Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Rite Thing

A response to Steve, from a conversation begun here. (I know that for the occasional visitor to this blog this post is sort of coming out of left field. Forgive! But as I contemplated this response, I realized that my own blog is a more appropriate forum for my thoughts as they are personal in nature.)

Steve writes:

"... Are we really so parochial that one can't or ought not, when shown the fidelity and integrity of a doctrine from another denomination, incorporate that doctrine into ones own tradition so long as it isn't in fundamental disagreement with ones received doctrine?"

This is a rhetorical question upon which I'd like to comment:

Yes, of course one can. But speaking only for myself, I eventually wanted to incorporate more and more all the time - so much that it just made more sense to stop asking "how can I incorporate this tradition/doctrine to enhance my own faith life," but to ask instead, "why am I not a part of this faith tradition - what's holding me back?" When the answer to that question seemed to be not doctrinal but sentimental sorts of things which pointed to what I want, prefer, like, and am accustomed to and comfortable with, for me, those were just not justifiable reasons to remain (that doesn't mean they aren't perfectly justifiable reasons for someone else to remain - but it wasn't enough for me.)

Over time I had developed a sort of dual-personality in my church life. I was happy enough in my Lutheran parish and very comfortable, but I grew to want - and need - things from it that it simply couldn't deliver. I was not being fair to myself or to my parish.

I didn't leave the Lutheran Church to worship a different God. I became Orthodox to worship the same God I had always known in a fuller way, and to reclaim for myself those things of the church which are my birthright as a Christian; things the Lutheran Church had abandoned long ago in the name of sola scriptura. I found such things to be important and necessary for me as I feebly work out my salvation here on earth. (Now there's some words which made me squirmy as a Lutheran!!). I left because I had come to find more agreement doctrinally with the Orthodox than I had with the church in which I was raised (the faith which baptized and nourished me for half a lifetime, for which I will always be grateful).

It took a bunch of years for me to realize that I had become, in fact, a closeted Orthodox Christian - and that all that was keeping me from being Orthodox was my own pride, stubbornness, emotional attachments, and fear (and to know me is to know that I have plenty of each!). But remaining in the closet was killing me, spiritually.

So yes, one can incorporate such helpful things into one's personal journey and faith life. But when these things are not also incorporated by the Church, it sort of separates one from the church body, no? I eventually realized that I had become a dismembered part of the Lutheran body - and so I left it to find wholeness (and for a myriad of other reasons). It wasn't an easy thing to do, but it is, as I told Dwight in a private email, the most important and honest thing I've ever done.

12 comments:

Dixie said...

-C, you have captured in words what I have been unable to articulate to date. I lived through this and when I recognize it in others I know I am bothered immensely, to the point of feeling it physically.

I went through this phase but quite rapidly in comparison to your own. I'll never forget sneaking my rosary into a prayer service and hiding it from the rest of my Lutheran community while I prayed...talk about being dismembered!

Not long after this I discovered Orthodoxy and I crafted a plan to worship as an Orthodox and stay in the Lutheran church since my husband is Lutheran...but a wonderful former Lutheran pastor, now Orthodox layman, taught me the importance of community. He told me "Fellowship is crucial. One cannot be a Christian in isolation. Reading books, etc., is a good way to learn theology and very important, but theology is lived in communion with other Christians. Theology is concrete and requires a community, which is why doctrine and practice go together (and why the latter can *never* be an adiaphoron)."

I wasn't happy to be on the receiving end of those words...they were in opposition to my plan...but I knew, as one often does when confronted by the truth, that he was right. I was under a delusion that I could pray like an Orthodox, fast like an Orthodox, read like an Orthodox but belong to a Lutheran community. As we say here in the South..."that just ain't ri-ight"

Great post! Thanks for it.

-C said...

I had included a bit in my original post about community vs. an "individual walk with Jesus," but because it got long and seemed windy I deleted it - but it said essentially what you said even better here.

And in retrospect, it's something which was too important to omit.

Thanks, Dixie!

DebD said...

I'm another one that tried to live and Orthodox life outside of the Orthodox church. It didn't last long either. In retrospect, I see know that that particular attitude isn't so distant than what I see in the Emergent church movement. They seek to incorporate the stuff they like in order to become an "every church" and/or ancient-like - for lack of better descriptions.

DebD said...

I forgot to add... your entry reminded me of the words of Polonius in Hamlet "To thine own self be true."

tpkatsa said...

and that all that was keeping me from being Orthodox was my own pride, stubbornness, emotional attachments, and fear (and to know me is to know that I have plenty of each!)

With interest I noted that one of the things NOT on this list was the "culture shock" that hits most Protestant folks on their first visit to an Orthodox Church. So I'm curious how you were able to adjust? Or was it not an issue for you for some other reason?

-C said...

Well, a fact to which Dwight sort of alluded in his original post is that my first visit to an Orthodox Church was about 20 years before my chrismation. He mentioned a long journey, and it was long - and not without some twists and turns.

Sure, I suppose there was some culture shock early on, but isn't that the case whether one is visiting another church or another country or even a new neighbor's house for the first time? Do we expect to come in and feel instantly at home wherever we go? To know everything about the church or the country or the neighbor? (It's an odd sort of expectation, I think, that everyone else should do things the way I do them and that my comfort should be everyone else's goal). The church is not about comfort - mine or anyone else's.

As is the case with any place you visit (church, country, neighbor's house), the more you go, the more comfortable you feel.

"Culture shock" isn't necessarily a bad thing - for me, it was just the thing I needed to start asking the questions which began a conversation. The more questions I asked, the more answers I received, and the more a part of the church I felt.

Part of what initially attracted me to Orthodoxy was that I never got the "we can be everything you want us to be" feeling in those early visits to my parish. Rather, it was more like, "we are what we are - and you are welcome to be a part."

The church can't be in the business of being in a popularity contest - but the best and most important thing the church (any church) can do is to be what it is called to be - to do what it is called to do - and invite others to find their place in it.

tpkatsa said...

Part of what initially attracted me to Orthodoxy was that I never got the "we can be everything you want us to be" feeling in those early visits to my parish. Rather, it was more like, "we are what we are - and you are welcome to be a part."

The church can't be in the business of being in a popularity contest - but the best and most important thing the church (any church) can do is to be what it is called to be - to do what it is called to do - and invite others to find their place in it.


Well said, which reminds me of a funny story. My daughter who is 4 was asking me about partaking of the Chalice (i.e. Holy Communion). I said, "well you have to be baptized." She didn't like that because she didn't want to get wet. So I told her there are rules in the Church. And the rule is you must be baptized before Holy Communion. So she said, "well we have rules in preschool and I follow those rules, but I don't want to follow the rules of the Church." It's funny to hear that from a 4-year-old and it's also instructive - you're absolutely right in that church has become too much about what makes us feel comfortable (satisfying our inner child) instead of calling us to mature spiritual discipline. There is a passage where St. Paul (or Peter, not sure which) talks about putting off the things of a child...

So I understand that aspect - thanks to the wisdom of my 4-year-old :-). I was asking though because it seemed to me - at least from what Dwight and my neighbor said - that the "culture shock" wasn't simply a matter of personal comfort, it was really way out there. A whole different way of doing and looking at things. Not merely a matter of "comfort" per se but a totally radical change in one's outlook. Indeed I had to struggle quite a bit myself as well.

-C said...

"...that the "culture shock" wasn't simply a matter of personal comfort, it was really way out there. A whole different way of doing and looking at things. Not merely a matter of "comfort" per se but a totally radical change in one's outlook."

It wasn't that "far out there" for me, nor was it a "whole different way of doing and looking at things." I guess I have liturgically solid Lutheran parishes to thank for that. What I first noticed is not how different it was, but how similar it was. Nothing culturally shocking about that. On that first visit, I saw and heard the liturgy that I knew as The Holy Eucharist - the mass - the ordo - and that was what I expected to see. Sure, it was different in many ways - but similar in many ways, too! Why would any liturgical Lutheran experience any kind of culture shock? What I saw was the culture of the Church - and my previous church experience had taught me to recognize that culture. It was just a a deeper and fuller expression of it.

-C said...

Also, as I think of it - it shouldn't really be all that far "out there" or culturally shocking for either Dwight or Steve. They both attend a highly liturgical Lutheran parish, one which could easily provide some liturgical culture shock of its own even for other Lutherans of their own synod.

Steve M said...

-C: Thanks for your thoughtful post. 20 years is a long time in the desert. I'm happy you found your spiritual home in the OC.

Generally speaking I don't like to parse postings of a personal nature since it's too easy to offend. But I'll make an exception in this case and recipricate in like spirit. Please forgive me if any of this causes offense as that is definiately not my intent.

The reason I (and expect Dwight but I'll let him speak for himself) want to incorporate certain aspects of Orthodox theology is because of the recent Finnish Luther studies that show how much closer Luther's understanding of justification/sanctification was/is to the Orthodoxy understanding of deification. This discovery lead me to other Orthodox doctrines that I found more helpful (and quite frankly, more sensable) than the western variant.

So then the logical question is: if the Western understanding of the faith seems deficient why stay? Because, for me, leaving would be because of pride, selfishness, and laziness. If the denomination into which I was born and raised is deficient in these areas, I feel it's my responsiblity to correct them. This might be a fools errand. There might be no chance in my life time to affect any material change. However, I just might lay the groundwork for such a change for
others.

Moreover, unlike the Orthodox or Catholic church, Lutherans actually can incorporate some of these doctrines into her religious life. We're less bound by history and pride to admit that maybe we can learn from others (although my Uncle, an LCMS pastor, would beg to differ :-D).

I don't feel (like Dwight) that the Lutheran liturgy is at all deficient. I find it (when done well) sublime. I feel the combination of hymns, music and liturgy, again when done well, make Lutheran worship a "thin place" to experience the Living God thru Jesus Christ aided by the Holy Spirit. Also, I don't want to "parrot" an Orthodox liturgy. That would be an insult not only to Orthodoxy but to Lutheransim as well (I think this is the real concern when incorporating doctrine).

These are some of the reasons that I would like to incorporate a more Orthodox understanding to certain doctrines. I'm not advocating a wholesale appropriation and I understand these doctrines have an organic meaning to the Orthodox that goes beyond mere intellectual assent. But to the extent I can learn from Orthodoxy, and find a fuller understanding of the myserties of faith through these doctines, I believe that is good not only for me, for the Lutheran chuch, but for the body of Christ in this world.

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Cor 12:4-13

-C said...

Steve -
No offense taken to any of what you've written here. These are thoughtful comments. I'll offer only a few responses based upon some of what you said here.

But first, let's be clear: I did not "wander" in any kind of a desert for those 20 years - or for the 20+ years which preceded them. During those years I was well fed and nourished and led ever ystep of the way. And I know only too well that my own conversion isn't simply a once-in-a-lifetime event that happened on Feb. 11, 2007, but a process in which I am to be engaged daily - hourly - moment by moment...a journey that isn't over yet.

"The reason I (and expect Dwight but I'll let him speak for himself) want to incorporate certain aspects of Orthodox theology is because of the recent Finnish Luther studies that show how much closer Luther's understanding of justification/sanctification was/is to the Orthodoxy understanding of deification. This discovery lead me to other Orthodox doctrines that I found more helpful (and quite frankly, more sensable) than the western variant."

Yes, I have seen and read some of these materials. In fact, I have long thought that if Lutherans would/could go back to Luther himself, the chasm of differences between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy would be considerably smaller. But I don't think that's about to happen - the horse is long out of the barn now and there's no putting him back in. Yet even if Lutherans could go back to the teachings and practices which Luther himself espoused, the chasm of differences would be smaller indeed. Yet the differences that remain in ecclesiology and practice between Lutherans and Orthodox are not negligible.

"So then the logical question is: if the Western understanding of the faith seems deficient why stay?"

Indeed.

"Because, for me, leaving would be because of pride, selfishness, and laziness."

And for me - those would have been precisely the only reasons to stay.

"If the denomination into which I was born and raised is deficient in these areas, I feel it's my responsiblity to correct them. This might be a fools errand. There might be no chance in my life time to affect any material change. However, I just might lay the groundwork for such a change for
others."

Well good luck with that, Steve. I used to hold some of those same hopes, but eventually realized that the only thing or person that I can change is myself. (I might also be curious to know just how you are "laying the groundwork" for such change.)

"Moreover, unlike the Orthodox or Catholic church, Lutherans actually can incorporate some of these doctrines into her religious life."

Sure they can - they can incorporate lots of things that aren't "Lutheran" and of course, this is just what most of them have done. Isn't this sort of what the Emergent Church is all about? (I admit that I don't know much about the Emergent Church). To pick and choose those things that "work for me" and dump the rest isn't part of the answer - at least for me it was a chunk of the problem. Because what one is left with is an individual sort of faith, one which sets a person apart from the church. And this is what led to the feelings of dismemberment that I mentioned in the original post. Christians were never meant to be set apart from the church, but to be incorporated into it (else why do Christians baptize?)

-C said...

The difference is whether one views the church as the "ark of salvation" where one is saved with others - or whether one views it as a kayak.