Sunday, July 31, 2005

Reconsidering the Meaning of Conversion

The latest issue of Christianity Today has an essay by Sam Torode, entitled It’s All About Jesus: A Convert to Orthodoxy Reconsiders Evangelicalism."

I should begin by saying that I am sure that Sam Torode means well, and is sincerely trying to grapple with the Orthodox Faith and Ortho-praxis – so I don’t wish anything I am going to say as a criticism of him personally. However, given that his article was published in Christianity Today, there are a number of things he has stated that need a response.

Christianity Today, despite it’s rather broadly sounding title is an Evangelical magazine that only takes minimal note of what it going on in non-Evangelical Christianity. For example, when there was an article on how Christians in Serbia were dealing with the US bombing of their country, the article focused on the less than 1% of Serbians who are Protestants rather than on the much larger percentage of Serbians who are Orthodox. When they do talk about the Orthodox, they like to find Orthodox writers who affirm Evangelicalism, and take shots at Orthodoxy (which is why you often see articles by “Orthodox expert” Bradley Nassif., for example).

I have been a subscriber to Christianity today for nearly 20 years, and I maintained my subscription after I converted to Orthodoxy because I wanted to keep up with what is going on in the Evangelical world, and also because I wanted to know what Evangelicals are saying about the Orthodox.

In this particular essay we have a convert to Orthodoxy who is reconsidering his previous Evangelicalism. The first question I had when reading this article was how long Sam Torode has been Orthodox? The article gives no indication, but after poking around on the internet, I was able to discover that he and his wife converted to Orthodox in June of 2003… which means, given when I received the issue his article appeared in (which was mid-July, 2005), he probably had not been Orthodox a full two years before this article was written. I converted to Orthodoxy about 15 years ago.

In the early Church one generally had to be a catechumen for 3 years before they were baptized and admitted to communion. The reason for this is that it takes time to develop an Orthodox Christian world view. It is even more difficult for someone coming from a heterodox background to develop an Orthodox Christian world view. I go into great detail as to why this is in a talk I gave entitled "Renewing the Mind: Acquiring an Orthodox outlook", and so rather than duplicate what I said there, I will refer the reader to that text, but in short, because Protestantism shares much of the same terminology as the Orthodoxy, but with slightly different meaning, Protestants who convert to Orthodoxy have to work harder than a convert from paganism would have to work to ensure that what they think they know about the faith is really Orthodox.

A similar phenonomen occurs when someone studies one style of Martial arts and then begins to study a very different style. A person off the street is more likely to learn the techniques of the new style the way that they are supposed to be done than someone who has a black belt in a different style, because they not only have to learn new things, they have to learn to not do them the way that they have already had drilled into their head.

Unfortunately, many converts to Orthodoxy are not told this, and so fail to grasp the need for them to approach Orthodoxy differently than they approached their former Protestantism. The results are often people who have only half converted to Orthodoxy, but think they already know what Orthodoxy is all about.

Not only does one need to understand the need for a change in world view, but one needs to allow the time for that change to occur. When I was a Protestant, I was an associate pastor, and was used to teaching and preaching to others about the faith. When I converted to Orthodoxy, I had to take the time to stop teaching others, and learn things I didn’t know… and unlearn things I thought I knew that were either completely wrong, or partly wrong. My priest made clear to me that this was a process that would take time, and so I had to get used being a “white-belt” again. The only subject that I felt competent to speak or write on at that time was why I became Orthodox… and even then, I would submit what I wrote to review by more deeply rooted Orthodox Christians than I. I didn’t so much as attempt to teach a children’s Sunday school class until I had been Orthodox for three years.

Now to some specific issues raised by Sam Torode in this essay:

1) Fasting and legalism:

Sam writes: “Faced with all this fasting, it’s easy to get obsessive. We joined a parish of mostly ex-Protestants who, like us, were eager to be good Orthodox. We looked down on those “ethnic Orthodox” who still eat their gyros and feta cheese during Lent. During church fellowship times, our conversations often centered on fasting…”

I don’t doubt that this was Sam Torode’s experience, but this is not the norm in the Orthodox Church. In my experience, it is only very recent converts who spend much of their time chatting about fasting. It doesn’t make for particularly engaging conversation, if done with any regularity. It is also true that it is a temptation for converts to look down on “cradle Orthodox” who are less fervent. However, this is a temptation that a parish priest should be actively fighting against if he wishes his converts to develop a healthy spirituality. First of all, judging others is something that the Scriptures and the Fathers focus on as a serious spiritual problem that one has to overcome. Secondly, converts have much to learn from their “cradle Orthodox” brethren… even the less pious ones can often teach you things you wouldn’t learn from other converts. But obviously, one wants to emulate those cradle Orthodox that do manage to abstain from their feta cheese and gyros during lent.

One of the most beneficial (and trying) things my wife and I did after we converted was to move to an area where we joined a very Russian parish. It was difficult dealing with the language, and the cultural issues that we were confronted with, but we learned a great deal, and met some very pious people who had a great impact on us. For example, the choir director at this parish was a lady who was a Russian born in Harbin, China (which is where many Russians fled after the communists took over Russia), where she was raised in a very pious Russian exile community that came very close to re-creating the best features of pre-revolutionary Russian culture – until they again had to flee when the Communists took over China. She also worked in the administrative offices of St. John of Shanghai, and so got know a man who was an extraordinary saint. She was also very well educated, and spoke several languages fluently, including English (fortunately for us).

Just to give a small example of what it was like to be around her in that parish, I was singing with her at the kleros on the feast of the Dormition. Most of the hymns we were singing were in Slavonic… which was of course a challenge for me. At one point we sang a hymn in which I put the emphasis on the wrong words, and when she had the chance she did an on-the-fly translation of the hymn into English (which I knew was accurate, because I had the English text where I could see it), and she explained the meaning of that hymn in such pious terms that I was deeply moved – her point was to explain why certain words needed to be emphasized, but I was struck by the evident depth of her love for God and the beauty and theology of the services. She didn’t eat cheese on fasts days either, even though her health and age has long exempted her from an obligation to fast.

Mr. Torode also mentioned the tradition of married couples abstaining from sex during the fasts. He writes: “Married couples are encouraged to take [fasting] a step further, by abstaining from intercourse on these same fast days. That’s not something Orthodox apologists like to broadcast….”

One thing that I discovered when I became Orthodox was that there were many things in Scripture that I never realized where there, even though I had read them over and over again. This is something that perhaps has not yet revealed itself to Sam Torode, but this tradition is entirely based on Scripture – see 1st Corinthians 7:4-5. This is not something that is “broadcasted” because it is only done by mutual consent, and is a matter for the couple to discuss with each other and their spiritual fathers.

Sam Torode: “One Sunday, a friend in the church confided to my wife, “Sometimes, I forget it’s all about Jesus.” That’s when it hit us – we’d forgotten that it’s all about Jesus, too. Most of the time, instead of overflowing with God’s love, I was just ticked off about not being able to eat a burger.”

Fasting is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. This is clearly brought home each year in the Sundays of preparation for great lent. Most notably on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Fasting is something that the New Testament speaks about on a regular basis, however – though Protestants generally fail to even occasionally mention it. Coming from a Wesleyan background, I had some exposure to fasting. In fact, when I was a sophomore in High School, I began fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays because I had read that this was the practice of John Wesley… because the “early Church” fasted on these days. And in fact, this tradition is spoken of in the Didache, which is considered by many scholars to be the oldest Christian text outside of the New Testament canon.

Yes, fasting can be misunderstood. It can become an end rather than a means to an end… but so can studying the Bible.

For more on fasting, see this excerpt from the Lenten Triodion on the meaning and history of fasting.

2) How we should view Evangelicals:

Sam Torode writes near the end of his essay: “Instead of “evangelizing” my evangelical friends, I now hope to learn from them. Discussing differences is worthwhile, but it’s more important to encourage each other as we grow in Christ.” Sam sees this as being a question of “humility” rather than of truth.

This reflects a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be Orthodox… as well as what it means to be heterodox. Being Orthodox does not mean that we are better than anyone else. I have known many pious Protestants who I am sure will have an easier time of it on the day of judgment than I will. Being Orthodox gives us a greater responsibility because we have the fullness of the truth and all the grace that is only available through the Church. To whom much is given, much is required.

We do not judge Protestants, because that is a matter for God. However, we do have an obligation to speak the truth in love to those who are not Orthodox.

We can learn a lot from Protestants. Here’s something I learned from one years ago. I was in a discussion between several college students and a Nazarene Missionary to Korea. We had just heard a lecture that spoke of the light and grace that God has made available to those who have never heard the Gospel. One student asked why we would bother sending missionaries to non-Christian countries, because they have their own culture, and if they hear the Gospel that will only increase their responsibility on the day of judgment. Why not just leave them be, and let them be judged based on the light that they already have? The Missionary responded roughly thus: “You tell me that people can be saved without hearing the Gospel, and I accept that as a possibility… and likewise I can believe that a man might be able to sail a kayak across the Pacific Ocean… but if I am in an Ocean liner, I am going to encourage the guy in the kayak to get on board the Ocean liner.

Likewise, I personally am convinced that many Protestants will be saved, but I know that the boats that they have crafted for themselves are not as sure as the Ark of Salvation that is the Church. And so, it is not due to a lack of humility that I encourage them to get on board the Ark… because I didn’t build the Ark, and have nothing to boast about it in any case. I entered the Ark the same way that I am now encouraging my Protestant friends to enter. It would only be due to a supreme lack of love and gratitude to God that I would fail to do so.

For more on this issue see "The Non-Orthodox", by Patrick Barnes, and "Will the Heterodox Be Saved?" by Metropolitan Philaret.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The NCC and other Commie Lib Organizations

Orthodoxy Today has more on the departure of the Antiochians from the National Council of Churches here. They also have this excellent article on the left wing politics of the NCC.

It is about time that those Orthodox who have been participating in the NCC have begun to leave. As bad as the WCC has been, the NCC has been worse.

All of this reminds me of a satirical hymn I wrote about the left wing agenda of the NCC back when I was still a Nazarene ministerial student in college. To understand the humor, I need to explain a few things that were going on in the 80's with the NCC:

The NCC was funding a Marxist revolutionary group in Namibia known as SWAPO (the South West African People's Organization). Namibia was being ruled at that time by the Apartheid government of South Africa (which was indeed a racist government, but blacks were trying to sneak into South Africa at that time rather than out it of it, as they are currently doing in Marxist Zimbabwe). Another feature of Marxists in Southern Africa of that time is that they subjected their enemies (white and black) to the practice of "necklacing" (in which they forced a rubber tire, filled with gasoline, around a victim's chest and arms, and set it on fire).

On another front at that time, the Communists had taken power in Nicaragua, and there was a counter-revolutionary group supported by the Reagan administration, known as the "Contras", that was trying to liberate that country from the Communists thugs that were opposing them. The NCC was adamantly opposed to any funding for the Contras. In fact, until the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, the NCC had almost nothing bad to say about any Communists, but were adamantly opposed to any group that was actively trying to oppose the Communists.

My satirical hymn was written to the tune of the famous hymn by Charles Wesley, "Arise, my soul, arise!", which you can hear by clicking here.

And so, with that lengthy introduction, here it is:

Arise SWAPO, Arise!

Arise, SWAPO, Arise!
Kill all your racist peers!
Light tires around their necks,
And watch their bodies sear.
We support you through the NCC.
We back your fight to set you free,
But Contra aid, we cannot see!

My apologies to Charles Wesley.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese Votes to Leave NCC

Breaking News: Orthodox Leave NCC

Dearborn, Michigan. July 28, 2005.This afternoon the General Convention of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America voted overwhelmingly to leave the National Council of Churches of Christ. The General Convention is holding its annual meeting this week in Dearborn, Michigan.

The action was not a temporary “suspension” of membership, but a formal withdrawal from the NCC. The clergy unanimously approved the withdrawal, followed by a unanimous vote of the lay delegates supporting the move. An announcement of the final vote was met with thunderous applause by the Convention.

Reasons given for the withdrawal include the general liberalism of the NCC, whose General Secretary, Bob Edgar, withdrew his signature from a statement defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Metropolitan PHILIP, head of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, was reportedly outspoken in calling for the church to withdraw from the NCC, stating that the relationship had proven fruitless.

The National Council of the Churches of Christ has listed on its website "36 member communions and denominations." It now has 35.

Note: An interview about this vote and its consequences with the Very Rev. Olof Scott, the newly-elected chairman of the Department of Interfaith Relationships, is scheduled to air on Ancient Faith Radio this coming Sunday, July 31, 2005, at 5 PM EDT.

My Comment: Harumph!

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Power of Superior Equipment

From Jack Army:

Via email: "The video tape was taken from captured terrorist scum in Iraq - you've got to watch it. The footage was recorded by a terrorist sniper team (who were later captured by coalition forces, hence, we have the tape). It just came out of a briefing in Iraq in the last few days. In it, a Soldier takes a hit from a sniper square the chest - it knocks him right on his back, but the guy gets right back up again, aiming his rifle. It's amazing how fast he is back up on his feet; looking for a target. The best part is to hear the terrorists' voices in the clip. It's such a riot to listen to them chanting "Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" and then when the kid gets back up again, they're like '...huh?

Click here and see it for yourself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What me worry? You worry!

Hey Democrats, if I'm such an idiot, what does my beating the pants off you over and over again make you?

Hillary recently compared Bush to the Mad Magazine character, Alfred E. Newman, and quoted his catch phrase "What me worry?" This reminded me of the Mad Magazine card game (yes, I use to be a big Mad Magazine Fan), which had a self defense card, in which you turned the tables on your opponent... and then some. It read, "What me worry? You worry!" That is the Bush doctrine in a nutshell, and so Hillary may have unknowingly been swerving into the truth.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Look Inside the Mind of a Moslem Kook

This op-ed piece from the Pakistan Times provides a glipse into the mind of contemporary Islamic Kookdom:

Coexistence between Islam & Christianity
By Dr Samiullah Koreshi

THESE days a campaign that has official patronage in Pakistan is the need for “co-existence” between religions but particularly Islam and Christianity. Of course coexistence is necessary and of course presenting the true picture of Islam to the ignorants in the West is our responsibility. There be no quarrel with the two ideas.

But, if we examine this matter closely we will find that the real purpose of this campaign is entirely different from what this otherwise a desirable objective and laudable idea conceals.

Coexistence is being preached to Muslims as if we are the intolerant persons and this impression is based on the ongoing insurgencies in various places specially Iraq, Afghanistan and other places (in Kashmir it is not a conflict between Muslims and Christians., but one thing is common between all such insurgencies is conflict between the Occupier and the Occupied.)

Comment: Yes... such as New York City, on 9-11-01, or London on 7-7-05?

The auxiliary theme is that we must give a better image of Islam to let the west know what Islam really is, which means that all these insurgencies are due to intolerant Muslims who are fighting the Christian occupation forces. It is said that the West does not have a correct picture of Islam so we should promote a dialogue with the West to explain the real image of Islam.

Only he can start preaching the coexistence to the Muslims who does not know three basic facts about Islam. How can a Muslim dispute about Christianity and Islam being similar if not the same message, according to Islamic faith, Christianity was earlier and Islam was revealed about six centuries later.

We the Muslims believe that Christianity is a Divine message, that Christ is a Prophet of Allah with special attributes having been born of immaculate conception.

Incidentally we are the only people, besides Christians who believe in his immaculate conception of Christ and none others. Our faith is not complete unless we believe in Christ as a Prophet with special attributes, and in all the Biblical prophets and all the revealed books. It is part of our Kalima.

Then there are two ayats in the Holy Book: Lakum dinokum walia din (to you your religion, to me mine) and then the second La ikraha fiddin (there is no compulsion in faith) that is that is faith cannot be imposed on others.

So there is no religious intolerant in Islam and certainly coexistence with Christianity is part of Islam . Now there is a fallacy in this argument which equates the Western neo-imperialism with Christianity.

Comment: This coming Sunday we will be celebrating the memory of the Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke. Millions of Christians were murdered at the hands of Moslems. And the Moslems are still doing it today, and yet this writer sees Moslems only as victims, and Christians only as the victimizers. There are millions of Moslems living in the west, in freedom. How are Christians treated in Pakistan? They are murdered. How many Churches will you find in Saudi Arabia? None. In America, if a Christian becomes a Moslem, he has every right to do so. In Pakistan, if a Moslem converts to Christianity, if he is not killed by a mob, he can be brought up on Civil Charges in court.

West is in reality not Christian but Neo-Roman civilization It is like this :If you are fighting or rising in arms against the Western occupation than you are up in arms against Christians and thus against Christianity . West is Christianity.

This is where the fallacy occurs. What the West- US in particular, is doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, is an action of the troops who call themselves Christians but in reality the action is imperialism pure and simple.

The oppressed is Muslim in this case, but this conflict cannot be labelled as an attack on Christianity, If this message of coexistence is to be translated as a preaching that Muslims should accept Western Imperialism and consider acceptance of occupation as acceptance of Christian Muslim Coexistence and thus stop resisting the Occupation than it is misuse of the word ” Coexistence”.

Any Christian should hang his head in shame on the happenings in Iraq, on massacre of Falluja, on treatment to detainees in Abu Ghraib prison, in Guntanamo Bay modern Gulag . No voice of remorse has come from any Christian in the West or US. Nor on the desecration of the Holy Qur’an in that Modern day Gulag. Coexistence is not a one way street nor a neo-doctrine of acceptance of colonialism .

Comment: Here you see the Michael Moore and Dick Durbin propaganda being repeated by a Moslem. Shame on them for encouraging our enemies. Note the lack of mention of Moslems cutting off peoples heads with rusty butter knives and then broadcasting it on the internet.

As regards presenting “the true face of Islam” there are three implications of this preaching. First what Islam is in fact. In the West but in US in particular there are three type of persons. One who need to be told what Islam is and what Jihad is, what has been described in this article as “ignorants” because in reality they have no idea of Islam.

They need to be explained what Islam is. Then there is another circle of neo-Conservatives ( neo-cons) who have crusaders approach towards Islam. They spread a false view about Islam.

This need to be counteracted , but the neo-cons are supported by a team of scholars who are their think-tanks and churn out all kinds of schemes against Islam.

They are scholars like Bernard Lewis who can teach Islam in Arabic language to the most learned of the Ulema. Scholars like Lewis are the new breed of Orientalists.
They are the dominant group in the United States and are the mischeif makers.

They started raising their heads since the 70s after Khomeini’s Islamic revolution. They started producing books on Militant Islam, then the word militant was replaced with fundamentalists and then Jihadis, and now extermists and simply Islamists and Muslim nationalists.

Our own leaders followed their line and called Muslim “extermism” as a great danger and denounced the Muslim insurgencies in Iraq, in Afghanistan and now even in Palestine.

Sharon the butcher of Sabra and Shatilla who in 1982 in his attack on Lebanon had two thousand men, women, children, old men massacred , and whom the Israeli Knesset during that campaign strongly criticized for the massacre of the Palestinians is being glorified .

Even recently the Mayor of London has described Sharon as a War Criminal . He said; “Today the Israeli Government continues seizer of Palestinian lands for settlement, military incursion into surrounding countries and denial of the right of Palestinians expelled by terror to return . Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Prime Minister is a war criminal who should be in prison, not in office. Israel’s own Kahan Commission found that Sharon shared responsibility for the Sabra and Shattila massacre”.

I salute the Mayor of London who ended his talk with” They are also fuelling anger and violence throughout the world. For a Mayor of London not to speak out against such injustices would not only be wrong but to ignore the threat it poses to the security of all Londoners.” Such voices of sense are few, very few in the West perhaps once a while in England one hears them , but they are so rare that they are an exception rather than a rule.

One wishes that instead of Lord Mayor of London making this statement it was one of our tall leaders to say that unless US and the West change their neo-colonialist policies, peace in the world will be threatened.

Look at the descriptions they are using in Iraq, “the Sunni” triangle, the Shia majority, the Kurd areas and enshrined it in their Constitution as a sectarian powder-keg in the Arab Middle East and Muslim world to be used at leisure.

How would they like if the same denominational terminology was used for the so-called Coalition Forces as Christian American. Forces, Greek Orthodox Christian Ukrainian Forces.

The Americans believe that they have a licence to chisel history and coin slogans and terminologies but not others. Now in Pakistan one cannot see Al Jazira which was easily on cable channels because they are afraid of their real face being shown and prevail on pliant countries to stifle its voice.

It is wise not to whitewash the problem of confrontation with neo-imperialism as a problem of “Coexistence” between Christians and Muslims , and advising Muslims to be tolerant to the brutalities of occupation.

Let the occupier show the real face of Christianity which is in turning the other cheek and not “ Falluja massacre” and Gontanamo Bay Gulag. Newton’s Third Law of Motion is as true in politics as in physics. To every action there is a reaction, equal in magnitude but opposite in direction.”

Comment: Yes... and when Islamo-Fascists kill thousands of Americans, they should not be suprised when they get a reaction. Christians turn the other cheek, when it is their own cheek to be turned. Christians have no right to turn the cheek of other innocent and defenseless people, but rather have an obligation to defend them from murdering Islamic thugs, who believe every kook conspiracy theory they hear, and are bent on destroying everyone that does not bow the knee to them.

It's time that western liberals woke up to the fact that not all cultures are created equal. We are dealing with the religious equivalent of the Borg. You cannot coexist with it. It will either be us, or them. We will either destroy the Islamo-Fascists, or they will destroy us. You thought conservative Christians were the enemy, but if these guys win, you will long for the days when Jerry Fallwell and James Dobson were your worst enemy.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Private Texas Workforce Commision Contractor Busted

Note: The views expressed on this blog do not represent the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in any way.

The private contractor who handles work programs for the Texas Workforce Commission in the Dallas area has been caught falsifying records, and encouraging their staff to "lie, cheat, or steal" to meet the numbers necessary for them to get the money from the State of Texas that the company wants them to get. An unhappy employee, used a hidden camera, and now, what those of us who have watched these private contractors over the years have known to be a common fact of life, has been caught on tape, and is exposed for all to see.

Click here for the first video news clip.

Click here for the second video news clip.

In short, on paper, it looks like these contractors are helping a lot of people find good jobs. In reality, they often have to falsify those papers to make it appear so. And the politicians that pushed this stuff through can say that they save the state money, and improved services, when they have only lined the pockets of big corporations.

This is something to think about, given that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced this week that it has decided (as was expected) to privatize about half of the Eligibility services to Accenture (a Bermuda based corporation). In their announcement, they claimed that the state of Texas will save 649 Million Dollars over the next five years by this action. I will eat my key board, and broadcast it live over the internet if they save anything like that kind of money and provide the same level of service that has been provided by state employees. I predict that this will be a boondoggle, and will end up costing the state much more than they have been paying. We shall see. In fact, I think things will be pretty clear in about a year from now.

This kind of government may be great for the citizens of Bermuda, but it is not good of the citizens of the State of Texas.

Update: You can read examples of Accenture ripping off the Tax payers of other states at this link.