Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Metropolitan Jonah on Orthodox Unity

From The Crunchy Con:

Last night at Pan-Orthodox Vespers here at St. Seraphim Cathedral here in Dallas, Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA responded. Watch his sermon here. It's a bombshell that will rock the Orthodox world. Concluding line: "We might affirm to our bishops that they might tell the churches of the Old World: 'There is an American Orthodox Church. Leave it alone.'"
While I can appreciate that to some, especially those in Constantinople, might find His Beatitude's words harsh at time, I think he is correct in his assessment of the situation of the Church here in the States.

His Beatitude says in his sermon:
"It is imperative, brothers and sisters, imperative on us, that we come together, and with one voice, as the Orthodox Church in North America, to say to the holy fathers of the Old World: the Orthodox Church exists in North America. We're grateful for the support that you have given us. We love and support your work, and we rejoice in your victories, and we're sad with your tragedies. But you have to give us the freedom to take care of our own church in our own country in our own culture, and not to be controlled by people who have never heard a word of English, much less would allow a word of English to be spoken in the liturgy. We can't allow our church to be controlled by people who have no appreciation for our culture, and who have to bow to the Turkish Islamic authorities."
His Beatitude concludes by addressing the faithful, the clergy and the bishops in America and asking them totell the churches in the Old World: "There is an American Orthodox church. Leave it alone."

As Rod Dreher concludes his own post on the matter: "Boom! It's on. Hold on to your mitres."

I am unimaginably proud of His Beatitude and thank God for his words last evening.

It is worth your time to give a listen.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

p.s., The text of His Beatitude's sermon can be found here (NB: it is a pdf).


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My Notes From Taylor's Presentation on Sexuality

Having referenced Debra Taylor's plenary session talk at CAPS in the post below, I thought some of my readers might be interested in the notes I took. (I could do this because my wife encouraged me to get a spiffy new netbook computer with an amazing 5-7 hours of battery life. Thank you Mary!) Needless to say, these note reflect what I took away from Taylor's presentation and any errors are mine and mine alone.
In Christ,
+Fr Gregory

Debra Taylor, MA, “Prisoners of Hope: Is Healing Possible for Sexual Strugglers?”Institute for Sexual Wholeness (graduate program/ministry), Secrets of Eve (book)
Lk 4:18-19: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...: we are all of us the recipients of this same call to proclaim liberty to the captive, to set free those who are burdened and battered.
SECRETS OF EVE: survey of 2000 Christian women about the sexuality
Then and Now...

  1. Sexual desire

    1. Women and sexual desire: we've been pathologizing women for being women

    2. Masters & Johnson, Kaplan; desire—excitement--orgasm--resolution (linear model)

      1. developed in a lab watching people having sex while hooked up to ekg and measuring sexual desire mechanically.

      2. focused on women who were able to achieve orgasm through intercourse alone (only 1/3 of all women)

      3. Question: is desire really the basis of sexuality in women? Is M&J model really true? And how is desire measured?

        1. Inadvertently, many people—e specially women—were pathologized because their sexual desires did not match the research

  2. Basson's model of sexual desire: women's desire begins in sexual neutrality [You can download a pdf of the model here.]

    1. Sexual stimuli (psychological factors)

    2. Sexual arousal

    3. sexual desire & arousal

    4. emotional & physical satisfaction (orgasm not necessarily present)

    5. emotional intimacy (and then, much her partner's confusion, sexual neutrality)

  3. Some, but not all, women, have spontaneous sexual desire. Some, but fewer still, have a higher sex drive then their partner

  4. Receptive desire counts (receptive desire IS sexual desire)

    1. The central question from the research: Am I good enough
Body image

  1. primary factor influencing sexual desire in women

  2. 98% women dissatisfied with their bodies

    1. clinically and personally, the best thing I can do for the women in my life is to encourage in them a more positive body image

  3. protective factors

    1. family of origin

    2. gender role satisfaction

    3. health

    4. effective coping strategies (identify and resist harmful cultural stereotypes)

    5. sense of holistic balance and wellness

  4. pain is a bigger problem than we knew in the 90's

    1. we don't know the incidence of sexual pain disorders

    2. little research has been done

    3. 1-6% of women have vaginsmus; 16-19% experience chronic or recurrent sexual pain.

  1. in the 1960's we knew about only 2 STD's syphilis & gonorrhea

  2. NOW we know about 30 STDs

  3. >50% of all people in the US will have an STD

  4. in a national survey of US physicians, fewer 1/3 test routinely for STD's

  5. 50% sexually active persons will have an STD by 25 years of age

  6. 2008 CDC reports HIV/AIDS spreading quickly among young males 13-24; number of males jumped 12%

  7. 15% of all new HIV/AIDS cases are over 50
Prisoners of Hope

  1. hope is our most important tool

  2. to inspire hope in our clients, we have to experience hope ourselves

  3. what do you do when you lose hope?

    1. What are my skills for maintaining/recovering hope in the face of human suffering?

    2. Compassion is not a flaw, but a strength.
Broken heart syndromea real, medical condition, we can physically die because of extreme sadness and lose.

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Comment Section

The comment section was set to not allow anonymous comments. You should now again be able to leave comments without leaving an email address. My apologizes for those who have not been able to leave comments. Please let me know if you are still having trouble commenting.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Entrepreneurship & Evangelism: More Thoughts on the CAPS Conference

An interesting comment on economic recovery from Tyler Cowen of the Kauffman Foundation by way of Michael Giberson at the Knowledge Problem.  Referring to video of Cowen talking about blogging economics and other topics, Giberson quotes Cowen's  concluding comments on current economic conditions in the United States:

If there is one point I could get through about the mess we're in, it's that even if you think that the government needs to do something proactive, that is a holding action. Recovery is about entrepreneurship.

While Cowen's economic prescription has much to recommend it, what caught my attention is this: I think that it is not only the economic recovery but also the Church that needs to embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Let me explain.

With the reception of Fr Peter Gillquist and the other clergy and lay members of former Evangelical Orthodox Church by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of American, there was an increase both in awareness of the importance of mission work and actual missionary activity undertaken both in the US and overseas by American Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, as I have said before, that initial zeal was not always (in my opinion) always wisely guided and indeed has lead to an unfortunate narrowing of the Church's evangelistic outreach.

While not absolutely the case, in the main Orthodox evangelical outreach (especially in the US) tends to focus on disaffected mainline Protestant and Evangelical Christians and very little to either the vast number of unchurched Americans or our own lapsed Orthodox Christians.

Beyond our quasi-official policy of proselytizing and neglect of the unchurced and the fallen away, I am also concerned that we have largely neglected the worlds of academia and public policy and morality. While in the latter case there is some hopeful progress—f or example Fr Hans Jacobe's American Orthodox Institute—in the former situation we have limited our engagement to a few, woefully underfunded, campus ministry programs. And while we have built seminaries and one undergraduate college, after more than 200 years in the States, we still do not have even a viable parochial school system for our children.

All of this was very much on my mind this weekend while I was at the CAPS conference. In session after session, I saw people who desired the riches of the Great Tradition in both its Western and Eastern forms. Unfortunately, there was in attendance only two priests, myself representing the tradition of Orthodox Church and my friend Fr Christian Mathis, a Roman Catholic priest.

Let me say upfront, I am ambivalent about the lack of a numerically substantive Orthodox presence at CAPS. We have in the last 30 or so years gotten rather comfortable talking down to people. Oh granted, we're gracious when we do so, but in the main we are more comfortable talking to people who want to join the Church. We our happy to enter into conversation, really often a monologue, with those who affirm us, who see us the solution to their problems. We are less comfortable with those who wish to relate to us as peers—as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am not convinced that, with a few exceptions, we would prefer to avoid conversations with those people who have competencies and expertise in areas about which we know little or nothing. Let me offer an example of a CAPS presentation I found not only interesting and valuable but challenging.

On Saturday morning the first plenary session was presented by Debra Taylor, MA, of Institute for Sexual Wholeness (a graduate program/ministry focusing on sex therapy). Taylor offered us an update on the research into women's sexuality that she published in her book that she co-authored with Archibald D. Hart andCatherine Hart Weber, Secrets of Eve .

Taylor's presentation,“Prisoners of Hope: Is Healing Possible for Sexual Strugglers?”was a challenge to the gathering to imitate the words of Jesus in Lk 4:18-19: (the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...) and ourselves as psychologists and pastors to proclaim liberty to the captive, to set free those who are burdened and battered in the area of sexuality.

What made the presentation unique was not just what was said, but what wasn't said. Taylor did not focus on sexual immorality—we did not hear about homosexuality, adultery, fornication, or masturbation. Instead she spoke with great eloquence on the suffering of married men and women as they try and understand each other's different, but equally legitimate, sexuality.

At the core of this struggle is not simply the fact that husbands typically don't understand their wives sexuality. This lack of understand is situated within a social (and for that matter, research) context that pathologizes women's sexuality and foster in women (and so also in men) an increasingly unrealistic and unnatural view of feminine sexuality and the woman's body.

Listening to Taylor as she related experiences from her own life and clinical practice, I wondered how I might apply her insights to my own pastoral work. How many married couples who come to see me either together or individually, I wondered, are suffering because of the very lack of mutual understanding that the speaker has articulated? Having spoken with current and former seminaries, I know that if sexuality is addressed at all in their coursework, it is only done so in terms of morality (and even this, I suspect, is rather deficient, but that's for another time). But sexuality is never addressed as it was in Taylor's work.

Considering the apologetic energy we expend on the fact that—u nlike Rome—we have a married clergy, this lacunae is troubling. If, as Taylor argued, many, even most, married couples suffer because of a lack of information about human sexuality, how can this not be true for clergy couples? And how can this lack of information not but have an negative influence not only on the personal lives of clergy couples, but the pastoral practice of the Church?

Let me return to the question of an entrepreneurial approach to outreach and evangelism. As in my experience at CAPS, as well as in my participation in other professional settings, I have found that my willingness to participate as a peer—albeit one who wears cassock, cross and cap—has always brought a rich reward both for me personally and for my ministry. And, not incidentally, it has also resulted in new Orthodox Christians.

Over the years, I have spoken with man men and women from various professions who have become (or have always been) Orthodox Christians. A consistent theme in the stories they tell me is the joy and gratitude to God they have for their Orthodox faith. But they also tell stories of frustration that there seems to be little interest among the clergy to make use of their professional skills and gifts. While these professionals are happy to be the spiritual children of the Church, they are also competent adults whose potential contribution to the Church is often greatly limited by the inability of the clergy to engage them as professional colleagues.

At its core, I think this inability of some—maybe even many—c lergy to engage the laity as professional peers (though different professionals to be sure) both is the reflects our limited vision of evangelical outreach and is also a contributing factor to our narrowness of vision.

One of the participates I spoke with at CAPS was quite taken by the patristic notion that what is not assumed by Christ is not redeemed. I wonder, are willing our we as a community and personally to work to redeem academia and the professions? Are we willing to engage those who challenge us not simply because of their interest in the spiritual life but because they bring to the Church skills and insights that are new to us?

Or, let me make this personal, do I want ADULT spiritual children who insist on the integrity and value of their own professional contributions to the life of the Church?

As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome but encouraged.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory