29 December 2011

Some Thoughts on Religion for the Year End

Another year has nearly passed, and I still find myself extra ecclesiam, at least according to the understanding of the Church of Rome. What once may have passed for invincible ignorance likely has quite the Achilles' heel. I have hoped that my interest in Eastern Orthodoxy would give me a pass, seeing as how they have genuine sacraments and all that. If nothing else, if I should die in this current state of confusion, perhaps the standard sentence of damnation could be commuted to a million years in Purgatory. What is a million years, in light of eternity, after all?

Since God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, I trust that God has not given up on me, just as I trust He has not given up on all of you fine people. However, I do not want my life philosophy to be “Lord, grant me salvation, but not yet.” I would like to at least be on the right road when the end comes. I hope that this end does not come for some time, of course, as I am very much looking forward to being a venerable old man with a flowing white beard.

Those of you who have been following my random notes and blog posts over the past few years may have noticed a common thread through much of what I write. The general theme is, “Hey, what if the Catholic Church is right about itself? Now, wouldn't that be something? Maybe we should look into this.” The “what if?” angle has prevented my writing from becoming outright Catholic apologetics. Until I step through the door myself, it does not quite feel right to argue with full force and conviction that the rest of you should step through first. If you want to read proper apologetics, I have quite a list I can give you.

How does a (mostly) nice Free Methodist boy find himself drawn to traditional Christianity? I was not born a traditionalist. I had no great passion for beautiful churches or old hymns or traditional liturgy when I was a young lad. It was only when those around me stopped caring about these things at all that I realized I missed them. The hymns were replaced with modern choruses one by one, until they almost completely slipped away. The hymn books were quietly carted off to wherever retired hymn books go. The projector screen took pride of place, and eyes that once looked upon the cross were captivated by Power Point presentations. People forgot how to sing, or at least forgot how to sing well. Nobody bothered to learn to play the organ, and the pianist had to share the stage with a rock band.

The churches began to drop the “Free Methodist” from their name, as I suppose that which separated them from other churches was no longer important. It is great to see churches work together, and I do not like to see fights over trivial matters. However, unity through not caring deeply about the distinctive doctrines of one's church is weak and shallow.

I come from a long heritage of Christian faith. I grew up learning about the Wesleys and the Methodist circuit riders. I went to church camp, where we worshiped in a barn with wood chips on the floor. I heard the tales of missionaries. There was something very serious and authentic about the whole business. For those of you who also grew up in this church, do you remember? The faith of my early years was that of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and more. I learned the same hymns my ancestors sang over a century before, if not far longer. The current generation may never learn those hymns at all. Our theology and our music (which are closely related) have become fads, which will be out of fashion long before our children reach adulthood.

I am sure there are any number of churches out there where they still sing hymns and use the King James Bible and wear suits and dresses on Sunday. However, I am speaking of my experience, an experience I believe is not entirely unique.

This feeling of discontent led me to the gates of Rome. I would peer inside now and then, in between visits to the gates of Constantinople (or is it Moscow now?). Catholicism done (if I may be so bold) right, along with Orthodoxy, had preserved the beauty I missed from my Free Methodist upbringing, while also presenting so many wonders to me that my own church had abandoned long before I was born.

Beauty alone is superficial, however, if it is not accompanied by depth and truth. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I found solid and unchanging doctrine. For example, many (most?) individual Catholics may look, act, and believe no different from a mainline Protestant or a secularist, but there is no doubt what the authentic teaching of the Church is, even if they ignore it. The heresy of the past has not become the doctrine of today. Can any Protestant denomination say that?

This past Christmas Eve, I attended late evening mass (does it ever start at midnight anymore?) at the local Catholic church. The church was quite beautiful on the outside, and not bad on the inside, though the Spirit of Vatican II had done some redecorating. We sang old Christmas hymns, including a verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin. It was a thoroughly wonderful and worshipful experience, exactly the place to be on Christmas Eve. The prayers and the hymns set out Christian truth so clearly and boldly.

On a related note, I cannot understand how Catholics who grow up in the Church can have so little knowledge of the faith. That level of ignorance must require deliberate intent so strong it is almost admirable that someone can be that committed. Almost. Then again, perhaps my experience with the Catholic Church has been more positive than that of most people. There is also something to be said about coming to the Church as someone who actually wants to learn, rather than having one's parents drag one through the door every Christmas and Easter.

It is nearly time to close out 2011. Who knows what 2012 and the years to come may bring? May we all reach a ripe old age, die in the state of grace, and reach the blessed land of Heaven. Pray for me, my friends, as I pray for you.

God bless.

P.S. - They say “and with your spirit” now, in case you have been away for a while.

05 December 2011

Class Warfare at the Tea Party on Wall Street

I walked past Occupy Tacoma on Thursday, December 1st. I would have liked to talk to some of the participants, but my lunch hour was sadly too short, and I had to walk back to my corporate office. Perhaps this week, I will eat a sandwich or raw potato while walking, in order to have more time. Friday would be good, as it is “jeans day,” and I will blend in better. Nothing says “I am the 1%” like a pair of slacks.

It appears there is a concern that the wealthiest 1% of the country have too much influence over the government and how things are run. Then again, the problem could be that there is a top 1%, at all. Are the occupiers giving voice to legitimate concerns about the concentration of wealth, or are they jealous that others have more than they do?

There is a feeling of discontent in the air these days. We saw it in the Arab Spring, where the peoples of Egypt and Libya overthrew the old oppressive governments, in order to institute new oppressive governments. We saw it with the Tea Party movement, which called for lower taxes, a balanced budget, and less government interference. Now we see it with the Occupy Wall Street movement and its subsidiaries.

Unemployment is high, goods are expensive, we are in the midst of at least two long undeclared wars, and many of us have the feeling that the elite of this nation do not have our best interests at heart. These are the times when people storm the Winter Palace, or at least camp outside it for months on end.

One could label the Tea Party as the conservative party of discontent, and Occupy Wall Street as the liberal party of discontent, though many would disagree. Some would say the corporate support for the Tea Party robs it of its authenticity as a movement, while the Occupy Wall Street movement is more pure and spontaneous. Then again, it is not really surprising that corporations are reluctant to support a movement that hates corporations.

Perhaps conservative versus liberal is the wrong way of looking at this. If it is, instead, the establishment versus we the people, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street could be on the same side. Republicans and Democrats alike receive funding from Wall Street and the top 1%. I am of the opinion that Republicans and Democrats are nearly indistinguishable in office, once the campaigns are over. They both vote for foreign military adventures, they both maintain or increase the deficit, and they both are beholden to special interest groups and wealthy financiers.

I will set aside the Tea Party, for the moment. The Tea Party candidates from 2010 are essentially mainstream Republicans now, if I follow matters correctly. Perhaps the Tea Party will surge into the public eye again after the primaries, but for now, the focus is on the Occupiers.

What do the Occupiers want? One disadvantage to being a spontaneous, disorganized movement is that it is difficult to communicate a coherent message. Instead, there is a collage of different goals and movements. There are the anti-war types, who are still mad at Bush for Iraq and Afghanistan, but have already forgotten about Obama and Libya. There are the socialists, who want to abolish private property, and put us all under the care of the all-powerful state. There are the pro-marijuana people, who show up to all these protests, whether they know what is going on or not. There are university students and recent graduates, who are faced with loan debt and think the rich should cover the costs. There are the pro-choice types who survived their pro-choice parents. And, it must be said, there are a number of people with legitimate complaints and goals.

As they chant and wave their signs, it is clear they are all upset about something, and it is clear they want something of some kind to happen. However, it is not always obvious what they want or how they hope to achieve it. There is a general feeling that the top 1% are responsible for much of what is wrong in this country, and they should be forced to make it right. There are some on the left who believe that if someone is rich, it is because they have stolen from the poor. Therefore, they should be coerced, on pain of death or imprisonment, to give their wealth to those who did not earn it. Have people like Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Donald Trump, and Oprah sinned against the proletariat, and must they pay for their sins?

We should fight for justice, and we should oppose corruption in our government. Businesses should not be given special treatment by the government, nor should they be suppressed or brutally taxed. If they succeed, they succeed; if they fail, they fail. No one is entitled to what another has earned, and no one should be required to pay another's debts. If you want what the rich have, then work for it; don't demand that the government steal from the rich for you. When you say, “The government should pay for this for me,” what you really mean is, “My fellow citizens should pay for this for me.” When you say, “The government should pay for this for me, even if it is in debt and needs to borrow money to pay for it,” what you are really saying is, “Our descendants should pay for this for me.”

I will withhold my final judgment of the Occupiers for now. They do have something to say, under the mess, and it may be that a coherent and positive message will eventually shine through. In the meantime, however, there seems to be a great deal of jealousy and a sense of entitlement. Perhaps, in time, the “gimme” kids will go home, and the mature, serious individuals can raise their voices.

30 October 2011

Reformation Day

A priest stands at the church door with a hammer in his hand
He strikes the nail and lights a spark to burn throughout the land
No more to follow pope or priest, men's own creeds they shall make
And a thousand take up holy writ and a thousand faiths create.

King Henry sits his island throne with lustful, leering eye
For love of Anne, the lady fair, his queen he'll set aside
The headman's axe for those who cling to faith and to tradition
The crown will take the church and land, burn nunnery and mission.

The Turk stands in the Roman East, his eye looks ever West
Let every Christian take up arms, by Mother Mary blessed
But lordlings small with grasping hand, do rip and tear, divide
Like soldiers 'neath the holy cross where Christ was crucified.

Now break the stained glass windows, friends, and tear the altars down
And spill the wine and sacred bread to trample on the ground
Tradition died a bloody death, tomorrow come what may
So raise a glass and celebrate on Reformation Day.

25 September 2011


On Tuesday, August 2, 2011, not long after 6:30pm, I found myself facedown on the floor at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, in Chicago, Illinois.  There were less than a dozen people in the church, including the priest and singers.  It was dark and warm, though cooler than the city outside.  The service was the Canon of Supplication to the Mother of God.  There were a few pews along the edge of the church, but aside from the prostrations, people stood for the length of the service.  The church was beautiful, in a way only an Orthodox church can be.  Some of the older Catholic churches come close, it is true, but one must seek out the diamonds in the rough.

In the service, we gave glory to God, and we sought the intercession of Mary, most Holy Mother of God.  I did not know the words, so it was difficult to chant and sing along, but the service was in English.  I attempted to make the sign of the cross when the others did, to bow when they did, and to lie facedown on the ground when they did.  I probably stood out like a sore thumb, but no one gave me any odd looks.

When the service ended, I walked out into the Chicago air, but I think the real breath of fresh air had been inside.  Such beauty and reverence is so rare in our Western churches.  In my oft-interrupted search for the Church, my sympathies have tended to lean Catholic, and still do, but even the Catholic Church could learn something about worship from the Orthodox.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; both now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

30 August 2011

A Tale of an Art Museum

Mr. Goldwaithe and Mr. Shreeves took it upon themselves to open an art museum. They sought out many paintings, sculptures, and other works of art to begin their collection. It was in their mind to do something new, to leave behind what their ignorant forebears had valued and instead embrace that which was exciting and fresh.

The works began pouring into the museum. They had paint splattered on canvas, twisted pieces of metal, garbage nailed to boards, cans full of oily rags, and numerous other modern works of art. Displays were set up, and soon the museum was full of visitors.

One day, an old man approached Mr. Goldwaithe and Mr. Shreeves and asked if they had any older pieces. They said there was a room, down in the basement, where an older painting could be found. It had been popular once, the gentlemen explained to the old man, but it did not fit with the museum's theme, and the young would not be interested in it.

The old man made his way to the basement and opened the door. On the opposite wall was a painting of a simple and beautiful landscape. The old man knew the artist well, and had loved his paintings in his youth. The image was marred, however, as someone had added splashes of color, which clashed with the original painting.

Mr. Goldwaithe and Mr. Shreeves explained that they had tried to update the painting for modern audiences, but decided in the end that it was too traditional, despite the changes. The old man looked said at this, but his expression changed to one of determination, and he stepped into the room. He moved to the painting and began painstakingly chipping away at the new blotches of paint.

As he worked, more people entered the room, and some came to assist him. Men, women and children of all ages stood in awe as the original painting came fully into view. As the last chip of offending paint fell to the floor, the old men stepped back and smiled. He did not know if the painting would ever move to its rightful place upstairs, but it was here now, and the people had seen it. For some, it was a reminder of their past, and for others a glimpse of beauty they did not know had ever existed in the world.

25 July 2011

Chess and Tradition

Here is a quick thought on tradition, using chess as an analogy. Due to my nerd-like tendencies, people might think I am good at chess. Not so, I am afraid. I tend to start out fairly well, but my downfall usually comes from moving one critical piece when I should not.

Let us say I moved a knight into a key position, which protected my king, while threatening one of my opponent's valuable pieces. When I moved it, I had a clear idea of why the knight was there. However, many turns pass, perhaps with a break for lunch or a round of mini golf. Later on, I look at the knight and say to myself, “Why should the knight be there? If I move him, I can accomplish something great over here.” I move the knight, my opponent takes advantage of the opening, and I lose a few turns later. I had forgotten why the knight was there, and because of this lapse, I lost the game.

Rather than explain further, I will leave it at that. Anyone want to play chess?

22 June 2011

A Religious Conversation

What follows is a fictional conversation between myself and three gentlemen. I imagine us in a quiet corner of a pub, with a few pints on the table and a muted sport channel playing on the wall television. I should think it is a Blackpool-Aston Villa game, though none of us are paying attention to it. It is late afternoon, and a light rain is falling from a cloudy sky outside. We are in England, perhaps in the north or west, though it matters little. What I am doing at a pub in England is a bit of a mystery. It may have something to do with that book of Tennyson's poems I was browsing in the basement of a bookshop during the time between times. Listen then, to the conversation, if you like, though there are other tables if solitude is your goal on a cloudy day.

“And that is why I no longer buy my shoes in bulk,” I said. “But, back to the subject of the Church, the nature of it has long been a concern of mine. If God is real, and if He became a man, and if He, as the man Jesus Christ, founded a Church, and if it is His will that we all enter into it, then that is what we ought to do. Growing up, I believed the Church was an invisible body of true believers, scattered among a multitude of denominations. However, I have come to believe this is not how the early Church saw itself. There was a strongly defined line between being in communion and out of communion, between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. In the apostolic age and during the first few centuries of Christianity, there was a visible, corporate union.”

The three men nodded their agreement.

“This is not to say everyone always agreed,” I continued, “but when there was a significant dispute within the Church, they would meet in council to determine orthodox doctrine. They would not just say, 'Let every man do what seems best to him,' and then calmly observe the subsequent splintering of the Church.”

“It is no surprise that so many Protestants would adopt the invisible Church theory,” said Mr. Pope. “After the utter chaos and disaster which followed the 'Reformation,' rather than despair at schism upon schism, Protestants simply decided that corporate union was no longer important.”

“In effect,” said Mr. Athos, “rather than solve the problem, they declared it solved in its current state, much like a child told to clean his room who then decides the floor really is the proper place for all his toys. This is not to say Christianity in the West was not already in a sorry state prior to the Reformation, of course.”

“Indeed,” said Mr. King, “though I do have, I think, a higher opinion of the state of the West than Mr. Athos, here. The Church needed a little adjustment, not a disintegration.”

“So, the Reformation happened, with some bad results and some good,” I said. “Five hundred years later, how do we look at the Church and how do we find our place in it? I am not comfortable with the invisible body of believers theory, because I am not prepared to pronounce dead the visible Church founded by the apostles. That Church is worth looking for, at the very least.”

“He who seeks, finds,” said Mr. Pope.

“Perhaps I can use the analogy of a tree,” I continued. “The Church started as a trunk in the time of the apostles. Today, there are many branches, some healthy, some sick, and some which have since fallen from the tree. Should we try to locate the healthiest branch, work to improve the health of the branch in which we find ourselves, or has the trunk itself continued to grow tall and strong?”

“I hold to the branch theory,” said Mr. King, “which is why I see Mr. Pope and Mr. Athos here as fellow members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I do not look at Christians without apostolic succession or without sacraments in the same way. I make no speculation about the state of their souls, but I cannot think of them as being truly in the Church. The Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox are not in communion, but I do not believe the walls that divide us reach to Heaven. Our clergy have received the same authority, we offer the same sacraments, and we worship the same Christ.”

“It is very kind of you to see Mr. Pope and me in this way,” said Mr. Athos, “but of course you know our churches cannot say the same about you or about each other.”

“Of course,” said Mr. King, good-naturedly.

“Christ is not divided,” Mr. Athos continued. “If the Church is Christ's body, how can Christ's body be divided, be split up into branches? Is the Holy Spirit leading us down divergent paths?”

“Can you elaborate on what you said, Mr. King, about other Christians being different from Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox?” I asked. “You Anglicans are, after all, children of the Reformation, just as the rest of us Protestants are.”

“It comes down to the apostolic, sacramental nature of the Church,” said Mr. King. “The early Church believed in sacraments, and it believed in the transmission of apostolic authority through the laying on of hands. Those churches which have maintained that succession and which have maintained that understanding of the sacraments are on a different level than those bodies which have broken away from that and renounced centuries of Christian tradition. We believe the Church of England took the good from the Reformation,without at the same time tossing out the good of Catholicism. The sects that were unable to do that, and which instead threw out the good along with the bad, replacing it with their own innovations, are the ones I call Protestant.”

“You are a traditionalist, Mr. King, an Anglo-Catholic,” said Mr. Pope. “Obviously, I have sympathy for your point of view, but you are not representative of Anglicanism as a whole. It may not have appeared very Protestant when King Henry still sat the throne, but it is certainly Protestant now. Its founding was due to the rejection of authority, its doctrine is a matter of vote, and it is becoming less and less orthodox by the day.”

“We have our heretics, to be sure,” said Mr. King, “but so do you. The statements from Rome may be orthodox, but are the local parish members any different in your Church than they are in mine? All of Christendom is in a struggle in our day.”

“The faith has always had difficult times,” said Mr. Athos, “this being but the latest of many, with many sure to come. When we look at a struggle within a church, however, sometimes we have to wonder if the struggles are due to the very nature of the church itself. Schism and heresy are built into the Protestant system, as Protestantism has as one of its core values the idea that each believer has the right to determine doctrine for himself and to reject any and all authority that contradicts his view of the Scriptures. In Roman Catholicism, the idea of the development of doctrine has led to all manner of heresies which, coupled with the growth of papal power, led to the Protestant rebellion and the shattering of Christianity in the West.”

“I don't like the current state of Protestantism,” I said, “and all three of your communions are appealing to me, in different ways. However, there is a zeal for the faith in some of these non-sacramental communities that often seems to be missing in the older churches. Yes, their buildings are ugly and their music is awful, and they often bend over backwards trying to avoid tradition, but these people really do love Christ.”

“I certainly don't deny that,” said Mr. Pope. “But imagine if these people also had the sacraments and were receiving Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity at every mass. Do these people love Christ because of where they are, or would they continue to love Him in His Church? This is not a case of the nominal traditional Christians opposed to the zealous modern Christians. The tares and the wheat grow up alongside each other in every church. And an exciting service is not necessarily an indication of a strong faith. We Catholics are often accused by low church Evangelicals of being dull in our worship, simply because we treat the worship of God as a sacred event and not as a rock concert.”

“I prefer traditional liturgy,” I said, “and I love the old hymns, but I understand other people have different preferences. I do not want to accuse them of not worshiping properly, because they do not like the same kind of music or liturgy as I do. Still, modern Protestant church music is often painful for me to sing, and it is so theologically weak, it nearly makes me weep when I think about what we could be singing instead. And yet, I shouldn't become Catholic, for example, just because I don't like modern Protestant music.”

“Have you been to a Roman Catholic mass lately?” asked Mr. Athos. “The typical Novus Ordo parish is not singing the old hymns, either. They haven't turned congregational singing into a rock concert yet, but perhaps after Vatican III, they'll tear out the altar to make room for the drum set.”

“The past few decades have been a disaster, I will give you that,” said Mr. Pope, “but there is hope for the restoration of the sacred. The Latin mass is more widely available, Gregorian chant is encouraged, and much of the liturgical nonsense that has been tolerated for many years is on its way out. The Church has made it through worse.”

“You know,” said Mr. King, “if you want the old hymns, we still sing them. Come to church with me on Sunday, and I will show you a beautiful church, a reverent liturgy, and even some Latin. Mr. Pope would almost approve.”

“All form and no substance,” said Mr. Pope. “You have maintained the trappings of Rome, even when many Catholics forgot their value, but the theological foundation has eroded away. If your services are to be any more than playacting, you will have to return to the substance of the faith, and not merely its outward appearances.”

“We do not sing the Protestant hymns you love,” said Mr. Athos, “but once you have chanted the Divine Liturgy, you will not know if you are on Heaven or on Earth. And there is much in the Protestant hymns that is orthodox; sing them among your family and friends, by all means.”

“To leave one's church for another is a sad thing,” I said. “But if one were to leave one's church in order to return to the previous branch, as it were, that would be the opposite of schism. If unity is something which we ought to seek, then we should applaud such an action, if, in fact, the previous branch has managed to maintain the faith. I grew up as a Free Methodist. If there was a Methodist church in my area that was orthodox, it would be an act of unity and healing for me to join it. However, the Methodist movement itself came from Anglicanism. Would it not be even better to find an orthodox church in the Anglican communion?”

“Certainly,” said Mr. King.

“And yet,” I continued, “Anglicanism broke away from Catholicism, so would it be better yet to find an orthodox Catholic church?”

“Hear, hear,” said Mr. Pope.

“If I go back even further, however,” I said, “I am faced with a dilemma. That the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church split is obvious, but who came from whom is not. Who is the original and who is the schismatic?”

“You know my answer to that,” said Mr. Athos.

“Perhaps we can each make our case,” said Mr. King. “As a branch theory believer, it matters little to me, eternally speaking, which you choose, but obviously I am Anglican for a reason. The Church of England is the Church of my fathers. It is the church in which I was raised. I grew up singing the hymns, living through the liturgical year, and celebrating the Eucharist. The ancient churches that tower over the English countryside, which our ancestors built, are Anglican churches. Mr. Pope would surely say they ought to belong to Rome, but they are English churches in which English people have worshiped for centuries. I see a continuity from the days of St. Augustine of Canterbury and those who preceded him up to the present day.

“The people of England stayed loyal to their bishops, not needing a bishop in far-off Rome to legitimize their authority. If your ancestors, Mr. Kinyon, had stayed loyal to their bishops, you would be an Anglican. If you want to end your current schismatic state, you need go no further.

“Besides,” he continued, “as a literary man, certainly you admire C.S. Lewis?”

“I do very much,” I said.

“He was an Anglican, and he was quite orthodox and sincere in his faith. Christians all over the world, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike, admire his writings. Newman and Chesterton became Catholic, it is true, but so much of their inspiring and thoroughly Christian work was written while they were still Anglicans. Can you look at these men and say, 'Anglicanism does not produce Christian men?'

“Come to the Church of England, and you can worship God in reverence and beauty. You can recover the traditions you thought were lost, and gain that which you have never had. You will not need to accept odd and un-biblical doctrines like purgatory or papal infallibility, which you will if you join Mr. Pope's church. You will not need to reject your own Western Christian heritage, which you will if you join Mr. Athos' church. Yes, we have our modernists and our liberals, who seem intent on wrecking their faith and bringing the Church down with them, but the faith is strong within many and the light of Christ's love burns strong and true.”

“Mr King, your love for your church is admirable,” said Mr. Pope. “May God bring unity. I believe the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church spoken of in the creed. As Christ said, 'you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.' Peter, chief of the apostles, was given special authority to feed Christ's sheep, to guard and guide the Church. His successors, the bishops of Rome, have done this for nearly two millennia, and they will continue to do so until Christ's return.

“The Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ. All Protestant denominations, Anglicanism being no exception, are schisms from Christ's Church. What is the source of their authority? Protestantism is collapsing, moving further and further from orthodoxy with every passing day. The Catholic Church has continued to teach true doctrine, continued to confess the creeds, and continued to hold to traditional Christian morality. Even the Eastern Orthodox have compromised on contraception and divorce.

“In the Catholic Church, God's grace is given through the sacraments. Every day, all over the world, mass is offered. The Church spans the globe, just as it has spanned the centuries. The Catholic Church is your home. It is where your ancestors worshiped, and the door is open for you. Mr. King speaks well of Anglicanism, but the good and beauty found within are remnants of Catholicism. Even these remnants are fading, as Anglicanism moves away from the source of its strength. It is no accident that men like Newman and Chesterton entered the Catholic Church. When an Anglican strives to be orthodox, a journey to Rome is nearly inevitable. We may even see our good friend Mr. King in the Church someday, particularly with the ordinariate now in place.

“The Catholic Church covered Europe with cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and universities. It preserved the learning of classical Greece and Rome, and combined it with the fierce and noble spirit of the barbarians. It developed the code of chivalry. It has continued to produce great scientists, doctors, philosophers, writers, and artists. In its music, art, and architecture, it has shown the world what beauty is.

“Most importantly, however, is the fact that the Catholic Church is true. It bears a truth sanctified by the blood of martyrs, a truth which has stood strong against all the attacks of heresy, a truth that will not compromise. The Church is the ark of salvation, and it will bring you safely to Heaven's shores.”

“Orthodoxy is, sad to say, quite unknown in the West,” began Mr. Athos. “Those who are even aware of us think of us as Roman Catholics with beards and funny hats, or as a tribal religion for Russians, Greeks, and Arabs. However, this is changing, as immigrant communities become more established and as Westerners join the Church. For Western Christians, it really is a reclamation of their heritage. The West was Orthodox for a thousand years, professing the same faith in union with their brothers in the East.

“The Orthodox Church is the ancient Church, holding to the same faith as the apostles, safeguarding it through the centuries. It has not been led astray by heresy, nor has it wandered down the path of speculation and novelty. Orthodox Christianity is the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

“Consider Protestantism. It claims to be a return to the ways of the early Church. And yet, when we look at the early Church, where is this Protestantism? Consider Roman Catholicism. It claims its late doctrinal definitions are merely confirming what the Church has always believed. However, when we look at the early Church, where are these doctrines? The Orthodox can look at the early Christians and say, 'we confess the same faith.'

“In the Orthodox Church, the emphasis is on Christ the Savior, who conquered death and saved us. God sent His Son into the world to rescue us from sin and death, not to stand in our place in a legal sense, suffering the wrath of the Father. Western Christianity so often portrays God the Father as our enemy. Yes, God is just and holy, and yes our sin is an offense against Him, but in Orthodoxy, we never forget that God loves us and He wants to save us.

“Orthodoxy has maintained a sense of beauty and reverence. While Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have both turned away from tradition, in favor of weak pop music, poor art, and poor architecture, Orthodoxy has preserved the Heavenly liturgy. Many a Roman Catholic, distressed by the post-Vatican II iconoclasm which has afflicted his church, has come to Orthodoxy, drawn first by the beauty and then by the truth.

“Orthodoxy is a family Church. Many of our priests are married and have children. Honoring Christ's desire to let the little children come to Him, we offer communion even to infants. Children attend the Divine Liturgy and participate in the service.

“Consider your spiritual welfare and that of your family. Mr. King's parish may be fairly orthodox, and Anglicans of his catholic leanings may be strong Christians, but they are a minority. Anglicanism is dying, and attending a conservative parish is only delaying the inevitable. Mr. Pope's church may look great on paper, but far too many of the priests and bishops do not hold to church teaching. The members at the parish level are no different than the Anglicans, though perhaps with even less interest in tradition. In Orthodoxy, the same faith is held everywhere, not changing with the times like in Protestantism, and not dictated from on high and then ignored like in Roman Catholicism.”

There was so much more to say, but I felt myself being drawn away from the table and back to my own land. Rather, that is something that may have happened, if in fact this event had happened. I rather think it would have been a joy if it had.

Dear reader, what do you think of these three men? Where do you think they were right or wrong? Where do you think they could have each made a better case? Could another have entered the conversation with something meaningful to contribute?

07 May 2011

Royals and Revolution

It would be an understatement to say the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was a popular event here in the United States. The descendants of the men who fought at Lexington and Concord, who froze at Valley Forge, and who renounced their loyalty to the crown, thrilled to the sights and sounds of the British Empire in all its glory. I think perhaps King George III would crack a smile.

And why not, eh? It has been nearly two hundred years since American and British fighting men were putting serious effort into killing each other on purpose. For the past century or so, our bullets have been going in the same direction in our various shared wars. We share a language, even if the British generally make better use of it. We have a common heritage, and we have stood together, even when it was not individually advantageous for us to do so.

Our mutual ancestors fought at Hastings and Agincourt, at Stirling and the Boyne. We repelled the Spanish Armada. We built castles and monasteries, cathedrals and universities. This rough mix of quarrelsome Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen, along with numerous others, built one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

Some of us continued to make the British Isles our home, but others traveled across the sea to America. We built our homes, planted our fields, and raised our families, all under a common flag and a common king. Vast oceans tend to make people drift apart, however, and those of us on the western side of the Atlantic tore down the Union Jack and went our own way.

And yet, we still follow the British royals. We share in the joys of a wedding, we line up to watch The King's Speech. When we see Queen Elizabeth II ride by in her carriage or wave to the crowd from a balcony, we do not see her as we see any other foreign leader, or even any other nation's monarch. She is someone important to us as a people. We Americans may not owe her our allegiance, but I think in some small way, we feel we still ought to.

I am a traditionalist, as both my regular readers know, and I admit to holding unpopular and outmoded ideas about loyalty, duty, and honor. I have a low view of violent revolution, colored perhaps by my own experience with armed insurgency. I stand with the Cavaliers, rather than the Roundheads, with those who defend the king and not with those seeking his head.

As such, when I consider our own revolution, that nearly sacred event we celebrate every July 4th, I am conflicted. I admire the patriots, because I believe they meant what they said when they devoted their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause. There is something very inspiring about Washington crossing the Delaware, about ragtag militias forming ranks against a professional army, about the people of America saying, “Don't tread on me!” and then taking up their muskets and sabers to fight against tyranny.

However, you cannot spell “loyalist” without “loyal,” and I must say my greater sympathies lie with those who stood with King George, honoring their oaths of allegiance to the king. While the actions of the rebels may have been very understandable, and I give them the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions, I think that ultimately those who said, “I was a king's man before the revolution, I am a king's man now, and a king's man ever I shall be,” had the right of it. A man who was loyal to the crown in 1766 did not somehow become a villain because he was still loyal to it in 1776.

Two centuries have passed of course, which is, as they say, a great deal of water under the bridge. I believe it is good that America is an independent nation, even if I do not fully agree with the means by which that independence was achieved. I am very proud of my country, and I am very proud to have served in my country's military. Our quarrel with the British monarch ended long ago, and the United Kingdom is perhaps our greatest ally.

I am a romantic, so my thoughts are not entirely based on cool and impassioned logic, but I think highly of monarchy as a system of government. A monarchy is not necessarily less free than a democracy, so long as individual rights are recognized and protected. One could argue that the British had far more rights in the past, when the monarch had more power, than they do now. A monarch has more responsibility to the realm than an elected president does. A president may be tempted to experiment with radical policies and then leave it to the next president to fix it, but a monarch will be leaving the kingdom to his or children. Plus, elected presidents are nearly always people who sought out the job, and are, therefore, the last people who should actually have it.

Not everyone thinks the way I do about the monarchy, I realize, but I think many other Americans view the British monarch as being special to us, in a way that no other foreign leader is. Queen Elizabeth II may not be our head of state, but we are still glad she sits the throne.

I, for one, hope the British keep their monarchy for as long as this world endures. If the monarchy were to pass away, the British, and the world, would be the poorer for it. In a sense, the monarchy represents the soul of Britain, something rarely seen in our day, but so beautiful and glorious when it is.

God save the Queen!

28 February 2011

The Journey. A Rough Draft Excerpt: The Church of Recovering Catholics.

I was walking down a lonely road one morning in the early Spring. The frost still clung to the low-lying branches, but the songbirds were out and about, greeting the sun and rejoicing in the new day. The crisp cold air was invigorating, and I quickened my stride, proceeding on my morning journey. As I made my way around a bend in the road, I saw two buildings in the distance, one across the road from another.

The building on the right was a stone structure, covered in moss and ivy. The grounds were overgrown with bushes and weeds, and if it were not for the cross on the roof, I would not have known what the building was. As I drew near, I identified more markings of a church: a bell in the tower, stone crosses in the graveyard, and dusty stained glass windows.

The building on the left was also a church, by the look of it, though much larger and more modern. There was a large parking lot, full of vehicles of all kinds. I was intrigued by both churches, but as no one appeared to be at the older church, I departed the road on the left side and approached the larger building. I walked to the glass doors and, seeing a crowd inside, pushed open the doors and entered the church.

“Welcome, welcome!” said a pleasant, overweight gentleman in a gray suit. He shook my hand and asked, “What brings you here?”

“Just on a walk,” I said. “Not really sure where I am going, to be honest.”

“Well, let me show you around,” he said. “We're always glad to have visitors.”

He led me to two young men who were standing by a rack of tracts, a cup of coffee in each of their hands. They were dressed casually, both in jeans, one with a hooded sweatshirt and the other with a plain black tee shirt.

“We have a visitor,” my guide said, and the two young men welcomed me and introduced themselves. We exchanged names and the usual pleasantries, and then I asked them if they knew anything about the church across the road. At this, their smiles disappeared, and the older man made a rather disgusted face.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I'm just very interested in history, and the church looks like it has been here for a while.”

“Forgive me,” said the older man. “You see, we all used to attend that church, but we are now on the road to recovery. This is the Church of Recovering Catholics.”

“I see,” I said.

“That church across the road is a bit of a sore subject, I'm afraid. We all left for a variety of reasons, and we are all very glad we did. For myself, it was the Catholic Church's insistence on being the only true Church. Can you imagine? That sense of exclusivity and the drawing of such a clear line is incredible!”

“And they are way too hopeful when it comes to the salvation of non-Christians,” said one of the young men. “If you're not a Christian, you're going to Hell. That's the end of it. I don't know why they can't see that, but then they're not actually Christians, are they?”

“Catholicism is far too difficult to understand,” said another member of the church, a middle-aged woman with glasses. “So much doctrine and so many rules. You need a PhD to understand half of it. Where is the simple message of Jesus Christ?”

“It is an ignorant peasant religion,” said another member of the church, an elderly man with an aristocratic air. “It appeals only to the common people, the brawling, stinking masses.”

“They have no room for Scripture, you know,” another said. “It's all man-made traditions, replacing the word of God.”

“And they were always reading the Bible during mass,” an older woman said. “I swear, they spent more time reading the Bible than the priest spent explaining it during the sermon. The sermon is really the point, isn't it? If they could cut the readings to one, they would have more time for a good, inspiring sermon.”

“The Catholic Church is so strict!” said a young woman. “There are so many rules. Don't do this, don't do that.”

“And they are far too forgiving,” said another. “I have never known such a bunch of sinners in my life! The vast majority should have been cast out of the doors long ago, but they are still there, week after week!”

“They make you confess your sins to a priest!” a young man said. “We should be able to take our sins directly to God and confess to Him privately in prayer. They make confession so difficult!”

“Confession is too easy,” said a middle-aged woman. “These young people would be out fornicating on Friday night, and then they would all be lined up at the confessional on Saturday. Checking the box is all it was; there was no change of heart. When I pray silently to God, I really mean it, not like those kids!”

“The Catholic Church is a patriarchal nightmare!” said a young woman. “An all male hierarchy ruling from on high and oppressing women!”

“And the Church is so feminine,” said a young man. “Everywhere you look, there's a statue of the Virgin Mary. My high school was controlled by a mob of authoritative nuns. I'm glad I escaped from all that and found a church where women know their place!”

“The Catholic Church is so violent!” another member said. “What with the Crusades, and the knights, and the Inquisitions, the Church's hands are stained with blood!”

“They're a bunch of weak-kneed pacifists!” a tall man said. “The old pope even opposed the war in Iraq! When you oppose God's empire, you oppose God! And speaking of which, the Church is disloyal. Our old priest baptized the children of illegal immigrants!”

“It's a bunch of superstitious nonsense,” said another member. “None of it can be proven.”

“And the Catholic Church thinks far too highly of science,” a woman said. “Did you know Catholics are allowed to believe in evolution and an old Earth? After the service today, we're going to burn some science textbooks. Care to join us?”

“And everyone knows the Church hates sex,” another said. “That's why their priests are celibate, you know.”

“And the Church keeps saying, 'be open to life, welcome children, rejoice in your union with your spouse,' as if our decision not to have children was any business of theirs!” another said.

“Because, of course, the Catholic Church does not allow contraception,” said a man wearing gloves and a surgical mask. “I hope you don't mind if we don't shake hands. I'm not much for touching people. My wife and I don't even sleep in the same room.”

“Speaking of wives,” said a middle-aged man. “The Catholic Church insists that my marriage to my first wife is still in effect, despite the fact that I have official government documents confirming that what God joined together was separated with a few signatures on a Monday afternoon last August.”

The members of the Church of Recovering Catholics continued to share their tales of how awful their former church was. Their service was about to begin, but I politely bowed out, saying I still had a journey ahead of me. As I walked out the front door and took a breath of the fresh, clean air, I looked across the road at the old church. The sun was shining on the steeple, and I could hear a hint of organ music.

I crossed the road, and as I drew near the church, I saw that it was not quite as broken down as I had first thought. The walls were strong, and the stained glass windows were intact. It was a solid structure; it had stood beside that road for many years, and it looked as if it would be there for many years to come.

A man was sitting on a bench by the church gate, smoking a pipe. He was an older man in a tweed jacket, and his eyes lit up when he saw me.

“Are you here for the mass?” he asked, rising and shaking my hand.

“I suppose so,” I said.

“You're just in time. Please come in!”

At this, the old man put out his pipe, placed it in his pocket, and we walked through the doors and into the church.


18 February 2011

On Mortality

I often contemplate my own mortality. This may seem odd or morbid, but it helps give me a sense of perspective. When I walk through cemeteries and see the names and dates on the headstones, I think to myself that these people once walked the ground, just as I do. They once lived and loved. Perhaps they too walked among the graves and pondered their own eventual deaths. Now their bodies lie beneath the earth, where one day I too shall lie.

Since I first started writing this, the fact of our mortality was driven home by the death of my own grandfather. I cut out much of what I had written, and edited much of what was left. Writing about death when it is personal tends to change one's perspective.

Until a few years ago, death had been a very abstract idea for me. This began to change when I joined the Army and deployed to Iraq. I remember sitting in stunned silence when I learned that a soldier in my company had been cut down by a sniper's bullet. I remember feeling the heat of the explosion that killed a friend of mine, the warmth washing over me as the smoke rose in the sky. I remember walking among the bodies of Iraqi civilians, killed by a truck bomb, watching as grieving bystanders found the charred, blackened body of a young boy. I remember news of other bombs, other attacks, other names, people I had known, talked with, lived with. Death became something tangible in that distant land.

And yet, even these comrades, these friends, were people I had known for only a short time. My grandfather was someone I had known my entire life. Someone who had always been in my world was suddenly gone from it.

There is a sense that death is always tragic, always something that ought not be, even when the one who dies is old. I had thought this for some time, but in these past few weeks, I have felt it personally. It was inevitable that my grandfather would die, just as it is inevitable that I myself will die, but it still feels as if some awful violence has been done to the universe. It feels as if one who should have walked forever in the sight of God and among his fellow men was ripped away, contrary to all that is right and good, leaving a gaping, tattered hole that can never be repaired for as long as this world endures.

This troubles people, and I am no exception. We know death is our fate, but none of us, or at least very few of us, are comfortable with that. There is fear and there is uncertainty, a mystery we do not fully understand. We know we are going to die, but the nature of it, as well as what, if anything, comes after, is unknown.

Death could come for us at any moment. One minute, you're enjoying the good life. The next, you're being torn to pieces by a pack of Lesser Anatolian wolfbears in a Novosibirsk slum. When you woke up that morning, you may not even have known where Novosibirsk was (not in Anatolia, incidentally), but the wolfbears did, and they were there waiting for you.

Death can defy our expectations. A man of seventy yells at a boy of ten for running on his lawn. The man is bitter about his own advanced age, and he is envious of the years the boy has ahead of him. And yet, the old man lives to 105, and the boy is killed ten years later when his platoon's position is overrun by a wave of enemy staff officers.

Another man in the same platoon survives three years of war, countless artillery barrages, hundreds of firefights, and he goes home and is killed when his pickup truck crashes through a plate glass window and into a herd of bison.

In the end, however, whether young or old, whether it was a surprise or an expected and even overdue event, all of us will die. The mortality rate is sitting steady at one hundred percent, with no sign of changing anytime soon.

It is odd to me that so many of us have died, and yet none of us who are alive today know what it is like. Despite the experiences of billions of our ancestors before us, the exact nature of our fate is a mystery, shrouded behind the veil. We all pass the threshold, as it were, with a fair amount of uncertainty.

There is a general human idea, held by most of us on this planet of ours, that we each have souls that live on after we die, and that our conduct in this world has at least some impact on our eternal fate. Within that vague mass of theism, I personally hold to the Christian view of the universe, that God has created us, that He became a man and died for us, and that He has prepared Heaven for all those who accept His forgiveness and grace. This is a significant claim to make, and I do often have doubts, but here, on Christ the solid rock, I stand; I can do no other.

“What if you are wrong?” someone might ask. “Would it not be horrifying to get to the end of your life and discover Christianity is not true?” I say it could be a good deal less horrifying than discovering it is. Christianity offers us the hope of being saved from a fate too awful to contemplate, but I cannot say I would be sad to discover this awful fate was never actually a concern at all. Still, I am not one to pick and choose, tossing out the bits of God's revelation I don't like. Truth does not depend upon my approval, so I soldier on, filled with a mix of hope and fear.

As I have traveled on my as yet uncompleted journey into Christian orthodoxy, I have shed much of the presumption I previously had. I can no longer say I was “saved” on such and such a day, with Heaven a certainty and every good deed a favor to the Almighty. To me, asking a living person, “When were you saved?” is like seeing a man who is waist-deep in the river and asking him, “When did you reach the shore?” He may very well not be as deep as he once was, but he has not reached the shore yet. There is even the dreadful possibility that he may yet turn around and plunge back into the depths. I need God's mercy and grace every single day of my life. We all do.

When our lives end, what will become of us? What will become of me? I must admit I fear God will find my love lacking, my excuses for not being within His visible Church feeble, my Christian service a lie. And yet, I hope for His floodgates of mercy to pour forth, washing me clean of all sin, cleansing me of all my faults and filling me with all the good I lack. I hope for forgiveness, so I forgive. I hope for love, so I try to love as best I can.

Being ready to die is not some morbid fascination. It is prudent and wise. Just as we have life insurance and wills, so also should we mind the state of our souls. None of us knows when we will take the journey of death, but we will all take it. I hope to live for many more years, seeing my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but that last day will come.

My goals in life are simple. I want to raise my children to be good and holy people, I want to die in God's grace, receiving His mercy and forgiveness, and I want to do something good, leaving this Earth better than I found it. I hope and pray that we will all have such a life.

As I live, with the knowledge of my eventual death and mindful of the future state of my soul, I put my trust in Christ who conquered death. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. May Almighty God watch over us, guide us and guard us, and may He welcome us into His presence at the last.