Obedience

Make no mistake, the way out of this mess is obedience.

Everything else is the gyrations of a collective cultural epileptic fit. These manic outbursts have nothing to do with being human, or in fact much of anything. It is anti-culture and nothing or no one has ever had to deal with such a beast before.

I hear the words of some who say (with that “nothing is new under the son” tone of voice) that the Roman empire as a first cosmopolitan sociological laboratory was similar, but it wasn’t. Nothing like what we are going through right now has ever happened, nothing remotely like it.

We no longer live in communities, we no longer live together at all. For the first time in human history, more adults will go to bed alone tonight than go with a spouse. More children are raised in fractured (and soon even single) homes than stable ones, forget having extended “clan” relations around.

We have begun to play with the fundamental categories of human nature, not by some accident of the fall, but by intent. We are in a feedback loop of distorted self caused by the nascent ascendancy of man over his own nature.

We’re wrestling about talking about whether or not Church life fits into this mess, but that’s the rhetorical equivalent of putting the cart before the horse. What does life look like at all, when life can look like anything? I didn’t come to Orthodoxy for protection from post-modernism. (I’d rather have post-modernism than modernism any day of the week as at least the post-modernist knows he’s ill, he’s just in despair about it–which is exactly half the delusion the modernist suffers from.)

Back to the beginning. Obedience. This is what it looks like. How can we obey (or understand what healthy obedience looks like) when we don’t even demand our children respect adults by calling them Mr. and Mrs. How do I genuinely use the term “Master” or “His Grace”, if I call my own mother “Sheila”?

But obedience is it. It is the answer. The only way to recover this is to do what Christ did. Empty ourselves of our demigodhood, and do not count ourselves as equals. Obey, not as slaves, but perhaps at least as well as we listen to our new clergy in the medical profession (faith follows function). Obey as our parents obeyed their grandparents. Obey as they obey us. This isn’t subservience, this is, this must flower in mutual love.

This is a mutual obedience, formed by real bonds that really suffers for one another and really ruins a whole family when one member throws the common life into a fit.

It does not matter whether the tones are Byz or SATB in the key of F. Our priests wear what they wear at the altar because if they didn’t they’d be naked, and they might as well wear just about what the guy they remember doing it wore.

Is Orthodoxy in America troubled beyond Owen-ian repair? Of course not. There is no way up, but through. Admit the EOC and a dozen like them, the chips will fall as they may. In 200 years all of this will be summed in a few pages on some history book. It will say, “there was a time when…” and later, “but then there was this and that development…” and then finally, “so now we are past that but have to deal with these new problems.”

And life will go on, as will the Church until the Eschaton.

Again I say, if we are cursed with a freer will (or as I understand it, a never more dangerously enslaved will) let us use that freedom to lay down our slavery and bury our dead bodies in obedience to one another.

Even if it hurts. Especially when others do not return the “enlightened” gesture. Evermore until in the flesh we die.

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11 thoughts on “Obedience

  1. David: Funny how when I wrote down the values to communicate in a new brochure (for work), obedience keeps coming to mind… in part because of this, but also in part because i think the elites broke their obedience to the consent of the governed. With what I do for a living as a fiduciary… it seems pertinent.

    In a different context… maybe, but as for “Owen-ian”…. sad. Some minds are so restless that the result of heightened awareness is that they can see so many things that they find more irritation than comfort. Reminds me of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”… only with the same result. One may pray that this works for him… but more than that, that it works for us. Obedience, honor… out of love, is a path to salvation.

  2. No one likes obedience, but there is something so fundamental to it. It seems lost to us modern-enlightened minds, like humility. Since we can trust no one other than ourselves we cannot afford to doubt ourselves, lest nihilism sweep away history and our progeny (if we have any) will eat dust.

    I did not know you were a fiduciary. Trust, seems inseparable from love and so you could say that your work is essential for those who do not love. Your reputation is a testimony to your clients.

    The problem with getting smarter, my brother, is that you empower your greatest foe, yourself. The keenest insight will not make a man capable of standing on his own and many a prophet wandered in the wilderness and argued with God (or muttered aimlessly to themselves). God’s love, to put it simply, finds a way.

    Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. It means a great deal to me.

  3. Agreed!

    You’ll note I referred to alertness rather than smartness. Buddhist Dr. Suzuki refers to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as the Tree of Unknowing…. which is closer to what happened I think. Knowledge or “smartness’ just isn’t wisdom, only training as you say of one’s foes perhaps. Alertness can go both in the direction of the Watchful Gate, or if misdirected towards judgment of others, chaos. I’m afraid the latter seems to be a larger problem…. and one my dog’s own hyper-active nervous system is a great caution against. Want a hyper-aware dog? that barks at ceiling reflections off CD’s and DVD, the attic chain, the dry cleaning bag, etc.??? He’s available…. honest.

  4. I like that, I’m going to steal it. There is no peace for a dog that barks at its own reflection.

  5. This is an interesting discussion. I would like to throw another element into it. I am curious how you would address the spiritual individualism of Kierkegaard within this framework of obedience. I have read a book outlining his work and found Kierkegaard lacking in an appreciation of communal faith. Because you have a better understanding of his works, perhaps you could shed some light on this question.

    regards,
    CB

  6. Glad to see you back Charles. How was your blog-hiatus?

    Kierkegaard is a prisoner of his own time and place, and like others of that era he could not see beyond the right questions to speculate on answers (Owen Barfield and a few others got closer). However, this is the best complement I can give Kierkegaard, he was asking all the right questions of modernity. Kierkegaard found that he couldn’t obey anything other than himself because no other authority stood standing. He was a voice crying out in the wilderness of isolation imposed by the skepticism born of radical empiricism.

    You have diagnosed the problem: Kierkegaard could not cross the gulf between himself and others to know them. I’m not sure he even believed it was possible. But I do believe he hoped someone would figure out how. Communion was not possible.

    I have said, on occasion, that one of the reasons I came to the Orthodox Church is that I came face to face with the faces of Christianity as a historical phenomenon. I had never done that until these last few years. I stopped worrying about whether they were right or wrong on dogma (though I latter found the Cappadocians unassailable as well, but that’s for another comment). In fact, their right or wrongness (individually or collectively) was not the point. Their existence represented an epistemological challenge to my Kierkegaardian-influenced Anabaptist roots.

    Communion was not only possible, it was mandatory. Thus my surrender to the Church.

  7. David, my hiatus was good and most needed. The only difficulty was recovering from the drop in viewership. I am finally back to 80% of pre-break levels.

    Your explanation sounds reasonable. I can see how Kierkegaard could be doubting but not rejecting communion–not unlike his experience of love. However, when you say “Their existence represented an epistemological challenge…” what “they” are you referring to?

  8. There was a community of continuity which had existence both in space and in time. A group of people insisted (by their existence and self-understanding) that they were “The Church”. The idea that “The Church” was a metaphor was confronted with the concrete experience of actual persons. I could no longer hold to the Gnosticism (well, Neo-Platonic anyway) ideal Church in the face of a historical Church.

    I have said before that most theological controversies seem to find themselves in the grey space between what is metaphor and what is mystery.

  9. There was a moment when my hatred for the “submission” commanded in scripture was challenged by the inner whisper of God: “It isn’t [Him/Her/Them] you are refusing to submit to, You are refusing to submit to me.” That was a stark revelation of my heart, my sinful, rebellious heart, that made me take a step back, to repent and turn from that.

    So often, though, I find that I don’t know what to obey. With so much corruption, so much evil everywhere, and so much silliness if not downright heresy in the church, that obedience to the church leaders is sometimes very difficult. I come from a background of the Plymouth Brethren, and was raised in strict elder-rule. I understand and even support this, but what about when the elders do not live according to scripture? What about when they refuse to act in love and in mercy and are utterly unrepentant about it? What happens when the church refuses to answer questions, to entertain the seeking heart trying to understand? How do you obey when there is blatant sin in their midst, when they use their position to trample over the poor wretches reaching out for help?

    What do you obey? Scripture, yes. And I see that your struggles brought you to Orthodoxy. I am struggling with some of the same issues, struggling to understand, to figure it out, to wrap my mind around it, to answer the questions. I am struggling with what is the church? Who is the church? Where can THE church be found? Where is it not?

    In some ways it would be easier for me to jump in and skip the questions, but that is not how I am wired. That would be cheating.

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