Archive for December, 2007



“…prepare yourself for the opportunities it presents”

Darrell Bock at Christianity Today posted an article today entitled, When the Media Became a Nuisance: How to respond to the next blockbuster book/documentary/movie that questions traditional Christianity. He makes points similar to mine about the Gospel of Judas fiasco, essentially saying that commercial media and serious scholarship don’t mix terribly well—but also saying we need to get used to it and adapt:

We need to understand that public discussion of the Christian faith has changed—permanently. So the next time you hear an earth-shattering announcement about Jesus from the media, don’t get angry. Rather, take three deep breaths, sit down with your Starbucks coffee, and watch how the announcement is treated on blogs and other media. Above all, prepare yourself for the opportunities it presents.

One of the main opportunities he posits, and I wholeheartedly agree with this, is the opportunity for Christians to really educate ourselves about our history and our origins. If someone comes up to us and starts talking about the Gospel of Judas and we’re able to tell them about how St. Ireneaus of Lyons was arguing against this document back in the late second century, and then explain who St. Ireneaus was and who the Cainites were and why we care about what St. Irenaeus had to say about them, that’s going to be a much more powerful answer to somebody than just, “Well, that’s not what my Bible says so it has to be wrong.”

And make no mistake—we’ve got to know our stuff better than the people who want their name on the next Newsweek cover story, and that’s true at every level. I have to know, for example, what Nestorius said better than somebody who would claim that Nestorius was simply persecuted by the institutional church (and I don’t—this is why I’m going to grad school). If I don’t, I’m gonna get my lunch eaten, and it’s going to be a poor witness for the faith. (Maybe not as bad as claiming that nothing predates Christianity, but still not good.) I’m sure we all know people by this point who think that the Council of Nicea decided on what counted as Scripture by taking a vote and burning everything that didn’t make the cut; we’ve got to be able to answer that, clearly, authoritatively, and lovingly, in a post-Da Vinci Code world.

Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, and John Crossan are on speed-dial for anybody in the media covering stories like this. It’s not that there aren’t necessarily good reasons for this; there is good scholarship that has come out of all of them—the problem is balance. If we can actually take advantage of the opportunity to engage people and interest them in real Christian history and not the Enquirer version, if we can get them interested in J. N. D. Kelly’s or Jaroslav Pelikan’s version rather than Dan Brown’s, then maybe eventually Susan Ashbrook Harvey or Fr. John Behr or Dn. John Chryssavgis can get on the “to call” list as well—but we have to educate ourselves. Ignorance won’t give us credibility. We have to engage from an informed stance.

Books? What books? Do we have any books in this house?

I live in a house occupied by two grad students with somewhat arcane interests. Do you suppose we have any books? Better question—do you suppose we have them organized in any useful way? Even better question—do you suppose we even have shelf space for all of them?

Dr. Decker apparently has had a similar problem, and recommends a solution to at least part of the issue. I tried out a demo of Delicious Library at some point in the past—maybe I’ll actually buy the thing and get it going for real over the break…

Cat Emperor of Dune

No doubt many of you have seen this by now, but while I’m preparing for my Greek final in two and a half hours, it brings a much-needed smile to my face…

dune-cat.jpg

“…how dare we think we can do better?”

I think I’ve dealt with some of my funk. I think. I’ll still feel a lot better once Friday rolls around, but I don’t feel quite so much like the world ended anymore.

Jeffrey Tucker over at The New Liturgical Movement posted a link to Google Books’ digitization of the 7th century Gelasian Sacramentary. He has some choice words for those who might find it, shall we say, not quite in the spirit of Vatican II:

Just looking through it, one is touched by how close a connection we have to history in the Roman Rite. Humbling, isn’t it? How dare we litter this pious masterpiece with our own pop music and pop theology, and how dare we think that we can do better by making up our own words and importing our own sensibility to the liturgy?

Standard disclaimers—I’m not Roman Catholic, and I am really less than qualified to deal with issues of theory and theology. (Let’s be honest; I’m really not qualified to deal with much of anything at this point, which is why I’m trying to get into grad school.) Still, even as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, the Gelasian Sacramentary is part of the spiritual patrimony of the undivided Church, and therefore as much a part of my liturgical heritage as it would be for a Roman Catholic.

With that in mind, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. What do you mean, “how dare we”? They’re just words men wrote, after all, somebody had to make them up at some point, somebody had to import their own sensibility into the liturgy somewhere along the line, and surely we can make a case, even for a late antique liturgical book, that it is not much more than a product of what would have been the pop culture of its day. All worship styles were “contemporary” when they were first put into practice, right? How dare we not put these things in the language, context, and culture of our own day?

In The Mystery of Christ, Dr. Fr. John Behr speaks about the difference in how truth is thought of between the pre-modern, modern, and post-modern minds. For the pre-modern, truth is found in what something means. If we want to understand this in terms of grammar, this is the Greek present tense—present time, progressive/repeated aspect. In other words, what does it mean right now and on an ongoing basis?

For the modern, truth is found in what something meant—aorist tense, so past time, simple aspect. What did it mean at the point in the past when it was relevant, and then how do we transplant that to today?

For the post-modern, per Fr. Behr, truth is located in what something will have meant—future perfect tense; future time, completed aspect. Real meaning is somehow always something that hasn’t happened yet, but even once it does it will be something looked back upon, not something occurring on an ongoing basis.

I suggest, therefore, that part of the problem Mr. Tucker describes comes from a modern way of looking at the problem and an attempt at a post-modern solution. The “return to the sources” approach is certainly nothing new, but it seems to me that it what one finds there will depend on one’s assumptions. If you begin with the assumption that an old liturgical practice as received today is somehow beyond the comprehension of the average person in the pews (which already cuts off the possibility of talking about what it might mean here and now), then in looking at the historical context for the development of that practice, you’ll find the reasons to justify your point of view—“See? They had that, that, and that happening, and we don’t, which is why this, this, and this practiced in today’s world makes no sense.” A break from the received tradition now having been justified, something can be inserted which will hopefully take hold and become the received tradition down the road.

“Returning to the sources” doesn’t necessitate a lack of continuity, however; sometimes what it can generate is a reminder of of what something means when many people have forgotten. Many Christians in this country have no idea what an Easter basket actually means, for example, since there’s no fasting or abstention during Great Lent to put it into context.

To reclaim what something like the Gelasian Sacramentary means, however, takes effort—no doubt about that. I suspect that for many who would rather insert contemporary-sounding praise songs, it’s an effort that isn’t worth it; “It won’t reach today’s people the way our music does,” I suspect many would say. In other words, it won’t have meant what contemporary music will have, from their point of view, and I also suggest that the problem is exacerbated by the perception that people will go where they hear what they like, and if one church won’t do it, another will. (Which suggests to me that the biggest threat to cohesion among church communities is the automobile, but that’s a different topic altogether.)

What effort would it it take to reclaim what it means, present tense, here and now? Well, I’ll humbly suggest that if people would dare to think they can do better, then it’s up to those who would hold fast to the received tradition to dare to teach them why they won’t do better.

Finals week

It’s finals week, and I don’t mind telling you, I’m having a hard time of it. I only have two—Greek on Wednesday, Syriac on Thursday—but I still find myself struggling quite a bit this week to get into the swing of things. For various reasons, it’s been a stressful semester on several levels, I’ve been walking around with this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach since August, and I just want to have it all be over.

Well, let’s be honest. A stressful semester? Try a stressful year, one of the hardest of my life. I’m just ready, in all respects, to put 2007 to bed and be done with it.

Friday cannot come soon enough.

Things I wish Bloomington had

Seattle, my old hometown, has a loooooooooooooong way to go before it reaches the “Real Cities Have Trains” standard, but I gotta say, this is at least a baby step in the right direction. For Bloomington to have a streetcar system wouldn’t hurt my feelings—to say nothing of a waterfront…

Who’s your religion service provider?

A couple of years there were some pieces in the news which prompted an essay from me which I shopped around a bit to various publications. It was entitled “Who’s your religion service provider: resisting the commoditization of the Christian faith.” I got some interest, but ultimately not a sale, and so it’s been sitting on my hard drive gathering dust. However, Terry Mattingly’s current column tells me the topic is even more relevant than it was when I wrote it. The “service provider” mentality is now assumed by the larger churches, for all intents and purposes; it’s just a question of which features and options you want to have come with the package.

So, without further ado—

* * *

Consider the following:

• A front-page, above-the-fold article in the 20 March 2005 Indianapolis Star called “Daunting mission: finding a church”, which asked the question: “Christians can find a church on almost every street. How to pick the right one?” Amidst photos of gift bags being given to visitors, talk of what’s “effective”, the importance of “the warmth factor”, having “welcome centers” and making sure people have a “growing experience”, there’s a modicum of column inch space devoted to what a given church actually teaches. “[S]ome issues might be non-negotiable for a churchgoer,” the article thoughtfully posits, “such as the authority of the Scriptures… [therefore] people should should think about where they stand on matters up for debate [before visiting a church].” A helpful sidebar called “Advice on finding a place to worship” lists the important factors to keep in mind—and what are the top four? In order—geography, child safety, youth programs, and music. And where do faith and teaching fall on the list? Actually, they don’t. Worship is number five and preaching is number six, but these are both referenced in terms of style.

• A piece in the 21 March 2005 issue of Newsweek, “The battle for Latino souls”, which speaks of the “marketing savvy… often associated with corporate America” with which Chicago-area Hispanic Catholics are being recruited by Pentecostals. One such congregation is described as having “an inviting sanctuary with amenities for all, like a new youth center stocked with games and computers.” A founder of the community is quoted as saying, “People are looking for service… it’s like a business.” The writer asserts that “Catholicism will never match the aggressive evangelism of rival churches”, and quotes Richard Simon, “Cardinal Francis [sic] George’s liaison for charismatic renewal”, as saying, “We keep trying to imitate the Protestants, but it doesn’t work.”

• The 4 June 2005 issue of The Spectator, referring to Pope Benedict XVI as believing that “a smaller Church could be a better Church, offering the world a superior product and therefore eventually increasing its market share”, noting that “Benedict himself does not employ this commercial analogy, but it works surprisingly well—not just for Roman Catholicism, but also for religion in general.”

• The description, from the website of Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington, of a brand-new worship service ILLUMINATE: “ILLUMINATE is a dynamic, PASSION-filled, awe-inspiring, movement of God. We’ve combined the elements necessary to create an inviting, exciting, and life-changing atmosphere in our Sunday Morning service. ILLUMINATE values ENCOUNTER, where you will meet the God that loves you through music that moves you, a relevant message that inspires you, and the company of others that touches you. ILLUMINATE welcomes all life stages and ages, and those along every point of their spiritual journey. Illuminate [sic] is light for the road. […] Being a BEACON to the culture with an incarnate message of God’s love, FUSING into loving relationships, ENLIGHTENING the practice of faith, IGNITING the use of gifts for serving others and God, and living on FIRE for Jesus in all areas of life.”

• And finally, economist Laurence Iannaccone’s paper “Why strict churches are strong”, from the March 1994 issue of The American Journal of Sociology, in which he argues that “[i]n the austere but precise language of economics, religion is a ‘commodity’ that people produce collectively… The pleasure and edification that I derive from a Sunday service does not depend solely on what I bring to the service […]; it also depends on how many others attend, how warmly they greet me, how well they sing or recite […], how enthusiastically they read and pray, and how deep their commitments are.”

Assuming that the previous examples represent a pattern of thought and behavior throughout congregations in the United States and even worldwide, it is time to remove Iannaccone’s quotes from the word “commodity” and acknowledge that, in fact, our faith has become one more profitable good to be bought and sold in the popular marketplace. The above items suggest that the churches in question might just as well have Internet access as their “product”, because following this mentality, what is a church but a “religion service provider”?

In all fairness, a very real and concerning question faces Christendom these days, to wit: how does one engage and challenge the prevailing culture in a language they understand without obscuring Christian truth? To put it another way, how do we be “in the world but not of it”? Surely that’s what places like Overlake are trying to do, but they miss the mark by making a false idol out of “relevance”, obscuring the countercultural distinctives of historical Christianity rather than standing fast on them. As such, people come and go from the churches for the wrong reasons. When even the Roman Catholic Church tries to operate like a secular business, like it’s just another “service provider”, the faithful clearly know something’s amiss: “We keep trying to imitate the Protestants, but it doesn’t work.” You don’t say.

In truth, this is a problem that has faced us–that is, all Christians–as far back as the Council of Jerusalem, when the Apostles had to decide if the Law of Moses was a burden that needed to be borne by the Gentile Christians. Nonetheless, it is especially acute in a world where many of us have five hundred cable channels, the Internet, talk radio, and omnipresent advertising competing for our attention and their money, bombarding us and our children with more images and messages than any other society has ever produced. They purport to provide “pleasure and edification” in plenty, and they’re readily available with next to no effort–so is it any wonder that Christian bodies feel compelled to compete for our time and attention on the same level? In order to solve the problem, however, we must first honestly name the source of this fierce, underhanded battle for our souls and tell him to get behind us.

This year, on the first Sunday of Lent according to the Orthodox calendar, Fr. Ambrose (formerly known as Fr. Alexei Young) of the St. Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery in Ohio, told the Indianapolis congregation of St. George Orthodox Church that “[s]ecularism…takes over when people start to think that the Church is just one more agency or social organization with some ‘more or less’ good ideas.” Dr. Gerald Bray, Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, echoes this sentiment, writing in the winter 2004 issue of the journal Sobornost that “if the Church is no more than a social welfare agency, it has no particular reason to exist, and its functions might be better performed by others.” The message is clear: churches need to stop thinking and acting like secular businesses and start acting like churches again. If that means smaller buildings with smaller mortgages, less flashy audio-visual equipment, and (dare I say it) less money and a smaller, more local community, so be it. The early Christians, as well as many Russian Christians of the last century, met in catacombs and focused on Christ, not rear-projection screens or “the warmth factor”; how can we with our 16,000-seat (like Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas), air-conditioned buildings and “welcome kits” do any less? If we have to, we should be able to come together in the catacombs again and be overjoyed about it.

Even moreso, we the laypeople must recognize our own contribution to this commoditization of Christianity. “[T]he Church has life itself; indeed, the true life,” Fr. Ambrose also said, “which is man’s communion with and transformation by God through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ Most of us act as though we never heard this.” It is possible to eschew Christ’s transcendent Truth either internally or externally; in either case, we’re placing our own personal preferences ahead of the Gospel, saying that we prefer our own interpretations to those of the Church, or saying that we prefer our own “prayer style”, our own “taste”, to that of the Church–then telling the local and national organizations to compete for our “business”. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Some would argue that it is the job of the Church to meet people at their level, and that particularly today, we need to at least appear to be “keeping with the times” in order to keep people in the pews. However, Christianity teaches that God already met us at our level when He became human, died and was resurrected. Especially in our media-saturated society, we must resist the urge to “keep with the times”, that is to secularize, and now allow God to raise us up to His level.

Christianity is becoming a secular business because we have made an idol out of our own personal, subjective experience, rather than submitting to the communal, sublime union with God that is the Church. In doing so, by seeking “relevance” rather than transcendence, temporal thrill instead of Heaven’s eternal spiritual joy, “service” rather than opportunities to serve, by going where we will be “built up” rather than where we will be crucified to ourselves, by asking for affirmation in who we already are rather than submitting to transforming power of our Lord, we’re really looking for a god made in our own image rather than acknowledging that we were made in God’s image. As a result, we have stunted our own growth in Christ, and reduced our local churches to a set of neighborhood social programs.

Worst of all, we claim (at least on some level) that we do this to reach those in the world, but that’s exactly what we have failed to do, because in doing all of this, we do not challenge them. We present them with a safe, unobtrusive Church that demands nothing outside of their comfort zone, nothing that looks any different from their normal existence, rather than a Church that demands their entire life. “If the early Christians had been just like everyone else,” Fr. Ambrose said, “there would have been no persecutions, no martyrs, and, in the end, no Church, either.” Dr. Bray concurs: “[O]nly by recovering and emphasizing the spiritual dimension have we any hope of making a lasting impression on an unbelieving world.”

The Church is not a faith-based utility, one corporation among many with whom we choose to do business in our everyday lives. Rather, She is the Bride and Body of Christ, the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). As Christians, we need to return to treating Her as such if we truly wish to “make disciples of all nations” and be disciples ourselves.

The Gospel of Judas and the need for languages

I’m late to this party, but Prof. April DeConick of Rice University has gotten a decent amount of attention lately with her critique of last year’s National Geographic story on the Gospel of Judas. Mollie over at GetReligion has some interesting things to say about the warning journalists should take from this:

When going for a scoop, reporters risk sacrificing the quality of their work. This revelation about the allegedly shoddy work of National Geographic couldn’t get a fraction of the publicity of the original story, which is why we should be careful the first time around.

It seems to me that there are a couple of important things underscored here for academic wannabes like me, too. First off, it strikes me that the popular media is a questionable initial venue for scholarship, and the central reason is that the aims are different. The goal of an academic book or journal is to disseminate research; the goal of a popular publication is to make money. Along the same lines, exclusivity, a hallmark of commercial publishing, appears to work at cross-purposes to peer review, a necessity of academic publishing. To this end, signing non-disclosure agreements preventing peer review and publishing photos of a manuscript just large enough to prove you have it but not large enough to be useful for other scholars in verifying claims is, to put it charitably, not exactly best-practice scholarship.

Something else this communicates to somebody like me—and doubtless this will be a point so obvious to somebody who’s been in grad school for any length of time, me saying it is going to be like a three year old proudly shouting, “I’ve discovered one and one make two!”—is the importance of knowing the languages for your primary sources. If you don’t know know the language well enough to not only translate a text but to be able to discern where colleagues may have made errors, you’ve got work to do, and the published translations of other people are no substitute for putting in the work yourself. As Dr. DeConick says here, acknowledging that Coptic is not as accessible a language to New Testament scholars as Hebrew: “Okay. But so what. Learn Coptic.”

An object lesson from my own past brings both of these points together. A couple of years ago, when I was first coming to the conclusion that I’d make a better scholar than an opera singer, I saw a call for papers for a graduate student conference which was going to be relatively nearby. The theme looked interesting; I brainstormed some ideas, did some preliminary research, wrote an abstract, and submitted it. Lo! and behold, they accepted it, and now I had to actually write the paper.

First of all, I’ll point out the obvious mistake: I submitted an abstract for a paper which I had not yet written. I’ve since been counseled that, in practice, this is a horrible way to go. It’s not that it doesn’t happen, I’m told, but it’s a bad idea.

The two real problems, however, were that I had to rely exclusively on translations from Welsh, Latin, Greek, and God only knows what else, rather than being able to look at those texts for myself, and that one of my main sources was a popular book rather than an academic work. I didn’t realize the importance of the former, and I had no idea at the time that there was any real distinction regarding the latter. In other words, what I did would probably have been okay for an undergraduate, at least in some classes, but it was not acceptable by any means for somebody trying to present what they do as graduate-level research, and I have no doubt it made me look bad to people too kind to tell me so. I still have a hunch that some of the things I noticed in that paper might be valid, but until I’m able to read Welsh (since now I can at least muddle through Greek and Latin), I don’t feel qualified to talk about the texts. Not only that, but until I can independently verify the claims made in the popular work I used through my own examination of the sources involved, I’m not going to use those arguments (which is part of why I’m not talking at all about the topic of the paper itself).

By contrast, I wrote a paper a few months ago that deals with sources in Greek and Syriac. I was able to successfully avoid using popular books as sources, but I had to deal with the Syriac text in translation, which the professor said was all right, but having learned my lesson with the other paper, I agreed that the paper wasn’t going to be used for anything outside of the classroom until such time as I could at least verify that textual arguments I made based on the translation weren’t rendered specious by the actual Syriac text. Spot-checks like that are within my reach at this point (as long as I have Jessie Payne-Smith by my side), so I’m going to submit the paper to a conference.

The moral: Learn Coptic. And Greek. And Latin. And Syriac. Maybe Ge’ez, too, and Arabic and Armenian and Welsh and Anglo-Saxon and Gothic. Is it a lot of work? Sheesh. Um, yeah. On the other hand, as my dad used to say, the cheapest way to do anything is to do it right the first time. The overhead you think you’re saving by going with a translation won’t actually be a benefit if you’re relying on the efforts of people who have signed non-disclosure agreements and who are rushing to meet a deadline.

Getting a late start

What does it mean that I “got a late start?”

I ‘m told that I was bright as a child, but nothing I did well lent itself to any particular discipline. I read a lot about everything, I liked music, I liked to draw. I dabbled in computers a little bit. In general, I read everything I could get my hands on, which often led into other interests, but mostly just led to more reading.

This presented something of a vocational dilemma. Both of my parents, while intelligent, are very practical and they didn’t quite see how any of what I did was going to ever make me any money unless I got on a game show. They nonetheless more or less stayed out of my way, while encouraging me to go after sports, since athletes were always the ones you heard about getting big scholarships when college rolled around.

Well, instead of going into sports, when high school came, I got into theatre and the school paper. Again, not-totally-unjustified visions of financial ruin danced through my parents’ heads.

I applied to one college, Western Washington University, and got in. It was a not-particularly-well-funded state liberal arts university, but I had enough of a scholarship that, with in-state tuition, it would be workable, in theory. I applied figuring I’d go for a theatre degree; by the time the first day of classes rolled around, I had been convinced I wanted to be an opera singer, and declared myself a music major.

Midway through my junior year, I dropped out. I won’t go into the whole torturous story here; suffice it to say that various pressures—familial, financial, vocational, educational, and so on—combined to make it clear that this was not the right time for me to be beating my head against a brick wall and taking on massive debt for the privilege.

I continued to study voice privately, however, and I took a job in the software industry (far easier to do in those days for somebody with no formal experience and no degree than it would be today, I assure you) which guaranteed I wouldn’t have to wait tables. Life went on for few years; I became a good enough young tenor to do some interesting gigs around the Seattle area, I got married, and so on. For awhile I took a class a quarter at a local community college, figuring I’d eventually go back to school full-time, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea what the circumstances would be. I thought I’d perhaps enter an opera company’s young artist program before going back to school.

At age 26, it became clear that in order to get to the next step of an operatic career, I needed to go back to school, and I needed to go someplace where I would the kind of performing opportunities I wouldn’t have elsewhere—someplace like Indiana University. Well, as my wife and I discussed, instead of someplace like Indiana University, how about Indiana University? So, we packed up, left our safe little life in the Pacific Northwest and headed off for an adventure in the Midwest (well aware that to many, that expression is internally contradictory). I was sitting in undergraduate theory classes again before I was 27, and I graduated shortly after turning 29, it having taken me eleven years to finish a four year degree.

Again, without going into clinical detail, I’ll simply say that my experience finishing my Vocal Performance degree made it clear to me that opera was the very last field in the world in which I wanted a career, whatever I had thought over the previous eleven years notwithstanding. The problem was simple: I wasn’t good enough to have the kind of career that would allow me to have the kind of life I wanted, and I wasn’t ever going to be good enough, despite my teachers’ best efforts—the truth was, I didn’t want it badly enough. I had too many other interests which I found stimulating to be able to focus every effort on becoming a better operatic performer. I still compulsively read everything that crossed my path, and I really was perfectly happy doing that in a way I never was performing. As it worked out, the successes I had as an undergraduate were more as a scholar and a publisher than a performer.

The other factor at play was that my wife had started grad school in her own field at IU, and we had several years left before that would be done.

So what to do? Given my other interests, I had discussions with faculty members in the School of Music about musicology and choral conducting, but the bottom line was the same—love to have you, they told me, but we don’t have any funding at the Masters level, and if you come in as a Masters-level student, it’ll harm your chances of getting funding as a PhD student. Not being willing to go into an indefinite amount of debt for an indefinite amount of time, that canned those ideas. Seminary was considered, strongly so, but ultimately dismissed, for a variety of reasons.

Medieval history came up as an option; a faculty member from whom I was taking a class told me she thought I’d be a good fit, that surely funding could be worked out, and encouraged me to apply. However, as my application worked its way up the ranks, a dealbreaker emerged: I had no documentable background in the field, whatever my recommendations might say about me, and I had no experience in the languages which were vital to a medievalist—Greek and Latin, at least. I had had a year apiece of college-level French, German, and Italian, but that meant nothing to anybody. As a result, that door was closed. The practical piece of advice I was given was, plain and simple, if this was what I wanted to do, I needed to get these languages under my belt and more importantly, on my transcript.

The following fall I started life as a part-time, non-matriculated student venturing into Attic Greek for the first time, shortly before turning 30. At 31, I’m now in my second year of Greek, I’ve had a year of Latin and will start my second next semester, and I’m also in my first year of Syriac. I’ve also taken some seminars, gotten some good papers out of the deal, as well as some good relationships with faculty members, and where I am presently headed is the Masters degree in Religious Studies here at IU. My application is complete—with any luck, I will hear something concrete in January or February.

All of this is to say, it would appear that all the reading I did as a child did in fact point to a way I could support myself. As a first-generation college graduate, however, there was really no way for my parents to know that or have any idea how to cultivate it. I have to say, I feel sometimes that at 31 I’m where I should have been at 21. Certainly it would have been nice if I could have started Latin and/or Greek fifteen years ago, but the truth of the matter is that I have no idea how I would have done that in the schools available to me in the suburbs of Seattle. I’ve really had to stumble along and find my own way, and it’s taken me down some paths on which I stayed perhaps longer than I should have, but at least nothing has been wasted, I don’t think. I’m getting a late start, no question about it, but hopefully, better late than never.

With any luck, I may actually be able to get my first job before I’m 40, God willing.

The Conception of the Virgin Mary

Today is the Feast of St. Anne’s Conception of the Virgin Mary. Fr. Stephen Freeman has presented the summary of the feast from the OCA’s website as well as answered the question what “Most Holy Theotokos, save us” means, and Michael Liccione has an extended meditation on the Roman Catholic expansion of the understanding of this feast.

Regarding Rome’s dogmatization of the Immaculate Conception, Mr. Liccione writes:

Many Orthodox object that, even if such “developments” are acceptable as theological opinions, dogmatizing them imposes more of a confessional burden than the common deposit warrants. But such objections do not address the substance of the Catholic Church’s ongoing meditation on the Virgin; they merely question her authority to draw forth from the deposit of faith the treasures she claims to find there. It seems to me that the beauty radiating through the [Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception] is itself a reason to question the questioners.

As an Orthodox Christian, I suggest in all charity one possible problem—that the deposit of faith may be thought of as a Rorschach blot, in which one sees and retrieves that which one might be inclined to see. It also strikes me that Mr. Liccione appears to be saying that it’s all right to add to the faith, so long as we’re not taking anything away, and that what we’re adding is radiantly beautiful. I am, to be certain, all for maximalism, but this appears to be a point worth discussing.

Regardless, surely Fr. Stephen, Mr. Liccione, and myself may all entreat St. Anne to pray for us!

EDIT: The above should read “Dr. Liccione,” of course. Apologies.


Richard’s Twitter

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