Monday, October 01, 2007

Beards

Frederica.com - Writings - - Men and Church Orthodox theologian Frederica Matthewes-Green summarizes her thoughts on why Eastern Orthodoxy is so appealing to men, as compared to most of mainstream Roman Catholicism (in America), mainline Protestantism and (according to the article) evangelical Protestantism as well. The article is based on her conversations with several adult converts to Orthodoxy.

It's a great piece, and despite some problems (for instance, way too much machismo and macho stereotyping. "Butt-kicking?" Come on! And why is it necessarily admirable that female saints in the tradition have been given masculine attributes? Because masculinity is better? The only way to be truly Christian? Femininity is defective? Lesser? "Passive" therefore worse? I'm not too sure about the history either -- the eclipsing of the masculine goes back to the rise of the idea of romantic and courtly love and chivalry in the 1200s?), I think is right on the money -- men do need a challenge, and the whole idea of spiritual warfare has, it seems, disappeared from mainstream American Roman Catholicism. (I don't know about other places in the world. I suspect the rest of the West is similar) It needs what George Weigel (or was it Fr. Neuhaus?) called John Paul II's invitation to the "high adventure" of Catholicism. Holiness, and not just warm fuzzies.

I'm curious how the male/female participation thing plays out in ethnically Orthodox places -- both in the US and elsewhere in the world. The perception of adult converts -- those who might be more intentionally committed to discipleship -- would be, I suspect, different from "cultural" or "ethnic" practitioners of the faith.

The folks interviewed also seemed rather put off by the sentimentality of evangelical Christianity -- and while this certainly can be cloying, I don't know that it necessarily is a detriment to male participation in intentional evangelical churches. I don't know though -- my experience and exposure to evangelicalism is somewhat limited. It would be interesting to hear what evangelicals, or evangelically minded Catholics think of this.

The whole idea of male-female complementarity runs through the piece -- something that needs to be properly recovered (and not just to reinforce historic patriarchy), something again that Pope John Paul highlighted in his teaching, especially on the Petrine and Marian dimension of spirituality.

Something else that really hit home for me: the characterization of Orthodox worship -- as objective, and focused on God, not on the individual, and suspicious of feelings. (I don't know that there needs to be a sharp either/or here, but yes, perhaps in the modern West we've gone way too far to the "it's all about me and how I feel" extreme.) I suspect this is true of adult converts who come to appreciate the beauty and rigor of Orthodox worship (and the same would apply, obviously, to the Eastern Catholic rites) -- but again, I suspect that the heart of the matter is committed discipleship. Orthodox ritual can easily become "mere ritual" and boring mumbo-jumbo if the ties to the faith are purely cultural or ethnic. The same is true, of course, of Catholicism as well.

Of course it's not just the "manliness" that's attractive -- the focus should be (and is, the article posits) on Christ.

And that, I think, is the real heart of the matter. This idea of the spiritual life as the imitation of Christ, as a challenging adventure and growth into holiness. For both men and women.

[And can I just say compared to the Orthodox, just how ludicrously lax our fasting practices are?]

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