Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Church as training, not therapy

posted by Rod Dreher

Our parish priest, Father Joseph, is a good preacher. His sermons are practical, but exhortative, and he preaches with such conviction. Today he preached about evangelism, and how there’s far more to it than simply telling people about our faith. The faith has to be lived; our lives themselves should be the best testimony to the truth of our faith. And you cannot really live a Christian life if you don’t pray and read Scripture regularly. Something he said today really hit home with me. I can’t remember the exact line, but he spoke of the necessity of having a “relationship” with God, in such a way that made me think about reading Scripture as like reading letters from God, and prayer as talking with God. Sounds pretty basic, I know, but I then thought about how much time I spend each day reading and writing e-mails, and talking with family, friends and colleagues. Then I thought how comparatively little time I spend talking to God, and reading his “letters” (that is, the Bible). But my relationship with God is the most important one in my life! Or is supposed to be. Yet any objective observer would look at me and conclude that there are many more people who are far more important to me than God.
I’ve got to change my life.
See, I’m grateful for sermons like that one. Father Joe never talks down to people; his effect is one of encouragement, I find. But he clearly sees Church as training in holiness, not therapy. Of course, the authentic Christian life really is therapeutic, in the sense that it comforts us in our sorrows, and heals what’s broken in us. But the way toward healing often involves dying to ourselves, and that kind of therapy can be painful. I really needed to hear what Father Joe said today, for the sake of my soul.
This all goes back to last week’s big to-do over “Catholicism for solipsists.” Father Joe is my pastor. It’s his job to help me stay on the path to salvation. Sometimes that will mean purely comforting me. More often it will involve challenging me to do better, to love more, to pray more, to be more merciful — or, above all, to repent. He knows where I need to be, because he confidently believes in following the path given us in Scripture, and followed by generations and generations of those who have walked it before us. He doesn’t believe he has the right to change it, or to make it up as he goes along, or to allow us to believe that we have the right to pick and choose to believe as we please — because if he did, perhaps we would all be lost in our own selfishness, and that would be partly his fault, as our pastor.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(27)
post a comment
the stupid Chris

posted July 18, 2010 at 6:09 pm


You’re a lucky man, Rod.
Here’s a question for you: What if your pastor wasn’t great? What if your great pastor moved and the new pastor wasn’t great at all?



report abuse
 

John E. - Agn Stoic

posted July 18, 2010 at 6:18 pm


But my relationship with God is the most important one in my life! Or is supposed to be. Yet any objective observer would look at me and conclude that there are many more people who are far more important to me than God.
How does that play out in a marriage?
I think I would not be pleased if I was married to a woman for whom I took second place to anyone.



report abuse
 

Roger C.

posted July 18, 2010 at 6:38 pm


Sometimes it sounds like the Churches of Christ are closer to Orthodoxy than we all think. I’ve heard many sermons about what’s been called “lifestyle evangelism.” Also, we’ve been encouraged to read the Bible every day.
I think of it like tea. The leaves steep in the water for a while, and even when they’re taken out, they leave behind flavors and scents that are now practically inseparable from the water.
Captcha: Emmanuel pretty. Yes, it is a beautiful thing that God came to be with us.



report abuse
 

DeeAnn

posted July 18, 2010 at 6:39 pm


John,
When my husband has God as his first priority, then our relationship is much, much better. When his relationship with God starts slacking, then our relationship suffers. Same for me. When my relationship with God is good then I’m happier in my marriage and little things don’t bother me as much. I’m filled with charity and want to do things for my husband. When I’m ignoring God, then I get discontent and irritated more easily. I think more about myself than others and my relationships suffer.
that’s at least how it works for my marriage.
Good points, Rod.



report abuse
 

Pat

posted July 18, 2010 at 7:04 pm


I can’t help wondering just what you think therapy is. Do you really believe a patient undergoing physical therapy, or an abuse victim undergoing psychological therapy, or a person with mental illness struggling with their delusions or depression, achieves health by sitting around being coddled?
Anyone who uses ‘therapy’ purely as a pejorative synonym for self-indulgence has not broken as many bones as I have, that’s for sure.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted July 18, 2010 at 8:00 pm


Re: I think I would not be pleased if I was married to a woman for whom I took second place to anyone.
Even your children??



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted July 18, 2010 at 8:15 pm


Rod: I then thought about how much time I spend each day reading and writing e-mails, and talking with family, friends and colleagues. Then I thought how comparatively little time I spend talking to God, and reading his “letters” (that is, the Bible)
Yes, that’s it. The “with” vs “to”. My problem exactly. Simplex vs duplex channels (to relate it to a prior post). God never answers. Of course He and I may not be on the same frequency.
Then again, He invented the frequencies. Strange.
I gave up calling. Last time I said, ring back when you get a minute. Nothing. Well, if the phone don’t ring you’ll know it ain’t Him.



report abuse
 

Fr. J

posted July 18, 2010 at 8:47 pm


All good thoughts, Rod. And I agree with you that Fr. Joseph is a good preacher, based on the one experience I’ve had hearing him preach.



report abuse
 

John E. - Agn Stoic

posted July 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm


Even your children??
Oh yeah, mind you we don’t have any, but definitely I’d expect that my wife and I would put our relationship with each other above that of our relationship with our children.
Roland, totally get what you are saying about the simplex/duplex thing.



report abuse
 

Indy

posted July 18, 2010 at 9:18 pm


Hmm, quantity vs. quality. Seems to me that no one template will fit. Look at the extreme cases, such as Robert Hanssen, a convert to Catholicism who attended church nearly every day and was involved with Opus Dei. Yet he betrayed his country through espionage. That is something that is unthinkable to most of us, including people who may not be exposed as frequently to the word of God as he was, but who may live good Christian lives, nonetheless. Hanssen obviously was an exception, something has to be really wrong, perhaps unreachable, inside someone who betrays his country like that, church or no church.
As to your larger point, the goals are difference between emailing people (often shallow or superficial), talking to friends and family (sometimes shallow, sometimes deep), and reading the Bible (usually for deep reasons)? Is time allocated the best way to look at it? I dunno. As we managers know, the best employees are the self motivated, self starters to whom you can assign a project and know they will work away at it conscietiously whether they are observed or not. The highest maintenance employees are the ones who need constant stroking, feedback, reassurance, hand holding. Most people are somewhere in between, you accept them for what they are, coach them to the extent they are coachable, and differentiate among them.
In matters of faith, for some, it may be like new sod and young trees–shallow roots require frequent watering. Established lawns and older trees can stand a bit of drought because they are so well established. But a sustained lack of rain will harm them. As in so many things, I don’t think you can reduce it to a formula, x amount of time with family, y with friends, and z attending to your faith. We humans just are too different and varied to have formulas work very well. That’s why for some it’s quality time versus frequency, for others frequency works best.



report abuse
 

Cannoneo

posted July 18, 2010 at 9:35 pm


Interesting. My pastor sometimes preaches on how what we do at church is “practice” (kind of like sports or music practice) for living out God’s will in every other phase of our lives.
I don’t think the claim that religious teaching is ultimately subservient to my conscience, entails a merely therapeutic religion. This is because my sense of a conscience is a much more profound thing than the entity I think you are referring to. For one thing, it is decidedly not the sum of my desires; often it constricts my desires, in ways it learned at church. For another, it is socially formed; it is not just mine.
I do not find it possible to isolate church, among the many institutions that influence me, and give it exclusive reign over my moral and spiritual life, nor even my relationship to God. More, *I don’t think that’s possible or desirable.* I’m not saying we should be eclectics or give ourselves over the the “world.” I’m saying that churches have always gone badly astray in the past, are peopled by fallen people, and I think we have to do the hard work of comparing their teachings to the other sources of wisdom in our life. (Such as experience: so yes, for me, knowing loving gay couples utterly destroys Catholic teaching on sexuality; and scholarship: so learning about the history of same-sex intimacy in and out of the church puts the wisdom built into its tradition into perspective.)
One of the reasons I left Catholicism for a reformed Protestant tradition is that the latter, in its history and its practice, prizes the conscience very highly and accepts the inescapability of individual relationships to even scriptural interpretation.



report abuse
 

Rod Dreher

posted July 18, 2010 at 10:05 pm


Pat, by “therapeutic,” I mean church as a place where you go to learn to feel better about things as they are. See “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” or Philip Rieff’s “Triumph of the Therapeutic.”
Chris:
Here’s a question for you: What if your pastor wasn’t great? What if your great pastor moved and the new pastor wasn’t great at all?
Well, I guess it would depend on how his not-greatness manifested itself. I have had far, far more pastors in my day who were lousy homilists than good ones, so if I get a good sermon, or a pastor who knows how to preach, I consider it a bonus. The sermon, as you know, is not the primary reason we Orthodox (or Catholics) are in church on Sunday. If the not-greatness of the new pastor manifested itself as being nasty, heretical, or otherwise obnoxious, then I’d consider leaving. But being a poor homilist? No, I wouldn’t even think about leaving.



report abuse
 

Jeffersonian

posted July 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm


Rod,
You would do well to read the Bible as if it were a novel. Don’t stop over anything too long, make pencil notes of things to come back to, but go all the way from Genesis to Revelation. Then go into things a little deeper. Believe me, the first time you do that you’ll come away with things you’ve never thought of before. Also, it may be helpful to have a quick prayer beforehand– nothing long, just ask Him to illuminate things for you.
I’ve found that an interdenominational study [like Bible Study Fellowship, they’re world-wide] can put you with like minded people with whom you can be mutually accountable. Spreads the community around a bit too.
The biggest thing to remember is that God asks to be first thing in your life [above comments notwithstanding]. Treat Him like the God He is and you will be so blessed.
One more idea– read the Bible to your kids. Maybe a simpler version for your daughter but your boys should be able to handle listening to the full version in short chunks



report abuse
 

CAP

posted July 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm


at a personal level, i was brought up to believe that when you go to church, that you are supposed to get knocked around a little bit. and that a good preacher will pop your worldly conceits and vanities like a balloon. that doesn’t mean that they are to belittle you per se, but rather challenge you. challenge you to walk the walk of the christian life. by deed, and not just word (or imagination.)
if your pastor is like a spiritual coach, who do you think will better guide you to victory; someone like vince lombardi, or someone who tells you how well you swung the bat after you struck out on three pitches.



report abuse
 

JB

posted July 19, 2010 at 9:26 am


Interestingly, I think the less orthodox versions of Christianity have less of a problem with the “put God first” concept. If God is a person-like entity, then He or She competes in the same realm as family members for your allegiance and attention. If God is a force or an Inward Light (as Quakers say), then God is a way of being in the world, and obviously makes all other relationships better.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted July 19, 2010 at 9:34 am


John E,
What if you, your wife, and your child were all being held in a prison camp, and you only were offered one ticket out? Would you give it your wife or your kid?
Even if you answer ‘your wife’, I’d suspect that might change if you actually were to have a kid. People’s whole world view often changes when they have children.



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted July 19, 2010 at 9:53 am


I guess I’ll ask the not-so-obvious question: when did you leave the OCA for the Antiochians?



report abuse
 

Rod Dreher

posted July 19, 2010 at 9:58 am


I didn’t. I’m worshiping at an Antiochian parish now. Orthodoxy doesn’t really work that way, in which you formally leave one jurisdiction for another. I guess it might work that way, but because we’re all in communion with each other, it’s not like you formally leave one for the other. We go to this particular parish because we like it and we have friends there.



report abuse
 

the stupid Chris

posted July 19, 2010 at 10:08 am


…when did you leave the OCA for the Antiochians?
The question seems wrongly framed, RdC. Orthodox jurisdictions aren’t like Protestant denominations, those who are Orthodox are in full communion with everyone else who is Orthodox. So it’s not possible to “leave” one “for” another, but it is possible to attend at any.
And Rod moved…so his parish would necessarily change, the commute to Texas being pretty tough. ;-)



report abuse
 

John E. - Agn Stoic

posted July 19, 2010 at 11:13 am


Hector, actually I considered a similar scenario after watching “Sophie’s Choice”. I’d tell the prison guards that I would not participate in their head games and either we all go or none of us go.
In my view, participating in a ‘pick one’ scenario makes one culpable in the prison’s twisted game.



report abuse
 

Roland de Chanson

posted July 19, 2010 at 11:38 am


Rod and Chris,
I didn’t mean “leave” in the sense of one denomination of protestantism for another — you’re right Chris, the question was poorly framed. I understand about the various jurisdictions being in communion with one another. But it is unusual in my experience, for example, for a Serb to switch to a ROCOR or one of the various Ukrainian jurisdictions when a Serbian parish is nearby. But I suppose the decreasing ethnicity of both the OCA and AOCANA tends to blur the distinctions in the traditions. But it probably makes counting heads a nightmare.
I just thought it unusual that Rod would attend an Antiochian parish given the several OCA parishes (including the diocesan cathedral) in the greater metropolitan area. No need to commute to Dallas at all. ;-)



report abuse
 

Karl G

posted July 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm


Those are good words, but I’d push them one step father from there to fully actualize evangelism- prayers aren’t limited to verbal appeals to someone else to lend a supernatural hand, and scripture isn’t limited to a stack of books that have been abused by generations of editors and translators. The scripture that most needs to be studied is that which is written on every aspect of creation, the prayers that are most needed are best expressed by working to change the world for the better.
That’s the heart of the evangelical spirit- seeking out the divine in the places where it has been hidden, and using what resources you have to help reveal it in the world. You can’t force or coerce people to believe, you need to provide an example for them to follow instead.



report abuse
 

the stupid Chris

posted July 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm


RdC.
Gotcha. You’ve put your finger on things with this: I suppose the decreasing ethnicity of both the OCA and AOCANA tends to blur the distinctions in the traditions.
What’s happening all over, not just OCA and AOCANA, is that the Orthodox churches are becoming more-and-more American with each generation. There are still immigrant parishes where the “old language” is spoken, and I expect every parish to remain true to its roots and welcome those new immigrants who come from their homeland, but most parishes I’ve seen whether Greek, Antiochian, Russian, OCA and even Serbian now proclaim the Gospel in English, and only a few refuse English, just as only a few are English-only.
De facto the Orthodox Church is one, and most people feel free attending liturgy at the parish that is most convenient to them, regardless of jurisdiction. And some day the Bishops will follow the people to unification that preserves the ethnic heritage of each congregation. One would not expect any parish to relegate their founders to the memory hole.



report abuse
 

Pat

posted July 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm


“i was brought up to believe that when you go to church, that you are supposed to get knocked around a little bit.”
I had a pastor who did this. Every week, we heard how god was dissatisfied with us. I finally decided that god didn’t like me and I didn’t like him, and it has taken me several years in an MTD church to reconsider this decision.
Strangely enough, I do much more for the MTD church and my fellow man than I ever did when I went to the scolding church. If you want people to do something, making them feel bad every time they try it is counterproductive.



report abuse
 

Broken Yogi

posted July 19, 2010 at 4:45 pm


“by “therapeutic,” I mean church as a place where you go to learn to feel better about things as they are. See “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” or Philip Rieff’s “Triumph of the Therapeutic.”
Isn’t this an example of “the narcissism of minor differences”?
I mean, the kind of religious message you seem to like also makes you feel better about the way things are. And you keep going back because it makes you feel better, more real, more authentic, more related to God, etc. Sure, there’s probably a subtle difference in what makes you feel better than what makes a MTD type feel better, but it’s not a great difference, and the feeling you both seek isn’t much different either.
So I’m not really clear on why you have to constantly differentiate yourself from the MTD crowd. Isn’t it because the difference is small enough that you have to work really hard to keep it clear? And aren’t you really just a more “conservative” version of the liberal-minded MTD? Sort of like your admission that you’re really more of 19th century liberal than a real conservative. So maybe you’re sort of an early 20th century MTD Christian, looking for a better form of reformed traditional therapy, and trying to differentiate yourself from the more modern MTD types who are more willing to depart from tradition? Both of you have departed from tradition, and even your pastor sounds like a more “liberal” traditionalist than a conservative one.
And let’s face it, Christianity has always been a form of therapy and healing, going back to Jesus. It’s just that it entails a certain ordeal one must go through to feel better. The differences seem rather small, and I don’t see why one always has to counter one’s own version with the other type, as if they are really two entirely separate approaches, only one of them legitimate.



report abuse
 

Pat

posted July 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm


Perhaps the issue at the base of this ‘therapy’ vs ‘training’ thing is whether the effort is inner- or outer-directed. That is, ‘therapy’ is aimed at solving one’s inner problems; ‘training’ is aimed at telling one how to behave outwardly.
Of course, both can be caricatured. The therapeutic christian can be portrayed as concerned only with feeling good and uninterested in action. The muscular christian can be portrayed as using action to avoid dealing with more important underlying issues. This also ties into gender stereotypes.
In the end, though I will always leap to the defense of my religion, I see the distinction as largely vacuous. There are not very many christians out there who are either muscular enough to actually change their modern western lifestyle or therapeutic enough to free themselves from emotional dependence on it. Perhaps the only real benefit any of us get from the categorization is the chance to feel superior to other folks (from whom we could not be distinguished in the slightest by any objective observer).
Perhaps that is my real issue. Rod doesn’t treat any other religion with so much disrespect as mine, and I think it is rude of him. Yeah, he doesn’t want to be mistaken for an MTD. We get it. But I don’t think he wants to be mistaken for muslim or buddhist either, and he doesn’t drag them into unrelated posts in order to make contemptuous throwaway remarks about them. He’d recognize it as inappropriate in someone who is professionally involved in dialog about religion. Why is my religion any different?



report abuse
 

Karl G

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:57 am


Mary and Martha. Jesus covered this ground directly, even if the passage (Luke 10:38-42) is often misread pretty badly.
When Evangelical Martha got fed up with contemplative Mary just sitting around and complained, Jesus reminded her that they each picked their own role, and that she should take a cue from her sister and stop letting her worries about what everyone else was up to distract her from enjoying serving in the way that best suited her.



report abuse
 



Previous Posts

Another blog to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Rod Dreher. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Most Recent Scientology Story on Beliefnet! Happy Reading!!!

posted 3:25:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mommy explains her plastic surgery
In Dallas (naturally), a parenting magazine discusses how easy it is for mommies who don't like their post-child bodies to get surgery -- and to have it financed! -- to reverse the effects of time and childbirth. Don't like what nursing has done to your na-nas? Doc has just the solution: Doctors say

posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the October 12, 2006, entry in which I revealed and explained wh

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to!

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a racist verdict, and a bizarre one -- but there's more t

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.