Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | June 23, 2009

Crawling Out from under Deadened Belief

The other day I wandered into the dead end where folks argue over their belief in the existence and necessity of God, and the corollary opposite view favoring the non-existence of and freedom from God. Here, words and ideas were not so much argued as thrown out like hand grenades as if by teenagers wondering whether in fact the potential mayhem would look as “cool” as the movies where blood and gore form a new genre of pornography. With no Socratic syllogisms, no high principles or well-formed reason or even well-read discussion intruding on the raspberries from both sides, there is little point to attempting a discussion and more fruit found in escaping.

Sadly, I am less impressed that we as believers in the True Faith offer folks on either side of these places a point where recognition of  the futility of these sorts of discussions is overcome by our own models  of  decorum and engagement with each other…but that’s another story. I speak for myself… and here I have only to think of my own failings in those moments when tested to know how close this hits home. The fact is that it is indeed all too easy to carry within ourselves an idea of who we are and who those around us are that is at complete variance with the truth. It is after all, only a fool who would choose to live with the reality within and change it through grace rather than seek to change the subject, the circumstances or their projection.

And so it is hard to resist thinking that a word of peace might be injected… and make a difference to  one person somewhere, as if the world had been waiting all these centuries for our viewpoint. Right. And of course, equipped with the wonders and insights of Orthodoxy as opposed to the false religion around us… well… these nuggets are just the trick, just the forgotten truth folks have been thirsting for. Uh huh. Maybe… maybe somewhere… else. And so a stab here, a dab there… and first thing you know… you’re sucked into the vortex, tempted by an over-preening pride in “having figured it out”… that missing, “one thing lacking” that illuminates the world for those caught in this darkness. No kidding. Light a match and move on.

And as I stopped myself as increasingly I endeavor to do these days, it was once again Fr. Meletios Webber’s words  that came back to me .  “I wonder that belief… especially in America…. might be something more of a mind thing.” I’ve thought of these words over and over as the start but not the whole of the thought…. and that by the way is probably a far more effective form of engagement that he has mastered as an invitation rather than a pronouncement… and so I repeat it here. And I’ll expand that I’m not sure exactly what it is that belief is… but perhaps as Fr. Mel also suggests…. that perhaps asking this is simply to raise a matter that “is simply not the right question for us”.

I think he’s on to something. Maybe it’s not what belief is… but more what it looks like that is where we need to begin. Here  of course, it is easy to go wrong and mistake a beginning, and with an Orthodox “look” to it at that, for the goal rather than something more of a jumping off point… but maybe it is that belief is a set of actions, postures, attitudes, feelings, thoughts and intentions the whole of which infuses our person as if the very breath of life itself and forms the entry into a way of being. Thus, belief is not so much something rational to be argued as it is something which is to be entered into and “done”. It is The Way and an engagement with the Life of Christ as part of the Divine Trinity… and always new and more filling than we can possibly think or imagine or explain to those on the outside – even and especially in those times when those outside are us. And if that looks more like love than a simple or even elegant perception of the mind… then maybe we’re getting somewhere.

And so it was that perhaps thanks to Fr. Mel that I’ve crawled out from the deadened notions of the blathersphere, pushed back from the keyboard, breathed deeply… and found an image that fills far better… at least for a little while.


  1. We are on the same page. I have wrestled with this for years – even as a protestant but now more than ever as Orthodox.

    FWIW it appears to me that it has to be both, i.e. we are commanded to be doers of the Word. Therein is contained deed/life as well mind/intellect/dogma. These are not two opposites in contradiction to eachother. Hence we see saints martyred for (some would claim “mere”) words. On the other hand right theology cannot be divorced from right living in deed. Another one of those complexities we would do well not to tinker with. It remains an irreducable antinomy. It turns out our faith is packed with those. Perhaps this is that “fullness” we keep hearing about?

  2. Thank you for stopping by and for your comment. You experience pushes my rather weak sense of things in a slightly different direction… and that’s helpful I think, too. And of course you’re right that faith is no less a mystery to us who struggle with it than to those who reject it altogether.

    I think the greatest puzzle remains that some cannot see the expressions as windows into a life but instead focus only on the frame, the glass, and the composition that comprise the window… without ever looking through it to the light beyond.

  3. Yes pride blinds. We don cool looking shades, but we fool only ourselves, we still can’t see a thing. So we must keep our mind in hell but despair not, to borrow a phrase.

    We need change, real change. I used to think (not that long ago) that if I could just share with and convince people of certain historical facts (i.e. Jesus was born of a virgin, really rose from the dead etc.) they would be saved. Alas if it were that simple; but the demons believe that much and more. It is not acceptance of facts but a life of repentance, of self emptying in the service of God; that alone matters. This living tradition of the Way, it is alive and thriving. This is the Good News! We are not orphans.

    But I am preaching to the choir.

    Thanks for indulging me.

  4. I bow before this post and kiss my computer screen.
    I sat at supper tonight with my wife and told her I am seriously considering dropping off the face of the earth (well…the internet) and just being a Christian, a husband, a father and a son for a while, maybe forever. “Out there” has been increasingly less and less engaging than “in here” lately. What is faith? When the Son of Man visits me, will He find it or just podcasts and blogs about it? Fr. Meletios is indeed a gem. His books should be required reading.

  5. S-P

    Real life has a funny way of humbling the virtual. Were my only virtual life the internet… I think I’d be okay.

    But it seems life’s just way more complicated than that, and the only “called out” I get is the sort most folks have the good sense to avoid. Let me suggest there’s way more wisdom in old Fr. Vince’s dictum, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a sin.” It’s a hard asceticism… and it hurts… literally… but I’m working on it.

    Fr. Mel required reading? Precisely my thought. I’m not sure he’d be the first Orthobook (Ware?)…. but maybe the 2nd folks ought to read.

    Oh and BTW…. you can’t quit dude. Like they said in grade school, “No fair. I was going to quit first.”

  6. James, “were my only virtual life the internet”… oh, man. Will I ever stop “posing”? sigh. I’m working through “Bread, Water, Wine, Oil”, is that the book you’re referring to? I dunno, its at the top of my list now. Quitting? My kids called me out on it tonight at supper. As embarrassing as it is for them (Robinson? SR is YOUR DAD???!!!), they said “You’re burying a talent, don’t do it.” sigh. Back to the drawing board. You might beat me to it.

  7. I’ve read and am re-reading “Bread Water Wine & Oil”, and also the “Steps of Transformation”. Both are good stuff. I’ve also been listening to the 2004 presentation to Eagle River ( which is the raw material for BWWO… and quite good, too. One of the things I like about his presentation is his emphasis on the heart of the matter, and less on the “sheen” of Orthodoxy.

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