not an ontological change but an anthropological one.
Metropolititan John Zizioulas asserts that Baptism is an ontological change.
So is Salvation ontological or anthropological?
Tuesday, February 2, 2010, 8:29 AM
Recently there was a discussion over Scripture at Evangel over whether it was infallible or inerrant and what that might mean. But this discussion I offer, in an important way is missing the point. [updated for clarity] In a prior discussion on inerrance/infallibility, I was pointed at some defenses of inerrancy. Thsee defenses pointed to verses within Scripture which write of Scripture as being inspired by the Spirit of God to defend that point of view. Whether or not that is a valid argument (and I’m not sure it is) Scripture is for any Christian tradition a primary tool used to understand the divine mysteries. Tradition in turn is legacy of the millennia of men and women and their progress into understanding and experiencing these mysteries.
Mystery itself is a widely misunderstood term. When we speak of mystery fiction, such as stories of the famous detectives like Ms Marple, Mr Holmes, and so on the mystery is primarily about unknown answer to the puzzle. The canonical ‘butler’ did it is not the answer to the mystery. The mystery is the experience, the unfolding and walking through toward and understanding of the occurrence in question. Telling someone that that butler “did it” does not move one towards a greater understanding of what occurred without the missing details, the context, the narrative, and the other details like means, method, and motive. These things can only be understood … and are what those protagonists strive to understand by exploring and understanding the fundamental kernel of mystery. To understand and uncover a mystery is an experiential phenomena.
Quantum mechanics is said to be a modern scientific mystery. It is one which cannot, by and large, be understood by hearing stories and words which, like ‘the butler did it’ try to describe the denouement of this 20th century physics discovery. It is understood though the experience gained by working through the mathematical details and mechanics until like the unfolding of the narrative of mystery fiction the kernel of the mystery is understood. Quantum mechanics, like those mysteries of God revealed as through a glass darkly in Scripture, is a mystery for which the core of which is ineffable.
Ineffability is not a rare thing. Most things in life in fact are ineffable. Your feelings for your wife, how to ride a bicycle, most of science (see for example Personal Knowledge), and in fact much of life is at its core ineffable. These things at their core contain central facets which are not expressible in words. They cannot be reduced fragments of language, but must be understood through the doing, or in the context of the above, are a mystery.
The arguments about fallibility vs inerrancy is one which sets aside the mystery at the core of Scripture. It is based, in part, on an assumption that reason alone can unpack and expose the ineffable mystery lying behind and within the core of the key facets which Scripture contains. Trinity, duality, and creed are tools for used by our reason in seeking to understand these mystery, which in turn can only be experienced and understood not by reason alone but what in late antiquity was called our nous, which is our whole mind … including those emotive and intuitive parts of which reason is just one facet.
Liturgy and Tradition contain the wisdom of the Christian millennia of men and women who did understand the mystery trying to uncover and demonstrate for the rest of us ways to deepen our understand the mysteries within our faith. The lives of Saints, heroes of our Church, should be (and are) recounted because in their lives these men and women who did indeed understand the mysteries in ways more profound than is ordinary can be utilized as examples for us to sink into those same mysteries. Scripture gives us a fabric, a background and Tradition gives us hermeneutic, methods, and examples.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 8:26 AM
At Evangel, the Rev Paul T. McCain noted that he was somewhat unfamiliar with the details and differences of and between the Eastern Orthodox and the Western (liturgical) calendars. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d attempt to fill in what’s happening and up and coming for the liturgical year at this point. There is a personal reason for writing this, and likely I’ll bring it up again in the next few weeks, which I will get to in a bit. But first, where are we in our respective liturgical calendars?
In the West, liturgically these are the numbered weeks of Epiphany waiting for Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Lent in East and West is a time when the services become more somber and reflective. It is a time set aside, preparing for the great feast of Pascha/Easter. In this time fasting, prayer, more frequent liturgical services, charity, and introspection are emphasized. It is a time to sharpen and hone our attention to our spiritual state and life. We are asked to abstain from meat products (anything invertebrate products), dairy, wine, and oil (although wine and oil are permitted on weekends). At the same time, we should eat less often (no snacking) and push away from the table just a little hungry. That is to say this is fasting both by restricting variety and quantity. For the monastic (or the very devout) practice a complete fast for the first three days of Lent is observed … and during the rest of Lent then only eat in the evening.
There is a small matter of dates. For the West, Lent begins on the morning of Ash Wednesday (after the Shrove/Fat Tuesday emptying of the larder). Lent is 40 days (not counting Sundays) and ends on Easter. For the East, Lent begins on Monday, counts the Sundays but Holy week (Palm Sunday) ends Lent. Even though Lent is finished, the fast is not ended until Pascha.
What follows is a brief description highlighting some of the features of the Sundays approaching Lent for the Eastern tradition.
The three weeks leading up to Lent and the four Sundays associated with those dates are special liturgical events. Each Sunday has special significance with a knickname, and a particular gospel lesson which assist the countdown to Lent. Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and thus this is now the “week” of the Publican and the Pharisee. The gospel reading on Sunday, obviously, was Luke 18:10-14, being the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. Next Sunday will be the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (the gospel reading being Luke 15:11-32). Following that will be the Sunday of the Last Judgement (gospel Matthew 25:31-46). Finally the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, is the Sunday of Forgiveness (the gospel read is Matthew 6:14-21). This pattern is followed every year and these Sundays start beating the drum heralding the approaching Great Lent.
The Lenten fasting is stringent and accordingly the fasting which is proscribed in the three weeks are designed to prepare one for the fast. Normally in “ordinary” weeks one is instructed to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays in the same manner as one fasts during Lent. The Week of the Publican and Pharisee (this week) is fast free (cheers). Next week is an ordinary week regarding fasting, i.e., fast only on Wednesday and Friday. The Sunday of the Last Judgement is also known as Meatfare because the following week is meat free, but dairy, oil, and wine are still permitted thus that will be the last meat eaten until Pascha. Then after Forgiveness Sunday is over, which is also known as Cheesefare, and dairy is removed as well from the diet. Thus in this way one is introduced over a three week period to adjust to the fast as it approaches.
On the evening of Forgiveness Sunday there is a Vespers service (Forgiveness Vespers) which some jokingly describe as “Orthodox callisthenics.” At the conclusion of this service each person in attendance, in turn, prostrates himself before the each other kisses him (or her) three times and humbly begs their forgiveness for all the many sins we have committed against the other. This entails quite a bit of dropping to ones knees, pressing ones face to the floor, and then standing up to kiss, hence the “callisthenics” remarks.
Here is where the personal request comes in. On the first four days of Lent, starting with Monday in the evening many Orthodox churches hold a service in which the four parts of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is performed. I find this service almost overwhelming. In impact, from my point of view, it compares with even with the Pascha celebration. I have, for myself, not seen any liturgical reflection on or of repentance that comes near to matching this in its impact, its cathartic content, or its depth. From a personal perspective I am really interested in a non-Orthodox impression or remarks on this service. I wonder how much of the impact this service has on me is because I’m an Orthodox convert and how much is due to the impact of service itself. Frank Turk in a post earlier this year dropped his (in)famous remark that some Catholics and fewer Orthodox are saved and based this in part because he felt that non-protestants fail to “a sense of repentance.” Well, Mr Turk, attend one or more of the Canon services and see if you can still say that the Orthodox aren’t repentant enough, that they don’t “know” what it means. This service in many ways defines repentance. More seriously, this year Western Easter and Eastern Pascha are on the same date. Which means … on Monday prior to Ash Wednesday a Protestant might be able to attend a service in which this Canon is performed, there should be no liturgical conflict at any rate. So, if anyone non-Orthodox who might read this and takes up this request to witnesses the canon and is willing to report, please contact me by email (or drop a comment on the blog) and let me know what you thought. I’d be grateful.
My soul, my soul, arise!
Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near,
and you will be confounded.
Awake, then, and be watchful,
that Christ our God may spare you,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.
The above is a short hymn sung three times slowly in the middle of the service.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 7:54 AM
Well, as promised I’m going to try to talk about my upcoming oral final exam, an Old Testament homily for my late-vocations class that I’m taking. We were given the task of selecting a OT lection (reading section from the liturgical rubrics) and give an approximately 10 minute homily on that topic. I’ve selected to give a homily on Job 2:1-10, and I might note that being Orthodox we’re using the Septuagint (for that is their Scriptural canon) and the book of Job differs considerably (it’s 400 lines shorter but is longer in some places). The Job 2:1-10 reading is significantly extended in the Septuagint. Many of the changes are not very consequential. However, the final chapter differs in some surprising ways, which indeed might affect one’s interpretations of the story. (more…)
Thursday, January 21, 2010, 9:52 AM
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Theodicy is a topic I’ve been thinking about a bit. Next weekend, in the OT course I’m taking my final is to give a 10 minute homily on an Old Testament lection (assigned reading for a liturgy, matins, or vespers service). I was considering doing my little talk on a Genesis reading, because that’s the book I know the best. I’ve read a number of commentaries on Genesis (including the wonderful Kass book) and 4 or 5 separate translations, some heavily footnoted and with generous comments. But … I’ve decided instead to stretch myself and am going to talk on Job 2:1-10 … although I will likely stray to include remarks on the entire narrative of Job and the theodicy contained within that book.
Theodicy connects often as well to apologetics. Blog neighbor Larry Niven at Rust Belt (link) often looks at what he sees as failing theodicy arguments as a proof of God’s non-existence, for in his view without an answer to Theodicy God cannot exist (or be good … or at the very least worthy of worship). One of the likely failings here is that logic is not up to the task of describing everything. If he put his critical analysis of argument to work on those things to which he ascribes then likely he’d find they also fail. As Mr Plantiga remarks (in a book I have yet to read so forgive me I can’t support the details of the argument) that the argument for the existence for God fails, but it fails in a direct parallel to the argument for the existence of other minds, which also fails. We all (I’d venture) expect that other minds in the universe actually exist. Thus the failure of the (logical) argument for other minds really existing does not give us pause in our belief in them … thus that “best” (logical) argument for the existence for God failing also might not be flawed. This isn’t to say that it means that just as other minds exist so must God exist, that is the failure of the argument is no justification for non-belief if you believe other minds exist. On this subject, I’ll try to expound in the coming week.
So anyhow, during the next week I’ll likely be developing thoughts for my homily. In that regard, does anyone have any suggestions for net based resources on theodicy general and Job in particular?
I should mention that the lection noted above is read during Holy Week on Wednesday night. So besides connecting this reading to theodicy a discussion of what connection (which I think is sort of obvious) Holy Week and its events have with Job. My guess is that the obvious connection is that God’s answer to evil (and specifically bad things happening to the innocent) is the promise demonstrated by the Resurrection. But that might be just too easy an answer. I’m suspicious of easy answers.