Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | June 21, 2011

Not Dealing With It

There’s been news of one of those high profile conversions lately and various points on blogdome have gone all a-Twitter with celebrations on one side and recriminations on the other. Equally, there’s an offset exit where the same course has run the other way. Linking to either of these would only add to my misery.

I celebrate any conversion where it leads to true repentance, love of Jesus Christ, his people and church, fulfillment of all that was lacking, and gratitude for the discovery of one’s prospective salvation. Lots seem to insist that “what was lacking in the church has been fulfilled by conversion”… but I tend to think of it that the fulfillment addresses that which is lacking in ourselves… and conversion is to Christ… not his earthbound Body. The Body is our earthly home… but not our only home.

As a convert myself, I harbor no illusions as to the supposed ease of the journey…. it is anything but, so I am perhaps foolishly and naively confident that these journeys are predicated by real needs. I pray that both may find the peace of Jesus Christ that passeth all understanding. And I have no pretense that much is gained or much lost… only that here are two people in need, and I hope they find their needs…. needs I trust they know better than we, and needs they have faithfully determined to address as they can.

And yet sometimes you just want to pick up these sharp-keyboard bloggers by the scruff of their necks and say: “Don’t you get it? It’s not your church, it’s not my church… it’s not Rome or Moscow or wherever… it’s Christ and His church. We’ve divided it… not He. Our division is due to smallness and coldness of our hearts… and not a testament to either’s virtue. Who gives a rat’s you-know-what where a man lies down so long as he keeps working out his salvation in fear and trembling? What’s it to you with all this score keeping? How can you take it personally that one persons needs differ from yours or another’s to the point where what he needs… you don’t? What he seeks, you don’t offer? What’s with allowing the fact that our Creator made him differently is somehow a personal affront? Why isn’t it a celebration of the Glory of God that he manifests Himself in splendorous diversity that unites us all? Since when did our faith become so hopelessly fragile and weak that someone else’s singular journey here or elsewhere could be sensed as somehow jeopardizing our own? Yes it’s good to care about others and their salvation… but there is a line between sincere care and that which objectifies the other person as an accompaniment and accoutrement of our own… as if embellishing our ego… and turning the whole into identity politics rather than love of Jesus Christ. Are we all really so hard of heart that we care more about us and are not saddened that another christian has flailed in his efforts and felt compelled to start over? Can we not at least admire the determination, the courage and pluck and honest confession of failure involved in repentance?”

Ah, but you say…. he switched to “your” side. Ain’t it easy to be magnaminous when you’ve “won” another? No. I don’t think that is the point, but if it helps… sure. Yet I don’t think giving in to our inclination is at all the point. And reading the Catholic accusations against the Orthodox in this simply made me very sad. I saw a couple of Kohler sinks and American Standard fixtures in there for good measure. Not much gets left out of these things once people start to let it fly. Every sin or grievance ever dredged up between us and some with third parties… seems to be fair ammunition. Hearsay, innuendo, ad hominen… you name it. It’s all there, and so close to the surface I am sure it isn’t coming out of nowhere. We are all – Catholic and Orthodox – guilty of these sins. And yes… it sounds awfully similar to the recriminations written by Orthodox about the so-called Uniates. You literally can change the monicker and hear the reverse as easily if you want to. Neither thinks this is possible… we’re all lilly white. No one sees themselves in their willing these insults to the surface as committing sin so much as defending righteousness by calling out others. As if. Sure. “It’s all the other guy.” Yeah. And exactly how does all or any of this differ from the original dodge, “The woman whom Thou gavest me, gave me of the tree, and I ate”?

Did not the Lord give us each other? And yet we have allowed a sundering. Sure, I know it’s tempting to start winging the hierarchy and natural order between Adam and Eve in terms of this relationship…. just as much as it seems to tempt folks to start winging the ancient documents thing. We don’t go there without presumption. History viewed from a timeline ignores the realities of blood, sweat and tears on the ground that often close and common events are anything but. Compression of a timeline once led Carl Sagan to link the disappearance of the dinosaurs to an event millions of years ahead… we shouldn’t make the same mistake.

So instead I wonder that a simpler consideration… a real boneheaded one that a Thickheaded guy could come up with doesn’t start a different look at things. No, I don’t make the pretense of originality… only that I put my neck on the line in saying there might be something in nothing at all. Surely it’s been uttered before that our Lord had two natures and yet remained one… and maybe it wouldn’t be all that odd that His Church might have similar complexity. Why must it have only have one nature… is that really its essence… or does that simply coincide with our score keeping, our simple minds and our pride? Modern organizational thought reconsiders the whole and suggests the strength of a biological… even cellular model… and that is a real reversal of understanding if ever there was one. Is humanity really only hard wired by its insistence on only one possibility or way? or could there be more? Don’t we seem to find more than one way to commit sin? More than one way to find the virtuous and righteous life in Christ? And more than one way to salvation in Christ? There have been divergences in the course of thought since the beginning in approach… and for a thousand years these were somehow accepted as authentic. Today these divergences are wider and attempts to bridge them trivial and inauthentic. Yet we remain within seeming reach of each other to the point that casual observers are often puzzled there’s a difference. As Orthodox, we insist on apophatic understandings, and yet when John Paul II suggests the metaphor of two lungs, we react that metaphor cannot possibly describe the experience of the church. Really?

So perhaps I don’t understand the mystery of approving two children of the same household to war with each other as they have. We can understand the history, but when did we choose to make it our history as well? Frankly, I know I’m a convert and it’s your churches in which I am a guest, but I don’t get it. Both of us are bonkers on these things.

As parents, we know that loving one of our offspring with all one’s heart does not lessen in the least our love for another of our children as much as the two may be tempted to think otherwise. Goodness and Badness have little to do with this love. And unruly children do not necessarily fathom the mind of their parents any more than we unruly christians fathom the mind of Christ. Sometimes unruliness even has less to do with authentic disagreeableness and more with playfulness… even in some cases playfulness gone bad.

Fairly, this is not my fight, and I will not fight it but instead choose to insist as my three-year-old once did, that “Two people can win.” Even where there is a disagreement between the two, and even where one is right and the other not, the insistence of one over the other – even where they may be correct – is not without pain for its lack of love. Can we not see how such insistence saddens a parents heart?

And there can be no Christianity, no Christ, and no Church without love.

Seeing what seems so obvious ignores the reality of that which is not… and which remains the real impediment: How do we do this? Not through conferences, that’s for sure. Not through study either. All these are interesting of course and provide fodder, but without a compelling interest in each other, it’s going nowhere. Doing things together is a good way to get to know one another… even to like one’s “opponents”. I think Archbishop Hilarion is on the right track: We have to work together, get to know one another, even make common cause. We have to see that increasing our common contact is a good and joyous thing. It might even deepen our repentance. Really. I would love nothing more than to see our christian hierarchs bow in repentance to one another, to their congregations, and to show by example… deep love of Christ that allows them to thrust down their pride and show us how to manage ours. Think how powerful it would be…. how it could change our hearts to see the powerful abase themselves before each other in mutual love between two churches once and forever re-united.

Oh, and the Kumbayah moment we’re told is pointless. And isn’t that just a bit of cold indifference and contentment with sin, too?

I do so tire of the smashing of our infants, our most beloved and joyful on the rocks of human ignorance, pride and all the rest. Go ahead and smash me if it makes you feel better. I’ve no pretense to learning on this subject as some have… but FWIW, I’m not sure learning’s gotten us anywhere on this that we didn’t already know in, “Let us love one another”. Let us pray for one another… even if we have to do so in the very odd sense of praying for one’s enemies. And let us pray for ourselves… for the mercy of Christ that we should even begin to allow ourselves to think of each other as enemies… as having enemies… anywhere… let alone as a fellow lover of God, of Christ the Son of God and Son of Man… as well as the Holy Spirit.


  1. Agreed!

  2. Amen to this. Thank you.

  3. ISTM that love and orthodoxy ought not to be mutually exclusive. The devil’s in the details, I suppose.

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