January 21, 2021

The IM Saturday Brunch: July 8, 2017 — Random Thoughts Edition


”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Fireworks–Fall River, Mass., 2017

This is a random thoughts edition of our Saturday Brunch. I will simply be passing on some of the curious things that have been running around my mind, especially during this past week.

Feel free to comment or add thoughts of your own.

• • •

One of the reasons I cannot ever fully shed my “evangelical” identity became clear to me this week. I was a team leader for a group of young people who had traveled to Providence, RI for a short-term missions/service trip. There we served the people at Providence Rescue Mission as well as some of the children in one of the poorer parts of the city.

Nobody I’m aware of helps people have such dramatic conversion experiences as we heard about this week better than evangelical Christians. One man I spoke with had been homeless for 30 years, from age 12 to 42, had been an IV heroin user, and had watched his own brother as well as countless other people die from overdoses and street violence and troubles. He had a conversion experience through the ministry of another organization, and that transformation was genuine enough that he was able to survive the disappointment of realizing the hypocrisy and unethical practices of that group through which he was saved. Now he is working with the rescue mission to help others and share the love and life-transforming power of Jesus. His story was compelling and inspiring.

You all know that I respect and appreciate historic and traditional expressions of the Christian faith, but nobody gets the power of conversion like the evangelicals. And few are doing the hidden work that they are doing in places like this to help people overcome evil with good.

• • •

I loved watching the fireworks this year. But I couldn’t help but think of many veterans who dreaded the experience of hearing those explosions and reliving memories no one should have.

• • •

This week, I was also reminded how good it was to hang around with young people. One of the reasons older folks become codgers and curmudgeons, complaining about how they’ve lost faith in the younger generations, is because they only view them from a safe distance, where they don’t have to be personally affected by the noise and unpolished, raw energy of youth.

They forget that many of the things they complain about reflect the same immaturity, lack of experience, and experimentation that they themselves took part in in their own younger years.

Older does not always = wiser. The wise will befriend the young, be willing to learn from them and find ways to share their lives together. The future depends upon it.

• • •

The older I get, the more I long to live by the ocean. Nothing else gives me perspective, clears my head, and refreshes me like time walking the beach to the rhythm of the waves and looking out on that vast, living watery world, smelling the salt air, hearing the gulls cry, and feeling the sand between my toes.

Plus, there are lobster rolls at the restaurants.



  1. David Cornwell says

    Chaplain Mike, I also have often thought about the evangelical power of conversion that we do not often hear these days in mainline churches. But just this week I heard a powerful exception. I turned on television during my lunch and looked for a streaming YouTube video to watch. One title tickled my fancy: Facing the Canon with Archbishop Justin Welby – YouTube. This turned out to be an hour long interview and one of the most refreshing and positive experiences I’ve had with anything Christian on television. The man doing the interviewing is J. John, apparently a well known Anglican evangelist. I’m sure some of you know much more about him than do I.

    But what came across very clearly to me is that there are strong evangelical influences in Anglian branch of the Church. And what surprised me most of all is the clear testimony to a conversion experience on the part of Justin Welby. He witnesses to a certain time and place where he was confronted of the meaning of the cross and what Jesus had done for him, and the rest of us, on that cross. From that moment on his life took on a new and dramatically different direction. His testimony is very clear, and to the point: Jesus died to set us free and to walk with us through life. I’ll admit it was a message I needed to hear once again, and it came just at the right time.

    Another thing: This Jesus that we serve didn’t come to make us legalists, or to make life more difficult for the poor of the world, or to add to the suffering of millions of immigrants, aliens, and refugees. This interview helped me see once again the joy and freedom that can belong to we as the followers of Jesus. In my own extended family, and with other friends, I’ve heard the discouraging rant against all those Jesus came to serve. And what we can do to become “great” once again. But this brand of Christianity espoused by Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and others places a heavy burden on their own lives, as they load themselves down with rules, regulations, fear, and worry. But, in contrast, I’ve seen very clearly that there is another, clearer message that Jesus has for us. And it’s that we can live for him in joy unspeakable and full of glory, with the burden falling away.

    In the words of a verse of the song written about this joy:

    I have found that hope so bright and clear,
    Living in the realm of grace;
    Oh, the Savior’s presence is so near,
    I can see His smiling face.

    It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
    Full of glory, full of glory;
    It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
    Oh, the half has never yet been told.
    (author: Barney E Warren)

    I liked the humor that these two Anglican men shared with each other, and their total joy in the kind of work they’ve been called to do. So there are some evangelical truths that are still alive: the power of conversion and the joyous life that can be the result.

    • David, of all the mainline groups, I think Anglicans and Methodists get this best, and it is probably due to the ongoing influence of people like John and Samuel Wesley, Francis Asbury, and others who freed the gospel from traditional church structures and strictures and set it free among the poor and in the streets, fields, homes and workplaces where it belongs.

      Why do we keep having to relearn this? What centripetal forces keep pulling us back into a “temple” mentality when it comes to the church? Why can we not see as plain as the noses on our faces that Jesus walked among people in the country, towns, and villages where he proclaimed and demonstrated the rule of God?

      • Robert F says

        We like to capture Jesus, and to put him into a walled place where we know exactly how to get to him for our own use, and only let others have access if they agree to the rules of the house. It’s a perennial human religious reflex. Instead of homo sapiens, I propose that we call ourselves homo religio.

        • Yep.

          • Robert F says

            But Jesus walks freely through walls, in any direction he chooses, as the apostles learned when he encountered them behind their locked doors after his crucifixion, death and resurrection. That’s how he gets to us, as individuals and as the human race, to redeem us to begin with. His incarnation reveals as much about his ability to walk through walls as his resurrection, along with his life and everything else. To us, Jesus says, “Yes”; to our walls he doesn’t even bother to say, “No”, he just ignores them as moves freely in his world and among us.

            • David Cornwell says

              We retreat behind our walls out of fear. Faith in the Living Jesus should help us start removing those fears. It is telling that evangelicals voted in huge numbers for a man with a nationalistic emphasis, wanting to build a long, thick wall out of fear for the “other,” and desires to return us to an era where he thinks we had an extra dose of greatness. To me there was no such era.

              Instead of retreating behind walls, we need to walk through those walls with Jesus. And then the world will be amazed once again.

              • Robert F says

                I like the theological term that I think you Methodists coined — prevenient Grace. Jesus is there ahead of us and everybody else. And it’s an inside job: Jesus is already inside, and there’s no way to get him out, or corral him somewhere convenient instead of prevenient. You might as well try to grasp the wind.

                Many Christians seem to want God to direct a protection racket for them, to protect the church or “Western Civilization” or whatever. They would do better to look for Jesus in the refugees’ boats.

                • David Cornwell says

                  Robert, I had a professor in seminary talk about the wind of the Spirit, moving to and fro, this way and that, keeping us guessing. He said movements by God were never predictable. We may be flawed in our responses, but never is Jesus as he walks among us.

        • Yes. The Gospel is radically inclusive, but we are by nature/original sin exclusive to a fault. God and Jesus are just alright with us, so long as they are ONLY FOR US.

      • David Cornwell says

        Welby refers to the Wesleys again and again. It’s sad that the UMC may be on the verge of schism, when a workable compromise could be sought and bought. Selfishness is evident on both sides of the debate, or so it seems. I really haven’t kept up with it, and start feeling grief every time I do.

        I think the burden of keeping the Church together falls heavily on Welby. He says the most important thing we can do in the Church just now is so simple that it may come as a letdown: Pray. Pray. Pray. Even if it takes years.

  2. Robert F says

    standing on the beach
    I watch the waves roll in and out
    and my thoughts with them

  3. Robert F says

    I’ve never been a member of an evangelical church, though I visited quite a few (along with other kinds of churches) in my youth when I was looking for a place to call ecclesial home. But, despite knowing some of the institutional negatives that can exist behind their front doors, I feel an uplift of hope whenever I drive or walk by a city storefront church or mission like the one depicted above. The poor of the earth gather in these places, and I have to believe that God is among them and called them there, even through the imperfection of the ministries that support the institutions. Sometimes I can hear him calling me from behind the doors and walls of these places, too: Robert, here are your brothers and sisters. You are as poor as they, and as in need, though in your pride you refuse to admit it to yourself or others. Come to me, you who are heavy laden….

    • I just wish thst evangelicals would strike a balance regarding conversion, but they emphasize it far too much, and the things theyve to project thst emphasis on conversion.

      I’m not saying that conversion doesn’t happen, but the *way* it happens doesn’t necessarily follow the evangelical script for it. Am also skeptical of many, many conversion stories, partly because I doubt the veracity of msny of them. Everything has to be expressed in a way that sligns with other kinds of evangelical ideas, or it becomes less valid in the eyes of those people. There’s something seriously wrong with that. Beyond that, where is the help thst people genuinely need past said conversion episode? Many times, it’s just not there.

      All this to say that my own bad experiences in evangelical/charismatic churches – which lasted for decades – did more harm than good. A lot more, though admittedly, i was in a series of abusive churches.

      I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I’d stuck to actively going to a Lutheran church. Granted, it’s how i was raised, but beyond that, it just seems so much saner and far more balanced than any of the other groups i was involved with, from the 70s onward.

      Am sure the people @ this mission are doing a good job, but i can’t help wondering how many of the people they help are still, in essence, falling through the cracks? Honestly, i would rather be involved in some kind of interfaith effort – or, at very least, one thst is xtian but ecumenical – re. this. Also, I’ve seen tremendous work done by groups associated with Catholic Charities, and tend to view most of their efforts as, well… maybe more honest than those of many evangelicals, who want people to convert. So do some Catholics, but their missions generally don’t focus on conversion in anything like the same way as evangelicals do.

      Just some rambling thoughts of my own.

  4. Robert F says

    I work with a lot of young people at my job. I find them at least as decent and likable as my own generation, and no harder to get along with. Among the youngest of them I have found a few souls that shine with a natural goodness and purity, untouched by religion, that is unique to their generation in my experience thus far. They are a sign of hope.

  5. “It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”

    J R R Tolkien, *Ainulindale*, The Silmarillion

    • Robert F says

      There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein.— JONAH.

      From “EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian)”, at the beginning of Melville’s Moby Dick.

      • A quote from Ps 103/104 . =)

        • Robert F says

          Excuse me, my mistake, not Melville’s. I was transcribing the words from his novel, and two quotes from the Old Testament are closely placed in the text. The other one is from Jonah, and correctly attributed: Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I think of this quote often when I sit next to the river.

  6. “But I couldn’t help but think of many veterans who dreaded the experience of hearing those explosions and reliving memories no one should have.”

    That is sooooo true.

    One of my commanders once wrote in one of my evaluations, “Cool under fire.” I probably was “cool” to some degree…but…fireworks on and around the 4th…bring back memories that make my heart race, and not feel very cool.

    • Birdman, you have my sympathy, especially considering it’s not likely to change. At least you understand what’s happening. The dog hiding under the bed in terror or the small child don’t have that luxury. My neighbor was going to set off fireworks to welcome his brand new granddaughter. Oh , please, I said, not loud ones. It’s okay, he said, she’ll be inside. Welcome to the world. Maybe not as permanently damaging as for the woman I bought this place from, born at the beginning of World War 2 in Germany. Oh well. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. Much appreciated.

    • Thank you, seneca. I will read and ponder this article, and perhaps send it to my bishop. In my quick perusal of the article, it affirms what I have observed in the ELCA — a lack of administrative wisdom and creative energy. Many people blame “liberal” theology, and there has often been a focus on progressive social issues and whenever “the main thing” ceases to be “the main thing” a group is in trouble, but those can be integrated into a full-orbed gospel freshness just as the best conservatives have found ways of doing it with their issues. The bigger problem is a seeming inability to think outside the traditional modes of doing things and letting the Word go free to change people and structures that are stifling growth.

    • David Cornwell says

      Yes, this article is good. I have a recommendation for a place to start: Change the name of Gustavus Adolphus College. What teen has ever heard of a King of Sweden who ruled in the 1600’s? Don’t name it after Luther either. But find some relevancy to the 21st century. Gustavus may have been an excellent and godly Christian, and good ruler, but unless he has the ability to rise from the grave and rid us of an ungodly ruler, forget it.

      Maybe someone can convince I’m wrong. But Gus belongs in ancient history class.

    • I’m familiar with Redeemer and the area but haven’t visited. Maybe I should do so.

      I’m slightly concerned this reformation in the Lutherans will empower the WELS.

  7. Had dinner with kids and grandkids on the 1st–sang “Oh Canada”, wife, daughter, and son-in-law knew the verses—I didn’t, and, on the 4th we sang the National Anthem. The grand kids–one month, 1 1/2, and 3 — didn’t know what to make of it all and laughed while we sang. Grand kids are so much fun! Especially so because I’m not full-time responsible for ’em like I was with my children ;o)

  8. I think Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism make for a useful “launching pad”–but a poor destination.

  9. CM, you warm my heart this morning speaking well of Evangelicals and of what you and they and others like to call the “conversion experience”. I know all that the naysayers, the cynics, and the poor victimhood clingers have to say, and it gets tiresome. I was raised as a Christian in a Presbyterian mode and it didn’t take, and looking back I can understand why. You might say I became a Done fifty years ahead of the curve. I look around today and see the same lack of Spirit in churches struggling to survive. I have no desire to attend these churches and it is a chore to do so. Read recently a rant by a Methodist preacher complaining because someone was listening to a podcast of his sermon while working out at the gym instead of having come to church as was their Christian duty. Yes, duty. Give me a break.

    Halfway thru my three-score and ten, I still believed in the reality of God, still objected to establishment religion, but a combination of events along with a oddball radio preacher brought me to the point of realizing that the whole point of all this was in saying “Yes” to God in Jesus, which I didn’t want to do because I didn’t want someone telling me what to do..To cut to the chase, one day I was faced with a choice that would have involved me in one of those long nation-wide man hunts you see in the news, and it was a stark choice, and I chose Jesus, and no, I did not say the sinners prayer. I have never looked back, never regretted any of it, before or after. And yes, there have been bumps in the road after. My take on that is you look at things with wide open eyes and shake the dust off your sandals if you move on to higher ground, not treasure those bumps and savor their pain in your heart for the rest of your life.

    I said yes to Jesus, not to a religion. It’s still the same deal as it was forty-some years ago. I don’t call that “conversion”, don’t think that Jesus tried to “convert” people from their religion to his, but I look back and see my life as before and after that exact moment when I said “Yes.” I look at a lot of Christian religionists who have never said “Yes” to Jesus as a grown-up conscious life commitment. A lot of people here seem to think it’s all about which doctrine you commit yourself to. I dunno. Most people in the world don’t even make the basic life choice of either being service-to-other or service-to-self, but spend their lives wandering the uncommitted in-between, and that applies to many Christians in my view. Yeah, Evangelicals have a lot of poor understandings, but saying “Yes” to Jesus is not one of them.

    • Charles, I like the way you put that: saying ‘“Yes” to Jesus as a grown-up conscious life commitment.’ Of course, historic and mainline churches believe in that — after all they celebrate a rite of passage called “confirmation,” for example — but they generally have an “in-house” system of spiritual formation and, in my opinion, don’t challenge adults and their heart-loyalties with enough diligence. Of course, the same could be (and has been here) said of evangelicals, who often practice a form of gospel-shaped religion without its power.

      • CM, I was “confirmed” in the Presbyterian Church when I was about 14. As I recall, this meant that it was confirmed that I had memorized sufficiently for a day some rudimentary things like the ten commandments and some rote answers to rote questions. Looking back, this confirms for me that it was a church empty of Spirit, with the teachings of Jesus unmentioned, and peopled by dour and unquestioning cultural conformists. When I looked around me a couple of years later and said, “If these are Christians I want no part of it,” I can look back on that now as one of my crucial moments of awakening.

        • I’m sure many have had your experience, Charles. Just as many have had the experience of growing up in evangelical/fundamentalist churches where they were constantly challenged to have a conversion experience and a “personal relationship with Jesus” who ended up saying the same things and walking away. There is no perfect church/tradition. But evangelicals, on many levels and in many different ways, do grasp something of the drama of conversion in a way that many mainline churches don’t.

          On the other hand, I don’t think evangelicals, at least from my experience among them, get spiritual formation or someone like Richard Rohr and what he’s saying at all.

    • “I know all that the naysayers, the cynics, and the poor victimhood clingers have to say, and it gets tiresome.”

      Yeah I can see that. All those whiners! Why don’t we just get over it? Charles you should be glad you don’t know what you obviously don’t know.

      “I said yes to Jesus, not to a religion.”

      Wow, never heard it put that way before.


  10. As a person who has only been a part of churches that would be considered evangelical, I’m curious as to what non-evangelical churches are doing in evangelism. Do mainline churches, or the Catholic or Orthodox churches send out a lot of missionaries? And I’m not talking about charitable works where the name of Jesus never comes us, but going out with the purpose of preaching the gospel. Is there much encouragement in the churches to talk with your neighbors about Jesus Christ or invite them to a worship service?

    • Robert F says

      In the mainline churches I’ve been a part of most of my adult life, there’s a lot of reticence concerning personal witness of the kind you are talking about, and there’s been no missionary endeavors of that kind. We are sometimes encouraged to invite others to our church services, but not so much to talk with neighbors about Jesus as to live Christ-shaped lives, and witness to his presence and reality by loving neighbor and all those in need. Mission trips involve going to help those in need in this or other countries; often the people being helped are already Christian, so no attempts at conversion are involved.

      It’s not exactly correct to say that the name of Jesus never comes up; everything is to be done in the name of Jesus and as his disciples, but there is not the kind of panic involved in thinking that if we don’t convert them to Jesus they are certainly bound for hell. An underlying theological attitude and assumption is that all people are already caught up in the grace offered in and the salvation wrought by Jesus; we are to approach them with love as our co-inheritors of that grace and salvation, not in fear that they lack something they need but that we already have.

      • Ones beliefs in hell certainly do, or at least should, have an impact on evangelistic efforts. Quite frankly, given the practices of most people in evangelical churches, I wonder how many truly believe in the traditional view of hell. From what you have said I assume you are a universalist, something which, I admit, certainly has appeal. But if you believe that everyone is already delivered, that no one will go to hell, that people who haven’t confessed Jesus as Lord aren’t really lacking anything, then there really is no motivation for evangelism. It is sort of like hyper-Calvinism, only where everyone is elect whether they know it or not, so what is the point.

        • My experience has been, since my early teens at least, that I would never want to invite someone to my church or try to convert them, since the hell they’d be joining is worse than any hell in an afterlife.

          There is no traditional view of hell. Maybe your tradition’s view of hell, but certainly not a “traditional view”. There is no hell in the Old Testament. There is scantily a mention of a hell in the New. There is no hell but the one we make on this earth, all too often in the pews themselves.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I would never want to invite someone to my church or try to convert them, since the hell they’d be joining is worse than any hell in an afterlife.

            GREAT LINE!

        • What you refer to as “the traditional view of Hell” didn’t begin to emerge until the 5th-6th century, then it became steroidal during the Middle Ages. Early Church Fathers and Mother’s spoke more in terms of ultimate reconciliation.

    • Robert F says

      But there is an unhealthy reluctance to use God-language, and Jesus-language, not just with outsiders but also among ourselves in the congregation, outside of worship and study groups. On the few occasions I’ve done it, it seemed to me that people almost blush at my indiscretion in doing so. This is something I don’t like about mainline culture, at least as I’ve experienced it.

      • I’ve been in “conservative” churches where Jesus-language was almost an afterthought, the icing on the moralistic bootstrapping cake. It’s not a flaw exclusive to the mainlines.

        • True this

        • Robert F says

          No doubt. When I’ve visited evangelical churches, I’ve often felt a not-so-subtle coercion in and toward the sometimes forced use of Jesus-language. There must be a balance, existing on a space along a continuum, where Jesus- and God-language are not imposed by church culture, but not rejected by it either. I, for one, need such language at times, and need to be free to use it in church without embarrassment or coercion.

          • Forgive me, Robert, and people like me that you meet. The kinds of churches that use a certain tenor of Jesus-language are the ones that most hurt me, and when I meet people who do, I have a deeply instinctive desire to put as much space between them and me as possible before THEY can hurt me. I try to override this, as I know it to be a form of judgement, but it is difficult. I am sure my own personal initial reaction isn’t encouraging to people in your shoes.

            • Robert F says

              I understand this, Tokah, and I am more than willing to make allowances, especially for those I know have been hurt by the kind of experience you had. But the majority of people I’m talking about in the mainline churches I have been member of had no such hurtful experience in evangelical churches; they were lifelong mainliners.

              • Yeah, I get that, and I’m not even a mainliner! I was coaxed back into public christiantiy by two mainline churches, though, and the fact that the environment existed to do that is something I treasure despite my ultimate desination being orthodoxy. I feel a little guilty about using them as more or less a stepping stone, because I don’t know how healthy the things I appreciated then are for people to be doing long term, but I appreciated them nonetheless.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Just go to YouTube, punch in “how to speak christianese”, and see what comes up…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says


        • Yeah I’ve gone months in Baptist and evangelical churches where the name of Jesus was never mentioned except in a formal prayer to bless some carbs and sugar.

    • Jon, in the Orthodox Church this varies wildly by jurisdiction and even diocese within it. In the OCA, the Dioceses of the South and the West are somewhat known as the “missionary dioceses”, and there is some real truth to that provable on paper.

      Whether it is an outreach to Oklahoma or Kenya though (with our jurisdiction involved in both), our “pure” mission work that isn’t part of a charitable effort doesn’t look the same as an evangelical model does. We seek to bring people to the Lord, and there is obviously individual commitment there, but to us successful mission work creates sustainable eucharistic communities. Because of our focus on communion, there is little pure missions outreach that wouldn’t look more like church planting to an evangelical eye. Taking Kenya as a specific example, the number of people who would like to be in those communities and have a regular priest instead of a visiting one from far away is far outstripping our speed at training catechists, local deacons, priests, liturgists, etc. So it isn’t like that same hunger isn’t exciting to us, but how we talk and think about it is definitely different.

      When my parish was planted, the founding priest specifically dedicated it to a black saint and had the initial building be in a poorer part of the city. The parish north of town ran a bookshop for years to get a chance to talk to people in the community in a comfortable neutral space. Both of those efforts were missional, but in a very churchish way.

      The danger of that is that when a mission grows up into a full parish and gets too inward looking, it is hard to feel an urgency to push out, especially in a culture as christianized as ours. We accept converts from other christian traditions (I’m one!), but we don’t go looking for them. I’ve seen priests tell people that wanted to convert from another tradition that it was inappropriate because their spouse was opposed and it was better not to do that if it’d damage their marriage. My parish is still in the stage where it is good at encouraging evagelization of non-christians, but I can forsee a time where we wouldn’t be fairly easily without a lot of diocese support in that direction. We have that diocese support because we’re in the South, but it is slow to come in some other parts of the country, particularly the “old country”.

      • Robert F says

        My wife and I know a couple who converted to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism. They were transplants to Lancaster, PA, from NYC, and he had previously emigrated from Italy, both Catholic from infancy. They felt socially alienated from the various Catholic parishes they visited in this area, and upon visiting felt the one Orthodox parish in our county (Greek Orthodox) was more welcoming, and would be better socially for their three children, all girls. Although, according to our friends, the parish is composed of one-third converts from other denominations, when they at first approached the priest (himself a convert), he encouraged them to visit other Catholic parishes instead (there are many in this area). It was only after they exhibited a commitment to converting that he relented.

      • Tokah,
        Thanks for the reply. There has been in the last ten years a rather large push in church plating among evangelicals as well. I have a feeling that the Orthodox aren’t using the four spiritual laws in their evangelism, or anything like the sinners prayer. Do you have or know of any examples of how the Orthodox share the gospel with a non-christian?

      • Dana Ames says

        What Tokah said – and said better than I could have.

        What I know about Orthodox missions in past centuries is that they very much approached people with “an underlying theological attitude and assumption … that all people are already caught up in the grace offered in and the salvation wrought by Jesus [and] we are to approach them with love as our co-inheritors of that grace and salvation.”

        The first Orthodox missionaries to North America were Russian monks, who came to Alaska. They treated the Alaskan natives well, and stood up for them against exploitation by the Russian fur traders. They built schools in the local communities and within about 60 years had translated the Liturgy and prayer services into most of the major Alaskan languages. They didn’t get freaked out by totems, and they served anyone who was sick or needy. Pretty much all they did to get a mission started was pray the services of the Hours out in the open – they didn’t have church buildings until later – and learn the local language. There were also instances of what we would call miraculous occurrences. When the Natives came around asking questions, the monks simply told them about Jesus, and invited them to worship him as God. If and when they came to that point, then they were baptized. Quite a number of them did; the Orthodoxy of Alaska to this day is very culturally Alaska Native. One of my fellow parishioners has lived in Alaska for nearly 10 years, and told us that a Protestant she knew – who could be described as not believing Orthodoxy was Christian – told her that making the sign of the cross wasn’t Orthodox at all – it was Yupik!


      • When my parish was planted, the founding priest specifically dedicated it to a black saint and had the initial building be in a poorer part of the city. The parish north of town ran a bookshop for years to get a chance to talk to people in the community in a comfortable neutral space. Both of those efforts were missional, but in a very churchish way.

        Amen. This feels real. Organic. Natural. Spiritual. Just like Jesus and the apostles…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Do mainline churches, or the Catholic or Orthodox churches send out a lot of missionaries?

      Lutherans and Methodists certainly do. Catholics certainly do. I have no experience with the Orthodox.

      I imagine there is a lot of regional variation.

      > And I’m not talking about charitable works where the name of Jesus never comes us,

      I am irritated by the tone of this assertion [*1]: if the name of the church is on the wall and door – at least in America 99.44% of people know what that means – the religious affiliation is clear. It is clear enough that at civic meetings there are anti-religion people to complain about it. People aren’t stupid, they don’t need to be clubbed on the head with what is obvious. And who says it doesn’t come up when people talk to each other as individuals?

      [*1] A tone you perhaps do not intent – but this is close to the tired Anti-Social-Gospel trope – the Social Gospel is THE ONLY GOSPEL. There is no Asocial Gospel. If all someone wants to do is TALK AT ME – they do not love me – and they can kiss off – which is exactly how most people respond and how they SHOULD respond.

      > there much encouragement in the churches to talk with your neighbors about Jesus
      > Christ or invite them to a worship service?

      You are setting the bar far too high. The ***VAST*** majority of Americans cannot even NAME their ~8 neighbors. And, yes, this is something many churches talk about. Churches are best to start with the challenge: “If you are to love your neighbor as yourself is it too much to ask to know their name?”. When I hear this call it is often so nebulous and undirected it feels like a check-the-box formality [even in Evangelical churches]. Hospitality must precede Evangelism, back to that Social Gospel thing.

      • No need to get irritated Adam. What I was trying to get across is that most churches I know of do charitable works to some extent or another. But it is possible to do charitable works, call it missions, and never have a conversation with someone about who Jesus is, or what they believe. And so my question was to what extent do non-evangelical churches emphasize the need for the gospel to be preached to non-Christians, and how much effort is put into seeing that it gets preached to those who aren’t Christians.
        I am not saying, however, that we should only do good works for people if we have the opportunity to talk to them about Jesus. We should do good irregardless, simply out of love for neighbor.

        • But it is possible to do charitable works, call it missions, and never have a conversation with someone about who Jesus is, or what they believe.


        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I think we actually are in complete agreement.

        • Dana Ames says


          a lot of times we say the word “gospel” thinking that we all understand the same thing. Just so we’re on the same page, would you say specifically what you understand “the gospel” to be? Then I can give you more information from the Orthodox angle of things.

          The “tract” to which Mule provided a link is good; it’s also a bare minimum outline. What the Orthodox Church believes is most clearly articulated in its worship, and that to which it ultimately calls people is worship of the One True God, not simply holding the right ideas about Jesus in our brain. We don’t have dozens of volumes of Systematic Theology (although we do have many books on theology); what we have, and reference all the time, are dozens of volumes on how to pray in our worship services.


          • To put it as briefly as I can, when I say gospel, I mean the story of Jesus, so it would include his birth, his life, his death on the cross for our sins, and his victory over sin and death in his resurrection. It would also include the truth that Jesus is Lord and forgiveness of sin, redemption, reconciliation with God, and adoption as God’s children are found in him. But when sharing the gospel it is probably not realistic to cover everything. It is more likely that a part of the gospel gets shared, usually his death on the cross and resurrection, and the forgiveness that can be found in him. Unfortunately people often just stop there and never consider the whole gospel and the implications it has for our lives and what it means to follow Christ.
            I read the link from Mule and much of what is said sounds a lot like what I’ve always heard, and some is quite different. Obviously the sacramental portion is quite different from what would be taught in an evangelical church.

            • Dana Ames says

              Thanks, Jon.

              Orthodox missionaries, like what Tokah wrote about above and the Alaskan monks I mentioned, would have no problem with any of the words you’re saying. The thing is, we understand Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins in a different way, and probably redemption and reconciliation, too.

              We believe God the Holy Spirit is everywhere present, and that God is always working to bring people to himself. We believe redemption will eventually extend to everything on this earth (Rom 8 – all creation groaning, waiting for redemption to be completed in humans). We believe that God has forgiven us all along, and that the Cross is the fullest display of that forgiveness. We don’t see the Cross as the Father punishing Jesus in any way. We believe that the most important thing from which we are saved is the nothingness of death, because it is the fear of death which enslaves us to sin (Heb 2). God in Christ has done all the reconciling and has opened the door; all that remains for us is to put one foot in front of the other as we walk through it and beyond it, into his kingdom, constantly turning to Jesus. So, much of the same vocabulary, but with some very different definitions of terms. We recognize dramatic conversions happen, but we don’t restrict God’s work regarding conversion in general, and we don’t have anything like a “sinner’s prayer” that we encourage people to pray. We want to bring them to Baptism, which we believe actually does something.

              In terms of the sacramental life – well, we live in a material world and God became a material man in that material world, so that we could experience him in every aspect of our lives, including the material. We believe something actually happens with the sacraments – which we don’t restrict to seven; it’s not simply ideas, and it’s not simply “an outward sign of inward grace.” If you want to contemplate this further, try reading Fr Stephen’s latest blog post from 6 July. It may be a bit of a challenge for you because he takes on some Protestant theology, but as long as I’ve been reading him he has never disparaged Protestant people, and believes his Baptist father-in-law was a Saint 🙂


          • Burro [Mule] says

            One thing I’ve always wanted to do – set up a big icon of our Lord and another of our Lady and sit down between them with a big box of fresh donuts and a barrel of fresh coffee on a cool morning.

            There is a guy about my age, some kind of Evangelical, who waves a Bible and preaches in a designated corner at GSU downtown Atlanta. No one listens to him. I wonder if anyone would talk to me, or what I would say to him/her. I’m not a big conversionist, and am pretty OK with people being “born once”, as long as the devils aren’t chewing them up alive.

            • Adam Tauno Williams says

              > I wonder if anyone would talk to me,

              People do this where I live. I talk to them sometimes. They don’t have Icons, but Placards; always placards. I feel your Icons would be more inviting than sometimes off-putting words. Icons are Art – I could ask about the interpretation, which makes the space for words, vs. words on placards which are already the message.

              But a lot of if I stop to talk to someone will be determined mostly by Them – do they look angry or aggressive or are they relaxed. A messenger send forth by a god should look relaxed; I mean – your boss is a god!

              And there is if my coffee mug is empty or full. And what kind of donuts.

      • +11111

  11. “But I couldn’t help but think of many veterans who dreaded the experience of hearing those explosions and reliving memories no one should have.”

    My husband and I say the same thing each year. We live in a valley where some people think it’s just great to set off the loudest possible fireworks for every summer holiday – a few even use thermite. It rocks our houses, but the police tell us it’s legal. I think of the veterans and others who are affected by such loud booms as well as all the woodland creatures. It shouldn’t oughta be.

  12. We don’t live by the ocean…but near enough! That’s why we’ll never leave SoCal…love that ocean air and breeze…but not the crowds so much. Take the good with the inconvenience! It’s also why we tend to vacation in spots on/neat water (sea, lake, etc).
    We head to the east coast all the time (both kids live there) but we always have to get lobster rolls! That’s putting it mildly. Addicting.
    As to the 4th…celebrated on the 2nd w/friends…so ours was quiet, so to speak. But, I look at it as a remembrance, like communion–not equating them, mind you, but remembering our roots, the cost, the depth and struggle it was to become an independent country.
    Raised evangelical/fundie, so can understand most of this conversation, esp now that we’re at an ELCA church. Glad I didn’t raise our kids to celebrate a one time event…but an ongoing conversion, of repentance, renewal, grace.
    I find that living life daily Jesus-shaped (fail, but…)…amazing how many opportunities there are for giving someone a cup of cold water and truth.
    That’s my latest thing…doing things (cup of cold water ) to those who cannot ‘repay’.
    BTW, been reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren–irony here: an evangelical friend gave it to me, knowing I love liturgy, saying she was reading it and didn’t get it…so passed it on to me. Love it so far…she’s got a good sense of humor (a necessity for me), but stating what should be obvious, yet to so many isn’t. Good reminder of our daily practice.

  13. Christiane says

    something for ‘W’ who cares for the animals; I think he will like this:

  14. Someday I hope we can have a discussion about what “conversion” actually is or means. With everyone honestly admitting their biases and assumptions to the term, the goals, etc. I think that would be fruitful for us all.

    • David Cornwell says

      Good idea. Because it can have many meanings, and it would be good to recognize the differences.

    • Yes. I think evangelical ideas about it are vastly different than those of many other churches. It is very bewildering for, say, folks who grew up in any of the liturgical churches when they encounter the various evangelical interpretation of “the gospel” lowercase to differentiate it from the Gospels), because so much of it is at odds with what they believe, how they talk about and approach God. Now that I’ve been out of the melee for almost 15 years, I’m finding the evangelical approaches that I’ve encountered to be hard to square with what i now believe. (Which is based in the ecumenical Creeds, mainly.)

      The language and catchphrases bother me a lot, too, partly because i used them so much at one time. Even after my exit, i had to work through things that were, as i saw it, challenges to my faith, like using the historical-criticsl method and similar. Once I started allowing myself to choose the freedom to think and learn… well, there’s been no going back. Though I’m not a churchgoer, I’ve got to ssy that the Lutherans and Methodists I’ve talked with (both clergy and lay) have been, every one of them, far kinder and more merciful and understanding than many of the evangelicals I knew – “leaders” especially, whose whole focus seemed to be on nobody ever being good enough for God.

      Personally…. I could never believe in the love of God during all those years inside that world. But I do now.

  15. Good to see David Cornwell here today.

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