Inspiration

Blogs seem like the newspapers of social media. A few days ago I read that Ad Orientem (here) announced he’s done blogging.

I thought I was too. Maybe I am. I’ve been on here off and on the last year or so, trying to get myself back to a  more disciplined schedule of posts but to no avail. Ironically, some months back – the last time I tried to beam myself up into the blogoshpere – I was surprised that blogs like Ad Orientem were still going strong. And by that I mean that I was surprised any blogs were still running.

Some blogs that no longer exist but had a great impression on me and probably inspired my own blogging were Ora et Labora (long gone), the Ochlophobist (gone and disappeared, where are the archives?!?)…..and so on.  I’m beginning to wonder what’ll inspire me to stop.

June 28th

H/T: The Duran (here)

Vidovdan: Serbia’s day of destiny

Adam Garrie

Today is Vidovdan or St. Vitus Day, one of the most if not the most important days in the Serbian national calendar.

It was on the 28th of June in 1389 that the Battle of Kosovo ended, a heroic struggle for Serbian freedom against Ottoman Turkish colonial oppression. Although Serbia lost the battle, it is widely seen as Serbia’s version of what the Battle of Thermopylae was for the Hellenic world. It was during the Battle of Thermopylae that Spartan King Leonidas I stood alone with just 300 Spartan fighters against the massive attack of the Persians under Xerxes I.

During the Battle of Kosovo, outnumbered Serb forces were able to inflict heavy loses on the much bigger Ottoman contingent, killing their leader Sultan Murad in the process.

Serbia would remain a colony of the Ottoman Empire until the struggle for national liberation which started in 1804 and formally ended in 1878 when Russia and Serbia worked together to secure international recognition for an independent Serbian state.

Indeed it was on the 28th of June in 1876 when the final battle for Serbian independence against Ottoman Turkey commenced.

But these are not the only events that Serbia marks on the 28th of June.

It was also on this day that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austo-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in occupied Sarajevo. This is widely seen as the formal beginning of the First World War.

At the end of the war, it was on the 28th of June on which the notorious Treaty of Versailles was signed, a treaty meant to restore peace to Europe but which in actual fact, helped pave the war for the Second World War, a war where Serbians stood proudly against fascist aggression in southern Europe.

In 1921, the Vidovdan Constitution was ratified in the  Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the state that would become Yugoslavia in 1929.

Later in 1989 on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević gave his much misunderstood Gazimestan speech in which he promised that the state would do more to protect the Serbs of Kosovo and Metohija who had been under attack from Albanian terrorists who were attempting to foment a war in a once peaceful province.

In 1986, it was Milošević who repudiated the SANU Memorandum which asked for Serbs living outside of Serbia, in other Yugoslav republics, to have the same rights as minorities living in provinces of Serbia. The SANU Memorandum also warned of creeping nationalist and far-right aggression against Serbs for the mere ‘crime’ of being Serbs.

In the Gazimestan speech, Milošević was seen to offer contrition for ignoring the grievances of Serbian people from provinces like Kosovo and Metohija. It was there that he made a commitment to defend them against terrorism and violent aggression.

Of course that same Milošević was demonised by NATO, the EU and the wider west when he made good on his word and defended the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia against Croatian nationalists and Sunni Bosnian radicals. Later he also defended Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija  against Albanian terrorist groups like the KLA.

The US took the KLA off the official State Department list of terrorist groups shortly before NATO committed a series of war crimes during its totally illegal war upon Yugoslavia in 1999, a war which killed thousands of Serbian civilians, destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, destroyed churches, a news station, hospitals, orphanages and bridges throughout Serbia and Montenegro.

Adding insult to injury, it was on the 28th of June that  Milošević was sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He would die in prison under mysterious circumstances, only to be exonerated after death.

Serbia’s history of struggle against oppression, fighting for justice against extreme odds and being on what most righteous people consider to be the correct side of history whether struggling against Ottoman oppression, fascist imperialism or modern terrorism and nationalism, Serbia can hold her head high, especially on the 28th of June.

The History of Pews

Empty-Pews

H/T: here

Is there anything more reassuring than a church pew?

Simple. Humble. Sturdy. Two rough-hewn planks, fastened with a handful of nails, permanently fixed to the floor—and open to all. Occasionally padded, often not; not comfortable, exactly, but comforting. An invitation to the weary traveler to sit and hear the Word of God proclaimed; a simple reminder that we follow a humble, crucified carpenter; the perfect symbol that all are equal at the foot of the cross. From the greatest king to the poorest pauper, from the holiest saint to the most desperate sinner, all have sat in these pews before us, pondering their failings and begging for mercy. Despite the advent of stadium-style seating and auditorium-like worship halls, the simple, ancient pew endures—and no wonder, because it is, and always has been, the perfect metaphor for the faith.

Seating in churches didn’t really become a thing until parishioners got bored enough to wish they were sitting down—that is, about the time of the Protestant Reformation.

Except—nothing I just said is even remotely true. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of all that. Would you like to know the true story of the pew? Okay, then—buckle up. (But not actually, though, because pews don’t have seatbelts.)

It turns out that there’s no evidence of churches having seating of any kind for at least the first 1,400 years or so of Christianity. In other words, Augustine, Athanasius, Jerome, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin—all those guys very likely lived their whole lives attending churches that were standing-room-only. During ancient Christian worship, parishioners could stand, kneel, or even mill about the nave if they so chose. There’s no record of whether they engaged in stage dives and crowd surfing, so we’re forced to assume they did.

If this sounds insanely uncomfortable to you, keep in mind that which body postures are considered comfortable or uncomfortable is a highly culturally constructed thing. The ancient Romans, for instance, almost never sat in chairs, preferring to stand or recline, while modern Japanese are still perfectly happy sitting on the floor, even well into their elder years. The idea that sitting in a backed chair is comfortable is a modern, Western notion, and one we’re currently learning has all sorts of health drawbacks. Also keep in mind that ancient and medieval Christian worship involved the average parishioner much more actively, with a lot of kneeling and recitation, and climaxed with the entire congregation coming forward for communion.

In other words, seating in churches didn’t really become a thing until parishioners got bored enough to wish they were sitting down—that is, about the time of the Protestant Reformation. In order to emphasize how not-Catholic we were, we began to jettison everything from our worship: confessions, creeds, communal prayer, a weekly Eucharist—basically everything except long, boring sermons. And when your “come to church” sales pitch is essentially “Listen to me yammer about Jesus for several hours!” the response is predictably going to be “Uh, can I at least sit down for that?”

And so, the pew was born.

When pews first began to gain in popularity, however, they weren’t anything you probably would have recognized as pews—they were more like those luxury skyboxes they have at sports stadiums. So-called “box pews,” which were particularly popular in England and America, were anything but the austere benches you’re used to, and featured four walls—often shoulder-height or higher—along with doors, windows, curtains, kneelers, tables, and sometimes even fireplaces. Basically you could hide in them and do whatever the 17th-century version of playing games on your iPad was (I’m guessing cock fights?).

They were also bought and paid for—and frequently custom-built—by each congregation’s wealthiest families, who held actual deeds to them and frequently passed them down to their children as real estate, like the world’s worst timeshares. On the rare occasion that the deed to a pew would free up, there was more often than not a public fistfight (a metaphorical one, usually) over which family would get it—being seen in a prominent pew was an important status symbol, like having the biggest beard at an Acts 29 church or having the dorkiest fedora at Hillsong.

In other words, they were pretty much the exact opposite of what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke:

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Of course, for this and numerous other reasons (see also: cramming poor congregants into a smaller and smaller space as more and more rich people demanded space for luxury pews), clergy began to speak out against them—but as is often the case, they were shouted down by economic concerns. Churches were getting more and more expensive to build and maintain, and pew sales and rentals were providing a large chunk of that funding (especially in America, where churches weren’t publicly funded). Eventually, though, the more reasonable voices won out, and most parishes did away with their box pews, replacing them with the “free and open” wooden benches we know today, resulting in worship services where uncontained toddlers run rampant, ruling over their terrified congregations with tiny iron fists.

In any case, we had finally all learned our lesson, and now nobody goes to church to be seen, which is why we all cram into the back pews and leave right after communion.

Right, guys? Or is that just me?

God, and….

H/T: Fr. Ted’s blog (here)

Though the Lord Jesus clearly taught us that we cannot love “God and….”, many have tried. God and money. God and pleasure. God and self. God and political power. God and selfishness. God and ego. God and self indulgence. God and greed. God and gaud. This of course is not the same as saying we cannot serve God through success, or wealth, or prosperity, or politics. We are to love God first and above all and to pursue His Kingdom and His righteousness. We can use the things God bestows on us for His glory. To put it in another way, “Money is a good servant, but a bad master” (attributed to Francis Bacon in the 17th Century).

Life is full of choices, and the choices we make matter. Americans love prosperity, God and money.

Bishop Nikolai Velimirović in commenting on the words of our Lord from Matthew 6:24, wrote about the impossibility of loving “God and….”

Can two wheels of a wagon move forward and two backward? Can a man look eastwards with one eye and westwards with the other? (Abba Isaiah says: “As on eye cannot look heavenwards and the other earthwards, so the mind cannot combine cares for the things of heaven with those of the earth.”) Or can one foot walk to the right, and the other the left? They cannot. It is therefore also impossible to go to meet God and to remain in the world’s embrace. A man cannot serve God and sin, for he will either hate God and love sin, or vice versa: love God and hate sin. In order to emphasize this truth the more clearly, the Lord repeats it in other words: “or else he will hold to the one and despise the other”. If a man holds to God, he cannot also hold to God’s enemy. And love for this world is hatred for God. God seeks our whole heart, and to this end He offers us all His help and all His gifts. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chronicles 16:9): perfect, whole, pure; emptied of faith in the world, and filled with faith, hope and love for God the living and immortal.

Virtue and Vice

H/T:  (here)

Read full post on link above

“…..When we are formed in the womb, we live the life of plants; when born, that of animals; and when grown up, that of angels or demons. The foundation of the first life is the animated substance; that of the second, the senses; that of the third, the fact that we are prone not only to virtue but also to vice…”

A Church Relationship with Christ

H/T: chadbird.com (here)

Christianity is Not About a Personal Relationship With Jesus

We talk about having personal things. We employ a personal trainer to help us shed pounds and get that coveted beachbody. We open a personal bank account to manage our finances. And, please, keep your hands off our personal property and your eyes out of our personal diary.

Christians, especially Evangelicals, import this language into their faith as well. We talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. Or working on our personal relationship with him. Or desiring that relationship to grow, to deepen, to become more intimate.

Here’s the thing: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. And the whole biblical witness runs contrary to it.

Our life with Christ is communal, not personal or private or individual. When the Scriptures speak of believers, they are part of a community, a fellowship of other believers.

Christianity is about a church relationship with Jesus.

I know this runs contrary to what many modern believers think. And even desire. In an age when we are more isolated than ever, when our worlds often shrink to the size of a phone screen, talk of community sounds like a radical departure from the norm. It is. But the norm of the Christian faith is not isolated believers, little islands of spirituality, but a continent of Christians banded together by the Spirit.

We are baptized into one body, the body of Jesus. Our so-called personal relationship with Jesus is indeed with his person—his body of which all other believers are a part. Fingers don’t have a relationship with Jesus apart from the hand, the hand from the arm, the arm from the shoulder, and so on.

Even when we pray, we pray communally. Indeed, the only prayer Jesus taught us to pray begins, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” No one ever prays alone. We pray in Jesus, through the Spirit, to the Father, in a vast concert with all other believers. Me-and-Jesus prayers are impossible. There are only us-and-Jesus prayers—“us” being that innumerable throng of saints from the foundation of the world until now, whose unheard voices join ours in an ongoing prayer to our Father.

When we read the Bible, we read communally. Think about it. The Bible you read—the book itself—is a communal product. Translated, printed, bound, and sold not by us personally but by others.We read, often unconsciously, with the voices of preachers, teachers, and parents from over the years guiding our knowledge, assumptions, and beliefs. And, ideally, we read the Scriptures with others. In groups, in classes, with an eye to the wisdom of the past and the voices of brothers and sisters studying it with us.

Above all, however, Jesus calls us into a living, active, worshiping community that regularly gathers around his gifts. We are washed into his body on the stream of baptism. We eat the communal meal of his body and blood. We sing together, pray together, confess together, grieve and heal and eventually die together. He gives us pastors. He gives us brothers and sisters in the faith. He gives us children to teach, elders to emulate, and even less-than-likable people to love as those for whom Christ died.

Christianity is not a solo endeavor. Not a private relationship between Jesus and me. As the Lord formed Israel in the Old Testament as his people, forged together into a body by his covenant, so he has formed the church in the New Testament as his people, washed together into a body by baptism.

Thank God it is this way. Heaven forbid that I should have a personal relationship with Jesus. For I know what would happen: I would end up, in my mind, reshaping my personal Jesus into a strikingly familiar image: the image of me.

As it is, Jesus is reshaping us into his image, in the church, surrounded by others, all of whom together, communally, are the one body of Christ.

My new book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, will be available October, 2017. You can read more about it and pre-order your copy at Amazon. Thank you!