The Aloha Lecture Series

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Kailua, Hawaii, United States
The Aloha Lecture Series is a monthly lecture event given by different people in our community to create a platform to share our ideas and generate discussion about what it means to thrive as human beings.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Listen to: Christian Poetry

Click HERE to listen to the "Christian Poetry" lecture.

Christian Poetry by Ben Moore


"Death be not proud, though some have called thee" by John Donne (b. 1572)

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee   
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,     
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,     
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.    
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,           
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,     
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,   
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.       
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,  
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,   
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;  
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,       
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

“The Temper” by George Herbert (b.1593)

HOW should I praise thee, Lord !  how should my rymes
    Gladly engrave thy love in steel,
    If what my soul doth feel sometimes,
            My soul might ever feel !

Although there were some fourtie heav’ns, or more,
    Sometimes I peere above them all ;
    Sometimes I hardly reach a score,
            Sometimes to hell I fall.

O rack me not to such a vast extent ;
    Those distances belong to thee :
    The world’s too little for thy tent,
            A grave too big for me.

Wilt thou meet arms with man, that thou dost stretch
    A crumme of dust from heav’n to hell ?
    Will great God measure with a wretch ?
            Shall he thy stature spell ?

O let me, when thy roof my soul hath hid,
    O let me roost and nestle there :
    Then of a sinner thou art rid,
            And I of hope and fear.

Yet take thy way ;  for sure thy way is best :
    Stretch or contract me thy poore debter :
    This is but tuning of my breast,
            To make the musick better.

Whether I flie with angels, fall with dust,
    Thy hands made both, and I am there.
    Thy power and love, my love and trust,

            Make one place ev’ry where.

“God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (b. 1844)

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.        
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;     
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil  
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?        
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;           
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;    
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.  

And for all this, nature is never spent;   
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;          
And though the last lights off the black West went     
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—      
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent  
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

“Making Capital” by Paul Mariani (b. 1940)

I cannot in conscience spend time on poetry, neither have I the inducements and inspirations that make others compose. Feeling, love in particular, is the great moving power and spring of verse and the only person that I am in love with seldom, especially now, stirs my heart sensibly and when he does I cannot always ‘make capital’ of it, it would be sacrilege to do so. Then again I have of myself made verse so laborious.
--- Hopkins to Bridges, February 15, 1879

For six weeks I’ve tried lassoing the wind
and come up with nada, zip & zero. Oh, I know
what moved me then, what sweet whisperings to the mind,
but could not make those protean shapes sit still, though

God knows I’ve tried. Sunday mass. The eight.
My wife there next to me, thinking her own deep
thoughts. Congealed light on the pews, cold as Fate,
candles guttering, half the parishioners half asleep.

And the priest up at the pulpit, embellishing a story taken
from one of those Chicken Soup series for the soul.
I kept glancing left, then down, then right. Forsaken
the place, as if the Good News had dropped down some black hole,

paralyzed by what the papers had been screaming now
of scandal, indifferent to whatever the poor priest had to say.
Then, suddenly, up there at the altar, I caught a shadow
stirring, as if struggling up the hill under the heaving sway

of thornwood. Young Isaac, carrying kindling for a fire,
branches his shaken father had ordered him to fetch.
The figure trembled in the ether, then gave way to yet another,
whose wrists they’d roped to a wooden crossbeam (poor wretch),

as he too stumbled toward the distant rise. But what
had this to do with where I found myself? Everything,
I guess. Or nothing, Depending on the view. True, the rot
of the beholder went deep, deep, but deeper went the blessing:

the thought that God had spared the first from death, but not
the other, who among the trees had begged his father not to drink
the cup. All that history in a blink, as the one went on to populate
a nation, while the other –nailed to that wood—rose from the stink

of death, promising to lift us with him. I looked around
the church, knowing what I know of death: the death of mother,
father, friends, the death of promise, of vision run aground,
the death of self, of all we might have been, the death of that ideal other,

the bitter end of all. Nada, zip. Except for that loop in time, when
something gave: a blip of light across the mind’s dark eye, if you
can call it that. But what, if not a good man going under? Then
struggling to riase himself again, bent on doing what he had to do.

 “How We Fall” by Claire Bateman

"Nobody does a swan dive
into Jesus.
Instead, we fall
bleeding or weeping;
we fall clawing the air
as if to climb it
all the way back;
we fall shrieking, unraveling,
all angles & knobby joints,
all stutter & putter,
our teeth rattling,
our hair fanning out like flames;
we fall foaming at the mouth
with hypothesis & self-argument;
we fall mutely,
hoarding our breath
as if breath withheld
could possibly
make a difference.
And it's as if the falling
has a mind of its own,
episodic, all fits & starts,
overlapping time zones & air pockets
so that sometimes a faller seems to arrive
just prior to departure,
& other times a faller seems to be merely
hovering in mid-air
like Bugs Bunny,
unaware that he's left
the edge of the cliff behind.
Some of us even fall
from the inside out
or the outside in,
the soul preceding the body
or the body the soul,
the trajectories describing
all kinds of arcs & parabolas,
disregarding every rule of descent,
demolishing every point of etiquette"

Some Thoughts on Discipleship by Jon Rawlings

Jon Rawlings
What is a disciple?
A. Greek word mathetes means someone who is a pupil, an
apprentice. In the days of Jesus, a disciple was anyone who attached himself
to a great master. The master, typically a philosopher or religious leader,
initiated a process with his disciples in which he modeled a pattern of life
which his disciples emulated and taught a philosophy to explain that pattern
which his disciples learned and believed. When they were ready, they in
turn would become masters and would adopt disciples of their own. The aim
of this process was to shape disciples into the kind of people whose lives
would be an extension of their master's life.

B. In New Testament terms, a disciple is someone who's an
apprentice of Jesus and the goal of Christian apprenticeship is to learn to
live like the master, to learn to live like Jesus.

Why do we need to be disciples and disciple makers?
Because Jesus commands it!
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority
in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples
of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded
you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age."

A. The Father has given me the authority to command these things.

B. Make new apprentices for me from among every people group.

C. Initiate them into their new way of life through baptism.

D. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you both
through my words and through my life (implied). Disciple them the way that
I have discipled you. It's important to remember that not even Jesus could
guide his followers into his pattern of life through words alone. He had
many followers, but he chose only 12 to live with him. Those who embodied
his life most fully were those who had lived most closely with him.

How do we define discipleship? What does a disciple look like?
A. The central importance of Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)

and Matthew 25 (Sheep and Goats) to Jesus' definition of what a disciple
should be. Neither passage gives an exhaustive portrait of a disciple but is
suggestive. Certainly the Sermon on the Mount as it presently stands is not
everything Jesus said at that moment. Neither passage gives an exhaustive
portrait of a disciple but is suggestive. If you understand what is included, if
you understand his brief sketch of what a disciple should be, you'll figure
out what Jesus wants you to be in every other area of life that he doesn't
specifically mention in these two passages.

B. The gospel isn't just the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. All
of Matthew, all of Mark, all of Luke, and all of John are "gospels" and not
just the last few chapters. Why do we give so little attention to Jesus'
disciple making as part of the gospel? Why do the Apostles' Creed and the
Nicene Creed go directly from Jesus being born of a virgin to his death
under Pontius Pilate? Is there anything in between about his teaching and
actions that might be important for us to affirm?

How should we make disciples?
A. First, some assumptions I'm making

1. Discipleship is a process. The notion of process implies a
fundamental instability that allows for growth and success as well as
diminishment and failure. Jesus sets forth aims that may or not be reached.
Related to this is the idea that the process of discipleship is uneven. At any
given point along the process, some aspects of our lives will be more and
some less in line with the life of Jesus.

2. Discipleship is a collaborative effort. It includes the work of many
people. For instance, it includes other disciples in my church, disciples from
other churches, disciples I knew 20 years ago and disciples I won't meet for
another 20 years, and disciples I will never meet but whose writings instruct
and inspire me. Collaboration is important for many reasons. One of the
most important is our inability to adequately assess our own lives and where
we are at in the discipleship process. When Paul gives Timothy and Titus
instructions for identifying and appointing spiritual leaders in the church (I
Tim. 3 and Titus 1), he tells them to look for people who have an intense
desire to become spiritual leaders and who possess a mix of essential skills
and character qualities (again, the list is suggestive rather than exhaustive).
These are the marks of a mature disciple and Paul wants mature disciples
leading the church. What's not stated in the text but is implied is that mature

disciples like Timothy and Titus are to determine to what degree people in
their congregations meet these criteria, whether or not they also are mature
disciples. So they wouldn't take just the candidate's word on whether or not
he was an angry person, whether or not he could teach, whether or not he
managed his household well, because the candidate could not adequately
assess such things by himself. He would need the help of mature disciples.

3. Discipleship is intense. Although discipleship is a collaborative
effort involving many people, the intensity of a mentoring relationship is
necessary for more radical transformation to take place in our lives.

4. Discipleship leads to spiritual growth for both the mentor and the

5. Discipleship faces many challenges, all of which a disciple must
learn to negotiate well. Learning to negotiate these well is one of the most
important sources of spiritual growth as a disciple. As I like to say, if we're
going to become mature disciples of Jesus, we must learn to do so under less
than ideal circumstances. First, we have to deal with ourselves ("the flesh"):
our strengths and weaknesses, our ignorance, our prejudices, our physical
challenges, our addictions, and our successes and failures. Second, we have
to deal with other people. Third, we have to deal with culture, "the world"
system as John would put it. Fourth, we have to deal with the devil and other
powerful spiritual forces arrayed against us. Fifth, we have to deal with
the "curse" that God has placed on the world. Sixth, we have to deal with
God's chastening and his testing.

B. The process of discipleship

1. Embodiment

a. Incarnating the life of Jesus. Through the process of discipleship,
you become the kind of person who can put into practice the Sermon on the
Mount. You are only ready to become a mentor when you embody as fully
as possible the life and teachings of Jesus.

b. Hypocrisy is the antithesis of embodiment. The word
translated "hypocrite" refers to an actor, a man who pretends to be someone
other than himself while on stage. Jesus warns his disciples not to be like a
stage actor, playing a part on one stage and playing quite a different part on

another stage. For example, someone might play the part of the empathetic
man, the compassionate man, while at church, but play the part of the shark
while at work, looking for something weak and helpless to bite. It's also
hypocrisy to merely mimic the words and actions of Jesus in some
literalistic way. Paul put his finger on it in 1 Cor. 13 when he set forth love
as the inward disposition, the "heart," that makes all of these attitudes and
actions an extension of the life of Jesus and keeps them from being

Resonance is what happens between two people that brings them together in
a discipling relationship. It's something that reverberates from one person to
another that creates a mutual attraction. When a mature disciple embodies
the life of Jesus, it becomes attractive to other less mature disciples. Call
it authenticity, genuineness, beauty, or love; it makes some people want to
be with you, even to be like you. On the mentor's part, resonance creates
a desire to help the apprentice, to do everything within their power to help
them grow in their spiritual character. Without resonance, people will not be
responsive to mentoring, will not engage it adequately and will not persevere
in it. This is the flaw in most formal discipleship programs that attempt
to pair up everyone in the church all at once. Mentors may be assigned
certain people to disciple without adequate thought about whether either
one resonates with the other in any way. The resonance, the attraction, is
absolutely essential for disciples to care about entering into this process with
enthusiasm and for mentors to do everything necessary to help their disciples
to grow.

The one who embodies more fully the life of Jesus should in turn help others
learn how to embody the life of Jesus. This includes serving as a model for
others to follow ("follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,"
1 Cor. 11:1), and as an inspiration. For modeling to do its deep work, a
close relationship with the other person must be developed. Inspiration
helps a person care enough to engage in the process and to maintain their
momentum through numerous challenges.

The one who wants to embody the life of Jesus more fully must be in
relationship with someone else who is a more mature disciple, one who more
fully embodies the life of Jesus. Students learn to emulate the life of their
mentors and through them the life of Jesus. Again, the goal is not to learn
to mimic the exact words and actions of Jesus but to become like him in our
hearts which will then express itself through our actions.

Three examples of mentoring

A. Parents and children

B. Mentoring one person at a time.

1. Meeting once a week to do some activity (tennis, movies, etc.) and
talking afterward, reflecting on the apprentice's week and using scripture to
gain perspective, direction, and inspiration.
2. Meeting once a week to discuss the apprentice's "reports from the
field." Encourage apprentices to serve people around them in ways that are
truly helpful to them. Reflecting on how that has gone and using scripture to
gain perspective, direction, and inspiration.

C. Intentional community

Setting up a community where a mature couple lives with younger
adults who they mentor every day, usually in a more informal way but often
in more formal ways as that is needed.

V. Discipleship and Sin
A. Discipleship should lead to transformation, not just sin
1. Trying to teach people not to sin is like teaching a ballplayer how
to hit by teaching him how not to strike out. What are we really teaching
people when we try to teach them how not to do something?
2. I've seen people's lives transformed more from teaching them how
to do the works of Jesus rather than teaching them how not to do things.
3. Perfection (Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is
perfect."). Perfection is being everything you were designed to be.

B. Understanding the role of failure in the process of discipleship.

C. Understanding the role of church discipline in the process of

1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM Press,
1959. (A profound meditation on discipleship in the church that
uses the Sermon on the Mount as inspiration.)

2. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. (A story about the heart we
should have toward other people and how that will express itself in
good works. Better than any movie version.)

3. Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a
Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. (Book
that inspired us to begin an intentional community in our home.)

4. Michael Wilkins, Following the Master. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1992. (Best overview of discipleship in the early

5. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden
Life in God. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1997. (Insightful
discussion of the Sermon on the Mount, especially as the model for

Friday, September 30, 2011

CLICK HERE to listen to Jon Rawlings' lecture "Some Thoughts on Discipleship"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lecture #4: Why We Need Monasteries

Aloha Lecture Series
September 5, 2011

2011 © Robert K. Arakaki


I'm a local boy born and raised in Hawaii.  I grew up unchurched.  When I was growing up I only went to church twice.  I became a Christian in high school when I had a personal encounter with Christ through reading the Bible.  When I was at the University of Hawaii I was an active member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter.  I was a member of Kalihi Union Church and served as missions chair for several years.  Then I went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.  I am very grateful for what I learned from Evangelicalism before I became Orthodox about eleven years ago.
    I'd like to share my story about why I became Orthodox but that's a story for another time. I bring it up because when I talk about monasteries tonight, I am talking about the monastic tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  There are other monastic traditions as well: Christian and non-Christian.  For example, Roman Catholicism has a rich and varied monastic tradition.  While Evangelicalism doesn't really have a monastic tradition, it does have a monastic impulse.  In 2005, Christianity Today published an article "The New Monasticism" which described urban Christian communities being formed in response to the urban crisis in America.  More recently, in its September 4, 2011, issue Christianity Today published an article "Monastic Evangelicals" which describe younger Evangelicals embracing traditional spiritual disciplines. 
    When I became Orthodox, monasticism was this vague thing on my horizon.  But the fact is if you are Orthodox you are going to hear about monasticism sooner or later.  My impression of the Orthodox attitude towards monasticism is one of appreciation and admiration.  I have not had the impression that monasticism is viewed as a superior way of life.  The monastic life is viewed as an exercise of one's gift from God.  One way to view monks is to see them as the Christian equivalent of professional athletes or athletes in extreme sports.  Another way is to view them as dedicated scholars or scientists who share with the larger community their findings.


One might ask the question: Why monasticism?  It seems that there is a monastic impulse running through church history and even human history.  Monasticism is a radical response to the world we live.  One could say that it is an extreme response to the world we live in.  For example, a young Christian who grew up in a comfortable middle class environment may experience a crisis after encountering the harsh reality of poverty and homelessness in a missions project, and in response to this they commit themselves to a house church located in the heart of the urban ghetto that seeks to bring redemption to that neighborhood. 
    As I said earlier, monasticism is a radical or extreme response.  It is a desire to go beyond "superficial" discipleship to radical discipleship.  It is a desire to live a life of prayer.  It is rooted in a hunger for holy living, for a sanctified soul.  It is rooted in a desire for union with God. 
    Monasticism has had a tremendous influence on Orthodoxy.  Not too long ago we had some visitors at the Greek Orthodox Church.  I saw the chanter talking with some visitors during the coffee hour.  Greg, the chanter, told me that they were Roman Catholics in training for the diaconate.  I asked what they thought about our service, and Greg replied, they thought the Liturgy was very monastic.  Then Greg and I looked at each other puzzled, "Monastic?!  That's the way all our liturgy are."   If you're Orthodox, you've already been influenced by monasticism whether you know it or not.
    Orthodox Christians are expected to participate in the liturgical (worship) life of the Church.  That means attending the Saturday night Vespers, Sunday morning Matins followed by the Divine Liturgy.  Then there are the special feast days.  Just recently we celebrated the Beheading of John the Baptist.  Then there are the Morning and Evening Prayers.  And on top of that there are the Wednesday and Friday fasts.  Fasting is understood not just as abstaining from food but also intensifying one's prayer life and engaging in deeds of charity.  While the Orthodox Church has high expectations for its members, it is not legalistic.  It does not punish its members if they fail to keep these disciplines.  It has these expectations because it believes that ordinary Christians are capable of much more than they can imagine.  Many Orthodox Christians are still at the kindergarten level of spirituality but they know that there are people live on a higher level of commitment. 
    So when I visited the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco in Point Reyes, California, just north of San Francisco, the experience was not the dramatic shock that I had expected.  (Note: The monastery is now located in Manton, California near Mt. Shasta).  I expected that visiting a monastery would be like jumping into the swimming pool.  But because I had been an Orthodox Christian for several years visiting the monastery was like moving from the shallow end of the pool to the deeper end. 
    But still if you are a Protestant, going to an Orthodox monastery can be something of a culture shock, like visiting a foreign country.  So what I hope to do tonight is to convey the value that monasteries have for Orthodox and non-Orthodox. 


Probably the most important question that needs to be addressed tonight is: Are monasteries biblical?  There are hints of the monastic impulse in the Bible.  Probably the clearest example is the prophetess Anna in Luke 2:37.  Anna was a widow who lived in the Temple for much of her life.  Luke writes:
She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eight-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  (NIV)

    Another example is Jesus' cousin and his forerunner, John the Baptist.  Luke in his Gospel wrote:
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly in Israel. (Luke 1:80; NIV)

John's lifestyle was extreme.  He lived in the desert, away from society and the material comforts of society.  Matthew and Mark wrote how John ate locust and honey, and wore clothing made from camel's hair.  In Luke 7:18-34, if we read between the lines of Jesus praise of John the Baptist we find allusions to John's monastic lifestyle.  It's important to keep in mind that John the Baptist was not an isolated eccentric but a leader of a religious movement (cf. Matthew 11:2, Mark 2:18; John 4:1, Acts 19:1-7). 
    The monastic impulse can be found in the Old Testament.  Numbers 6 describes a group of consecrated Israelites, known as Nazirites.  To be a Nazirite was to live in a state of ritual purity, abstaining from alcoholic beverages, and with unshorn hair.  This state of consecration was usually for a limited time, although it appears that for some this consecrated state was lifelong.  Probably the best known example -- not necessarily the best example! -- is Samson (Judges 13-16; especially 13:5).  Another likely example of a Nazirite is the prophet Samuel whose mother dedicated him to the Lord's service from infancy (I Samuel 1:21-28).  Some have inferred that King David's son's Absalom's long hair meant that he belonged to the Nazirite.  The pre-exilic prophet Amos condemned the Israelites for compelling the Nazirites to drink wine.  This suggests that there was an identifiable group of Nazirites extant in mid 700s BC.  When we come to the New Testament, we find something like the Nazirite consecration.  In Acts 21:24 James and the Jerusalem elders advised Paul to take a vow of consecration as proof that he was not hostile but supportive of the Jewish law. 
    So what lessons can we draw from the biblical teachings concerning the Nazirites?  One, we learn that the idea of a state of consecration to God is rooted in the Jewish Torah.  Two, we find that the practice of the state of consecration continued all through Israel's history: the time of the Judges -- Samson, the beginning of the monarchy -- Samuel, during the time the prophet Amos, and into the New Testament church.  Three, we find that the early Church did not reject the idea of the consecrated state but even recommended it.  What I draw from this is that the idea of a consecrated state was a persistent strand of biblical teaching which means that it cannot be overlooked or dismissed by Bible believing Christians today.  In other words, there is indeed a biblical basis for monasteries. 


Christianity started off as an extreme religion.  Being an early Christian meant membership in a dangerous "cult," and risking losing one's possessions and even one's life.  It also meant being part of a close knit fellowship.  Luke describes the early Christian community in these terms:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.  Al the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:42-45; NIV)

Life in the brand new church was like living in a monastery.  There was a high degree of commitment and togetherness.  As the church grew in size the level of commitment began to vary with some living in high commitment groups and others living ordinary lives. 
    Soon after Jesus began his ministry, we find him getting into hot water with the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Temple priesthood.  Later, the Jewish leadership made the decision to cast out of the synagogue anyone who professes Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.  When we come to the book of Acts we read about Saul of Tarsus persecuting the early Christians.  Many scholars believe that the book of Revelation was written in response to the Neronian persecution in AD 64.  Being a Christian was not a decent, respectable thing to do during the time of the New Testament writings.  To be a Christian during the time of the New Testament writings involved a radical life or death commitment to this new religion.
    When we move past the New Testament period we find the early Church experiencing waves of fierce persecutions with brief interludes of  peace and tolerance.  If you ever read Eusebius' Church History you will read of the fearlessness of the early Christians in the face of the Roman government attempts to stamp out this new religion. 
    Then in AD 313, Emperor Constantine issues the Edict of Milan making Christianity a licit religion.  This marks a sea change for the church's role in the Roman Empire.  Christianity changed from being an illegal sect to the official religion under Emperor Theodosius.  Constantine did not just tolerate Christianity, he supported it.  He convened the first Ecumenical Council.  His mother Queen Helena sponsored the construction of the Church of the Nativity in Palestine and the Church on the Mount of Olives.
    As crowds of people flocked to joined the church the quality of commitment changed.  Christians were no longer under the threat of the sword.  Being a Christian became an acceptable thing to do.  The church became a mixed bag of highly dedicated  spiritual warriors and those who viewed religion as just one aspect of life.  In this context were those who were unsatisfied with mediocrity and compromise and so sought to live out the Christian life radically by fleeing to the desert. 
    During the time of the great Arian controversy in the fourth century, there was a major monastic movement in Egypt.  We know this because of Athanasius the Great's biography of Saint Anthony of Egypt.  Anthony was born into a rich family.  At the age of eighteen both his parents died leaving him their wealth.  One day while he was at church he heard the scripture passage:
If you desire to be perfect, go sell all that you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Hearing this Anthony sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor, keeping nothing for himself.  He then moved to the desert near the Nile River.  He lived alone but often visited others who were living a life totally dedicated to God seeking to learn from them.  In time he grew in maturity and wisdom.  He fasted and prayed sought to mortify the desires of the flesh in his quest for spiritual perfection.  Although Anthony wanted to live in seclusion, people were drawn to his holiness and wisdom.  People were drawn to him not only to learn about how to deepen their spiritual life but also how to resist temptation and engage in spiritual warfare.  Living on the edge Anthony was able to peer into the afterlife, to see the struggle between good and bad angels over the souls of the departed, and how the decisions made in this life affected their eternal destinies. 


People visit monasteries for a number of reasons:
    •    To deepen their spiritual lives,
    •    To spend time with their spiritual director,
    •    To spend time in worship and prayer,
    •    To find healing and cleansing of their souls,
    •    To find peace and quiet after living in a hectic noisy world,
    •    To find consolation in a time of crisis and confusion, and
    •    To explore the monastic way of life.


One, you attend the worship services.  Outside of Sunday, there are usually two services: the Morning Prayers and the Evening Prayers.  Those two services form the backbone of the liturgical cycle of Orthodoxy.  Some monasteries have more elaborate prayer cycles. 
    Orthodox worship is liturgical.  There's a mystical, reflective atmosphere that's quite often lacking in Protestant worship.  It's not like a Protestant worship service where you are handed a bulletin or where you sit in a pew with the hymnal in front of you or see praise songs on the PowerPoint screen.  In Orthodox worship you mostly stand in reverence silence.  One can also sing along if one wishes but it's not like Protestantism which emphasizes congregational singing.  One advantage of attending services at a monastery is that they are constantly practicing the hymns and prayers with the result that there is a higher degree of polish and consistency unlike normal parish singing by choir members who have normal day to day obligations. 
    On special feast days there may be a full blown Divine Liturgy that begins at six a.m.  I once got up early one winter morning and trudged through the snow to attend the Liturgy.  After two to three hours of worship I was uplifted, tired, and ready for breakfast. 
    For monastics the time apart from the services, are time of carrying out their "obediences," i.e., carrying out their assigned duties: kitchen duty, maintenance, office duty, making candles, raising the goats etc.  For guests who are staying for only a short while, the times apart from the services are free time.  My understanding is that it is a time for quiet reflection and reading.  I found that after a few hours I go stir crazy so I would get into my car and drive around and tour the surrounding rural areas.  This experience taught me how much my inner life has been shaped by this sense of busyness, the need to do things, get things done.
    Another benefit of visiting a monastery is talking with the monks and other guests.  It's a great way to learn about the larger world of Orthodoxy and to learn about deepening one's spiritual life.  The meals at monasteries are vegetarian.  This is part of the monastic lifestyle.  The practice of the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco is to have someone read from a spiritual book during the meal and a brief discussion of the passage or theme following the meal. 
    Another benefit of visiting a monastery is talking with the abbot or some spiritual elder.  The first few times I visited the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco I would come at a time when the abbot was away.  But a few years ago I happened to be there when Abbot Jonah was around.  One morning after breakfast Abbot Jonah invited me over to his personal quarters.  We sat in two comfortable chairs and got to know each other.  These conversations can be consoling and encouraging, they can also be unsettling and challenging.  That is to be expected because if one visits a monastery one must expect not only to encounter the love of God but also God's truth.  Unless one expects to be changed, visiting a monastery can be a waste of time.  Faith, love, and obedience are all intertwined at an Orthodox monastery. 
    At the St. John monastery is a bookstore.  Orthodox bookstores are still far and few between so visiting a monastery can be a great place to start an Orthodox library or to expand and deepen one's library.  There are a variety of items one can buy at a bookstore: prayer ropes, prayer books, incense, candles, icons, CDs, liturgical paraphernalia etc. 


So, why do we need monasteries?  Monasteries serve a vital function for the life of the Orthodox Church.  Orthodoxy views the Church -- capital "C" -- as more than the local parish.  It views the capital "C" Church as a network of structures.  The local parish is part of a diocese which is under the rule of a bishop -- the successor to the apostles.  In addition to the local parish and the diocese, there are metropolises and patriarchates.  From time to time there may take place regional synods and Ecumenical Councils. 
    Monasteries are made up of people called out of the world to pursue a life of radical discipleship.  Thus, monasteries inspire the laity and clergy who live in the world.  Monasteries are living proof that radical discipleship is possible, that the words of Jesus can be taken literally.  For example, Jesus' command that the rich young ruler sell all that he had has been taken literally by those who have become monks.  Monastics also provide proof that Paul's injunction in I Thessalonians 5:17 "pray continually" can be taken literally. 
    Monasteries are dedicated and specialized units that uphold the larger body of Christ.  Monasteries can be seen as the base camps for the spiritual warriors like the American SEALS or Army Rangers who assist the rest of the military.  Monasteries are like the research laboratories that support the ongoing educational mission of the university.  Monasteries can be viewed as professional athletes who exemplify the ideals of all who love sports and aspire to excellence.  Monasteries are like specialized medical centers that focus on radical healing therapies.
    Protestant Christianity has similar specialized units.  It has seminaries, summer camps, revival meetings, evangelistic rallies.  In terms of dedicated lifestyles long term missionaries are the closest thing to monasticism.  In a way in early Protestantism practically entire churches were set up much like monasteries.  There are whole denominations that are like the Old Testament Nazirites in their prohibition on alcohol.  The original New England Puritans sought to build a city on a hill.  They were not so much fleeing religious persecution as they were seeking to construct a Reformed church and a Reformed civil society.  This is a radical impulse that put them at odds with the morally lax/tolerant climate in England.  Because the Anglican Church had abolished the monasteries there were few alternatives for channeling the radical impulse of the Puritan movements who wanted to go all the way in the reform of church and society. 
    Monasteries are living proof that it is possible to live a life devoted to prayer.  Monasteries are reminders that we are in the midst of a huge cosmic warfare against the flesh and fallen angels.  Monasteries give us a glimpse of the heavenly worship and the life of the angels.  Monasteries are reminders that as Christians we are called to live in the eternal kingdom of God, that so much of what we treasure in this life are transitory. 
    My opinion is that Protestants and Evangelicals can learn much from Orthodox monasteries and even be inspired and challenged as a result of visiting monasteries.  But I have my doubts about the idea of establishing an Evangelical monasticism.  The differences are too great.  I am reminded of Jesus' warning against patching new wineskins onto old wineskins.  My understanding of Protestant Christianity is that its fundamental structures are based on: (1) the primacy of the local congregation, and (2) the priesthood of all believers being understood in a way that levels or minimize the difference between laity and clergy.  If that is so, then an Evangelical monastic movement would bring about a major upheaval, not to say controversy. 
    Evangelical Protestantism represents just one little corner of the vast world of Christianity. I would encourage my Protestant Evangelical friends to be open to learning more about the historic churches like Eastern Orthodoxy.  We are willing to share our spiritual treasures with the non-Orthodox.  We want to help you learn about the creeds, the church fathers, liturgical worship, and of course the monastic lifestyle.  To those who are non-Orthodox, we say: Come and see! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lecture #3: The History of Hymnody

Listen Here to The History of Hymnody

Lecture #2: Icons Explained: Exploring the Meaning Behind Eastern Orthodox Iconography

June 27, 2011

What is an Icon?
  • St. Clement: “the image of an absent person was to be accorded the honor that was due the person himself…”
  • St. Basil: “The honor that is paid to the image passes over to the prototype. 103
  • “Unlike a symbol, an icon brings one to participation in the reality which the icon "represents."”

How are Icons used in every day life for Orthodox?

  • Icons are placed everywhere to serve as examples of holiness, as a revelation of the holiness of the world to come, a plan and a project of the cosmic transfiguration…these images are placed everywhere for the sanctification of the world by the grace which belongs to them. Icons are like the markers on our path to the new creation, so that, according to St Paul, in contemplating ‘the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into His likeness’.” P.193.

Why do Orthodox venerate icons?

  • “Beginning with the fourth and fifth centuries there grew among Xians the belief that in relics and images there was available some special form of divine presence and participation.”

Seventh Ecumenical Synod

    " We decide in all correctness and after a thorough examination that, just as the holy and vivifying Cross, similarly the holy and precious Icons painted with colors, made with little stones or with any other matter serving this purpose (epitedeios), should be placed in the holy churches of God, on vases and sacred vestments, on walls and boards, in houses and on roads, whether these are Icons of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, or of our spotless Sovereign Lady, the holy Mother of God, or of the holy angels and of holy and venerable men.

For each time that we see their representation in an image, each time, while gazing upon them, we are made to remember the prototypes, we grow to love them more, and we are more induced to worship them by kissing them and by witnessing our veneration (proskenesin), not the true adoration (latreian) which, according to our faith, is proper only to the one divine nature, but in the same way as we venerate the image of the precious and vivifying cross, the holy Gospel and other sacred objects which we honor with incense and candles according to the pious custom of our forefathers. For the honor rendered to the image goes to its prototype, and the person who venerates an Icon venerates the person represented in it. Indeed, such is the teaching of our holy Fathers and the Tradition of the holy catholic Church which propagated the Gospel from one end of the earth to the other."

The Question of Holy and Sacred Objects

Did the Ark of the Covenant work miracles (e.g. Joshua 3:15ff; 1st Samuel 4-6; 2nd Samuel 11-12)? Did the Bronze Serpent heal those bitten by snakes (Numbers 21:9)?  Did the Prophet Elisha's bones raise a man from the dead (2nd Kings 13:21)?  Did St. Peter's shadow heal the sick (Acts 5:15)?  Did aprons and handkerchiefs that had touched St. Paul heal the sick and caste out evil spirits (Acts 19:12)?

Listen to: In Defense of Embodiment

In Defense of Embodiment

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lecture #1: In Defense of Embodiment -Ben Moore

IN DEFENSE OF EMBODIMENT: Toward a Theology of Technology
         It’s a fact that American society is becoming digitally saturated every year. Over just the last two decades our culture has moving from physical things to a digital format in dozens of ways. It’s easier to keep track of, it’s faster, and more efficient. The Evangelical church and Evangelical Christian in general seems to look identical to their non-Christian friends when it comes to their use of technology. We are just as eager to buy the latest iWhatever, get the next ‘upgrade’, or spend just has much time on Facebook as everyone else in mainstream pop-culture. In this lecture we will spend some time reflecting on the nature of digital reality and reasons why we shouldn’t privilege digital disembodiment over material embodiment.


The hyper-reality of digital communication technology

In the 1970s media critics began observing that TV had created an artificial world that was shaping its viewers.[1] The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard named the artificial world that media technology creates as hyper-reality (i.e. the Internet, TV, cell phones, theme parks, casinos, etc.). Hyper-reality is any paradigm in which there is no longer any real connection between sign (the representation) and signified (the real thing).[2] Then in the 1990s Margaret Morse wrote a seminal essay called “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction” where she argues that hyper-reality, or what she called ‘nonspace’, is more prevalent than we realize, even in things like malls and freeways.[3] “The first distinguishing feature of nonspace” wrote Morse, “is its dreamlike displacement or separation from its surroundings.” Simply put, imagine what happens when working on a computer—you enter into a different paradigm of reality that sucks you in. You become less connected to your physical environment while you navigate the computer interface.
It could be argued that digital communications technology (DCT) that facilitates hyper-reality tends to displace and de-contextualize our relationships. Without being physically present with people, our relationships struggle to find contextual meaning. In pre-modern societies there were still strong connections between the natural topography and the architectural and mental places that were inhabited[4]. Yet as our civilization “develops” we find ourselves in more places that are entirely cut off from the natural environment of the land and weather, and spending more with things that are hyper-real like computers.

So what’s so bad about hyper-reality?

In short—disembodiment. Embodiment is essential to both our humanity and how we were meant to interact with the world. Of all world religions, Christianity has always stood out in affirming and valuing materiality. God made a physical universe and saw that it was good. Christ took on human flesh, and became a physical man. We affirm the centrality of the physical resurrection of Christ, and we believe in a physical resurrection of our own bodies and a physical life everlasting. 
Materiality is important. We are not Gnostics who disregard matter and physicality, and just talk about ideas. As Christians who theologically affirm the “earthiness” of our faith, we ought to have a strong theology of space—an understanding of how physical space gives contextual meaning for community, worship, prayer, fellowship, and friendships. Yet this earthiness is in constant tension with the nonspaces in our society. The Christian vision of embodiment gives us a picture of cohesive integration in which each particular thing has a substantive relationship with other particulars and the whole. Imagine an organic farm where each plant or animal is viewed in relationship to the other plants and animals. Compare that with a large agribusiness that operates the farm as a factory. The first exemplifies a philosophy of symbiotic relationship, the second, a mechanistic automation.
Like an organic farm, the Christian vision of human flourishing begins with the presupposition that we have embodied relationships with other embodied things. We are essentially creatures created to live in creation, not consumers negotiating a pre-fabricated world. To be fully human means to live in an embodied life: eating, singing, laughing, dancing, hiking, etc. No virtual reality can facilitate these embodied activities, because the digital reality is by definition disembodied. So when we excessively relate to each other in a disembodied format (for example Facebook and text messaging), we are missing out on the potential richness and subtleties of embodied socialization that is essential to be fully human. When we disengage from the material relationships and spend most of our time communicating via our computers or cell phones, the quality of our relationships will eventually diminish. We may be able to talk with a dozen people a day, but what we gain in quantity we may lose in quality. 

The myth of the neutrality of technology

I’m not sure how this myth got started or whose fault it was, but somehow the modern world has been duped into believing that all technology is neutral. Perhaps it was American pragmatism or is a sub-narrative of the myth of progress (the notion that the West is destined to get increasingly ‘better’). But in most cases people never thought about both the gains and losses of new technologies when ‘upgrading’ to a smart phone, or getting an email account, or signing up for Facebook. It’s what everyone was doing. Of course it would make communication faster and easier, but did anyone consider how these things would affect the fabric of our social lives? 
Neil Postman the social critic and author of Technopoly writes, “Embedded in every tool is an ideological bias, a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing over another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another.”[5] For example, the book predisposes people to think differently than those who lived within an oral tradition. One no longer needed to memorize as much. Propositional content became more important than visual or aesthetic content. When Guttenberg invented the printing press, he had no idea of the consequences it would have on how people related to others and their understanding of their place in the world. Often new technologies meet a short-term practical need, yet have drastic social ramifications that are impossible to predict. Postman concludes his observations by suggesting that, all communications technology carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism, and control.”[6] 
DCT shapes the quality of communication by privileging speed, efficiency, replicable content, and short bursts of ideas. Older communication technology like the book or handwritten communication privileges a kind of artisan craftsmanship, intentionality, originality, and a format that suited longer or more complex ideas. With the ability to instantly replicate digital content, we don’t put the same kind of value and weight on digital content that we put for example on a rare book.

DCT and Christian Spirituality

         As we discussed above, the Christian vision of the good life as portrayed in Scripture and in the Christian tradition is an embodied life that embraces materiality and recognizes the sacred through it. In addition to this, we could consider passages such as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us”, clearly an incarnational notion. The in-fleshing or the embodiment of God in Jesus speaks of the goodness and centrality of materiality. Grounded in the physical and material actions of God in history, our spirituality follows suit and reflects this emphasis. To depart from this Christian tenant leads us toward Gnosticism (an ancient heresy that views physicality as an unfortunate bother in our pursuit of a purely spiritual spirituality).
         It could be argued that there is a correlation between our attention spans and our spiritual awareness. Rather than being neutral for our spiritual life, extended time in hyper reality may in fact contribute to our struggle with spiritual distraction.  Moreover, how can we hear the “still small voice” of God in our daily lives when we are constantly being bombarded by tweets, emails, Facebook messages, cell phone texts, and blue-tooth calls during every hour of the day? Perhaps all this time spent in virtual realities is creating shorter attention spans and creating a mild attention deficit disorder in all of us.
Eastern Orthodox spirituality emphasizes silence and contemplation in our awareness of the presence of God, while the Western church has emphasized community and Nature. In either case, the digital virtual world posses a formidable distraction to our pursuit of enjoying the presence of God and the material world we live in. While we can learn about who God is in hyper-reality, can we really be aware of his presence? I may go as far as to say that though God is present everywhere, he becomes increasingly allusive for some of us to perceive the more we live in a virtual paradigm.
We don’t have time here to consider what’s gained and lost with things like video screens in a church service, texting questions to the pastor after the sermon, or having ‘virtual church’.  But the central question ought to be: Will we thrive in an embodied way as a church more or less in doing these things? Where should we draw the line in what ways we choose to be less embodied? These answers I believe will be situational to the resources, traditions, and circumstances of each congregation.
Postman would pose the question this way: Can the modern Evangelical Church “preserve its history, originality, and humanity by submitting itself to the sovereignty of a technological thought world?”[7] In other words, can the gospel really be proclaimed in thought, word, and deed in all its fullness through DCT? It’s my opinion that we lose more than we gain if we continue to embrace every DCT that comes along without realizing the biases of how DCT mediums are effecting our communities and our spiritual lives.

The Eucharist: more real than hyper-real

The hyper-real places that permeate our society are shaping us through a kind of liturgy: ritual, images, and corporate reverence that shape what ought to be ultimately desired and loved. The shopping mall, sport stadium, rock concert, and even the Internet all have liturgical components to them.[8] However, the Church gives to us a liturgy that shapes us in a way that orients us towards Christ in the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Holy Communion, in conjunction with the reading and preaching of the Word, is the central activity of historic Christian worship. Yet for reasons we can’t address here, the North American Evangelical church has increasingly de-emphasized the Eucharist in the past fifty years, and over emphasized the role of the sermon in the worship service. There has never been a more crucial time in Christian history for the Evangelical church to rediscover the central role of the Eucharist for our worship and our spiritual lives—for the Eucharist in its very essence of embodiment.
In the holy mystery of the Eucharist we encounter God through the physical elements of bread and wine. Like the incarnation, the elements of bread and wine never cease being 100% bread and wine, but are also 100% mysteriously participating in the divine. In the Eucharist, something unique happens—God gives of himself to the Church in an embodied form. This union with God never happens in isolation—it is experienced in an embodied church within the context of a real community.
The materiality of the Eucharist is not something to be avoided, but is used as a means of grace. The historic church (whether it be in the ancient, the Eastern Orthodox, Medieval, Lutheran, or Anglican traditions) has always affirmed that the elements are ‘saturated’ and ‘penetrated’ with the presence of Christ so that we “eat the flesh of Jesus Christ, and drink his blood…”[9]. In this way the Eucharist is essentially embodied—a spiritual reality being present in a physical form.

Sacramental Ontology

By extension then, the Eucharist can be understood to be the paradigm for all of reality in that we encounter God through physical Creation. This understanding of reality is sometimes referred to as “Sacramental Ontology”. A sacrament is a physical ritual that mediates invisible grace in a visible sign. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality. So what is meant by sacramental ontology is that Creation is a kind of sacrament through which God is present to us. As theologian James K.A. Smith writes, “There is no pristine, immediate access behind the scenes [to God]; rather, the invisible [spiritual reality] is seen in the visible, such that seeing the visible is to see more than the visible. This zone of immanence is where transcendence plays itself out, unfolding itself in a way that is staged by the Creator.”[10]
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wonderfully demonstrates this way of thinking about embodied physical Creation. In those celebrated lines he cries, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God./ It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;/ It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil/ Crushed.”[11] Hopkins scholar Bernadette Waterman Ward explains that, “Sacraments opened Hopkins to the idea that physical realities could become spiritual realities with no diminution of their physical existence…His sacramental vision removes all sense of incongruity from that insight. Without deifying the world, Hopkins could take all creation as a manifestation of the incarnate Christ.”[12] Rather than allowing our sense and experience of reality be primarily mediated through DCT, the Eucharist gives us a model for understanding all reality.


         I’m not arguing that hyper reality is  “evil” or “morally bad”—it’s simply second rate at doing certain things. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with using DCT for certain tasks like facilitating a meeting with friends, or catching up with family members on the mainland. But DCT is simply not as good, as embodied communication: sitting down with real people, or reading a real book (you could probably tell I’m not a Kindle fan). If we care about fostering deep and meaningful relationships, we shouldn’t expect DCT to do a very good job of it. (There’s a reason why you aren’t supposed to break up over the phone…)
In addition to being second rate for building meaningful relationships, we ought to also be conscientious about the ways in which spending all our free time with digital media will inevitably shape who we become as people. Technology is not neutral, and DCT like the Internet will effect certain societal expectations and norms of authority and access, and will redefine cultural concepts. Moreover, the tremendous amount of time that we tend to waste with DCT is disconcerting. The average American spends around four to five hours of their free time in front of a TV or computer each day.[13] Rather than saving time to spend more time with people, ‘machine time’ is taking away our social time.
The best thing we can do as citizens of a digital nation to counter the de-humanizing effects of our machines is to simultaneously attempt a full and healthy embodied life. Our goal as Christians in this era ought to be integrated people who equally value rationality and imagination, immanence and transcendence, the supernatural and the natural. We are invited by this vision to live into what it means to be truly embodied and integrated people who are shaped by the embodied mystery of the Eucharist, making our worship fully embodied and physical in the liturgy and the Church calendar; our social life and ministry becoming fully embodied and physical by spending face-to-face time with people; and our interactions with our tools are embodied when possible. Living this way opens us to be aware of living in the natural rhythms of the seasons, and give primacy to the material over the digital. Surprise, transcendence, mystery, and ‘deep beauty’ are things that are best experienced in an embodied context.

[1] For example Marie Wyn’s The Plug-in Drug (Bantam Books, 1977).
[2] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 1994). This book supposedly is the inspiration and “key” to understanding the movie The Matrix.
[3] Morse explains how freeways are nonspaces in that they are disconnected from and ‘transcend’ all particular localities, and thus renders itself as its own self-referential reality. Air travel is certainly another kind of nonspace.
[4] For more on these relationships, see Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, 1957).
[5] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1992) 13.
[6] Ibid, 185.
[7] Ibid, 183.
[8] For more on cultural liturgy, see James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).
[9] From the Prayer of Humble Access in the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), 1928 ed.
[10] James K. A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2004), 222-223.
[11] Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘God’s Grandeur’
[12] Bernadette Waterman Ward, World As Word: Philosophical Theology in Gerard Manley Hopkins. (The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 129.
[13] The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The 2009 American Time Use Survey.