Greetings in the Name of the Lord. I’m the guy in the black dress that was tapping on the window of your car at 5:45am. And, yeah, I know: when you’re sitting in your car with nothing on but your underwear, a priest is pretty much the last person you want to see. But, in the future, if you refrain from parking behind churches, you’ll significantly lower the odds of that kind of encounter.
This time around, Editor Scott Coleman has asked us to select, from the Bible, the specific teaching of Christ Jesus that we believe is “most important today”. The question suggests that our Lord and Master is someone like Albert Einstein or Blaise Pascal or Aristotle—a great thinker or teacher or philosopher who has left behind a body of writing from which we can draw insights or principles that apply to our current cultural situation. That’s certainly the way a lot of folks think of Christ Jesus. But it’s a mistaken approach.
It’s time for another round of Bad Theology. Bad Theology happens when we say ridiculous things about the Most Holy Trinity. And, a lot of times, that ridiculous talk comes from pastors and preachers. For example, the Reverend Joel Osteen, one of the most high profile religious figures in North America, often says things like this: ‘God wants you to be successful in every area of your life. God wants you to prosper in your career, in your relationships, in your health, and in your finances’.
In his assignment for this roundtable, Editor Harrison Funk has abbreviated a passage of Holy Scripture in a way that’s very common. Harrison asked us to “talk about (1st) Timothy 6:10”; then he added: “Is money truly the root of all evil?” But what First Timothy 6:10 actually says is this: “the love of money is the root of all evil.” And that’s a big difference.
When I was a kid, one of the congregations my family attended had a fairly small sanctuary. We sat close to the back, but, just a couple of pews down and to our left, there was an older man who sat at the end of a pew, right under a tall stained-glass window. He was a friendly guy, but he was also a life-long bachelor, so he was just about always by himself. And whenever the pastor began his sermon, the man would lean over against the end of the pew and promptly go to sleep.
This time around, our Roundtable Question is very Protestant: “Is baptism required for salvation in heaven, or can repentance be enough?” It’s a Protestant question because until the 16th century, it never occurred to anyone that baptism and repentance and salvation were somehow separate. The Church has always taught that, through the water of baptism, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forgive our sins and promise to love us forever.
So, mindfulness is apparently, once again, a thing. I wasn’t aware that it had made a comeback until last month when I saw a story promoting a network news anchor’s books on the subject. But the comeback is a big one: Google, Aetna, and Goldman Sachs have all had mindfulness programs for a while—in fact, several sources report that mindfulness training is now a billion dollar industry. That means this method is going to eventually filter down to the level of school districts and municipalities and hospitals and big-box retailers, and that, for the next decade or so, any group that needs to fill up a few hours with some sort of ‘professional/personal development’ will be taught how this technique can help them achieve “calm, focus, and happiness.”
So, our question for the first Roundtable of 2018 is about science and faith: “can they coexist in religious rhetoric?” The short answer is “Sure, they can”—and we’ll demonstrate how that works in this very column.
At this point, I think we’ve pretty much all lost track. There was Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, and then there was Mark Halperin and Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey and Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer…and by the time this column makes it into print, most likely some other famous person will have been outed as a sexual predator.
I didn’t have to think long at all about this particular Round Table topic: ‘What is the most commonly asked question you receive and how do you answer it?’ That’s an easy one for me, but I’ll need a moment to set it up for all you folks who aren’t Orthodox.