Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why the Novus Ordo is Great plus a Long Ramble plus Power Rangers

To hear conservative American Catholics talk it sounds like the Catholic Church ended after Vatican II, with the introduction of the Novus Ordo. While most will just politely say they prefer the Extraordinary Rite some are less.... kind. I mean, Bugnini (the chief architect of the Novus Ordo) had to be a Freemason! He just had to be, despite the fact that there is no evidence, even for the most uncharitable. Why else would the Catholic Church dump the most beautiful liturgy ever created? This requires a bit of a history lesson, because while the Church has not "dumped"  the Extraordinary Form it certainly has very good reasons for wanting a new liturgy drawn up.

Before I start, a caveat: I'm not a huge fan of the TLM.  The fact that they have a special option for the lay people (y'know, the people who are actually supposed to be celebrating the liturgy) to respond to the priest and that it's something they had to put in as a matter of renewal is... disconcerting. It goes against every last current in my Byzantine soul to such an extent that, if not for the sheer beauty of the TLM, I'd just chuck it out the window and tell the Traddies to weep. Nothing that beautiful deserves to be destroyed and forgotten, even if I dislike it on a genetic level.

The Church's missionary efforts post-Trent (with those Jesuits we keep hearing about) ran the gamut, from being perfectly intentioned to dubious to outright spiteful. Going into other people's cultures they tried to uproot the culture and put their Western culture in. Nevermind the fact that Western culture is no more enlightened than any other, the arrogance inherent in some of these missionary efforts was overwhelming. And it got worse when the Jesuits encountered other Apostolic Churches not in communion with them! They'd try to uproot that brand of Christianity and put their oh-so-superior Latin rite in its place. This had predictably violent results and the Jesuits were usually thrown out of these countries relatively quickly. Some countries still have statues of the people who threw the Jesuits out enshrined proudly.

While the intentions of the Jesuits and other similar missionaries were good, they'd forgotten something very important: there is more than one way to be Catholic. The Orthodox and the long-suffering Byzantine Catholics have expressed the same mysteries of Christ for just as long (if not longer, if you want to go with who kept their liturgy the longest) without any approval of Rome. This fact had been forgotten by Trent, however, and instead of trying to preach Christianity to the natives the Latins tried to preach Latin Christianity to the natives, with predictable results.

Then the World Wars happened. I cannot overemphasize how impactful these wars were on the rest of the world. While America prospered after World War II the rest of the world was going through a huge crisis. Vatican II may have appeared to have come out of the blue for us Americans but the rest of the world, tired from two wars, was in sore need of some of some renewal. And there's a fair bit of compelling evidence that the Tridentine Mass was not the Mass for the world.

Because, ultimately, the purpose of missionary work is not to spread Latin, Byzantine, Maronite, or any other *insert adjective here* Christianity. We spread the news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we are to spread. Not our brand of it, not our take, not our boasting in our flawed but redeemable culture. No, we are to spread the Good News and to boast in the cross of Christ. No more, no less.

Which finally brings me to my point: the Novus Ordo is an example of the Mass that the world needs right now. Not because the Tridentine and Byzantine rites aren't good, far from it! But there are as many ways to be an Apostolic Christian as there are nations and cultures. Pentecost did not make us all speak the same language, it made our all our languages understandable. That wasn't done so there could be one sacred language, one sacred rite. It was done so that all languages and rites could be made sacred.

Yes, the Novus Ordo is "incomplete", the way mustard seeds are when first planted. On their own they're really not much but, given enough sunshine, rain, and good soil and they'll turn into the largest of bushes. And by stripping  the Mass down to it's bare essentials and writing the most flexible General Instruction ever seen Rome has begun to address the needs of its Churches, which need to be able to decide for themselves how they will express the Tradition handed on to them. The uniformity that Rome thinks of as it's greatest strength can really be a horrible weakness because not all cultures are going to think like Rome.

Don't believe me? Look at Africa. The whole continent is bursting with Catholics who are full of life and love and who have made the Novus Ordo their own. They've put in their own chant and have edited parts of the Mass to fit more with their understanding of how to pray and worship and it's worked wonders for them. For the first time in the history of the post-Schism Church we have real and actual growth in an area that we couldn't get before, and all because the Church stripped all the Latin out of the Mass and presented it humbly to a culture, asking for them to do what they could.  Missionary friends of mine who have gone to Africa come back inspired by the incredible things they've seen there, by the up to 2 HOUR long Novus Ordo Masses that happen there, all filled with love, reverence, and 100% African worship. Do they know Latin or Greek or Old Church Slavonic? Not a lick, but if the key to good liturgy was language then the Church of Africa would have died and withered a long time ago.

So yes, go to the Tridentine Mass and the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint James and Saint Basil and Saint Mark! Express it all. But please don't take our rebellious, dying, and evil culture for being the only way the Novus Ordo is being celebrated. That does all the people who have found it, recognized it for what it is, and have used it to full effect a huge disservice. If Africa and our monasteries can do something beautiful with the Novus Ordo there is no reason the rest of the nation can't.

Christianity is more than Latin and Byzantine and Coptic and Maronite and all the rest. And it is our God-given duty to make it so. The Novus Ordo, our first true missionary Mass, is our key to that.

***

I was going to leave this blog post alone. I really was. But, the thing is that I did a lot of soul searching afterwards and found that it was incomplete for me, because I can hardly claim to want complete unity with the West and profess a genetic dislike for the TLM, now can I? As a Byzantine Catholic I've moved beyond the silly notion that we must have exactly the same theology to be a united Church, because the last time I checked men and women have different ideas of how to live life all the way to the grave and they still get married and live to a ripe old age together. If a man and a woman can do it why can't the rest of us?

So after I wrote the first part of this blog post I started digging around in earnest. I've linked to Fisheaters before because that's where I first started to dig. But nothing they said about the TLM really got to me, because I've heard that mumbo jumbo before except with the serial numbers changed to say "Divine Liturgy". While I'm partial to Eastern Triumphalism (seriously, how can you NOT be? We made monasticism, Thomas Aquinas based a lot of his stuff on Pseudo-Dionysius and Chrysostom, and things like the Responsorial Psalm were stolen right from the East and put into Western Liturgy to make it less somber!) I know this isn't all there is to the story. Saints have come from the West, honest-to-goodness saints that I love and respect. Any rite that helps shape someone as awesome as Saint Francis of Assissi, one of my favorite saints of all time, deserves my respect.

So I kept reading. I asked questions. I didn't like a single answer, because it all smacked of the same bullcrap that I've heard every single religion say time and time again. "We're the best because of.... (insert overused reasoning about what the world actually is and how your religion explains it)". 

No, your religion does not have the most beautiful rites ever. Stop saying that. Cut it the hell out, cause it's pissing me off because it's simply not true. My brand of Christianity converted all of Russia based off of the beauty of its Liturgy alone and I don't think it's the most beautiful thing ever. That privilege belongs to God, the one who makes all these things beautiful in the first place.

And all I found in support of  the TLM, which did not give it any points in my book. If I wanted half-baked points about the superiority of one religion over another I'd go read Russian Orthodox Anti-Catholic literature because that stuff is hilarious. Of all the branches of the Orthodox Church they claim Rome is the devil? Two centuries ago they were seriously latinized, they were the lapdogs of the Communists and now Putin and they want to get on their high horse about staying pure? That makes for good entertainment.

I guess you could call me jaded then. Oh well.

Another thing you may have gathered from my blog posts is that I'm not exactly a logical person. If you were to give me a Myers-Briggs right now you'd find that I was either an ENFP or ENFJ, depending on the minute you caught me (the ENFP is when I"m having a good day and... just don't catch me in a judgmental mood, OK?). The thing is that, according to that test, the Feeling aspect of my personality is almost off the chart. I do not process things through cold hard logic. I do it with my gut. I feel out the truth. You can tell me all your rationalizations for doing something but the thing is that I"m not listening to your words at all. I listen to the emotion behind the words. Are you OK with what you're saying? Do you believe it? Are you at peace? Because if you are then I'll listen to you. I might not agree, but I'll listen and try to respect your words to the best of my ability because I"m sure they come from you, the dude/tte talking to me.

This makes things like reasoned debate very difficult.

So, after reading all this stuff about the TLM (and rereading my 1960 Daily Missal of the Mystical Body by the Maryknoll Fathers several time) I ran out of patience and I just decided to ask my Traddy friends what the hell they found so enticing about a Liturgy that thinks that congregational response is innovative. I got more lines that I knew would help a rational human being but, unfortunately, didn't do as much for me as I'd like, until one of my buddies posted the following (yes, you were quoted. Yes, I hid your name. You're welcome)

"I have only been to one Divine Liturgy, but it did seem to me that your description there is right on. However, in a lot of vernacular OF masses, that is not at all how things end up. Honestly, and call me a traddy, but I think that our liturgy is built in such a way as to support a liturgical language. Not that the vernacular is bad, but that Latin is better. It took me, a Latin teacher who speaks the language, 5 or 6 TLMs to get the hang of it, but now it is way more powerful to me than the OF which I grew up with (I didn't go to a TLM until I was nearly 20).

 I guess what I am saying is that it takes getting used to, but is worth it in the end. I don't know anyone who went to 5 or 6 and then said "No, this is still too difficult/distant." If we in the West had all had this growing up, it would not be new to us as Catholics. I know this is barely touching on the issue though, as there are an enormous number of variables and personal experiences that change this experience dramatically."

While I've known some people who grew up with the TLM and never adjusted to it what my friend had written hit me particularly hard, and I'll explain why, assuming you're still reading this rambly thing.

As I've mentioned time and time again on this blog, I'm Byzantine Catholic, among a group of Orthodox who think that, while salvation does not hinge upon the Pope, to not be united is scandalous in and of itself and so we unite ourselves to Papa Rome, hoping to God that he doesn't trample on us again (Newsflash to all Roman Catholics: it's happened a lot. Yes, I'm bitter about it on bad days). But I was not raised so. I was raised Roman Catholic until the age of thirteen. I did the whole first communion thing and got to swing my streamer and sing "This is the Day the Lord Has Made. Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad in It" and not understand a bloody thing I was doing. The point is, I didn't see my first Divine Liturgy until I was thirteen years old.

I hated it the first two times I went. I could not figure out what the hell was going on. It was an incomprehensible mess. 

But my family continued to go and I found that I was falling in love with the East. That I wasn't converting to the East so much as finding out that I was never Western to begin with and never could have faked it past a certain point. The more I learned the more eager I became to realize my identity in this most ancient of Churches.

So when my friend said that it took him, a Latin professor, 5 to 6 times to get the TLM it finally clicked for me. As a matter of fact, Catholicism in general clicked for me. There is a learning curve. Period. You can't not genuine apostolic Christianity without this learning curve because Christianity does not make sense according to the world's thinking. I mean, why would you get up on a perfectly good Sunday morning to either go pray with some celibate man for an hour and a half or sing at the top of your lungs for an equally long amount of time? Because you have seen Christ and you want nothing more than to dump this shitty little world behind you and go become something that you can actually be proud of. Because the way of least resistance gets you least results.

Because, deep deep down, we were all made wanting to be gods. And being a god is hard friggin' work. And anything that tells you can come just as you are and that no change is necessary is telling you horrific lies. 

So grow up. Life is difficult, and so is religion, and Catholicism is about as hard as it gets without being immoral. There are as many ways of being Catholic as there are cultures and people. And, no matter what you may think, there is no one best way to get to heaven once you believe in the Faith of the Apostles. 

Go Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Go Novus Ordo not celebrated with crappy modernist leanings. Go Dialogue TLM (sorry, couldn't resist). Show the world that being Christ doesn't make us little Latin or Byzantine clones and confound the rest of us by your fruits. Go.


And just because I kept saying "Go (whatever)" here, I must put this in. Don't hate me too much. Or jam out and glory in the nostalgia and un/intentional thematic links between this blog post and song.



Or just shake your head and wonder if I'll grow up when I hit 30. A lot can happen in 3 years! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Better Late Than Never?: Twilight


Ok, I'll admit to being curious all these years. How could I not be? When 85% of the female population is swooning over a book it's hard not to take note. Especially when it's met with such horrific critical reception. Either the ladies are crazy or it's another Lord of the Rings type event, where the critics hate it because it goes against their ridiculous materialistic ideology so hard their genetics prevent them from liking it, even as us unwashed riff-raff praise it for being true. So, out of curiosity, I watched the first movie. 

Heh, go figure. They're both right. Bloody fantastic.



I'm not going to do everyone reading this blog post the indignity of telling you what Twilight's about. If you don't know by now you've been living under a rock and this blog post won't really apply to you anyway. The point that I want to make is that, had this thing actually been taken seriously by the author, it would have been a really good tragedy. Bella was bored with the inanity of this life and thus wanted something real. And can you really blame her? Highschool isn't a real place. What works there sure doesn't work in the real world. I'd even go so far as to say that movies are more realistic than high school. So, Bella being bored was pretty easy for me to sympathize with.

But... vampires? Really?

Of all the places to go?

She's running for her life while her highschool acquaintances are out having a good time, and for what? So she  can be part of something that's real? How is running for your life more entertaining than highschool? (11 Bravos be quiet) In her wish for something not quite so mundane Bella mistakes the terror that is dating a vampire for something real. It's a pretty sad look at our society, isn't it? That what our culture offers is so bad that dating a vampire while staying human is preferable. Does that make anyone else sad? Cause it does me. 

Something else that maddens me about this movie is Edward's attraction to Bella. Now, Bella's attraction to Edward makes sense to me, as I've already spelled out. But Edward is 117 bloody years old. That's more insight than the oldest person alive currently by a long stretch. This guy has probably seen it all. So what makes Bella so unusual? The movie never explains it. Bella and Edward are shown talking for hours and hours but you have no idea what they're talking about or why they click the way they do, you're just told that they do. That's not good enough if you want me to buy in, which I unwittingly found myself wanting to do!


Excuse me. There's some wine in my kitchen that demands my immediate attention. I'd go get something stronger but I'm broke.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What is Tradition?


Tradition!

....OK, I'm done. Really.

Tradition is a very loaded word in the Christian world. The Protestants hate it because they think it was the garbage that magically showed up after Constantine legalized Christianity, the Catholics mention it but think they seem to think the Pope has authority over it somehow, and the Orthodox think they follow it but pick and choose what they like and don't really enforce it. There's nothing more important to Christianity and nothing more misunderstood (which is sad, cause there's a lot of things on the top of the list).

Protestants have always had this idea that the Bible is the only legitimate authority and that there's no need of tradition, which I've always wondered at, because no where in the Bible does it say that scripture's the ultimate authority. Oh sure, the scriptures are edifying and good for salvation, but what constitutes scripture? It's no wonder there's 8,000+ Protestant traditions running around: it's unavoidable. You can't not have tradition, a fact that most Protestants are in deep denial about. 8,000+ times.  And furthermore, the idea that Constantine somehow wrecked the Church makes a liar of Christ, who promised that Hell would not win against the Church. The idea that somehow the Protestants revived the Church after a 1200 year stint in error is nothing short of madness. Besides, name one culture that has survived exclusively off one book (or a singular collection of 72 books). Can't? There's a reason why.

Catholics know that Tradition exists, that it's necessary for salvation, and that a Church is necessary for it, but most Catholics I've talked to seem to have a hard time figuring out what Tradition is or why they should or shouldn't listen to the Pope. Most of them would say that Tradition is the collection of doctrine that Jesus and the Apostles passed down through the bishops, which seems to insinuate that bishops somehow have the ability to teach it. Given how categorically untrue that last part of the statement is I'm inclined to disagree. Tradition is not doctrine, although it encompasses doctrine. And yes, bishops have something to do with it but, for everyone's (especially the bishop's) sake I hope they try and mess with it as little as possible.

OK, that last paragraph was a bit unfair, it makes me sound like I don't like my Roman Catholic brethren. Nothing could be further from the truth! But sometimes I get really frustrated as I watch them pronounce how important Tradition is to a Protestant and then do... nothing... for feast days. Tradition is a lot more than doctrine, I've always felt that. If doctrine doesn't make it's way into the practical aspects of your life then what's the point? I mean, it used to be there. One good visit to the Fish Eaters website and it's obvious that Roman Catholicism used to have a very beautiful Tradition, one that's been forgotten about in the wake of Vatican II.

And then there's the Orthodox. To them the Tradition is the lived experience of God in the lives of Christ, the Apostles, and the Saints, passed down and guarded through the bishops, whenever the bishops bother to guard it. In this viewpoint the bishops are simply guardians of what's true. They don't define it individually so much as to make sure no one crosses outside the magical lines that's been defined in the Ecumenical Councils (those rare times when bishops DO lay down what's Tradition). The problem here is that the Orthodox are notoriously hard to get together because of political reasons that are about as important as who the next Disney channel star is. Blinded by their own stupid politics they're unable to lay down edification for their churches, so the lay people try their best. It doesn't really work, since it's not the lay people's role to protect the Tradition, not as the frontline defense anyway.

I'm really most partial to the Orthodox interpretation of Tradition, flaws and all, as it seems to create the best lived experience of the Gospel. Tradition is for living, and if it's not livable I have a hard time seeing it as Tradition. That may be because it's hard to see it if it isn't being lived. If your religion isn't changing you then it's worthless.

But then how do we ensure that people are actually living it? By making it as attractive as possible. If you're living a wonderful life that's filled with love and able to show the superiority of our way through that life then it goes a long when you say "Hey, my way's best", because you really don't have a whole lot left to prove. Someone can make the claim that abortion is necessary because a person's worth is only in what he can contribute to society and we've deemed him unworthy all day long, but if his life doesn't add up to anything that begs imitation then it really doesn't matter how reasonable it sounds. The same is true of Christians. If you're a person filled with more anger with hardly a hint of love in sight how can you claim that your way is the truth? By your fruits shall you be known, and Tradition is the blueprint for making good fruit.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Star Wars: The Mortis Machete Order


A few months ago I wrote a review of the Star Wars Machete Order, the definitive way to watch Star Wars. Episodes 4,5,2,3,6 set up the Star Wars narrative at it's most satisfying and, if you have access to nothing else in the Star War universe, the way you'd get the most out of Star Wars. But there is another. Way, I mean. And it involves adding three episodes from the cartoon The Clone Wars: the Mortis trilogy, season 3 episodes 15-17. This, in my view, completes the story by bringing in the last bits of what you'd need to know from what is implied in the other episodes but brought out here fully.

Anakin, Obi-wan, and Anakin's padawan Ahsoka Tano are doing a mission in the Clone Wars when they get side-tracked by what's essentially the three gods of the force: the Daughter (Light side), the Son (Dark side), and the Father (who balances them both). The Father and Daughter's aim is to get Anakin to accept his rightful place as the chosen one, replacing The Father. These three individuals are so overwhelmingly powerful in the Force that they must stay on the planet Mortis or else overwhelm the rest of the galaxy with their power, and it is the Father's unenviable job to keep his progeny in check. Except now it's Anakin's turn. Anakin refuses, and the tragedy is played out to the harm of everyone in the galaxy.

I'll avoid spoilers as much as possible except to comment on the chief event. In the last episode of the Mortis trilogy (which I'll dub Episodes 2.5) the Son gets the drop on Anakin and shows him all the evil he'll do in the name of the Empire, overwhelming Anakin. In that moment of emotional weakness the Son brainwashes Anakin into joining his side, promising him that together they can stop the bad events that Anakin saw from happening. How does it all play out? Go watch it, I ain't ruining the rest for you! It's on Netflix so it's not hard to find.

But here's where things get interesting. Take a look at Anakin brainwashed here:

Does this look familiar? It should.

 Anakin Skywalker was brainwashed by Lord Sidious and it never fully wore off until Episode 6. Anakin is not doing things of his volition. Canonically speaking, to the best of my knowledge, that's what the yellow eyes mean. It's subtle in Episode 3, but 2.5 makes it clear. With the knowledge we get from 2.5 and 3 we can say a few things about brainwashing in the Star Wars universe:

1) It is not mind control. It's putting your influence where it doesn't belong and that person warping themselves around your influence. Anakin did terrible things in Episode 3, but he did them as Anakin, not as a mindless robot. He just had someone else working in the background to influence him.

2) Brainwashing can only happen at moments of emotional weakness on the part of the subject. You can't just force your way in; it's impossible for even someone as power as The Son. What you have to do is wear them down and worm your way into their consciousness and then, at their weakest, plant a thought and force an inception. That person then incorporates it.
3) To undo the brainwashing you remove the inciting incident from their memory, thus removing the toe hold.
Which brings me to Return of the Jedi. Armed with this new knowledge about how brainwashing works, the picture's a lot clearer: Anakin has been taken advantage of by Palpatine and has committed some of the most horrific acts of evil that one can do. But the question is: is the good side of Anakin completely gone? Luke doesn't think so. Unlike his mother, who saw the offer as a sign of how far gone Anakin was, Luke sees it as the one saving grace Anakin has left.

So he surrenders himself up to Vader and starts chipping away at the armor. Unlike The Father, who undid Anakin's first bout of brainwashing by just removing the inciting memory, Luke goes straight for Anakin with his own Force influence, trying to counteract the effects of the brainwashing without removing any memories. Including Episode 2.5 adds an entire layer of subtext into Episode 6 that makes Luke that much more impressive. He not only resists Palpatine but rescues his father by using the first trick Obi-wan showed him back in Episode 4: persuading the weak-minded.

And, after all that you've seen Anakin do, what is he if not weak-minded?

Now, there are some people who are going to have issue with modifying the Machete Order. The first (and biggest) objection is that Episode 2.5 is from a long running TV show, The Clone Wars. I've got good news: these are some of the most self-contained episodes in the entire show. Most of the developmental arcs do not impact these three episodes. Ninety-nine percent of what shows up in 2.5 is completely new. So context really isn't a big deal for what came before those 3 episodes. Another argument might be that, with the inclusion of 2.5, Episode 1 becomes necessary, because of 2.5's Qui Gon Jinn appearance.  But it's such a minor event (especially in comparison to Snips's appearance) it's more of a nitpick, at least in my opinion. If you wanted to you could show Episode 1. But that would require not loving the people you're showing this epic sprawl to. Which doesn't make sense; who else would you show this to but someone you love?

Friday, July 3, 2015

American Humanism



There's a new religion out there. Well, it's really an old one (humanism) with a new, American twist, and it's central doctrine just got summed up in the hollow ending of Arrow's third season. If I had to name this religion I'd call it American Humanism. But we'll get to that in a minute, cause where this started is important to understanding my viewpoint.

I used to watch the show Arrow, right up until the ending of season 3. Contrary to what a lot of people were saying about it I really liked the third season. Oliver was finding that he didn't necessarily want to be a mythological figure and that may be OK, until he bumped into Ras Al Ghul, a man who is a myth. For obvious reasons this didn't quite work out in Oliver Queen's favor, because a myth is true no matter what, that's the point of a myth. Don't fly too close to the sun or your wings will melt cause they're not real, make sure you change the sails on your ship or your father will kill himself, all power comes at a great personal cost and the hatred of others with power. And, in Arrow's world, the League of Assassins is an unstoppable force. Oliver tried to stop Ra's once and failed, because he is not the Arrow in the way that his opponent was Ra's. To Ra's there was no other man in him, he was the myth, the legend, and that made him unstoppable.  In true American fashion Oliver Queen decided that being Oliver Queen was good enough and took out Ra's single-handledly in the finale of the third season. It was an amazingly hollow end to an otherwise great season. Arrow hasn't stuck a landing since the first season finale, but for whatever reason this one really got my goat. So much build up to.... nothing.

So I called my friend Marty, who usually is kind enough to listen to me rant and rave about shows that he has absolutely no liking for (he hates American TV). But this time he had an insight to it. Now, Marty and I share a passion for mythological themes in shows and literature. It's our little geeky thing we talk about where we start going "ooh, did you see that?" Heck, he ran a beautiful Torchbearer game for Andy and I that just blew our socks right off.

Anyway. Erhem.

 I was telling Marty how the whole ending just felt off, and he said the magic words "Why, because he invented his own myth and somehow it worked? Yeah, I didn't think you'd like that." After the light bulbs in my head dimmed enough for me to sleep I did so, but here's the thing: myths aren't made up, they're inherited, passed down to the next holders who live it out and add their own selves to it. It's a corporate and individualistic experience because the interpretation of the myth is up to you. So long as you remain loyal to the myth your interpretation adds to what's passed on. It's one of the reasons why I love being an iconographer: I am part of something more than myself and yet my contribution matters, because it's then added to the whole.

Which is why American Humanism is so sick. It's the idea that you define your own mythology, you are the center of your own little world, and that the larger world has no place in defining it with you. Oh wait, what were those suicide numbers again, particularly for men, who have based their lives off of mythology since the world was young? Oh yeah, that's working really well. Isolating us from a whole is a really great idea.

And, before anyone goes "that's not true!" I ask you to look at our culture today. Actually look at it as an overarching pattern. What's been going on for awhile now? Well, the LBGT crowd's having a field day, pedophilia is slowly being accepted as just another sexual orientation, and then there's this whole "I feel like I should be disabled" thing going on, and that's before you start talking to "regular" people. If you, the reader, feel that whatever people do is fine so long as it doesn't hurt you or others then you espouse American Humanism. What right have you to mess with someone else's domain? Their life, their mythology, their religion is paramount. So long as no one challenges your own sovereignty it's all good. Right? Right!

I proclaim all of you gods.Go, spread the faith of yourself! No one's going to listen cause they have their mythology, and so therefore you'll do little good, but what does that matter? The telling's what's important, right?

Now, before anyone gets on their little "the individual's choice matters!" soapbox I'll stop you. Yes, the individual's choice matters, otherwise there's no point to a collective myth or anything else collective. But there must be a collective, humanity's too group based to not invent mythology and cults to enact it. That's popularly known as religion. But one thing's for sure: fighting for your own sense of identity ain't what's gonna work. And the ratings of the ending of that 3rd season certainly seem to back it up.

And also, for all you guys reading this who are going "I don't do this, I am my own person!" I'd like you to remember the last time you had something very precious and dear to you like football, gaming, a spouse, etc, insulted, and remember feeling indignant not just because they were insulted but you were insulted because you identified them with you. That feeling? You expanded your sense of self to a greater whole. That's myth. That's religion. And you have proven my point. You can't not be part of a whole, which is why American Humanism is so dangerous. You are not an autonomous individual, but an individual inside of a larger collective that you can either benefit or hurt. You matter and so do "they". As a matter of fact, you are, to a certain extent, "they". And their well-being impacts you as much your well-being impacts them.

Ain't it glorious?

A note: Yes, I know what I've been writing about is called moral relativism philosophically speaking. I have taken that philosophy and re-phrased it into properly religious terms, thus legitimizing it. Just as certain philosophies are a natural outgrowth of  some religions, moral relativism comes directly out of American Humanism. Except that the people practicing it generally aren't aware they're practicing it, but that's half the point, isn't it?

I mean, how it could be religion (such a patently trite thing!) if it isn't universally true?

A further note: I wrote this about a month ago and just happened to schedule it for July 3rd, didn't notice for two weeks, and then chuckled when I did notice. Well, with the advent of the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage I feel that my point has been illustrated better than I ever could attempt. The fact that this post will be appearing July 3rd is a deep knife twist now. If anyone even attempts to tell me on this blog that my religious freedom will not be impeded I will kindly ask you to drink your American Humanist beverage far away from this blog. Thank you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

On Environment and the Troubles that the Church is Having

Last week I put up a post about the Byzantine rite and what it was like in the ideal, what we all needed to strive for. I went and re-read the post, and realized that my point really wasn't communicated. So I'm going to try again.


The Church has one goal, and only one: salvation of the human race by being wrapped up into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. There is nothing else more important, for if we all know the Trinity then paradise would happen. That is the most important goal of the Church, to bring paradise to earth and help earth ascend to paradise.  We have lost sight of that as a Church. Instead we think of the Church as a place to teach right doctrine, to have charity outreach, and to make sure our families continue in their viewpoints, unchanged. Nothing could be further from the truth, because those things I just listed (and so many more!) are just symptoms of the central reality, which is the the face of God. If we can give people access to God then all would change.We have Christ, we must show Him to the world and convince the world that receiving Him is the only way.

But how do we do this? By beauty. You cannot argue people into it, except by assuring them that the beauty they see is real and to help them get the courage to take the plunge into the darkness of God. But you must help them experience that beauty first. Not everyone is a Scott Hahn, who can walk into Mass and realize that it's the book of Revelation enacted. No, you must be able to show them how beautiful and awesome God is. That beauty and awesomeness is called the Liturgy, which is so special that it must happen in it's own house, called a church.  The church shows what heaven is like, in signs and symbols, since none can go to heaven yet. The Liturgy is the place where Heaven and Earth literally meet and time stops even as it keeps going.

Now, that's all well and good, but humans are not overly mental creatures. We can't just make up essences in our minds or see the face of God peaking through reality or all the angels and demons fighting over us while the saints intercede to get us home. We are not built like that. So, in order to help us get to a point where we can see the face of God imprinted in creation we need to actually design a liturgy and a church that help us focus on this truth. Nothing else is more important.

The first requirement of a liturgy is that it be born of the mystics. Only the people who can see the face of God peaking into our world can actually design something to help us do the same. It's a design that requires as much care as mathematics and an intuition that only the deepest artist could feel. They must be together and whole. Only a mystic could do that.

The second requirement of a liturgy is that it must emphasize the nearness and otherness of God simultaneously. The transcendent God comes and exchanges Himself for meager bread and wine. There's an awesomeness and an intimacy to that action that cannot be understated. You cannot  emphasize the nearness of God because then you lose fear of Him and you cannot emphasize the majesty of God without forgetting that He is like a lover in His closeness.

The third requirement is that scripture be used as the primary inspiration and source. God's words are the easiest way to get into contact with God Himself. Become one with God in words and you will become one with God in mind as well.

The fourth requirement is that all hymns not scriptural must be written by saints, people who have seen the face of God and have written down what they said to Him when they saw Him. To be with God you must know what to say to Him and the saints know how to do that.

The fifth requirement of liturgy is that the passing of time and the timelessness of eternity must be remembered. Remember who the saint is of the day while outside of time, because both are valid and true.

The sixth requirement of liturgy is that the people must be able to edit it as time goes along. Liturgies usually gain complexity over the centuries and develop meanings of their own, separate from the meaning intended by the original liturgist.

A liturgy must happen in a church. The church is a building which helps the minds of the faithful enter into the mystery of eternity by putting their bodies into something as close to paradise as possible. Churches have their own criterion as well.

A church must be other. It must communicate that Someone is here, Someone who cannot be transcribed or controlled while assuring one that this Other is to be trusted. A church must also communicate who this Other is: the Holy Trinity revealed in the Incarnation of Christ. It must show His message and that it is most important this message be received. A church's ambiance must have an identity in and of itself. It cannot feel like a school, or a hospital, or a gas station, or even your own bedroom. It must be complete in and of itself.  It must have it's own interior logic, dictated by the mystical experiences of the liturgy that it houses. The liturgy must be the ultimate authority on what goes into a church. And, like the liturgy, the church's initial designs must be done by mystics, people who can see God peaking in through creation a bit more easily.

Without liturgy we cannot accomplish our mission as a church and, as a church ,we have lost sight of what is most important. We cannot change the world, only God can. Our job is only to get out of the way and allow God to act. Liturgy is how we do that.

Friday, June 19, 2015

How to Save the Church Part 2: East (Byzantine)


The Christian East has a full and rich liturgical history. Originally starting with the Liturgies of Saint James, Brother of the Lord, and Saint Mark, both were adapted into the Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil. The Estern liturgical hours are of similar origin, being combined from the cathedral (emphasizing hymns) and monastic (emphasizing scriptures and psalms) traditions. The Byzantine tradition brings about prayer by repetition of memorized words while appealing to the senses with icons to create an environment conducive to prayer.

Notice something "missing"? There are no pews. Hang onto that, cause we'll get back to it.
Byzantine churches are to be covered in icons. From the walls to the ceiling, the faithful are given a lot to look at. On the ceiling  is Christ Pantocrator (Ruler), with His closed gospel book which means that all is decided, even if you don't know it. This is what must be on the ceiling of all Eastern Churches, if you're going to have an image there (which you should!).




In the sanctuary, beyond the iconostasis, is the Playtera (More Spacious than the Heavens) icon, which hangs right behind and above the tabernacle. It's usually the only icon you can see through the iconostasis, and it's almost always the first thing you see when you enter an Eastern Church. Mary's and Christ's arms are wide to receive you.



The iconostasis is a wooden screen that blocks off the sanctuary from the nave. It has icons on the outside and represents the veil between heaven and earth, showing just enough for us to know that where we're going is good, but not too much so we have something to be surprised at when we get there. There must always be an icon of Christ on the right and an icon of Mary on the left. In the center are what's called the royal doors, which only the priest can enter through (or the deacon if he has the gospel or communion). On those doors is the Annunciation. The two side doors (known as deacon doors) usually have St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, two of the Church's first martyrs, although you can put angels or even St. Dismas and the tools of the crucifixion on there normally. But it's not a totally hard and fast rule. The point is to have something that reminds you of going between earth and heaven. Finally Saint John the Baptist or Saint Nicholas and the patron of the church are on the last two spots that are usually available. This can be adapted as needed.

All the dots in the floor plan are icon stands. These have icons for the people's veneration and are spots for everyone to congregate around but there is no requirement that they do so. Which is why there are no pews. It's assumed by the layout that, as the people sing the hymns that they've memorized, that they are going to the icons (be they on the walls or stands or ceiling) and praying there. The church is open and you are not bound to stay in one place and, in fact, you really can't. The deacon's got bells on his censer, and when he moves through the congregation the people move out of his way. When processions happen everyone moves away so the procession can go through the church. Yes, benches are on the sides of the church, but they're for the infirm, pregnant, and old. And if you're sitting there and not in one of those three categories it's just a sign of laziness.

Now, I know a bunch of Eastern Christians (Catholic and Orthodox alike) will be reading this and going "We don't do that! Our congregation doesn't sing! And we have pews!" I'm well aware, and that's what makes me sad. The Byzantine tradition uses the senses to invite  the christian to pray and if that's limited by putting said christian in a coffin-I mean, pew (eh, coffin really is a better word)- then how on earth can people be invited to pray? If you'r not singing the music then how can you burn it into your soul, melody and all? Don't say "I'll manage", because it's clearly not working for the vast majority of people. Church numbers keep dropping, a sign that something isn't going right and, provided that the people are taught what prayer is and are inspired to do so, the very design of the church will do half the work. Besides, I'm sure a nice Protestant parish will benefit from the nice pews if sold to them and the Eastern church can make a little money from the sale.

You can't have a rite that emphasizes the body's participation, block out movement by throwing people into coffins, and then expect everything to go well. Nor can you make an easily memorizable liturgy and then only have the choir singing and expect people to care. It just won't work.

Now, these aren't the only problems liturgically with the Eastern Rites. Matins is a mess that needs direction. Married priests are necessary. But getting rid of the pews and getting everyone to sing again's a really good start. All while educating the people on the importance of prayer. Because nothing else will save our Church than God's direct intervention.