Monday, August 30, 2010

Homily 12: On Service and Love (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Serve the Lord with gladness...for the Lord is good...." Ps. 100:2, 5

The only true and proper service is one done out of love for the object of service. Service itself is good, but only as a means, not an end. Once it is done for itself (i.e., service "in the raw"), it falls apart. It will quickly wear thin and consequently wear out the one who is serving. If they find some strength of ego or conviction to keep going, then they will become hard and cold in their service. Thus, service reveals itself to be a wonderful tool but a terrible god. It can steal all the joy out of life and love.

It is the same thing in regard to God. We do not serve Him for service's sake; we serve Him because (1) He is Lord and (2) He is good. God's quality and character are to be our focus; consequently, service cannot be the center: God is. He is to always be the center, and the instant that something else takes His place (e.g., service), life becomes a disaster. We are serving God for the wrong reasons, and thus are serving the wrong god. Serve the Lord, not for the sake of mere service, but because He is good, because His mercy is everlasting, because His truth endures forever (vs. 5). When you are caught up in love for God (for who He is and what He has done), service becomes a means to express love, and in that context it becomes as easy as breathing.

It should be obvious by now that service is for our benefit, not God's. He needs nothing; He wouldn't be God if He did. Like worship, service is about awakening to reality, i.e., really seeing who God is and who we are in return. The result of such a heavenly vision is loving God more (and therefore serving Him more).  Thus, service is a natural result of desiring closer communion with Him. Anything that sets our focus and affections on God, causing us to draw closer to Him, is good for our souls, because we are poor and needy while He is all-sufficient.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

As Kingfishers Catch Fire (poetry from an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Though classified as a Victorian poet, many people see Hopkins as a proto-modernist poet, and he served as an inspiration for the likes of Yeats, Auden, and Eliot. The following poem shows not only his unique and beautiful use of rhyme and structure but also displays his notion of "inscape," a Psalm 19-esque philosophy that seeks to see and capture the glory of God that is inherent (and buried) within His creation.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves--goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
Christ--for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

What Moves You: The Premium Mobile Question (an orthodox rebel's post-script to "God Interrupted")

"The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble...." Ps. 99:1a

If there is one thing and one thing only that should garner our awe and reverential fear, it is the God who is and who reigns. His presence, promises, and power should be what holds the most weight in our vision of reality, yet look at us. Look at the things that we give more weight to than God; look at what we give our awe and fear to: jobs and money, school and performance, marriage and relationships, people and places of all shapes and sizes. In and of themselves, such things are good; but the instant that something, anything counts for more than God in our lives is the instant that that thing (and our lives) go awry. We have put everything out of order: what we placed on top was never meant to be on top.

That is the great irony of the situation. We think that we are doing ourselves a favor by giving all of our focus and concern to finding that job, finishing that paper, finding this or that man or woman. In truth, when we give the entirety of our energies to those things, we have set them at the center of our universe, making them idols and hard taskmasters. Consequently, everything falls apart. We have done ourselves no favors. Whenever we put something that's not God in God's place, no matter how good or noble it is in and of itself, it becomes demonic, i.e., it corrupts and destroys the whole edifice of our lives, including itself.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

You Tell Me (poetry of an orthodox rebel)

"I hate the auto dripping drag that cuts across the grind
To where I see at the typing tree some fellows, friends of mine.
I do not like them, Sam I am, said Fred whose family flocks
To see the sightly tripping tree and laugh at all the locks.

The doors are barred and drapes are pulled across the eerie eye
Of precious fiendish peeping toms who love their wheat and rye.
Drinks dull and dowdy pout the pull of waves that wipe the shore,
And ere we glint the air a hint, we wonder what they're for.

My friend right there with the fishbowl face, he smiles a sickly frown
Found only in the friar's den on the other side of town.
And if we grip our pick-up-sticks and shuffle out the side,
We'll crash into our comely crew and there we will have lied.

And up and out and over still the showers of the main
Will pierce our polly-crackered heads with heaps of it again.
Until the tow'ring tide and sun surrender us their skins,
I'll never cross the drag or grind and go and see my friends."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Proper and Cowardly Pacifism (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

"Ye that love the Lord, hate evil..." Ps. 97:10a

Pacifism, though still purported as something unquestionably good, can turn into a very serious kind of evil. Proper pacifism believes in fighting. It believes in fighting because it believes in good and evil. It has a moral vision, and as such believes that the good should be fought for and the evil fought against. As a result, it never believes in fighting for its own sake or for crooked or vain causes. It stays out of and condemns any fighting that was irresponsible and unjust; not because of the fighting, but because of the irresponsibility and injustice. Many famous thinkers of the early 20th century (like G.K. Chesterton) where such pacifists. For them, there was good in the world, and it was worth fighting for against evil. They were warriors who knew when to war as well as how.

Today, however, the case is reversed. Most pacifists stay out of and condemn all fighting because it is fighting. They don't believe in fighting anymore, for anything or any reason. This wimpy and cowardly pacifism (which is rampant today in most antiwar protests) is a direct result of losing a moral vision. An insidious relativism has eroded away any vestige of a moral center. Right and wrong become an issue of individual subjectivism, and now we dare not "impose" "our" morality on another (even while they terrorize and kill others). Ps. 97:10 contains a rebuttal to this mentality: a love of God necessarily entails a hated of evil, because you keep the vision of the good before your eyes. Consequently, everything that is evil, everything in deviation of the vision, becomes more clear and glaring in the light of that vision. A hatred of evil is the only healthy hatred there is, and it is only possible when we walk in the light of the holiness and righteousness of God. Once lose that and you will grow blind to evil and lose all incentive to fight against it for the sake of the good.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Homily 11: On Worship and Reality (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"O Come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. [...] For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." Ps. 95:1, 3

Worship is a matter of reality, a matter of seeing things as they really are. Much of what passes for "worship" these days, however, is more about illusions than reality. We come asking that our "needs" be met, i.e., our tastes and wishes be satiated. That is not seeing things as they really are. It is not seeing things as they really are to demand that the king on his throne moves to your whims at your entrance. It is not seeing things as they are to demand of the roaring lion that he purrs at your pleasure. Likewise, it is not seeing things as they are to subject God to personal preference. God is as He is; He is as He has revealed Himself. No amount of subjectivism will ever change that.

This is not a question of being uncompassionate; this is a question of reality, i.e., what do you place at the center? Regardless of our good intentions, when once we place the "needs" of the people at the center of worship, we have made our "needs" the object of worship. Thus, worship transforms into self-worship, which is illusion and not reality. We must not forget that the one true need of the people is God. As Jesus told Martha that the needful thing was to sit at His feet and hear His words, so too the needful thing in worship is to sit at the feet of God and hear of the great works that He has done. There is no satisfaction, no "need" truly met, until God is the cornerstone of everything: our worship, our preaching, and our very lives.

-Jon Vowell (c)

False Dichtomies, Post-modern Hang-overs, and the Question of Worship (the musings of an orthodox rebel)

The following is a comment I left on a post over at my buddy Josh's blog. I suggest that you read his post as it presents a very interesting concept called the "Worship Tension Spectrum". My thoughts on that spectrum inform the following comment:

Every one of the concepts that you listed are all equally true. If that is the case, then we should take them all: our worship should be performed excellently and be participated in by the congregation, it should be attractive and disciplined, diverse and specific, spontaneous and traditional.

I think the problem here is that we create false dichotomies. Who says that excellence in performance necessitates specialists? Are not some of the greatest excellencies products of/for the people (e.g., Shakespeare wrote for the groundlings as well as the aristocracy, and Dickens was definitely a writer from and for the people)? I think we need to rethink what we mean by "excellence".

Who says that discipline is unattractive? If the object in your sights is of great value to you, does not that make every "effort" and "obedience" highly attractive (e.g., St. Francis called himself the "troubadour" of God, i.e., singing songs to His beloved in the shape of poverty and aestheticism)? I think we need to rethink what we mean by "obedience".

Who says that diversification and spontaneity necessarily negates doctrine and tradition? Who says that freedom necessarily negates rules? What freedom is there without rules? What adventure is there without some authority informing you on what is and is not right and wrong, dangerous and safe?

Just as you cannot play any game (even Calvinball) without settled and specific rules, so you cannot have true artistic spontaneity and freedom without (1) a clear grasp of the basics and (2) an adherence to some kind of tradition. We all draw from something, somewhere, even in our spontaneity. I think we need to rethink what we mean by "freedom".

I see all of this as the unfortunate hang-over of post-modernism: we set at odds things that were never meant to be at odds. We create unnecessary divorces. I think worship would be greatly improved if we would reevaluate the dichotomies and categories that we use to frame the debate.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

God Interrupted (the musings of an orthodox rebel)

"Thou, Lord, are most high for evermore." Ps. 92:8

The whole of the Christian life is about coming back to reality. It is about awakening from the dream; about flying out of the cave and into the sunlight. It is about sailing past all the lies (of ourselves and others) and into the startling, offensive, awesome, and relieving truth that God is God, and we are not. God is most high, and we are not. He is the life and light that awaits us when we awake. He is the daylight; we are only dreamers.

We are dreamers of the worst sort: we are illusionists. We convince ourselves of the most outlandish lies! We dance to the most ridiculous tunes! We tell ourselves the most ludicrous things and assent to them as though they were gospel. This self-inflicted hell does not end at salvation. We are in constant danger of it all the time. We cast illusions all the time, and of all the illusions that we cast, there is none more tragic than the ones that we cast across God.

We all cast illusions across God. We all give Him a particular mask to wear. At some point in our lives (perhaps we have forgotten when), God did something unpredictable and unexplainable. Whatever naive categories you once had about Him were obliterated, and in response you have done a most foolish thing: you tried to understand. You tried to fit those categories back together again, tried to reconstruct them so they could contain God once again. You're motives were partly theodic: you thought that you were saving God from His own actions. They were also fearful: you were trying to save yourself from God. In reality, you were merely building the walls of your own prison.

Every attempt to understand God, to fully and completely comprehend both Him and His actions and be done with it, is an illusion and snare. Every attempt to understand God is an attempt to control Him (for we cannot control what we don't completely understand). Every attempt to control Him is not a detriment to Him but to us. It locks us in a smaller and smaller box, with us unable and unwilling to accept that God is ultimately bigger than our understanding (Romans 11:33-5). Our attempts at rationalization only dig our dungeons deeper.

God will not stand such prisons. He constantly smashes them apart, constantly comes crashing into our lives, ruining our plans, upsetting our understanding, and collapsing our categories yet again. He is trying to wake us up, but we commit the same error as last time. We try to understand again, and we build new categories, erecting new walls around us, walls that God will have to smash  through as well. If this madness of ours continues, then we will grow to hate Him and say with Job, "Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? And wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?" (Job 13:24-5) He will break and pursue, however; and we will count Him as our enemy, as a threat, as an unpredictable wildness too dangerous to trust. Perhaps we will still believe in Him and His Son, but we do not trust Him anymore. He has wrecked too many things.

Wreck them He must, however. We are trapping ourselves, digging our graves deep into the cave and away from the sun. We were not meant to be imprisoned; we were meant to be free. God will not stand any prison wall around us, even walls that are our pet favorites. He will break the box. He will smash the dream. He will set the dungeon aflame with light. He will continue to do so until we dead awaken, because He loves us with undying love. He will not tolerate our own private hells; He will not let us grow use to them, nor will He let us grow use to Him. Every fear-created "safe" version of God that we have ever constructed to satiate our need for limited liabilities and safe-investments is nothing but an idol that will be burned in the all-consuming fire of the God who is.

An illustration is in order. There is a wonderful little movie called Howl's Moving Castle. In it, we meet Sophie, a delightful yet tragic girl who lives and works in a hat shop. It is a highly dull and mediocre existence, but she is content with it. Let her beautiful (and air-headed) sisters have more in their lives; she is quite content and convinced that what she has is all that she needs and deserves. Then one day, she quite literally bumps into the rogue wizard Howl. Their meeting is no longer than five minutes, but in that time they flee evil monsters and float across the sky. Then Howl is gone, and Sophie is alone again; but things will never be the same. A jealous witch curses Sophie, and her life at the hat shop is finished. She treks out into the wilderness to find Howl, hoping that he can reverse the spell. In the process of doing so, she finds adventure, romance, and beauty.

That is the closest I can get to what I am trying to say. We are that girl in the hat shop. We have built for ourselves a very well meaning fiction about life, ourselves, and God. We are content with what is less. Then God (who can be aptly described as a rogue wizard) literally comes crashing into our lives, and everything goes topsy-turvey. What once was can no longer be. However, there is an important and unfortunate difference between us and Sophie: when her life was turned topsy-turvey, she left that life behind and headed into the unknown wilderness before her; when our life is turned topsy-turvey, we do not. We go back to that hat shop and rebuild, this time with thicker walls. We reconstruct our understanding of God with new concepts and conceits, and sit down hoping that maybe this time we will keep Him in check.

Brothers and sisters, these things should not be.

What should be is freedom: the freedom to take whatever God gives you, to go wherever He leads, and not bother your head about what exactly is going on. The inner-workings of things are His business; you are along for the ride, but it is a wild and wonderful ride. It is the ride that we were meant to take, and I want to express my final thoughts very clearly and (if I may say so) defiantly:

God is the constant explosion in our lives, and He will continue to explode our prison-like conceptions of Him and ourselves until we finally give up the insane notion that things can ever be normal again once He comes crashing through. Until we give it up, we will never be free. There is no freedom in returning to the hat shop to watch the trains roll by. Freedom only comes when we accept the interruptions and inconveniences of God and follow them wherever they lead. Sophie certainly saw Howl's interruption of her own life as an inconvenience, but being the sensible girl that she is she rolled with those inconveniences and followed where they led. Where they led her was romance, which is another way of saying adventure. However, there is no adventure, no beauty, no wonder, no greatness, no anything in the life that will not accept by faith the interruptions of God. Herein is faith: when everything falls apart so that life can never be the same, and someone asks you what happened, you can only  (and gladly) reply, "God interrupted."

Let the illusions fail. Let the ever-present, ever-burning presence and power of God smash them into pieces. Let the chains fall off and the prison walls come crashing to the ground. You may try to build them again, but God will simply wreck them again and again until we finally awake to His Reality and fall to our knees saying, "The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!"

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Homily 10: Signposts and Shadows (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken unto my voice, and Israel would have none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lusts, and they walked in their own counsels." Ps. 81:10-12

God will give you your heart's desire; and if you will not have Him, then you will have what is less than Him. If you will not have the vacation at the beach, then you will have the mud in the slums. There is nothing else. There is nothing higher than God. All else is a mere copy or shadow, a signpost meant to point to the Source. Woe unto you if you confuse the two! The instant that we take the shadow for the substance, divorcing the two, the shadow loses what life it had. It withers and dies like a flower plucked from the earth.

The things of this world are real, and their glory and beauty are real. However, their reality, glory, and beauty are all a product of and dependent on the Reality, Glory, and Beauty of God. They are sparks shed from His infinite flame, and what fire they have dies quickly. Thus, they can never satisfy, though many pitiful idols have been made out of their smoldering remains. They were never meant for worship; their purpose is to point to the true Object of worship. Like the moon reflects (and therefore implies) the sunlight, so too the things of existence reflect (and imply) the God who is there (Romans 1:19-20). They are to be enjoyed, but only because of what they reveal of God. Any other consideration (no matter how initially innocent) will lead us astray.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010