I have finished the “proposal” part of my book proposal and am currently revising/writing my sample chapters. The following brief passage comes from Chapter 1.
Historically speaking, the Orthodox Church likes empire. It just feels like home to us! Of course this is true to a certain extent of all Christians. But it takes a uniquely triumphalist form in the world of Orthodoxy.
Roman Catholicism has been forever shaped by its hard scrabble childhood. Its early years were spent wandering through the rubble of the once “Eternal City.” The church in Rome learned to be self-reliant. Nobody but the pope would protect the Christians of the city from the Huns, Vandals, and Lombards. The pope offered some protection from the violent political seas of western europe – the constant battering of barbaric would-be caesars against each other. The see of Peter became a rock to cling to in more than one sense. He was both a relatively stable symbol of eternal power as well as a memory of lost glory (and perhaps a hope for its return).
The childhood of the Orthodox Church was more privileged. Rome had not died, just moved to Greece. Caesar still reigned in Constantinople. Its glory was diminished, but never lost. As western Christians saw in Peter a sign of transcendent security, eastern Christians saw transcendence-made-immanent in the person of the emperor. Even as the empire began to collapse all around them, even as lands were lost to the Slavs, Arabs, and Turks, many looked to the emperor, half-praying/half trying to convince themselves that, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.”
I sometimes write controversial things. I do not do this because I like controversy. I am an introvert by nature. I prefer to keep my head down and mind my own business. I write because I feel like I have to.
It’s not that I mind criticism. I expect it. I actually like thoughtful and respectful critique because it helps sharpen my own ideas. But the inevitable ad hominem attack and occasional phone calls to my priest bother me. When people are mean to me, my wife gets upset. My priest also has better things to do than explain again why he disagrees with what I say. I hate that sometimes I can be a burden to those I love.
According to the Pew Research Center fewer people are getting married, and they are waiting longer to “tie the knot.” Basically, what we think of as “traditional marriage” is on the decline. It clings desperately to life, somewhere in the hinterlands of suburbia, where scattered herds of Hummers and Tahoes still run free. But it is basically a dying institution.
Personally, I am not quite so worried. Our ideal marriage has more in common with 1950s sitcoms than the facts of history or the theology of the church, for that matter. That’s not to say I do not worry about marriage. Speaking for myself, there are lots of threats to my marriage, but I’m pretty sure none of them is gay.
This question was posed to Jesus by a lawyer who wanted, the scripture says, “to justify himself.” He had just “tested” Jesus, asking him to sum up the law and the prophets, and Jesus gave a good answer. In a nutshell, “Love God. Love your neighbor,” he said. As the rabbi Hillel later said, “The rest is commentary.”
So it is important to get this question right. It means summing up at least half of what it is to be a Christian. But that is easier said than done. Like the lawyer who asked it, we usually want to try to find a loophole. Asking, “Who is my neighbor” is another way of asking “Whom can I not love?” Continue reading “The Rest is Commentary”