We are not our sins

I recently learned that an acquaintance of mine had announced a pretty significant life change, and not one for the better. As often happens, many people met this revelation with encouragement, impressed by his supposed authenticity and commitment to “finally being true to himself.” While I get the sentiment, I reject the thought. Admitting sin and identifying with it are two very different things. The first is something we all must do. If there is one scripture I recall my dad reciting in his … [Read more...]

Be attentive, banish anger

In the ancient Christian story Barlaam and Ioasaph, the pagan king Abenner has a hot temper, and when he discovers that one of his governors has converted to Christianity and become a monk, he is furious. He orders that the unlikely convert be brought before his judgment seat to explain himself. It takes a while, but the man is finally found living in the desert and is taken to the king.The text says that Abenner was filled with “mingled grief and fury” and spoke “in speech blended of these tw … [Read more...]

Dying to live

God throws curveballs. As he plays the game, fools become wise, a virgin bears a son, and death precedes life. The order is basic for the Christian. We die in Christ to live in Christ.Sometimes people are struck by this aspect of the faith. The image or concept of death can take on an uncomfortable prominence. Baptism is, after all, a picture of dying. We follow Paul’s advice and “Put to death . . . what is earthly” in us. We sometimes even call our daily sanctification mortification. This is n … [Read more...]

Every little step counts

In movies the hero butts up against a problem, something that threatens his peace, safety, and happiness. If the screenwriter is at all talented, we quickly sympathize. We have troubles of our own, after all, and our sympathy and identification increase as the story intensifies. Every twist and turn of the plot worsens our hero’s position to the problem until, when all appears most dire, he finally prevails. The problem is resolved and peace, safety, and happiness are restored. The hero t … [Read more...]

The saintly imperative

I think that the concept of personal holiness is a bit misleading.In the Orthodox chrismation (or confirmation) service the priest prays over the person being confirmed, “Keep him ever a warrior invincible in every attack of those who assail him and us; and make us all victors, even unto the end, through thy crown incorruptible.”This prayer comes after the priest prays, “keep him in thy sanctification.” We usually think of sanctification as our daily walk, increasing in holiness and sain … [Read more...]

On using a prayer book

For the past several years my prayer life has included the use of a prayer book. I started with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and eventually came to use various Eastern Orthodox manuals.I have experienced three basic reactions to my practice: (1) support, (2) curiosity, and (3) disapproval. Many have already discovered how useful prayer books can be, and some are lifelong users who cannot imagine a full prayer life without one. Others have few reference points for use of prewritten … [Read more...]

Forgetting ourselves

To know who you are, you have to know from where you came. As philosopher Richard Weaver put it, “there is no identity without historicity.” The bad news is that Americans—and Westerners in general—are increasingly befogged and amnesic about our past. We are losing our history, particularly touch points to our shared Christian past.This loss is particularly noticeable in our public life. In a recent piece for the Detroit News Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute points to several unfortu … [Read more...]

Weeding and cultivating life

When I was a boy I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandfather. He was something of a recreational farmer, and we spent most of our days working in his gardens and fields. Once, while weeding a certain patch of something, he asked me if I knew what a weed was. I recall trying to fabricate an elaborate definition featuring thorns and thistles and the like.“No,” he corrected (something I frequently forced him to do). “It’s any plant growing where you don’t want it.”I thought about tha … [Read more...]

How to avoid ineffectual prayers

James, the brother of Jesus, was serious about his prayer. He used to go to the temple and kneel in prayer so often and for so long that his knees were reputed to be as calloused and tough as a camel’s. He was bishop of Jerusalem then and was martyred several years before the temple was ultimately destroyed, but as long as he had life he could be found, as one ancient writer put it, “bending the knee in adoration to God, and begging forgiveness for the people.”Given his intense practice, it c … [Read more...]

Growing into Christ

When you’re a kid you rarely glimpse just how challenging, grief-stricken, and dangerous the world really is. Other people—God bless them—are busy taking care of it for you. But as you grow up, you have to shoulder more of those responsibilities yourself, few of which come with rulebooks or how-to’s.It’s not for the faint of heart. You get a call with news that punches your gut. You face an ethical quandary in which the “solutions” just look like myriad muddy shades of gray. When you’re lucky … [Read more...]

Making the sign of the cross

There is a passage in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, that helps explain the physical side of being spiritual.In his fourth letter, senior demon Screwtape holds forth on the subject of befuddling a new Christian in his prayers. He starts by mentioning a line from the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge about how he prayed without “moving lips and bended knees.” Coleridge thought he nailed it well enough by merely feeling prayerful, a view that Screwtape endorses in the lines that fo … [Read more...]

Why God gives us kids

A publisher and a rabbi walk into a kosher restaurant. . . .That’s not the setup to a joke. A few years ago I had lunch with Rabbi Daniel Lapin at the wonderful Grins Vegetarian Café in Nashville (then and maybe now the only kosher joint around). We talked about several different things, among them our families.“You know why God gives us children, don’t you?” he asked me.“Why?”“So that we’ll stop being children.”I’ve thought about that ever since and think it’s basically rig … [Read more...]