Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | May 4, 2011

When The Bread’s Only Flour

Before I head out-of-town for a conference, I wanted to thank folks for their suggestions, their thoughts and the time and trouble taken comment here and there in answer to my wondering what sources folks found helpful in their own journeys. We all focused on the Orthodox part, and I think that’ s natural. But surely there are or were other parts that were helpful that led us along before we came to darken the doors of the ancient church? I’d love to hear about that someday, because… well… as so many suggested, many folks may not find Orthodoxy their cup of tea. Fair enough. Doesn’t mean they don’t want help, or that we can’t lend a hand if asked.

But that’s such a wide area, I’m not headed there now.

No, today I wanted simply to post a link to one of the talks Fr. Mel gave somewhere around the time his “Bread and Water, Wine and Oil” (or BWWO) came out (hence the title to this post). Same core material, different “live” presentation and as far as I’m concerned, some different insights. Maybe they didn’t make the cut… or maybe they were subsequent to the book, or maybe they were just re-ordered to conform with a slightly different subject… but I almost like the talks better. Only almost. Yes, I’ve quoted particularly from Part 2 on this blog somewhere, and in my prayers I took to heart his suggestion that maybe the Creed might go better shifting a word at the beginning, and letting “I believe in…” follow more closely after the Greek with translation and become “I have faith in…”.

I’d pass along that I’m a big believer that small changes in the words and gestures we use everywhere but especially in worship and in Orthodoxy as a whole seem to make a big difference. Try it… and see whether like mine, you almost hear your mind let things slip by with “I have faith in…” that it would never allow in “I believe in…”. In this case, it’s almost as if the mind says, “Oh… it’s only THAT…the faith thing. Not the serious stuff… like facts. Yeah, I’m good. Let’er rip.” So the mind thinks it’s waiting for the big stuff, and so we slip one by untested, untried, and unchecked. Keeps the tension as a much more natural level rather than raising it for a benchpress, stress test, or some other adrenalin fed fitness measure.

Can’t say I had an awareness of a problem with the words “I believe…” or the list of things that follow in the Creed, but I gave it a shot just to see whether I could understand what Fr. Mel was talking about. I’ve said these words all my life, and though of course I’ve changed over the years (Nah, not me?) and in fairness they’ve meant different things to me at different times, I’d never thought of them as real stumbling blocks. Ever. “Yeah, I’m good with that.” But nevertheless, I could feel the tension just “shwoosh” out. Where it was releasing from or why, I can only guess.

And to me, that seems a good thing. So I think he’s on to something. Big time. And it’s got to be better to have it come out here in a controlled place and time than otherwise in some unplanned, unintended conversation. Probably helps as well with his thesis that we don’t “…ever have to defend God…ever. I think that’s more a mind thing and the ego is involved.” No kidding. So faith rather than belief might not win an argument, but that might be one less storm cloud, a little less unseen clenching, and a lot of happier campers all around.

The secret is that it’s a lot harder to change something you’ve been saying for like half a century and get it right. I’m there more reliably after some months, but I still slip. And that’s not just on Sundays when I revert to what we say in church as the accepted norm, but all the time. And yet I recommend giving it a shot. Might even move us from focusing on the words to what they mean… really mean to us, and allow giving them a life of their own… in expression, phrasing, and all the rest that give life to prayer, music and… well, the spirit of those around us.  Perhaps it’s something like the difference between saying prayers alone… which is most of what I do… and joining with the Spirit in prayer… which is something I can only wonder at.

And that’s a dangerous thought or two more than I should record in one day. More will have to wait for another time. Here’s the link (if it works):


  1. I’m coming late to this post as I have just found your blog. But I’d like to float an idea subsequent to Fr Mel’s “I have faith in…”. And, yes, I’m also new to Orthodoxy as well (forgive me!); baptised in 2006 on the Eve to the Feast of the Apostles.

    I’ve used Dr David Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible” for years and years. In it, he substitutes the word “trust” for the word “faith” (pistis in the Greek) in many places, as in Hebrews 11: “By trusting, Abel…”, “By trusting, Abraham…”, “By trusting, Rahab…”. Gives me chills.

    Anyway, what if, like Fr Mel, one substitutes “trusting” for “faith” in the Creed? “I trust in God, the Father Almighty…” Granted, I am most assuredly not Fr Mel! But what little Greek I learnt lo! these many years ago seems to support this idea of trusting with holy fervour founded in faith. Anyway, for what it’s worth, your post sparked this thought. Lord, have mercy…

    • Thanks for the comment. I hear you. And yet my ears are hearing both “I have faith in…” and “I trust in…” as similar, and much more distinctive from “I believe…” than perhaps from each other. So I like the David Stern substitution. I’m not sure how “I have faith.. ” and “I trust” differ from each other without further reflection as they really do have subtle distinctions that may in fact have more to do with our post-Freudian over-sexualization of language and everything else. Would simply have to see and think through the alternates a number of times to appreciate them. But thank you for the idea.

      What they seem to have in common is a more intimate engagement with behavior than I think today, “I believe…” seems to imply. You can hear people say things like, “I believe there is a difference, but you act as if…”, or “You may choose to believe what you want, but….” or even “What I believe is one thing, what I’m doing something else” – and I use these here in non-religious context and merely with respect to referencing a set of opinions or facts and separating what one believes about them from how one responds and acts. In fact, it’s a classic logic teaching to distinguish between differences with respect to establishing the circumstances from differences on the opinions regarding their meaning. And the usage commonly applies the question, “What do you believe happened?” as referring to opinion rather than fact. And I suspect that it is in this way that meanings shift more permanently at the periphery of our awareness, and as “believe” becomes something more for the realm of opinion (mental activity) it can become something that separates our identities rather than joins them? Dunno.

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