Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One holy catholic and apostolic

The day after I saw Stranger than Fiction, the priest of a local Orthodox church and his wife came to UMBC to tell us about Orthodoxy.

Father Gregory talked about the Nicene Creed, or, really, one phrase in it, we believe in "one holy catholic and apostolic church."

My eighth grade Sunday school teacher, Miss Cathy, taught us about how in church, it's important not to say something you don't actually believe. The example that she gave was that she used to omit the word "catholic" when she would recite the Nicene creed. She then talked to a pastor or elder or wise person, one day, when it bothered her enough, and found out that it means "catholic" as in universal, not as in "Roman Catholic". I wonder if Miss Cathy ever would have found out what the word, catholic, means in the Nicene creed if she'd not held her breath when everyone else in church said it.

I think it was from Miss Cathy that I learned what the word catholic means; that no matter what we call ourselves, no matter how much we botch theology and mangle worship and abuse the pulpit, no matter how much we ignore and separate ourselves from the Christians we disagree with, all of us who are saved by Jesus are the church. Some Roman Catholics might be Christians, but probably not the ones who think that they're saved by works.

Father Gregory wrote a list of five cities on the markerboard in that meeting room: Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. He talked about how, for the first millennium of Christianity, the leaders in the churches in these five cities represented all of Christendom, how every Christian in the world was connected especially to one of these five cities. Except for Constantinople, these been centers of Christianity since the apostles, with Peter and Paul leading the church in Rome, James growing the church in Jerusalem, and so on.

I forget the structure of what he said, but hearing him made me feel like I should find the wholeness and the oneness of the church in its roots. I had been bothered a lot, around then, by denominationalism, and it seemed to me that the Orthodox way of thinking about things would help me make sense of confusing doctrinal controversies.

Father Gregory's wife, Frederica then got to talk. In the Orthodox church, the wife of the priest often gets a special title, typically meaning either "priestess" or "mother". I had grown up in churches where women weren't allowed to be pastors or elders, but the only jobs that seemed like they were made especially for women were cooking at potlucks and changing diapers and teaching Sunday school for kids. Adult Sunday school classes had to be taught by men if they had male members. I'm impressed by how the Orthodox church has developed special, strong roles for women who are good teachers and leaders.

Frederica told us that she had been thinking about how to best express Orthodoxy in the fifteen or twenty minutes that she had to talk with us. She had decided to talk about the idea that the church is a hospital. This idea grabbed me. I had been suffering from problems with anxiety for the past year, I was overwhelmed and unfocused and had had an existential crisis and became a vegetarian and I was still anxious. I wanted to lie in a bed with white sheets and recuperate. Healing is a strong theme in Orthodox theology; I suppose there is a greater emphasis on the idea that Christ heals us from being soul-sick, from sin, than on the idea that Christ paid for our sin by dying on the cross in our place.

One day, as I was walking to the library on campus, a man came up behind me and invited me to study the Bible with him; he introduced himself as Peter. At the time, I was leading a Bible study, and was in other Bible studies as well, I didn't need one more Bible study, and, even if I did, I would know where to look. Peter was insistent that there was something special about his Bible study, and that I would be missing out on something important if I didn't join him. I didn't believe him, because so many Bible study leaders had made a hard sell like that to me, claiming that they had some special method.

Frederica talked about how patients in a hospital can tell people outside the hospital about how they're getting better, but that it's not like they have anything to brag about. This was an important idea to me, as I was coming to understand that the Orthodox church was something that I wasn't in but maybe should be. I shouldn't be obsessed with figuring out the absolute truth about God for myself, but I should look for where I could be made whole, in myself and with the church.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Headline news

Evidently, two rich men with television shows that people watched and were amused by have had a scuffle; a rich company was also involved in the scuffle. I have spent more time talking about, reading about, and hearing about the showdown between Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, and NBC than I have actually watching either Conan's show, and that I only saw clips of on YouTube. I'm not anti-Conan or anti-Jay, I'm just not watching television at 11:30 PM, period.

In regard to this, my friend, Matt Morrison tweeted,
If more of the 18-34 year olds on #teamconan on Twitter actually watched The Tonight Show, there would be no need for #teamconan. #irony.

Celebrities get more press than a lot of important things, like coverage of wars and politics and the economy and science, I'm used to that. The bit of gossip about O'Brien and Leno is notable, though: the buzz about who gets to have their show at 11:30 has a moral charge.

I'm with Coco

The story isn't just that things didn't work so well, ratings-wise, with Jay Leno at 10 and Conan O'Brien at 11:30, so NBC rescheduled them and that made them sad; the attitude that I see, on Facebook and Twitter and people's personal blogs is that Conan is a good person and Jay is a bad person and we must ally with Conan to stop Jay because he is bad. (NBC is automatically bad, because it is a corporation.) [Matt wrote a piece on the story that interrogates who failed where.]

An earthquake killed a lot of people in Haiti a couple of weeks ago, and it's caused a lot of trouble for the survivors. Everyone's talking about how we should give to relief agencies, you can txt HAITI to 90999 to give a $10 donation to the Red Cross's efforts there.

It shouldn't have taken an earthquake to make people want to help Haiti. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was so poor that many people were literally eating mud cakes to quell their hunger pangs. Why didn't we care then? [A friend's thoughts on this disingenuousness.]

I went to two protests about the genocide in Darfur. That was so 2006. One protest was in front of the White House, the other, in Central Park in New York City. At the protest in Central Park, there were tens of thousands of protestors. I bought a neat UN Peacekeepers' hat, to wear around, to tell people about how we should get the UN involved in stopping the genocide. Things are just about as bad now as they were when the crisis started, but I don't hear many people talking about it now. My hat is in a Rubbermaid tote in the basement.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote something about how it's sensible to think that God exists because everyone has a moral sense, a conscience, and this has a divine root. Lots of other people have said this, too. For a lot of people, the idea of morality doesn't have anything to do with God; this worked well enough for the ancient Greeks, I suppose. I think it's common to believe that consciences give us meaningful information about an absolute sense of right and wrong.

Consciences keep people from lying and stealing and shunning, and they seem to tell us consistent-enough things when we're dealing with people in the flesh. I suppose that we could be like ibexes and bang our horns together if we were to have disputes, but we have rules that we all generally follow and so we can spend more time doing productive things, like reading rumors on blogs about the iPad. When it comes to big things, distant things, like gossip and genocides and world hunger and war and slavery, our consciences are like airport metal detectors that would let rifles through but would beep at the zipper in one's pants.

I hope that Lewis isn't too right about our consciences saying something about God or an absolute morality. Does God say that it's more important to help people in your neighborhood than people who are more needy but farther away? Does God say that you should do more to help people when catastrophes happen to them, but that it's less important to help when they're dealing with boring problems like bad drinking water? Does God say that young comedians are better people than older comedians?

I find it liberating to not expect my conscience to say anything about truth, it helps me lower my expectations of myself to the point where I can meet them. I used to think that I was a bad person because I feel more concern for people around me, and less passionate about the genocide in Darfur or world hunger or the wars in the Middle East.

My little sister, Secilee, wrote on the blog belonging to her rabbit, Oreo, about the earthquake in Haiti. She asked the readers of Oreo's blog to donate food and money to Haiti, and to pray for Haiti.

On one hand, my little sister is disingenuous for not paying attention to Haiti until the earthquake hit. On the other, my little sister has no reason to care about Haiti: she knows no Haitians, she doesn't watch any Disney Channel sitcoms set in Haiti, if I were to ask her if she's used any products from Haiti, I don't think she'd could name one. When she heard the news about the earthquake in Haiti, and how much people are suffering, she blogged about it; Mom tells me that Secilee wants to know what more that she can do about helping Haiti. I think that's beautiful.