Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, December 30, 2011

God's work in the Russian church?

Some of us prize the church's witness in the great "people power" movements of the past hundred years more than we do its stance on abortion, gay rights, etc., important though those issues are. In this sphere, the Eastern Orthodox churches have not distinguished themselves. Western Protestants and Roman Catholics, despite some significant failures in certain geographical areas and certain causes (e.g. Protestants in El Salvador, Catholics in Franco's Spain), have to a large degree been at the forefront of some of the most important freedom movements--civil rights in the US, Solidarity in Poland, the revolution in the Philippines. For the most part, the Orthodox churches have lacked the dynamic and activist impulses which the Reformation did so much to encourage. The Russian Orthodox churches were singularly quiescent during the Stalinist period.

Therefore today's news of stirrings in Russia is worthy of attention. The mild protests of Patriarch Kirill I are hardly in the class of John Paul II hurling challenges at the Polish communists, but nevertheless they are a sign of God's movements. What has roused the Patriarch? Well, nothing less, it seems, than the Occupy movement, perhaps the Arab Spring, and certainly the recent uprisings of ordinary Russians against corruption at the ballot box.

"People power" is the most important evidence of God's hand in geopolitics in our time, perhaps in any time in world history. To be continued.

Here is the link to the entire article, well worth reading throughout:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A composer's insight for Christmastide

Arvo Pärt, whose beautiful but too-short Eastern-Orthodox carol was a highlight of the King's College service on Chrismas Eve this year, has much to tell us. In an interview with a writer from The New York Times, who most likely doesn’t know much about Christianity, Pärt said this:

“This old music, when it was written, the focus of this music was the Holy Scripture for composers for centuries. It was the reality for every artist. Through one, you can understand the other. Otherwise, you are like some teachers in the Soviet Union who said, ‘Bach was a great composer but he had a defect: he was religious.’ It means this teacher cannot understand the music of Bach.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Syria dancing: alternative cultures

Andy Crouch is coming to visit us on January 7-8 when he will speak at Christ Church Greenwich (CT). Here is a brief bio:

Author of the award-winning book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative alling, Andy Crouch is special assistant to the president at Christianity Today International, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. He serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, is a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission’s IJM Institute, and on the Board of Advisors for the John Templeton Foundation.

Andy's a Harvard graduate and one of the brightest and most sane voices of evangelical Christianity today. I am very interested in his book about "culture making," even though I have not had time to read it yet, because I saw this video that he made (open this link and scroll down):

At this very moment, a remarkable example of "culture making" is appearing in Syria. It has been widely covered; here is one link:

The making of cultures that present alternatives to the overwhelming and pernicious influence of the one that we live and breathe every day is truly a Christian imperative, and when we see it happening in a Muslim country we can only rejoice at the works of God among the nations. For our own part, the way that the Lord has ordained for us to do this work is through the church. It is not and cannot be done by individuals who praise Jesus privately. It is accomplished by the Spirit through Christians working together.

A dear friend of ours has been in the forefront of such an alternative culture in the Massachusetts Berkshires. She and her church (St. James, Great Barrington), partnering with a local farm, have established a large garden which is maintained by local young people in tandem with the farm family and their workers. The fresh produce is harvested and taken to local food pantries, but even more important is the little community of mentoring and fellowship that has grown up around the project. Young people, some of whom have difficult situations at home, have found new directions at Gideon's Garden. They have learned to speak in public by testifying at St James' services. One young girl is even going to Ghana on a mission trip this spring, led by an Episcopal rector from a neighboring church (Christ Church-Trinity Lutheran in Sheffield). Most people involved with Gideon's Garden have not been to church in years, or have never been to a church at all. The project is therefore a remarkable example of evangelistic outreach, and it is likely that in decades to come, the young people will look back on it as their introduction to the love of Jesus Christ.

It is noteworthy that the St. James congregation has been without its building for three years. Their landmark building was declared unfit for use after stones began falling from it. They worship in a rented commercial space. And yet their "alternative culture" has grown stronger and is making a real impact in the local community. How often have we heard it: "It's not the building, it's the people!" but we don't necessarily believe it till we see it.