Thursday, April 29, 2010

The (Evangelical) Search for Noah's Ark

Two days ago, a group of Turkish and Chinese evangelical Christians declared with 99.9% certainty that timbers and compartments that they had found on Mt. Ararat in Turkey were, after carbon dating placed their age at 4800 years, from Noah's Ark.

Despite that claim, a number of rebuttals have appeared as well over the past few days. Some have said that this was a hoax perpetuated by this very same group of evangelicals.

The search for Noah's ark is nothing new. Much has been made about Mt. Ararat ever since a Soviet satellite detected an image on Mt. Ararat that had the appearance of a massive boat. In 1977, some climbers even reported finding timbers that were quite old. Even Turkish folk legends talk about a mysterious object lurking on that mountain. But what is the evidence?

Though the Book of Genesis does say that Noah's ark rested on Mt. Ararat (8:4), this particular scriptural verse has also some interesting other variants in the apparatus criticus, where Armenia has even been suggested in place of Ararat and that even the singular word "mountain" should be read "mountains" instead.

Even if the accepted reading of the Scripture is kept and the other readings glossed over as incorrect, what do we make of this "discovery." For me, personally, I think it is a hoax and a fabrication. I could spend a lot of time on that, but I won't. However, another thought has occurred to me.

Why is that Evangelicals are so interested in finding the Ark? Will its discovery somehow "prove" God to the rest of the unbelieving world? Will its discovery somehow "prove" that Scripture is absolutely correct and infallible? Perhaps, in their mind, such will ensue.

But, why then do Evangelicals shun relics or call them superstitious? Why do they ridicule pious Catholics and Orthodox who venerate such relics as "proofs" of God's divine love and compassions for us? Are these relics of great saints not as valuable as the ark? Why the difference and, dare I say, hypocrisy on the issue? Is Noah's Ark not a relic? It certainly fits the criterion!

I would really like to have an Evangelical respond to me on this.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The 10-90 problem

It has become a fact as well as a proverbial statement that 10% of the population which belongs to a volunteer organization such as a church or philanthropic group does 90% of the work while the other 90% are merely content to have their names on the roll and do nothing about it. This is not merely a church problem; a friend of mine recently commented how the same thing occurs in her honor sorority. And, when it comes to churches, it is not merely an Orthodox problem or a Catholic problem or a Lutheran problem, but this 10-90 problem is one that seems to pervade ALL churches.

I was the youth advisor for several years at my church. I had to leave that post for a number of reasons which I won't get into. The current advisors are great people who, unfortunately, have to leave and thus their positions as advisors will become open again. I have already been approached by various people in the church to take over again once these two great people leave. Before I answered "no" (and that was going to be my only answer), I asked who were the others that they considered. They said that no one else was considered. I asked why not. They replied that since I had done it before that I was the person who should do it again, that I had good rapport with the teens, that I was young, that I had nothing else to do (which was a blatant falsehood and they know it), etc.. So, rather than actually try to find people who could really step into the role permanently (which I am not able to do), they just settled on me because I am so active in the church. I went so far as to ask them why they would not consider taking the job. They returned with the same answers of not having enough time, having other commitments, they are not spiritually "cut out for it" (whatever that means), etc.. I think I was asked by at least five different people and I then asked these five different people what precluded them from doing it. Each gave pretty much the same answer.

10% do the work for the other 90% and 100% benefit. Now, I'm not going to reduce this to communist/socialist/capitalist diatribe. But, let's say that even if we get 50% of the church to contribute, what about the other 50%? Are we still doing the full work of the church? The answer is no. In an earlier relationship I had with a young woman, I told my therapist that I would be content with a 60/40 split of work, but 50/50 would be ideal. She looked at me, shook her head and said "Why can't both of you put in 100%?" I never looked at relationships the same way. And isn't that what we are dealing with here--relationship with the Lord and His Church? Is anything acceptable except 100%?

We all know the problem. Why does it come about? I think that the reasons are too many to list, but here's my diagnosis. 1) The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical church and too many people think that unless you are clergy, your role is limited to standing in the church on Sundays, maybe chanting or singing in the choir and that's it. 2) People always just do the bare minimum. Too many people want their names on a membership roll but will do nothing to contribute to that organization. They just want the association. (side note: I remember when I sponsored the Latin Club at my previous job, I always had way more members than those who actually participated. Still, those kids who didn't particpated went ahead and listed it on their college transcripts and such. I remember an admissions officer from a private college called me once and wanted to talk to me about this student's invovlement in my class and in Latin club. Though I gave him high marks about his performance in my class, I was honest with the admissions officer and said that he did next to nothing in the Latin Club and really wasn't a member at all. This particular student was not accepted to this elite college for making a false statement on his application). 3) Our invovlement with church stops at the church itself. I am sure that there are hundreds of other reasons why this phenomenon occurs. Now, what do we do about it?

First, let me provide some ways NOT to about it. A pastor using the pulpit and trying to guilt or shame people into doing the church's work on earth won't ever work. That isn't to say that the pulpit shouldn't be used to encourage them, but it should always be framed by the Gospel. As Christ has done so many things for you (i.e. the incarnation, the cross, the grave, the third day Resurrection, the ascension into Heaven, the sitting at the Right Hand, the sending down of the Spirit and the Second and Glorious Coming) and has done these things because He loves you, what little thing can you do to show Him that you also love Him? Second, a church should never operate like a country club where you have to be a dues paying member to take advantage of that country club. When the church starts operating like that, then Judas Iscariot's rebuke of the woman who annointed Christ's feet with the expensive perfume which cost over 300 pieces of silver has become our mantra. Third, make it very clear that not everyone is cut out for all jobs. Some are called to be priests, others to be teachers, others to be evangelists, others to paint, others to sing, others to intercede. In other words, don't just get someone to fill the post--get the RIGHT person.

Now, how to close this 10-90 gap, I really don't have any bright ideas. All I know is that if you try to guilt people or remind them all the time, whether lovingly or not, the problems will persist. But I would really like to see what would happen if the 10% decided not to do what they have committed themselves to, if only for a week. What would happen?

Fortunately, the Church is so much bigger than we are and it will endure. As Christ promised, "The Gates of hades will not prevail against Her."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pascha and Bright Week--the aftermath

Last Sunday, I was one of many faithful who gathered at the Dormition of St. Mary Church in Omaha, NE at 5:30 a.m. to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ which gave us victory over sin and death. It was nothing short of a glorious day. The solemnity and the extra vigil and extra prayers during Holy Week only made the glorious truth that we proclaim all year round on every Sunday all the more heartfelt.

But now, where do we go? For those of us, like myself as I am a chanter, we start to feel a disconnect because we are not in church as much. As you acclimate yourself to the extra time spent in prayer and meditation over the Scriptures, it seems that I am left in want of more now that Holy Week and Pascha are over. I do not belong to a church which offers daily services or even mid week services unlike a growing number of Orthodox churches in the Antiochian Archdiocese around this nation. So, aside from my own efforts at home, I am left starving for more. I know that it would be impossible to offer daily services at our church since hardly anyone comes to Orthros or Vespers on the weekend as it is now! But, I know that I would benefit greatly.

Why is it that I find such difficulty with basking in the joy of Pascha? Why is it that I cannot continue the joy I find throughout Holy Week and culminating in Pascha into Bright Week and beyond? The words with which we begin every prayer from Pascha through Ascension should be enough to fill even the hardest of hearts with joy. Those words reflect our whole theology: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! So, why isn't that enough for me?

If anyone has some great ideas for me, let me know. I'm not kidding.