The transmutation of faith into some surrogate

... [T]he modern demand for total, factual, and impersonal objectivity presents serious difficulties for one whose object of study is the faith in which one puts one’s trust and to which one has dedicated one’s life....

... [A] Christian might stay in academe and dissimulate belief. Such people are no doubt more numerous than those who get out of academe for ascetical purpose. They remain in academe and are worn down by it. Being worn down is often imperceptible in its slowness; it usually involves a transmutation of faith into one or more surrogates such as scholarship for its own sake, ideological distractions, or some form of involvement in activist causes of a political nature. The transmutation of faith into some surrogate is often accompanied, furthermore, by symptoms typical of transitions from one mode of life to another—symptoms of release, exhilaration, and freedom, a sense of new power, and feelings of having been “reborn.” The transmutation is thus easily perceived as a conversion. And so it is, for conversion is a two-way street; whichever direction one takes produces largely the same feelings in the moving subject. One often encounters students who came to a seminary seeking less ordination than faith, only to discover counseling or social action as faith surrogates. One even encounters colleagues who at some point rise, as it seems, above faith only to vanish into therapy, eastern religions, another marriage, or some new ideology. Such folks, worn down by the unmanageable welter of modern academe, and dissimulating faith all the while in order to appear respectable, finally succumb to the lure of works which occupy but do not save. As Walker Percy says, they began by blowing their minds and end by blow-drying their hair. They leave us with neither insight nor faith, but with trivia of a certain passing interest.

Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 12-13.

The cross as the kingdom come

The cross ... loom[s] not as a ritually prescribed instrument of propitiation but as the political alternative to both insurrection and quietism.... The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 36, 51.

Bearing a little shame

It seems to me that we have acquired the spiritual habit of making our salvation into an abstraction. We speak of being “crucified with Christ,” or of being “baptized into his death,” language that holds a prominent place in the lexicon of the New Testament, but we tend to treat these as though they were happening in a manner somehow distinct from our experience. Neither crucifixion nor death should have an association with things that seem pleasant. Christ himself constantly makes reference to very unpleasant things: forgiving injustice towards the self, the loss of what is rightfully due, giving what is not deserved or merited. These are all things that we seem to instinctively loathe. The shame we encounter through such acts of self-emptying is invariably painful—but this is the Gospel.

It is in this vein that the Elder Sophrony speaks from within the Tradition saying that we must learn to “bear a little shame.” There is much that must be said in this regard. First, bearing shame can only be voluntary; involuntary shaming is always toxic and leaves very deep wounds. The experience of such wounds, which underlies and provides the vast source of pain associated with forgiveness, surrounds the entire experience of forgiveness. To be told, “You must forgive…” in such circumstances is tantamount to saying, “You must endure the shame.” This can easily be nothing more than an invitation to more toxicity. So, the “moral” use of the commandment, “You must forgive,” can inadvertently be another tool in the hands of others to drive the pain and burden of shame ever deeper....

In our communion with Christ, and in the bosom of the Church, it is possible to know the safety sufficient for forgiveness and bearing its shame, but, again, it needs to be voluntary, the acceptance of Christ’s Cross, in union with his own joyful acceptance and not through some moral compulsion. One enemy at a time, we make our way into the love of God, learning step-by-step the joyful way of Christ’s self-emptying.

St. John of the Ladder wrote, “You cannot escape shame except by shame.” It is one of the great paradoxes of the faith, a paradox resolved only in the Cross of Christ.

Fr. Stephen Freeman. “Justice, Forgiveness, and Bearing a Little Shame” [podcast] (May 31, 2017). Retrieved from transcript available at Ancient Faith.

The Word isn’t a book

Growing up entrenched in a sola scriptura environment (that assumed verbal and plenary inspiration), historical criticism shattered where I looked for authority. At some point I shifted to a more empirical approach, seeking authority in experience. But in fact, I am often self-deceived and led astray by my own emotions or those of other passionate people around me. Eventually I found myself in a quixotic pursuit of the early church, at various points succumbing to (fashionable) anti-hegemony, but eventually landing at a crossroads between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism through (misguided) study of (romanticized) history. I opted to cross the Bosphorus rather than the Tiber, but I think in reality I was seeking a new authority—and there are plenty of institutions who are happy to provide that. Trusting an institution is easier; it means there is no burden on me to figure it all out.

But what am I looking for in such an authority? Something to appeal to in order to be right? Something that will make life simple again? A better fire insurance policy? A way to shirk responsibility and assuage guilt over ignoring vocational paths I’ve felt called to in the past (that offer far less safety)? Something else?

But the way, the truth, and the life in the Christian faith is a person, not a collection of texts (John 14:6). And this person is called the Word; He taught that the Scriptures point to Himself, and He invites me to come to Him to have lifenot to get answers.

“‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’” (John 5:39–40, ESV).

Instead of pursuing creation, I am invited to pursue the Creator. And my healing (or salvation) is bound up with that of my neighbor.

No longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display

While fashion is a medium of expression for my individuality, it is also inescapably relational, almost parasitic: "The space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have" .... This is no longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display—another way of "being-with" in which "a host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication" .... This breeds a new kind of self-consciousness: "My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addressed only to my immediate companions, my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing, but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the messages that cross take their meaning" .... In other words, we all behave now like thirteen-year-old girls.

It is these spaces of mutual display, Taylor argues, that are most prone to being colonized by consumer culture, so that "consumer culture, expressivism and spaces of mutual display connect in our world to produce their own kind of synergy" .... "The language of self-definition is defined in the spaces of mutual display, which have now gone meta-topical; they relate us to prestigious centres of style-creation, usually in rich and power nations and milieux. And this language is the object of constant attempted manipulation by large corporations" .... Indeed, this construction of a consumer identity—which has to feel like it's chosen (consider the illusion of noncomformity in the case of the suburban skater kid whose mom buys him the $150 board blazoned with "anarchy" symbols)—trumps other identities, especially collective identities like citizenship or religious affiliation. "One could argue that for many young people today, certain styles, which they enjoy and display in their more immediate circle, but which are defined through the media, in relation to admired stars—or even products—occupy a bigger place in their sense of self, and that this has tended to displace in importance the sense of belonging to large scale collective agencies, like nations, not to speak of churches, political parties, agencies of advocacy, and the like"....

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 86–7. Smith is citing Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2007).