God uses humble means

I'm reading Samuel Tadros' new book Motherland Lost, a history of the church in Egypt. He starts at the beginning when the evangelist Mark showed up in Alexandria and tells a wonderful story about Mark's first convert.After he wandered all day in the majestic city, the apostle's sandal strap broke. Mark found a shoemaker who could repair it. His name was Anianus.While he was working, Anianus gouged his hand. "God is one!" he swore.Mark was moved with compassion. In a maneuver … [Read more...]

Why race matters in the church

When my wife and I were in Uganda in 2011 we attended liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kampala one Sunday. Following the service, the priest Fr. Anastasios sidled up to a woman named Anastasia and joked that the two were siblings. Laughter ensued. The jest worked because they shared the same name but were obviously unrelated. Anastasia is white; Fr. Anastasios is black.I recently read a report about growing diversity in the church and came across a sentiment that hit me sideways. "Our … [Read more...]

Is God a king or a congressman?

The scriptures speak of God as a king. Christians in the ancient East and medieval West had no trouble with this image. But it is hard for us moderns, who have little or no working experience with monarchy, to imagine God as king.Instead, we tend to think of God as a congressman.What does a congressman do? Primarily, he represents us. He secures special benefits for the citizens of his district. We write him when we are irritated by events in the world. If we face an intractable … [Read more...]

America’s divided faith: More sectarian than Christian

In thinking today about Christian division, I recalled this thought from James Fenimore Cooper's book, The American Democrat:In America the taint of sectarianism lies broad upon the land. Not content with acknowledging the supremacy of the Deity . . . the pride and vanity of human reason enter into and pollute our worship, and the houses that should be of God and for God, alone, where he is to be honored with submissive faith, are too often merely schools of metaphysical and useless … [Read more...]

Why does Jesus have a boo-boo?

While I was reading a bit of Diarmaid MacCulloch's mammoth history, Christianity, my five-year-old son Moses walked up, pointed to the image of Christ on the cover, and said, "Why does he have a boo-boo?""Well," I said, "remember how Jesus died on a cross? They nailed his hands to the beam. And then they stabbed him here" -- pointing to the gash by his ribs -- "in the side.""Is that him dead?""No," I said, "that's Jesus resurrected.""Did he get rescued?""Yes, and then he … [Read more...]

When our kids hurt and offend us

I came across this quote from Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica's wonderful book Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I couldn't stop thinking about how it applies to my relationship with my kids.As soon as our mood changes, we no longer speak kindly to our fellow men, but instead we answer them sharply. We only make things worse by doing this. When we are dissatisfied, the whole atmosphere between us becomes sour, and we start to offend one another. No matter what people do or say to us, we must … [Read more...]

Sinéad O’Connor, Anne Lamott, and the many names of God

Sinéad O’Connor is bringing the gospel to the Lincoln Center Festival, presenting a set of spiritual songs tonight and Saturday.If her public statements are anything to go by, she's pretty excited about the opportunity. "In terms of maintaining my relationship with the Holy Spirit," she said, "that's going to be the biggest moment of my life, to be able to stand there and thank it."It?That nondescript, divine presenceDoing religious music well is a big deal to O'Connor, who sees l … [Read more...]

Cherry picking the Bible? Yes and no

There's been a little dustup recently about people supposedly "cherry picking" the Bible. Holy writ, goes the charge, is the highest authority in all matters, provided we can isolate certain verses and use them to support our predetermined positions.Neale Donald Walsch started the ruckus at the Huffington Post saying that -- surprise, surprise -- people actually do this! In fairness, he invoked another loaded metaphor, the buffet.Thomas Whitley responded for the Associated Baptist Press, … [Read more...]

Cormac McCarthy and all the broken children of God

Spend any time reading the news, driving the interstates, or peering into the recesses of your own heart, and it’s clear that people are messed up.After hearing dusty tales of “a bunch of lowlife thieves and cowards and murderers,” a young man asks an old timer if people were meaner in the past than the present. “No,” says he answers, “I don’t. I think people are the same from the day God first made one.”The exchange is from Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, which is about a man named Leste … [Read more...]

Eliot Spitzer and the use of religion in American politics

Anyone writing a satire on American politics would be hard pressed to improve on the plot already oozing out of the New York City comptroller's race.If you haven't been following the story, Eliot Spitzer now finds himself running against a woman who claims she formerly secured prostitutes for the former attorney general's use. Inconvenience, thy name is Kristen Davis! Naturally, Spitzer denies Davis' claims, but his call-girl history reasonably prompts doubts.Shall we hold it against … [Read more...]

The monk who wanted to live in the sky

I am utterly captivated by this story. In the country of Georgia stands a 140-foot rock pillar, crowned with a small hermitage. Hermits have lived atop the Katskhi Pillar in ages past, doing little more than praying for the life of the world. But no one has lived there in 600 years. That might change someday soon. Watch this:Fr. Maxim has fixated on living atop Katskhi Pillar since he was a boy, something that is undoubtedly hard for most of us to appreciate. He's been painstakingly … [Read more...]

Zimmerman, Trayvon, and the tragedy of taking human life

As far as the Orthodox are concerned, the most fundamental reality of society is that people are made in the image of God. This has a bearing on how we see public policy, including matters of crime and punishment.My wife Megan and I have been talking quite a lot about the George Zimmerman verdict in light of this thought. Regardless of your take on whether he was justified in taking the life of Trayvon Martin, the fact is that he took the teen's life, and this is a profoundly awful fact. If … [Read more...]