St. Stephen's Musings

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:: Monday, July 07, 2003 ::

A Beautiful Dance or a Futile Debate?

I reviewed the text I had prepared for Part Three and decided, after several re-writes, to bury it. I couldn't get it worded properly and (with the humble criticism of an Orthodox reader) decided I had said enough to make my point and should just let it go.

In place of Part Three I thought I'd post excerpts from a very lively and engaging series of emails I received from said Orthodox reader about some of the sentiments I shared in Part Two. In the past, I have written about the issues my critic was concerned about. IMO, they are worth considering and praying about on a regular basis.

I will warn you: this is a rather long post. However, our discussion brings up a series of intriguing and challenging questions that I think you'll find thought provoking if you stay till the end. So, here we go:

The reader first wrote, "I was quite bothered by this sentence from
your most recent blog entry:

'this advice shows the humility the Orthodox have toward missions in particular, and evangelism in general.'

"With all due respect, I wonder how humble it is to point out the humility of the group to which one belongs."

I responded, "True. I could have worded that a bit better. However, as Lewis once said, a beautiful women who calls herself ugly isn't humble...she's a liar. In 6 years of being Orthodox, I have yet to meet in any Orthodox missionary, OCMC speaker, or anyone speaking about evangelism from an Orthodox perspective, the kind of pride seen in the handbook I linked to. Not only does Orthodox *teaching* about evangelism "show this humility" but those who incarnate these teachings [live out lives of authentic holiness]."

"In a culture that reeks of inauthenticity and false humility I think telling the truth about ourselves even if it may come across as "prideful" is more authentic. But perhaps the best tool is simply silence.....which means, among other things, none of us should be having blogs at all."

He wrote back saying, "It is true that a beautiful woman ought not to call herself ugly, but a woman who finds the need to tell the world how beautiful she is while pointing out the ugliness of others ought not to have spoken in the first place. I am not disagreeing with your assessment of Orthodox missionaries and Orthodox teaching about missions, but the best way to combat another's pride is most certainly not by proclaiming one's own vaulted level of humility."

I responded, "I guess my question is: What is the purpose of dialogue if we can't call a spade a spade? If we can't acknowledge when one group, one church, one idea, one theology is in fact more true and containing more fullness than another? Is it inherently sinful to acknowledge when something is closer to truth? I guess I don't feel insulted if someone claims that their teaching is more ___, *if in fact it is true.*Even if humility is the fill-in-the-blank virtue."

"I'd be the first to concede that my 78 year old died in the wool Baptist grandmother is more humble than me. She even recognizes it! But neither her, nor my, recognition of this truth in no way nullifies her humility....while at the same time, it doesn't mean that her church's handbook is something that should go unrefuted."

He wrote back, "...all that I am concerned about [is] thumping Protestants over the head with the greatness of our own humility as opposed to their (or at least one man's) seeming lack of it....When I see things like this I can't help but read this as, Protestants are bad, bad, bad. We Orthodox, on the other hand, are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.....I suppose as well that I even wonder about the usefulness of this so-called dialogue with Protestants and, as is probably less the case for us, Roman Catholics."

"Sometimes I wonder what effect there would be if we (at least we hardly-out-of-the-cradle, blogging converts who are often the least qualified to wave the theological banners of Orthodoxy) used the time spent in actively seeking to dialogue with Protestants to help remove the burdens of those who need such help, for instance through feeding the homeless or something similar. Surely that would be a much more worthwhile Orthodox witness in the world then the countless and often futile debates in which we so many times find ourselves."

"Not only that, but we would at the same time fulfill an apostolic mandate and one of Christ Himself. And I am aware that we must be always ready to give an answer to anyone who demands an account of the hope that is within us, but I am not so sure that this sanctions actively seeking out Protestants for the purposes of 'dialogue' (which in most cases really means debate) or having a weblog for such a purpose or whatever."

I responded, "I guess I'm curious then: why did you take the time to write me in the first place then? Wouldn't it have been better for you to take your own advice and simply say the Jesus Prayer and let it go in silence?"

"You've pointed out where I may have been a bit on the callous and triumphalistic side. And you have a good point. It is something I need to think about a bit more and continue to pray that I won't come across this way. However, I have done the exact same [as you have to me] in regards to the Baptist handbook; asking that this man consider his words and rethink the way he presents them. What's the difference?"

"From where I sit, I am much more edified having had this discussion with you. It gives me an opportunity to think, to pray, to reorder my thoughts etc....I don't know the writer of the Baptist handbook personally. He may be a holy man. But it doesn't matter. His words were wrong and I felt they needed a bit of correction. You don't know me personally. I may be a holy man. But it doesn't matter. My words needed a bit of correction. It is all a beautiful dance."

So here are my questions for you, the reader:

1) I have always maintained there is a huge distinction between the ideas a person holds and the person themselves. Is this a fair distinction? Is it useful? Due to the highly emotional subject matter, is communication and ecumenical dialogue possible without it?

2) Are maintaining true humility and pointing out another's errors (including one's own!) mutually exclusive activities? Is the statement "I am humble" an oxymoronic assertion along the lines of "there is no absolute truth" other words, are you cutting the epistemological (or in this case, moral) foundation from beneath you the minute you utter the words?

3) Along those lines, does your answer to #2 change if you are stating, not that *you* yourself are humble, but that you have more tools with which you can achieve humility? Can this be both a true and humble statement at the same time?

4) Since text is by nature confrontational (and most of the time) impersonal, blogs that are explore ecumenical dialogue seem to have a combative edge to them almost by definition. How do we go about maintaining both an authentic and robust defense of truth, while at the same time making sure not to lead others into stumbling? Or was my critic correct is stating that, perhaps for us bloggers, the task is next to impossible?

5) Without non-verbal communicative clues, is it even possible for both humility and a healthy, intense discussion of ideas to coexist in the blogosphere?

I could think of several other questions, but I'll let you fill in the rest....Thoughts?

:: Karl :: 1:47:00 PM [Link] ::

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