Abilene Christian University

GREEK ORTHODOX LEADER EXPLAINS WHAT THE CHURCH IS AND ISN’T

By Loretta Fulton

“What Makes Us Orthodox” could be read as a question, or it could be taken as an affirmation.

The speaker for a forum at Abilene Christian University Oct. 12 chose to make it both. The Rev. Dr. Anton Vrame, director of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, described some of the tenets of Orthodoxy, as well as some of the “Nots” of Orthodoxy, as in “Not living in the past.”

He also joked that because Dr. Philip LeMasters, priest at the local St. Luke’s Orthodox Church, was in the audience he could use the word “us” in the title of his talk. Usually, Vrame said, when people think of the Orthodox, they think of the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” or of icons or of lovely vestments.

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Anton Vrame

Vrame led off with what the Orthodox are “not.” They aren’t living in the past, they aren’t defined exclusively by ethnicity, they are not new-age or neo-gnostics, and they are not a church that does not change–although that change may be slow in coming.

Vrame noted that it took the church 120 years to define the appropriate use of art in the church.

As to what the Orthodox are, Vrame said that above all else, they are Christian.

“We fundamentally are Christian,” he said. “We are Christian 24/7.”

The Orthodox also place a high value on the scriptures, church fathers, church councils, and theology.

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” Vrame said. “You can not be a Christian alone.”

The Orthodox believe that the world is a gift from God and therefore is good and that humanity essentially is good. Both are fallen, but both are good. The Orthodox also believe that they are called to serve their neighbors and the world, healing and reconciling.

Orthodox Christians can be found in every part of the world, Vrame said. They are one faith, one church, with many cultures.

“We are truly a global church,” Vrame said.

And wherever the Orthodox have settled, they have adapted to the world around them. An example can be found in the food items that the Orthodox have found to be acceptable during Lenten fasting, including peanut butter in the United States.

“The Americanization has taken place,” Vrame joked.

In a question and answer session following his talk, Vrame was asked about the role of women in Orthodoxy. No women are in leadership roles, he said, but women are involved in all other aspects of church life and many of the church’s icons are of women saints.

For women to be permitted to take leadership roles would require a major shift in the Orthodox church, Vrame said, but isn’t out of the question.

“It’s an ongoing debate,” he said.

 

 

 

‘GOD DOESN’T KNOW BOUNDARIES, JUST POSSIBILITIES,’ LECTURER REMINDS

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By Loretta Fulton

“You were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”

“You were an alien in their land.”

Why does God insist on saying that?

Because God wants his people to remember that they were aliens once and to feel empathy toward the aliens among them. He wants his people to look at those who are different and say, “Here is somebody just like me” because they share a common experience.

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Mark Hamilton

That is a lesson from Deuteronomy that can’t be ignored, Mark Hamilton, an Abilene Christian University professor of Old Testament, said during a session at ACU’s Summit 2017, held Sept. 17-20.

Theme for Summit was “Ancient Scripture, Future Church,” based on reflections from Deuteronomy. If anyone is tempted to dismiss the Old Testament as “old,” Hamilton has a reminder–Christians are a community that inherited Deuteronomy, and other Old Testament writings, as part of their value system.

“We take these texts very seriously,” Hamilton said.

So, what does that mean for today’s Christians? Hamilton recalled that when he was a 12-year-old living in western Arkansas, Fort Chaffee became the home to 25,000 refugees from the Vietnam War, which ended April 30, 1975.

“We came face to face with the reality of immigration,” Hamilton said.

The church he and his family attended worshipped with the refugees in old World War II barracks at Fort Chaffee. As a 12-year-old faithful Christian, Hamilton said he felt an obligation to meet with the strangers, worshipping, singing, and sharing the gospel. He thought that’s the way it was supposed to be.

“And, I still think that’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” Hamilton said.

His belief jibes with the texts in Deuteronomy that he cited. The book is filled with examples of how God intends for his people to interact with the aliens among them. There is nothing vague or abstract about them, Hamilton noted.

“You don’t get to oppress people simply because you can, because they’re an outsider,” Hamilton said.

With so much migration today, churches most likely will have an opportunity to be a host to refugees or immigrants in their community. What, Hamilton asked, does it mean to be the host of migrants?

First, ask questions like, “What do you know about God?” rather than making statements like,  “Let me tell you about God.” Both the migrant and the host can learn from that kind of interaction.

The good host isn’t controlling nor does he blame migrants for the problems in his own community or country.

There is challenge, Hamilton said, but also great opportunity with so much migration in the world today. Hamilton told of a friend in Austria who attended a church that was dwindling in numbers. The church prayed for new people, new workers in the life of the church. And, just like that, an influx of Nigerians filled the pews.

“God doesn’t know boundaries,” Hamilton said, “just possibilities.”

 

‘You can’t think your way into holiness,’ Summit speaker advises

 

By Loretta Fulton

The Russian movie “The Stalker” isn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds, a speaker at Summit 2017 ensured, but its premise is pretty scary.

The movie isn’t about the kind of stalker we normally think of, James K.A. Smith, an author, speaker, and philosophy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said. Instead, “the stalker” is a guide through a mysterious room in a post-apocalyptic world where wishes are granted.

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James K.A. Smith

In the movie, the stalker is guiding two people into the room, a writer and a professor, when a question comes to the writer.

“What if I don’t know what I want?” he asks.

The scary part is that “the room” does know what he wants, even if it’s not what he thinks.

“Would you want to step into that room,” Smith asked, “the room that reveals what you really want?”

Smith spoke in four sessions Monday as Summit 2017 got into full swing at Abilene Christian University. Before Summit opened, David Wray, director, predicted that Smith would be a popular speaker.

“He’s one of the ones that young ministers read a lot,” Wray said.

He didn’t disappoint. ACU’s large Chapel on the Hill was packed with students, faculty, and guests for Smith’s first talk, titled, “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.”

“What we really want” can be shaped through practice, Smith said. Practicing “doing good” turns “doing good” into a habit.

“It has become part of who you are,” Smith said.

Just like breathing is automatic, virtue can become automatic through practice. But it takes actual practice, not thinking about doing good in order for virtue to become “second nature.”

“You can’t think you’re way into holiness,” Smith said. “It takes practice.”

Smith urged taking a “liturgical audit” to see what influences your life. Liturgies are not just those practiced in church, he said, but “something you do” that in turn “does something to you.” Liturgies are “heart-calibrating practices,” Smith said.

We need to be attentive to how our hearts are shaped, Smith said. The Apostle Paul got it right, Smith noted, when he gave the Corinthians a bit of advice.

“Be imitators of me,” Paul said, “because I am an imitator of Christ.”

Summit 2017: At ACU lectureship, it’s in with the new, in with old

SummitProgramCoverRead Loretta Fulton’s story in the Abilene Reporter-News about what’s coming this week at Abilene Christian University’s annual Summit. The three-day event features sermons, classes, special events, fellowship and entertainment. The theme this year is based on passages from Deuteronomy. Read more 

Does the church still matter? The world had better hope it does

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ACU professor Randy Harris speaks to a large luncheon crowd at ACU on Aug. 26 about whether the church still matters in today’s culture.

By Loretta Fulton

Does the church still matter?

Despite evidence that it doesn’t–judging from the number of “nones” or those who check “none” on religion surveys–people in need know better. Just ask people along the Texas coast who are looking for Good Samaritans, Randy Harris advised during a program he led Aug. 26 on whether the church stills matters in today’s culture.

“The people who will rebuild those communities will be the church,” Harris said, “because they always are.”

Just try imagining what would happen in the world if all the churches disappeared. It wouldn’t be pretty.

“You would see a collapse that would just be stunning,” Harris said.

Harris, an Abilene Christian University religion professor and spiritual director, addressed a large crowd of ACU faculty and staff, as well as members of the community at a luncheon Aug. 26. (more…)

ACU instructor brings humor, insight into ‘A World Gone Mad’

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(Editor’s Note: Randy Harris, an instructor at Abilene Christian University, led a two-day seminar Aug. 4-5 on Christian ethics. Always entertaining and insightful, Harris didn’t disappoint. He invites anyone interested to a “Ministers’ Lunch Hour with Randy Harris”, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 29, in the Hunter Welcome Center on the ACU campus. His topic will be “Does the Church Matter?” Cost, including lunch, is $15. To register, go to www.acu.edu/siburt and click on “Events” by Aug. 22)

By Loretta Fulton

The title of the two-day seminar was “Christian Ethics in a World Gone Mad: How to Cope and Even Thrive.”

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Randy Harris

By the time it was over, some in the sessions may have suggested a name change to: “Solving Christian Ethical Problems Can Drive You Mad.”

Such is the nature of Christian ethics–it ain’t easy. Thankfully, the leader for the Aug. 4-5 seminar at Abilene Christian University was Randy Harris, a popular instructor at ACU, who made the sessions not only informative and enlightening, but also entertaining.

If you want to be driven truly mad, and entertained at the same time, read “ The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge” by Thomas Cathcart. Harris suggested everyone attending the summer short course read the book beforehand. Those who did realized that spending just two days pondering ethical issues could be maddening.

An example of the ethical dilemmas thrown out by Harris for the participants to ponder:

  1. God wills it because it is good.
  2. It is good because God wills it.

Answer: “Not exactly.”

Scholarly types might want to know that the brain-teaser officially is known as the Euthyphro Problem, first posed by Plato. Don’t worry–even Harris had trouble spelling it. (more…)

Studying for the Life of the World

 

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By Nathan Jowers

 

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Nathan Jowers

My name is Nathan Jowers. I’m a student of theology, studying Bible at Abilene Christian University. During the school year, I attend services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Abilene. At the start of the summer I was near miraculously offered an internship that would have me flipping back and forth between work at a church and theological research at Yale Divinity School. I’ve been here six weeks.

When I walk through the low arches of Yale Divinity School, I am reminded of Luther and the theologians of old plodding through the halls of their respective monasteries with no more sense of the future than I have now. Arguments which must seem arcane to us were to them the objects of as much brooding as I give my own quibbles. As for those thoughts which still seem to shake the world, well, they existed side by side with wondering what’s for lunch.

I don’t mean to compare myself to Luther or any other great theologian—I am just a 19-year-old intern who’s read more Dr. Seuss than Karl Barth—I only mean to comment on the odd combination of abstract ideas, which seem to come to us either from an unnameable past or an eternal whenever, and the intense sense of time and location in which those ideas were formed. I have experienced here hard issues of violence, suffering, and the reconciliation of the world worked out over friendly lunches. Then the love between colleagues was as thick in the air as their swarm of struggling words. (more…)