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San Diego's Antiochian Orthodox church surprises.

Church on Sunday?

Campus Crusade for Christ's  Jon Braun, now Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest: “I knew that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught.”
Campus Crusade for Christ's Jon Braun, now Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest: “I knew that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught.”

He looks like a regular young guy — maybe late 20s or early 30s. Head shaved to mask a receding hairline, a black goatee to offset the baldness, the gold rim of his glasses glinting beneath his dark brows. A regular guy, except maybe for his robe. Though it has the sheen of satin, it does not drape or hang; it holds its shape, stiffly framing the man beneath. Though mostly creamy white, the robe beams with patterns of yellow gold. (If we were not in church, the fabric would seem ostentatious, guilty of Louis XVI excess.) And over the robe, a stole, equally stiff and resplendent, making an X across his belly. The resulting look is old-fashioned in the extreme, reminding me of nothing so much as the priestly robes worn by long-ago Jewish characters in the Jesus movies. Yet here it is on a Sunday in 2009, on a young guy, in a brick chapel set amid the more ordinary opulence of La Jolla Scenic Drive North.

Horizon Christian Fellowship or Journey might be taken for high school campuses or big-box stores.

The man is not a priest, nor even a deacon. Rather, he is one of at least eight more regular men assisting in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is being celebrated by St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. Eight men, all in similar robes of white and gold, except for the priest, who is even more enrobed and golden than his fellows. For much of the liturgy, we behold his back as he stands facing the altar, the tabernacle, and the cross, facing east along with the congregation. On his back is affixed a sort of medallion in the shape of a cross; in the center of the cross, a painted circle depicting the resurrected Christ.

Christ appears again on a large icon to the right of the Sanctuary stairs. Across from Him, an icon of Mary, His mother, referred to by the Orthodox as Theotokos — God-bearer. Throughout the liturgy on this Sunday of the Last Judgment, the icons are reverenced — the priest turning and bowing and making the sign of the cross as the choir sings in its thrilling, cheerful harmonies: “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!” Later, he will swing a pot of incense toward each icon, then expertly yank back on the jingling chain so that a puff of smoke pushes out toward the image before rising to heaven. And he will do the same for both altar and congregation.

During the homily, he offers a word of explanation. “We are created in the image of God. That’s why, when we cense the holy icons…we cense you…. What we do to one another is passed along to Christ. When we venerate the icon, that loving act is passed along to Christ. When we greet one another, that act is passed along to Christ, because we are in His spiritual image…. My dear children, think of the transformation: everything we do to one another, we do to Christ! God will judge us on our mercy and love!”

In some ultimate sense, this is why all these people are here. This is why that young man with the goatee and glasses has put on those extraordinary robes. They are thinking of the judgment; they are thinking of mercy and love. And they are thinking of the transformation, of Christ dwelling in their midst even as they long to dwell with Him in heaven. The priest quotes from a hymn, sung the previous night at Vespers. “‘Woe to you, O my darkened soul. Your light is stained by depravity and laziness. Your folly makes you shun all thought of death. How can you flee the awesome thought of the judgment day?… The time is at hand, O my soul. Turn to the good and loving Savior.’ This is our repentance — beg Him to forgive your malice and weakness as you cry to Him in faith: ‘I have sinned against you, O Lord, but I know Your love for all mankind. O Good Shepherd, call me to the joy of Your lasting presence.’ ”

Why Do We Go to Church?

Do you go to church on Sunday? If you don’t, do you ever wonder why those who do, do? If you do, could you answer those who don’t if they asked the question?

Since I began writing about San Diego County church services professionally a little over three years ago, I have begun to notice churches — lots of them. Not just the churches like Our Lady of Angels, situated by the side of the freeway, sending high their spires and signs to catch the eyes of passersby. Not just the monster megachurches like Horizon Christian Fellowship or Journey, places that might be taken for high school campuses or big-box stores. But also storefront churches like Abundant Grace Christian Center, tucked into strip malls or amid rows of one-story shops. Modest standalone churches like the Christian Compassion Center, low-slung and unobtrusive, blending in with the houses they serve. Old-style neighborhood churches like Christ Lutheran in Pacific Beach, adorned and exalted by the pride of past generations. Even start-up churches like the Chapel — advertising their services on roadside signs and with banners in front of school auditoriums. So many churches — a lot of us must be going. But why?

“We’ve confused going to church with being the church,” a North County megachurch pastor once preached to his massive congregation. He then went on to remind them that Christianity was not being practiced there, on Sunday morning, with all the faithful gathered together. It was practiced, he said, in their small-group communities, where soul could minister to soul on a personal level. He even went so far as to compare himself to the entertainment — not because what he was saying was frivolous, but because his status as preacher was not the point of things. I sat in the congregation and wondered, Is this man trying to talk himself out of a job?

“It seems to me like this model is passing away,” a South Bay pastor said to me, this time at one of those school-auditorium churches. “You see those kids?” He gestured at a couple of teenagers out in front of the building. “We go to Mexico every month to do service ministry. That’s why they’re here. If we weren’t doing that, they wouldn’t have any use for this.” “This” being the standard Sunday morning gathering: the songs of praise, the prayers, the community announcements, the sermon, the altar call, and in this case, the memorial of the Last Supper. In sum: praise God, petition God, understand God, spread God, and remember God’s love. (Well, maybe “understand God” is a little abstract — many churches today emphasize practicality over theology, as in lessons you can apply to your life right now.) “They wouldn’t have any use for this.”

It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve heard Sunday-morning praise bands that were tight and more than one performer who struck me as a genuine pop artist (Trevor Davis, anyone?) — just the sort to attract the young people of today. And of course, there is the power and presence of live music, especially live music that encourages everybody to join in. Maybe you could read something similar to the pastor’s sermon over your Sunday morning coffee, and you could certainly pray in the comfort of your home, but you’d have a hard time duplicating the musical experience. “Blessed be the name of the Lord/ Blessed be His glorious name!” A thousand (or even just a hundred) people, caught up in single-minded, single-throated praise, girded by drums and guitar: heady stuff.

Still, something’s gone a little awry — there’s even a song about it. A lot of the more modern Christian churches seem to share a similar songbook, and a hymn I’ve heard more than once is Matt Redman’s “Heart of Worship.” “I’ll bring You more than a song,” it promises God, “for a song in itself is not what You have required…. I’m coming back to the heart of worship/ And it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus/ I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it…” Sorry for the thing I’ve made it? The praise band isn’t enough. But what is that heart of worship? Why do we go to church on Sunday?

Prayer in Church Can Be a Funny Thing

Toward the end of 2006, I happened to attend, in close succession, a Roman Catholic Mass at St. Gregory the Great Church, a Chaldean Catholic Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral, a Conservative Jewish Shabbat Service at Ohr Shalom Synagogue, and a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy at St. Spyridon Church. The Roman Catholic Mass I knew pretty well — the four-hymn sandwich (Opening, Presentation, Communion, Recessional) surrounding the liturgical layers: prayers of praise and petition, the Scripture readings, the homily, and the consecration and distribution of Holy Communion. Except for a few variations (some more significant than others), I could have been in any one of a number of mainstream Protestant churches.

The Chaldean Mass, however, offered an element of strangeness — the priest began his prayers (intoned instead of spoken) from behind a curtain. For at least part of the Mass, he was hidden away, deep in the recesses in the Sanctuary. And while I did hear a hymn or two, most of the music came from within the context of the liturgy itself, the ancient texts sung by either priest, choir, or congregation.

The curtain and the singing brought it more in line with the Jewish service I attended soon after, which was almost entirely sung by either cantor or congregation, and in which the scrolls of the Torah were stored behind the doors of the ark. The holy things kept hidden away until the appropriate time. It didn’t take much to dope out the connection between the Chaldean curtain and the Jewish temple veil that shrouded the Holy of Holies.

But it was the Greek Orthodox liturgy that really drove home the connection to the Shabbat service. In keeping with Jewish practice, a cantor led the congregation through the order of worship, which, again, was almost entirely sung. The Chaldean curtain here became a screen, solid like the doors of the Jewish ark. And as in the Jewish service, heavy emphasis was placed on prayer.

Prayer in church can be a funny thing. Sometimes, it feels like opening remarks, or like grace before meals — “Lord, bless this service, and help the pastor to open Your word for us….” Sometimes, it turns into a lesson for the congregation. “Father, we know that You are a good God and that You are with us even in the hard times, for as You have promised, Father, ‘I am with you always…’ ” But, as with the Jews, prayer is central to the Orthodox service, enfolding — encompassing? — every other aspect. Their function and form are traditional: Besides the Lord’s Prayer, there are multiple litanies of supplication (“That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord…”), entire Psalms, and constant refrains of praise and glory. “Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal, have mercy on us.”

Most dramatic, to me, was the treatment of the word. The Jews reverenced the word of God — at one point, the Torah scroll containing the Five Books of Moses, mantled in heavy fabric, was processed throughout the synagogue. Congregants crowded to the ends of the aisles so as to be able to touch the scroll as it passed, either with prayer shawl or prayer book. The Orthodox priest also processed the word, bearing the Scriptures aloft through the congregation. But then, later in the liturgy, he did the same with the elements of Communion. Those elements, in the Orthodox tradition, actually become Christ’s body and blood — the true presence of God’s Word become flesh. (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”) The word and the Word — the echo was enormous.

You Should Meet Our Last Pastor

So it was with not a little interest that I learned of Father Jon Braun, founding pastor at St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. I found the church quite by accident (and before I found Father), holding its Sunday Liturgy in the brick chapel that anchors one end of the abbey-esque Torrey Pines Christian Church compound. At the time, I was on my way to speak with Torrey Pines’ pastor, Michael Spitters, who noted that, as an Emergent Christian, he wanted to avoid anything that struck visitors as “playing at worshipping God.” He said that some Emergent Christians — postmodern believers dissatisfied with the Evangelical status quo — were “actually taking back some of the traditions — the incense and the candles and the meditation.” I thought, “You mean, like the Orthodox in the next building over?”

The following Sunday, I was leaving St. Anthony the Great’s Divine Liturgy when a parishioner approached me. “You should meet our last pastor, Father Braun. He used to be the National Field Coordinator for Campus Crusade for Christ, back before he became an Orthodox priest.” Hello. From an Evangelical Christian organization that didn’t even hold Sunday praise services to the most liturgy-drenched denomination I knew? How did that happen?

However it happened, Braun seemed like a good sort to help shed light on that “heart of worship.” For starters, he had left a successful career within his own tradition — without rejecting his Christian faith, mind you — and gone searching for it. “My father was a Presbyterian minister,” he explains, “and he hated the Orthodox business, just hated it. The only thing he ever acknowledged to me was this: ‘I have to admit that when I leave church on Sunday morning, I’m not sure that I’ve worshipped God.’ That was coming from a 98-year-old man who had been a minister all the years of his life” — in churches ranging from Berkeley to just above Anaheim.

Braun the son, however, was sure — he was satisfied that he had found that heart of worship, and in an ancient church that barely registers on the American religious landscape. (It is estimated that there are between two and three million Orthodox Christians in North America, and there are only ten Orthodox churches in the San Diego area.) “In America,” admits Braun, “if you’re not a Greek, a Russian, a Serbian, or a Romanian, you may not even run across the Orthodox Church. There is a Greek Orthodox Church across the street from Dallas Theological Seminary. I had a friend who went [to the seminary]. He was studying the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom, and across the street, they were doing the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and neither side knew the other existed. I went to high school in Berkeley, across from a Greek church, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s the Catholic Church in Greece.’ I dismissed it at that.”

The dismissal was part and parcel of his formation. “I remember, one day, I was sitting in church history class at Fuller Seminary, in Pasadena, and the professor — who was really good — was discussing Ignatius of Antioch. With one exception, his is the earliest writing outside the Bible — he lived between 50 and 110 A.D. The professor said, ‘Don’t bother to read him. It’s irrelevant. It’s the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church.’ I promise you that he knew that wasn’t true, but the point was to dismiss it so that you had no obligation to weigh it. I majored in history in college, and in seminary you do a lot of church history, but all I knew was that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught. And from what I was taught, there was no Orthodox Church because it was never mentioned. I promise you, not one time.”

So what happened to turn Campus Crusader Jon Braun into Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest? Well, for one thing, history — including the history of worship.

The Phantom Search for the Perfect Church

It began with a practical question: “What’s going to happen to these kids?”

Braun was in his late 20s, the 20th Century was in its early 60s, and Campus Crusade for Christ was exploding. The Crusade operated as a sort of parachurch evangelistic ministry, and, says Braun, “People were interested. The students were easy to work with, and it was just a really easy time. We were very aggressive and evangelistic — we’d stop you in your tracks. And we were very effective. It’s just like what the apostle Paul did at Corinth. He didn’t know anybody, so he just sat there and started talking to people, and pretty soon, he had a church. What you have to do is know why you’re there. People will sense very quickly: are you trying to sell them on something, or do you have a purpose? I wasn’t trying to sell any of those guys. In January of 1961, I traveled to the University of Miami to start bringing Campus Crusade to the Southeastern U.S. The next year, I went to Athens, Georgia, got myself a room in a hotel, and went down to the cafeteria at the University of Georgia. I saw two guys sitting there and I went up to them: ‘My name is Jon Braun. I’m trying to start a Christian group on campus. If you’ll give me five minutes, I’d like to tell you why I’m interested in doing it and see if there’s any way you can help me.’ I never saw those two guys again, but they gave me two names. Within a couple of years, I had the largest Campus Crusade group in America there in Georgia.”

Braun is in his mid-70s now, but he has lost little of the presence that undoubtedly aided in his success. A hint of Charlton Heston can be seen in his profile, his frame, his long agricultural hands. His intellectual demeanor is that of a man who has read much and now seeks to retain what is essential. When he pauses midsentence to find the right word, his tongue will dart from one corner of his mouth to the other as if seeking a target. A preacher’s son, to the pulpit born. “Occasionally, there would be nights when six or seven thousand kids would come to a lecture, followed by a lot of personal one-on-one, and we had all these converts.”

But once you got them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then what? How do you sustain the believer’s life in Christ? “You’d say to yourself, ‘These kids really do have a God-consciousness; they really do desire to commit themselves to Christ. But where are they going to be five, ten years from now?’ We began to say, ‘There’s only one thing you can do with these people, and that’s church.’ That’s where Christians end up, and if they don’t, they don’t really prosper all that well.” Like I said — practical.

The problem was that kids back then (not unlike kids today) “hated to go to church. We said, ‘Well, why?’ So, as one of my friends said, we began The Phantom Search for the Perfect Church. We tried to create it.”

“We” was a group of seven former Campus Crusaders — emphasis on “former.” “We tried to turn collegiate ministry into church, and we realized it wouldn’t work. Several hundred of us left Campus Crusade in ’68 and ’69. In the early ’70s, we had a meeting in Dallas of Campus Crusade alumni — two or three hundred showed up, and it was decided that seven of us would be given leadership. One guy was going to study worship. Another, how to view the Bible. My job was church history, and another guy had liturgy. We agreed to meet every three months to compare notes, and four of us ended up back where I had been living, in Isla Vista, up by UCSB. We met every afternoon. We’d study all day, and we developed a church — we even organized a denomination, called the Evangelical Orthodox Church, and started up a number of congregations. But we told people from the start that this was temporary, that we were going to become part of historic Christianity.”

By Whose Authority Do I Speak for God?

Why historic Christianity? Partly because of the man raised from the dead in Springfield, Missouri. “One guy in Isla Vista was a heretic in regards to Christ and the Trinity. Nice guy but a heretic. So a bunch of us left the group, and this guy got mad at us and said, ‘You don’t want to know what’s true.’ We said, ‘Yes, we do. What’s true?’ ” The heretic sent them south to hear the former pastor of La Jolla Lutheran. He also sent them to Springfield, Missouri, to hear Pastor Bill Britton, and as Braun got off the plane, he saw Britton walking toward him, accompanied by an old man. “He said, ‘I’m Bill Britton, and this man is my father. He died in the service last night, and we raised him from the dead!’ My first thought was, The poor guy can hardly move! Why didn’t you leave him dead? He would have been so much happier dead!” Braun had met faith unmoored from all but Scripture, and he found it alarming.

But there were other reasons. Doctrine, for starters. Upon returning to Isla Vista, “I called my best friend and said, ‘We’ve got to meet.’ We sat down in a Carrow’s restaurant, and I said, ‘I split from the Presbyterian Church. I split from the Covenant Church. I split from Campus Crusade for Christ. If I split once more, I’m going to be schizophrenic. How do I know who’s right? I can be pretty persuasive. How do I know I’m not just talking people into something?’ At the heart of almost all of this is authority. By whose authority do I speak for God? If I get up to preach on a Sunday morning and just make up what I’m saying, Lord have mercy on those poor people. I’m supposed to be their shepherd. What if I tell them something that’s not true? Say I get up there and tell them, ‘If you ask Jesus into your heart at five years old, then you’re okay’ ” — whatever sort of life you lead after that, you’re still assured salvation. “That’s a key doctrine of much of Evangelical Christianity. One day, while I was driving and listening to the radio, I heard Chuck Swindoll — a major Evangelical author and radio preacher — “preaching on the Prodigal Son. He was intent on preaching eternal security — ‘Once saved, always saved.’ He was adamant about it. He got to the part of the story where the father says that his son ‘was lost and has been found.’ He didn’t even read the words. He just said, ‘There was never a moment when the relationship between this young man and his father was broken.’ And I thought, ‘Come on, Swindoll, you know better than that. I know you know Greek pretty well; I know you can read the text.’ He just left it out because it ruined his theology.” If the Father and Son represent God and humanity, and if humanity can be lost and then found, then eternal security becomes a touch problematic.

Braun wanted to avoid such a pitfall. “I said, ‘This better be true. This better be right. This better have history behind it.’ We gathered the other guys” — Braun’s fellow church-seekers — “and we came to the conclusion that you’re going to have to find the footprints, as it were, of the Holy Spirit throughout history. You’re going to find those in the Church, particularly in the councils of the Church. We studied those Ecumenical Councils hour after hour. Why? Because you better be right about God. Either Trinity or not. If God’s not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, either you’ve got the wrong God or it doesn’t make any difference. That was the first issue that drew us — we determined it was going to be historic Christianity because historic Christianity knows what it believes.”

Where Heaven and Earth Meet

But if theology had a history, so did worship. As it turned out, the Jewish echoes I picked up in the Orthodox liturgies I attended were no accident. Nor were they artifice. “The Orthodox ritual was basically just a continuation of the Jewish ritual,” says Braun. “Everybody who started it was a Jew, and they just unembarrassedly kept it. I was totally unaware of that, even though I’d been educated in some very fine seminaries. I had no idea that’s what had taken place — I don’t think they wanted me to know. We were taught that the Bible was the only rule of faith and practice — but there’s no place in the New Testament that says how you should conduct a service. There’s a lot of stuff in the Old Testament” — the more Jewish part of the Bible.

“I did used to see the church as a lecture with music,” he says. “It’s a place where Christians gather to get encouraged, and we call it worship because that’s what we call it. In the more modern services, maybe you don’t call it worship — maybe you call it a praise service.” Now, his notion is rather more exalted: “The church is to be the visible expression of Christ in the community. It’s where people should be able to experience that. The line between heaven and earth, as it were, is extremely thin. Catholics and the Orthodox believe that the service takes place unceasingly in heaven, and we just join them. This is where heaven and earth meet.”

Not surprisingly, theology played a part in the change. The Trinity makes possible the Incarnation of the Son, which is sort of the point of Christianity. The God-man, the sinless Christ dying to pay the penalty for sinful humanity. But, says Braun, there is more to it than that. “It’s a point of emphasis. In the Eastern Church, they would say that the heart of it is this: deification. God became man in order that man might become God. Not God by nature but God by grace. The Son of God became a man in order that we might be brought into a living, dynamic union with Christ in His glorified humanity, sharing in what He is. The West likes to call it ‘sanctification.’ ” And if you’re a human seeking that kind of union with the divine, the meeting place of heaven and earth might be a good place to begin — and even end.

Why do you go to church? Recall the priest at St. Anthony the Great: “My dear children, think of the transformation!”

All this is not to say that getting from there to here was a gimme. Like the Phantom Search for the Perfect Church, the Evangelical Orthodox Church’s liturgical shift was gradual, taking a fair chunk of the ’70s and ’80s. At first, “The Evangelical Orthodox Church was the church that let it happen. ‘Well, it’s time to start. Pull up some chairs. Anybody got a song they want to sing?’ We were in total rebellion against Campus Crusade, which was very rigid and constructed — you had a manual and you followed it. But we developed.” Still, “The first time I went to an Orthodox service, I hated it. But I said, ‘I hate it, and I’m still going to do it.’ By the time we became Orthodox, there was no change from the Sunday before to the Sunday after.”

Braun and his companions found historic Christianity being preached and practiced in the Orthodox Church, and they followed it there. “I think there were about 2000 of us brought into the Orthodox Church over several Sundays in 1987 — in Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Chicago, Nashville, Anchorage, Vicksburg, and Ben Lomond. The Orthodox Church is organized by countries of origin — they believe the same thing, whether Russian or Greek or Antiochian. We were received by the Bishop of Damascus. Forty-five of us became priests, and another 85 came in as deacons. It made the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times.” And the movement continues — Braun estimates that around 7000 Evangelicals have made the jump to Orthodoxy “in the past few years. I have a friend with a church I helped start in Costa Mesa, and a lot of the people he’s brought in are from Biola University, which is just hard-core Protestant.”

The Very Heart of Worship

Men of God are not angels; it should come as little surprise to find that there is another, more personal dimension to Father Braun’s story. During our conversation, Father Braun stresses that he’s not looking for a fight with his fellow Christians. “What I would say and often do say to a Protestant or Evangelical is, ‘We don’t disagree. You just don’t do everything.’ The first part of the liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word, and the second part is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The typical Evangelical service is simply the preservation of the first part. Being respectful to my father, I would say, ‘Dad, this is the way Christians have worshipped for centuries. It isn’t something that you make up on your own every Sunday.’ He would go so far as to admit that there was nothing wrong with the stuff we were doing, but he would say, ‘It’s too ritualistic. It’s dead liturgy.’ And I would say, ‘Dad, there’s no such thing as liturgy that is living or dead. People are living or dead.’ ”

Back in his Campus Crusade days, Jon Braun was dead — or dying, losing the battle against sin and its wages of death. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. “It would be fair to say that I never considered anything but being a minister,” he recalls. “Or at least, some form of Christian ministry. I had the normal problems and temptations of a kid, but there was also a sense of a radical ‘call.’ One with such a sense should be serious about sin, and early in life, I became aware that many who preached the message did not live the message. Young people don’t handle that well, and I was no exception. Thus my issues with besetting sins” — nothing shocking but consistent enough to represent a defeat in the spiritual battle. “How could I be a clergyman and live a garbage life? That didn’t compute.”

He took lots of advice from lots of Christians, all to no avail. “Something was very wrong somewhere,” he writes in his 1991 book Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory. “A vital piece, or pieces, of the fullness of Christianity had to be missing.” Braun found those pieces during his study of Orthodox Christianity, specifically, in that notion of deification. “Empowered by the divinized humanity of Jesus Christ to which we are joined,” he writes, “we can enter the battle and win. Union with Christ is the bottom line for Christian living.”

And union with Christ is why he goes to church on Sunday. Writes Braun, “The Divine Liturgy is a personal dialogue between the worshippers corporately and the All-Holy Trinity…. Communion with God at Holy Communion is the center core, the very heart of worship. It is an experience that much of modern Christianity is hardly aware of. How we are nurtured is a mystery, but nurture us in Christ it does. The sustenance gained at that meal in dining with Him and partaking of Him is of infinitely greater importance to our lives in union with Christ than are our daily meals to our physical bodies.”

“What happens in a Eucharistic service?” he asks. “Something happens; I’m not sure what. I can’t explain it. But somehow, it affects me. The mystery is actually practical.”

Unto Life Everlasting

Father Jon Braun stands amid the congregation on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, robed in black. He is retired now, some 13 years after founding St. Anthony the Great; Father John Reimann has taken his place before the altar. But when it comes time to divide and distribute Holy Communion, he slips on a stole, takes his place on one side of the altar, and busies himself with the practical matter at hand. The congregation approaches; Braun stands, waiting, chalice in one hand and spoon in the other. Two of the eight assistants hold a crimson cloth below the chalice, so that nothing falls to the floor. The children come first, and Braun smiles as he slips the elements of Communion between their lips. “The servant of God, [Name], partakes of the precious and all-holy Body and Blood of our Lord, and God, and Savior Jesus Christ unto forgiveness of sins and unto life everlasting.”


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Campus Crusade for Christ's  Jon Braun, now Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest: “I knew that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught.”
Campus Crusade for Christ's Jon Braun, now Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest: “I knew that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught.”

He looks like a regular young guy — maybe late 20s or early 30s. Head shaved to mask a receding hairline, a black goatee to offset the baldness, the gold rim of his glasses glinting beneath his dark brows. A regular guy, except maybe for his robe. Though it has the sheen of satin, it does not drape or hang; it holds its shape, stiffly framing the man beneath. Though mostly creamy white, the robe beams with patterns of yellow gold. (If we were not in church, the fabric would seem ostentatious, guilty of Louis XVI excess.) And over the robe, a stole, equally stiff and resplendent, making an X across his belly. The resulting look is old-fashioned in the extreme, reminding me of nothing so much as the priestly robes worn by long-ago Jewish characters in the Jesus movies. Yet here it is on a Sunday in 2009, on a young guy, in a brick chapel set amid the more ordinary opulence of La Jolla Scenic Drive North.

Horizon Christian Fellowship or Journey might be taken for high school campuses or big-box stores.

The man is not a priest, nor even a deacon. Rather, he is one of at least eight more regular men assisting in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is being celebrated by St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. Eight men, all in similar robes of white and gold, except for the priest, who is even more enrobed and golden than his fellows. For much of the liturgy, we behold his back as he stands facing the altar, the tabernacle, and the cross, facing east along with the congregation. On his back is affixed a sort of medallion in the shape of a cross; in the center of the cross, a painted circle depicting the resurrected Christ.

Christ appears again on a large icon to the right of the Sanctuary stairs. Across from Him, an icon of Mary, His mother, referred to by the Orthodox as Theotokos — God-bearer. Throughout the liturgy on this Sunday of the Last Judgment, the icons are reverenced — the priest turning and bowing and making the sign of the cross as the choir sings in its thrilling, cheerful harmonies: “Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!” Later, he will swing a pot of incense toward each icon, then expertly yank back on the jingling chain so that a puff of smoke pushes out toward the image before rising to heaven. And he will do the same for both altar and congregation.

During the homily, he offers a word of explanation. “We are created in the image of God. That’s why, when we cense the holy icons…we cense you…. What we do to one another is passed along to Christ. When we venerate the icon, that loving act is passed along to Christ. When we greet one another, that act is passed along to Christ, because we are in His spiritual image…. My dear children, think of the transformation: everything we do to one another, we do to Christ! God will judge us on our mercy and love!”

In some ultimate sense, this is why all these people are here. This is why that young man with the goatee and glasses has put on those extraordinary robes. They are thinking of the judgment; they are thinking of mercy and love. And they are thinking of the transformation, of Christ dwelling in their midst even as they long to dwell with Him in heaven. The priest quotes from a hymn, sung the previous night at Vespers. “‘Woe to you, O my darkened soul. Your light is stained by depravity and laziness. Your folly makes you shun all thought of death. How can you flee the awesome thought of the judgment day?… The time is at hand, O my soul. Turn to the good and loving Savior.’ This is our repentance — beg Him to forgive your malice and weakness as you cry to Him in faith: ‘I have sinned against you, O Lord, but I know Your love for all mankind. O Good Shepherd, call me to the joy of Your lasting presence.’ ”

Why Do We Go to Church?

Do you go to church on Sunday? If you don’t, do you ever wonder why those who do, do? If you do, could you answer those who don’t if they asked the question?

Since I began writing about San Diego County church services professionally a little over three years ago, I have begun to notice churches — lots of them. Not just the churches like Our Lady of Angels, situated by the side of the freeway, sending high their spires and signs to catch the eyes of passersby. Not just the monster megachurches like Horizon Christian Fellowship or Journey, places that might be taken for high school campuses or big-box stores. But also storefront churches like Abundant Grace Christian Center, tucked into strip malls or amid rows of one-story shops. Modest standalone churches like the Christian Compassion Center, low-slung and unobtrusive, blending in with the houses they serve. Old-style neighborhood churches like Christ Lutheran in Pacific Beach, adorned and exalted by the pride of past generations. Even start-up churches like the Chapel — advertising their services on roadside signs and with banners in front of school auditoriums. So many churches — a lot of us must be going. But why?

“We’ve confused going to church with being the church,” a North County megachurch pastor once preached to his massive congregation. He then went on to remind them that Christianity was not being practiced there, on Sunday morning, with all the faithful gathered together. It was practiced, he said, in their small-group communities, where soul could minister to soul on a personal level. He even went so far as to compare himself to the entertainment — not because what he was saying was frivolous, but because his status as preacher was not the point of things. I sat in the congregation and wondered, Is this man trying to talk himself out of a job?

“It seems to me like this model is passing away,” a South Bay pastor said to me, this time at one of those school-auditorium churches. “You see those kids?” He gestured at a couple of teenagers out in front of the building. “We go to Mexico every month to do service ministry. That’s why they’re here. If we weren’t doing that, they wouldn’t have any use for this.” “This” being the standard Sunday morning gathering: the songs of praise, the prayers, the community announcements, the sermon, the altar call, and in this case, the memorial of the Last Supper. In sum: praise God, petition God, understand God, spread God, and remember God’s love. (Well, maybe “understand God” is a little abstract — many churches today emphasize practicality over theology, as in lessons you can apply to your life right now.) “They wouldn’t have any use for this.”

It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve heard Sunday-morning praise bands that were tight and more than one performer who struck me as a genuine pop artist (Trevor Davis, anyone?) — just the sort to attract the young people of today. And of course, there is the power and presence of live music, especially live music that encourages everybody to join in. Maybe you could read something similar to the pastor’s sermon over your Sunday morning coffee, and you could certainly pray in the comfort of your home, but you’d have a hard time duplicating the musical experience. “Blessed be the name of the Lord/ Blessed be His glorious name!” A thousand (or even just a hundred) people, caught up in single-minded, single-throated praise, girded by drums and guitar: heady stuff.

Still, something’s gone a little awry — there’s even a song about it. A lot of the more modern Christian churches seem to share a similar songbook, and a hymn I’ve heard more than once is Matt Redman’s “Heart of Worship.” “I’ll bring You more than a song,” it promises God, “for a song in itself is not what You have required…. I’m coming back to the heart of worship/ And it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus/ I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it…” Sorry for the thing I’ve made it? The praise band isn’t enough. But what is that heart of worship? Why do we go to church on Sunday?

Prayer in Church Can Be a Funny Thing

Toward the end of 2006, I happened to attend, in close succession, a Roman Catholic Mass at St. Gregory the Great Church, a Chaldean Catholic Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral, a Conservative Jewish Shabbat Service at Ohr Shalom Synagogue, and a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy at St. Spyridon Church. The Roman Catholic Mass I knew pretty well — the four-hymn sandwich (Opening, Presentation, Communion, Recessional) surrounding the liturgical layers: prayers of praise and petition, the Scripture readings, the homily, and the consecration and distribution of Holy Communion. Except for a few variations (some more significant than others), I could have been in any one of a number of mainstream Protestant churches.

The Chaldean Mass, however, offered an element of strangeness — the priest began his prayers (intoned instead of spoken) from behind a curtain. For at least part of the Mass, he was hidden away, deep in the recesses in the Sanctuary. And while I did hear a hymn or two, most of the music came from within the context of the liturgy itself, the ancient texts sung by either priest, choir, or congregation.

The curtain and the singing brought it more in line with the Jewish service I attended soon after, which was almost entirely sung by either cantor or congregation, and in which the scrolls of the Torah were stored behind the doors of the ark. The holy things kept hidden away until the appropriate time. It didn’t take much to dope out the connection between the Chaldean curtain and the Jewish temple veil that shrouded the Holy of Holies.

But it was the Greek Orthodox liturgy that really drove home the connection to the Shabbat service. In keeping with Jewish practice, a cantor led the congregation through the order of worship, which, again, was almost entirely sung. The Chaldean curtain here became a screen, solid like the doors of the Jewish ark. And as in the Jewish service, heavy emphasis was placed on prayer.

Prayer in church can be a funny thing. Sometimes, it feels like opening remarks, or like grace before meals — “Lord, bless this service, and help the pastor to open Your word for us….” Sometimes, it turns into a lesson for the congregation. “Father, we know that You are a good God and that You are with us even in the hard times, for as You have promised, Father, ‘I am with you always…’ ” But, as with the Jews, prayer is central to the Orthodox service, enfolding — encompassing? — every other aspect. Their function and form are traditional: Besides the Lord’s Prayer, there are multiple litanies of supplication (“That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord…”), entire Psalms, and constant refrains of praise and glory. “Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal, have mercy on us.”

Most dramatic, to me, was the treatment of the word. The Jews reverenced the word of God — at one point, the Torah scroll containing the Five Books of Moses, mantled in heavy fabric, was processed throughout the synagogue. Congregants crowded to the ends of the aisles so as to be able to touch the scroll as it passed, either with prayer shawl or prayer book. The Orthodox priest also processed the word, bearing the Scriptures aloft through the congregation. But then, later in the liturgy, he did the same with the elements of Communion. Those elements, in the Orthodox tradition, actually become Christ’s body and blood — the true presence of God’s Word become flesh. (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”) The word and the Word — the echo was enormous.

You Should Meet Our Last Pastor

So it was with not a little interest that I learned of Father Jon Braun, founding pastor at St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. I found the church quite by accident (and before I found Father), holding its Sunday Liturgy in the brick chapel that anchors one end of the abbey-esque Torrey Pines Christian Church compound. At the time, I was on my way to speak with Torrey Pines’ pastor, Michael Spitters, who noted that, as an Emergent Christian, he wanted to avoid anything that struck visitors as “playing at worshipping God.” He said that some Emergent Christians — postmodern believers dissatisfied with the Evangelical status quo — were “actually taking back some of the traditions — the incense and the candles and the meditation.” I thought, “You mean, like the Orthodox in the next building over?”

The following Sunday, I was leaving St. Anthony the Great’s Divine Liturgy when a parishioner approached me. “You should meet our last pastor, Father Braun. He used to be the National Field Coordinator for Campus Crusade for Christ, back before he became an Orthodox priest.” Hello. From an Evangelical Christian organization that didn’t even hold Sunday praise services to the most liturgy-drenched denomination I knew? How did that happen?

However it happened, Braun seemed like a good sort to help shed light on that “heart of worship.” For starters, he had left a successful career within his own tradition — without rejecting his Christian faith, mind you — and gone searching for it. “My father was a Presbyterian minister,” he explains, “and he hated the Orthodox business, just hated it. The only thing he ever acknowledged to me was this: ‘I have to admit that when I leave church on Sunday morning, I’m not sure that I’ve worshipped God.’ That was coming from a 98-year-old man who had been a minister all the years of his life” — in churches ranging from Berkeley to just above Anaheim.

Braun the son, however, was sure — he was satisfied that he had found that heart of worship, and in an ancient church that barely registers on the American religious landscape. (It is estimated that there are between two and three million Orthodox Christians in North America, and there are only ten Orthodox churches in the San Diego area.) “In America,” admits Braun, “if you’re not a Greek, a Russian, a Serbian, or a Romanian, you may not even run across the Orthodox Church. There is a Greek Orthodox Church across the street from Dallas Theological Seminary. I had a friend who went [to the seminary]. He was studying the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom, and across the street, they were doing the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and neither side knew the other existed. I went to high school in Berkeley, across from a Greek church, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s the Catholic Church in Greece.’ I dismissed it at that.”

The dismissal was part and parcel of his formation. “I remember, one day, I was sitting in church history class at Fuller Seminary, in Pasadena, and the professor — who was really good — was discussing Ignatius of Antioch. With one exception, his is the earliest writing outside the Bible — he lived between 50 and 110 A.D. The professor said, ‘Don’t bother to read him. It’s irrelevant. It’s the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church.’ I promise you that he knew that wasn’t true, but the point was to dismiss it so that you had no obligation to weigh it. I majored in history in college, and in seminary you do a lot of church history, but all I knew was that the Roman Catholic Church was evil because that’s what I was taught. And from what I was taught, there was no Orthodox Church because it was never mentioned. I promise you, not one time.”

So what happened to turn Campus Crusader Jon Braun into Father Jon Braun, Orthodox priest? Well, for one thing, history — including the history of worship.

The Phantom Search for the Perfect Church

It began with a practical question: “What’s going to happen to these kids?”

Braun was in his late 20s, the 20th Century was in its early 60s, and Campus Crusade for Christ was exploding. The Crusade operated as a sort of parachurch evangelistic ministry, and, says Braun, “People were interested. The students were easy to work with, and it was just a really easy time. We were very aggressive and evangelistic — we’d stop you in your tracks. And we were very effective. It’s just like what the apostle Paul did at Corinth. He didn’t know anybody, so he just sat there and started talking to people, and pretty soon, he had a church. What you have to do is know why you’re there. People will sense very quickly: are you trying to sell them on something, or do you have a purpose? I wasn’t trying to sell any of those guys. In January of 1961, I traveled to the University of Miami to start bringing Campus Crusade to the Southeastern U.S. The next year, I went to Athens, Georgia, got myself a room in a hotel, and went down to the cafeteria at the University of Georgia. I saw two guys sitting there and I went up to them: ‘My name is Jon Braun. I’m trying to start a Christian group on campus. If you’ll give me five minutes, I’d like to tell you why I’m interested in doing it and see if there’s any way you can help me.’ I never saw those two guys again, but they gave me two names. Within a couple of years, I had the largest Campus Crusade group in America there in Georgia.”

Braun is in his mid-70s now, but he has lost little of the presence that undoubtedly aided in his success. A hint of Charlton Heston can be seen in his profile, his frame, his long agricultural hands. His intellectual demeanor is that of a man who has read much and now seeks to retain what is essential. When he pauses midsentence to find the right word, his tongue will dart from one corner of his mouth to the other as if seeking a target. A preacher’s son, to the pulpit born. “Occasionally, there would be nights when six or seven thousand kids would come to a lecture, followed by a lot of personal one-on-one, and we had all these converts.”

But once you got them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then what? How do you sustain the believer’s life in Christ? “You’d say to yourself, ‘These kids really do have a God-consciousness; they really do desire to commit themselves to Christ. But where are they going to be five, ten years from now?’ We began to say, ‘There’s only one thing you can do with these people, and that’s church.’ That’s where Christians end up, and if they don’t, they don’t really prosper all that well.” Like I said — practical.

The problem was that kids back then (not unlike kids today) “hated to go to church. We said, ‘Well, why?’ So, as one of my friends said, we began The Phantom Search for the Perfect Church. We tried to create it.”

“We” was a group of seven former Campus Crusaders — emphasis on “former.” “We tried to turn collegiate ministry into church, and we realized it wouldn’t work. Several hundred of us left Campus Crusade in ’68 and ’69. In the early ’70s, we had a meeting in Dallas of Campus Crusade alumni — two or three hundred showed up, and it was decided that seven of us would be given leadership. One guy was going to study worship. Another, how to view the Bible. My job was church history, and another guy had liturgy. We agreed to meet every three months to compare notes, and four of us ended up back where I had been living, in Isla Vista, up by UCSB. We met every afternoon. We’d study all day, and we developed a church — we even organized a denomination, called the Evangelical Orthodox Church, and started up a number of congregations. But we told people from the start that this was temporary, that we were going to become part of historic Christianity.”

By Whose Authority Do I Speak for God?

Why historic Christianity? Partly because of the man raised from the dead in Springfield, Missouri. “One guy in Isla Vista was a heretic in regards to Christ and the Trinity. Nice guy but a heretic. So a bunch of us left the group, and this guy got mad at us and said, ‘You don’t want to know what’s true.’ We said, ‘Yes, we do. What’s true?’ ” The heretic sent them south to hear the former pastor of La Jolla Lutheran. He also sent them to Springfield, Missouri, to hear Pastor Bill Britton, and as Braun got off the plane, he saw Britton walking toward him, accompanied by an old man. “He said, ‘I’m Bill Britton, and this man is my father. He died in the service last night, and we raised him from the dead!’ My first thought was, The poor guy can hardly move! Why didn’t you leave him dead? He would have been so much happier dead!” Braun had met faith unmoored from all but Scripture, and he found it alarming.

But there were other reasons. Doctrine, for starters. Upon returning to Isla Vista, “I called my best friend and said, ‘We’ve got to meet.’ We sat down in a Carrow’s restaurant, and I said, ‘I split from the Presbyterian Church. I split from the Covenant Church. I split from Campus Crusade for Christ. If I split once more, I’m going to be schizophrenic. How do I know who’s right? I can be pretty persuasive. How do I know I’m not just talking people into something?’ At the heart of almost all of this is authority. By whose authority do I speak for God? If I get up to preach on a Sunday morning and just make up what I’m saying, Lord have mercy on those poor people. I’m supposed to be their shepherd. What if I tell them something that’s not true? Say I get up there and tell them, ‘If you ask Jesus into your heart at five years old, then you’re okay’ ” — whatever sort of life you lead after that, you’re still assured salvation. “That’s a key doctrine of much of Evangelical Christianity. One day, while I was driving and listening to the radio, I heard Chuck Swindoll — a major Evangelical author and radio preacher — “preaching on the Prodigal Son. He was intent on preaching eternal security — ‘Once saved, always saved.’ He was adamant about it. He got to the part of the story where the father says that his son ‘was lost and has been found.’ He didn’t even read the words. He just said, ‘There was never a moment when the relationship between this young man and his father was broken.’ And I thought, ‘Come on, Swindoll, you know better than that. I know you know Greek pretty well; I know you can read the text.’ He just left it out because it ruined his theology.” If the Father and Son represent God and humanity, and if humanity can be lost and then found, then eternal security becomes a touch problematic.

Braun wanted to avoid such a pitfall. “I said, ‘This better be true. This better be right. This better have history behind it.’ We gathered the other guys” — Braun’s fellow church-seekers — “and we came to the conclusion that you’re going to have to find the footprints, as it were, of the Holy Spirit throughout history. You’re going to find those in the Church, particularly in the councils of the Church. We studied those Ecumenical Councils hour after hour. Why? Because you better be right about God. Either Trinity or not. If God’s not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, either you’ve got the wrong God or it doesn’t make any difference. That was the first issue that drew us — we determined it was going to be historic Christianity because historic Christianity knows what it believes.”

Where Heaven and Earth Meet

But if theology had a history, so did worship. As it turned out, the Jewish echoes I picked up in the Orthodox liturgies I attended were no accident. Nor were they artifice. “The Orthodox ritual was basically just a continuation of the Jewish ritual,” says Braun. “Everybody who started it was a Jew, and they just unembarrassedly kept it. I was totally unaware of that, even though I’d been educated in some very fine seminaries. I had no idea that’s what had taken place — I don’t think they wanted me to know. We were taught that the Bible was the only rule of faith and practice — but there’s no place in the New Testament that says how you should conduct a service. There’s a lot of stuff in the Old Testament” — the more Jewish part of the Bible.

“I did used to see the church as a lecture with music,” he says. “It’s a place where Christians gather to get encouraged, and we call it worship because that’s what we call it. In the more modern services, maybe you don’t call it worship — maybe you call it a praise service.” Now, his notion is rather more exalted: “The church is to be the visible expression of Christ in the community. It’s where people should be able to experience that. The line between heaven and earth, as it were, is extremely thin. Catholics and the Orthodox believe that the service takes place unceasingly in heaven, and we just join them. This is where heaven and earth meet.”

Not surprisingly, theology played a part in the change. The Trinity makes possible the Incarnation of the Son, which is sort of the point of Christianity. The God-man, the sinless Christ dying to pay the penalty for sinful humanity. But, says Braun, there is more to it than that. “It’s a point of emphasis. In the Eastern Church, they would say that the heart of it is this: deification. God became man in order that man might become God. Not God by nature but God by grace. The Son of God became a man in order that we might be brought into a living, dynamic union with Christ in His glorified humanity, sharing in what He is. The West likes to call it ‘sanctification.’ ” And if you’re a human seeking that kind of union with the divine, the meeting place of heaven and earth might be a good place to begin — and even end.

Why do you go to church? Recall the priest at St. Anthony the Great: “My dear children, think of the transformation!”

All this is not to say that getting from there to here was a gimme. Like the Phantom Search for the Perfect Church, the Evangelical Orthodox Church’s liturgical shift was gradual, taking a fair chunk of the ’70s and ’80s. At first, “The Evangelical Orthodox Church was the church that let it happen. ‘Well, it’s time to start. Pull up some chairs. Anybody got a song they want to sing?’ We were in total rebellion against Campus Crusade, which was very rigid and constructed — you had a manual and you followed it. But we developed.” Still, “The first time I went to an Orthodox service, I hated it. But I said, ‘I hate it, and I’m still going to do it.’ By the time we became Orthodox, there was no change from the Sunday before to the Sunday after.”

Braun and his companions found historic Christianity being preached and practiced in the Orthodox Church, and they followed it there. “I think there were about 2000 of us brought into the Orthodox Church over several Sundays in 1987 — in Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Chicago, Nashville, Anchorage, Vicksburg, and Ben Lomond. The Orthodox Church is organized by countries of origin — they believe the same thing, whether Russian or Greek or Antiochian. We were received by the Bishop of Damascus. Forty-five of us became priests, and another 85 came in as deacons. It made the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times.” And the movement continues — Braun estimates that around 7000 Evangelicals have made the jump to Orthodoxy “in the past few years. I have a friend with a church I helped start in Costa Mesa, and a lot of the people he’s brought in are from Biola University, which is just hard-core Protestant.”

The Very Heart of Worship

Men of God are not angels; it should come as little surprise to find that there is another, more personal dimension to Father Braun’s story. During our conversation, Father Braun stresses that he’s not looking for a fight with his fellow Christians. “What I would say and often do say to a Protestant or Evangelical is, ‘We don’t disagree. You just don’t do everything.’ The first part of the liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word, and the second part is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The typical Evangelical service is simply the preservation of the first part. Being respectful to my father, I would say, ‘Dad, this is the way Christians have worshipped for centuries. It isn’t something that you make up on your own every Sunday.’ He would go so far as to admit that there was nothing wrong with the stuff we were doing, but he would say, ‘It’s too ritualistic. It’s dead liturgy.’ And I would say, ‘Dad, there’s no such thing as liturgy that is living or dead. People are living or dead.’ ”

Back in his Campus Crusade days, Jon Braun was dead — or dying, losing the battle against sin and its wages of death. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. “It would be fair to say that I never considered anything but being a minister,” he recalls. “Or at least, some form of Christian ministry. I had the normal problems and temptations of a kid, but there was also a sense of a radical ‘call.’ One with such a sense should be serious about sin, and early in life, I became aware that many who preached the message did not live the message. Young people don’t handle that well, and I was no exception. Thus my issues with besetting sins” — nothing shocking but consistent enough to represent a defeat in the spiritual battle. “How could I be a clergyman and live a garbage life? That didn’t compute.”

He took lots of advice from lots of Christians, all to no avail. “Something was very wrong somewhere,” he writes in his 1991 book Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory. “A vital piece, or pieces, of the fullness of Christianity had to be missing.” Braun found those pieces during his study of Orthodox Christianity, specifically, in that notion of deification. “Empowered by the divinized humanity of Jesus Christ to which we are joined,” he writes, “we can enter the battle and win. Union with Christ is the bottom line for Christian living.”

And union with Christ is why he goes to church on Sunday. Writes Braun, “The Divine Liturgy is a personal dialogue between the worshippers corporately and the All-Holy Trinity…. Communion with God at Holy Communion is the center core, the very heart of worship. It is an experience that much of modern Christianity is hardly aware of. How we are nurtured is a mystery, but nurture us in Christ it does. The sustenance gained at that meal in dining with Him and partaking of Him is of infinitely greater importance to our lives in union with Christ than are our daily meals to our physical bodies.”

“What happens in a Eucharistic service?” he asks. “Something happens; I’m not sure what. I can’t explain it. But somehow, it affects me. The mystery is actually practical.”

Unto Life Everlasting

Father Jon Braun stands amid the congregation on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, robed in black. He is retired now, some 13 years after founding St. Anthony the Great; Father John Reimann has taken his place before the altar. But when it comes time to divide and distribute Holy Communion, he slips on a stole, takes his place on one side of the altar, and busies himself with the practical matter at hand. The congregation approaches; Braun stands, waiting, chalice in one hand and spoon in the other. Two of the eight assistants hold a crimson cloth below the chalice, so that nothing falls to the floor. The children come first, and Braun smiles as he slips the elements of Communion between their lips. “The servant of God, [Name], partakes of the precious and all-holy Body and Blood of our Lord, and God, and Savior Jesus Christ unto forgiveness of sins and unto life everlasting.”


Listen to Matthew Lickona discuss this column on Reader Radio!

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Comments
46

Whatever happened to compassion and tolerance?

Come on guys! Religion, no religion, whatever, tolerance is an extreme virtue!

When I get all high-strung, my daughter tell me this: Chillax, dad.

She's a genius. So, passing along her words, chillax, people. The world is certainly large enough for all of our beliefs, so long as we are tolerant.

May 8, 2009

refried, if you read my posts above, I push for those very things, as well as reason and understanding. No one is questioning the wisdom of your daughter, but words must be said. You had your say, and others are simply having theirs.

May 8, 2009

I know, hun. I'm just having seconds. Like, when you get into a good bowl of mashed potatoes. I just can't help myself ;)

May 8, 2009

I hope there is a lot of good butter and cream in there, refried, and perhaps some roasted garlic and parsley :)

May 8, 2009

And unfortunately, if he ever existed, Socrates took himself out of the food chain...:)

May 7, 2009

For you, darling, there always is plenty of garlic, cream, butter, and parsley :)

May 8, 2009

Amen!

May 8, 2009

thanks a lot now i'm all hungry for refried's mashed potatoes. SAVE ME SOME, will ya? ;)

May 8, 2009

One word: YIKES

May 11, 2009

Spliff needs to host his own talk show.

May 11, 2009

Although Mr. Lockona has been to several "New Thought" Churches and spoken to several Ministers concerning their ideas about "what church is;" he has only quoted from the more traditional religions for this article. Why leave out a rapidly growing segment of the spiritual community? There are many Centers for Spiritual Living right here in San Diego which offer "church"and spiritual community. I think their voice should have been heard in this article.

April 8, 2009

Does the lack of comment posted to this cover story tell anything about the story, and whether anyone actually read it? I think so.

April 13, 2009

Thank you for sharing the historical background of the ancient church and how it is alive today in America. It is nice to have a clear explanation of what orthodoxy is without the cultural connections: Greek, Russian, etc. I am one of those early converts from evangelical to orthodox and it is sometimes a challenge to explain to friends and family what is my church and what are my beliefs. This does it clearly. The Eastern Orthodox Easter or Pascha is this next Sunday, 4/19.....go experience for yourself.

April 13, 2009

@refriedgringo Thanks for elaborating. I think, were we to meet, we would have a lot more to discuss than this comment forum will permit. If I'm following your argument, you're trying to say that man, not God, wrote the Bible, I would concede that man transcribed it. That doesn't mean it's not God's Word. I'm no theologian and I don't presume to "know it all", so I'll defer to Fr Anthony M. Coniaris on this issue:

"When someone says, Prove God to me and I will believe,' we ask, 'What do you mean by proof? Do you mean logical proof? Is God a geometric theorem to be proved logically?  Do you mean scientific proof? Is God a material substance we can place in a test tube and analyze?  There are different kinds of proofs for different things.'  As George Buttrick said, 'There is one kind of proof for potatoes, another for poems, another for persons, another for God.'  The proof of God is to discover Him for yourself, not through logic or science but by faith, by surrendering your life to Him, by prayer, by repentance, through the Bible, the Church and the Sacraments.  These are the tools we use to discover God who is Spirit and Truth.  We use spiritual tools to discover spiritual truths.  Faith in God is never irrational, never against reason; it is beyond reason; therefore beyond logic and beyond scientific demonstration.  After all, if we could analyze God in a test tube and understand Him logically, He wouldn't be God.  We would be God.  He would be less than we are.  We would be greater."

-From "Daily Vitamins for Spiritual Growth VOL 1" by Anthony M. Coniaris (http://is.gd/xbFZ-)

Let me just say I'm not trying to pass judgement on anyone and I'm sorry if I came off that way. I'm just trying to work at it everyday and get better. If you're truly interested in knowing more, I'd recommend seeking out an Orthodox priest and discussing things more with them. Perhaps even attend a few services. Thanks for your comments. God Bless.

May 6, 2009

HOLY CRAP WHAT A LONG STORY.

April 14, 2009

What shall forever be a conundrum to small minds like mine is how it is that those who rally against intolerance (decrying its evil specter everywhere to the point of paranoia) can ever justify intolerance within themselves. Perhaps this is where that "forest for the trees" analogy got started....

Very disappointing Spliffy...very.

May 13, 2009

If you have problems with evil spirits, simply cut a hole in your head and let them out.

life is not that complex. - Joe

May 13, 2009

@ParisL I think you've missed his point. It's not about "their voice". It's about God's voice. The purpose of this article is to connect you with the Traditions of the Liturgical faith as given to mankind directly from Christ, which are practiced most closely to that original Tradition by Orthodox Christians.

One thing this article doesn't mention is the fact that the Liturgy is COMPLETELY based on God's Word, Holy Scripture. There is nothing extraneous. Everything can be traced back to Scripture. So it is perfect because God's Word is perfect. That doesn't mean it's always executed perfectly, but you won't ever hear it asked, "Maybe we should use apple juice instead of wine next time?" or "Or maybe next time Jeff should read the Gospel instead of the Priest?"

May 5, 2009

Thanks for this article. It's a very informative, and I appreciate that it makes no judgments on a particular tradition while still showing the beauty of the Orthodox faith.

April 21, 2009

@cherylynn Christ Is Risen! The cultures play an important role in how the Church grew up in this country. The Church was largely a cultural and social center and the Church part came second sometimes. But without those rich cultures we might not have a Church in this country today. That said, I know it can be discouraging at times when faced with the hard cultural lines. I'm 100%, cradle, 2nd generation, Greek Orthodox, and sometimes I am terribly frustrated our inability to open up to "outsiders". It's this inability that has stunted our growth in this country. The very tough challenge we are faced with is breaking down those cultural barriers in a way that honors those cultures so that the Church can continue to grow without any divisiveness.

We need to do a better job of our Confessing/Witnessing/PR/Marketing, both individually and collectively because we have a Light that needs to be shared with all.

If you're interested in more Christian history, there is a pretty good podcast, a sort of Christian History 101, by Fr Luke Palumbis here: http://gosaintbasil.org/media/podcasts/category/classes/

May 5, 2009

oh boy...

May 5, 2009

triton630,

You wrote: "One thing this article doesn't mention is the fact that the Liturgy is COMPLETELY based on God's Word, Holy Scripture. There is nothing extraneous. Everything can be traced back to Scripture. So it is perfect because God's Word is perfect."

I have it on pretty good authority that God didn't write a single word of the holy bible. Neither did Jesus. Therefore, it is COMPLETELY extraneous, what with having been written by scribes (with the possible exception of Paul's letters to the churches).

I applaud your enthusiasm, and I defend your right to hold your beliefs, but I question your approach. Your bible is supposed to be based on faith, yet you claim that it's entirely God's word.

A dichotomy, much? Sort of defeats the entire purpose of faith as a basis for believing?

May 5, 2009

@refriedgringo

Thanks for the applause.

"I have it on pretty good authority that God didn't write a single word of the holy bible."

Care to elaborate on that? I'm not sure I follow your point.

May 5, 2009

One word: omigod.

May 13, 2009

What if you are being distracted by issues of a woman’s right to choose safely, gay marriage and homosexuality, for example? The government you always fear to be so godless has managed to distract you, Spliff, the potential doer of rational good, from issues of real importance. But you still bravely thrash on, despite the glaucomic haze and crippling fevers of your godspells. Bravo, Spliff.

Spliff wrote: “I'm sorry man and women are like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly. Two man or women pieces you just trying to make it fit.”

To explain why homosexuality is an abberation: An analogy to a child’s game, and the shape of the ‘peepee’ is pretty scary, Spliff. I bet you don’t like to see little people dating tall people; that would be a travesty too, eh? Jiggy pieces don’t fit just right? As an atheist, I have no problem with physical or romantic love in any form, as long as it happens between two consenting adults. Again, no moral outrage, just calm acceptance and appreciation of the human spirit and its desires. You should try that sometime, Spliff. Acceptance feels good, and leads to clearer, less alloyed understanding; it allows you to peer into yourself and your own shared humanity a little more deeply. Aren’t those some goals shared by certain oft-ignored portions of your doctrine?

“Is not the world in black & white? Is not the world centered around good and evil? There is no grey or middle area. This is what's causing people confusion!! People want a middle area , so they can play both sides of the fence!!”

Spliff, you go around building the fences, then peer through them to point fingers. That is sad. The concept of the ‘center’ is a big part of the problem here. To answer your question, no, the world is not centered around anything—a major activity of mythmaking is to go around pointing out “centers” of power and meaning. Religious groups froth at the mouth trying to demarcate various “centers” of privilege and zones of evil (are the Golan Heights really that special? Is any real estate worth dying for? Is the “center” really up there in the belly of the sky god, or is it really in your own gut and brain?) When you see those documentaries on the earth, and they show the blurring of boundaries from outer space, they are on to something. We are all just pissing to mark off our sad little “centered” corners. When you say there is no “middle area,” you are saying there is no center but your centers. My world is full of centers, corners, right angles, and the full spectrum of the rainbow—try it out.

I’ll be on “reality” street if you want to speak on it, love :)

May 8, 2009

My point, my friend, is that Christianity is based on faith. It isn't so much founded on scripture as something that a deity wrote, but rather that someone was inspired in order to hire a scribe to write something. The very act of faith implies a lack of proof, and a lack of continuity, which means that mostly all of your bible is completely extraneous by design - and this is according to all Christian beliefs, by design.

My point is, that you have to believe something that you can't see; can't hear; can't read; can't understand.

Faith is truly blind, or else the meaning of your bible is exogenous. God's words were written by mere mortals, and have no value in a religion that is based on faith. But since God didn't write a single pen-stroke on parchment, believing or at least considering that proof of this was the invention of the Christ saves you.

In other words, to say, "God's Word is perfect" is to not fully understand Christianity. After all, God never said anything.

May 6, 2009

Christ Is Risen! (What the Orthodox faithful declare on Easter, or Pascha, in celebration of Christ's resurection).

An interesting article. Thanks for writing it. It's a sad, but hopeful commentary on how we as Orthodox Christians need to a better job confessing our faith to others. Sad because it recognizes our complacency as Orthodox Christians, that so few know who we are. We are the Body of Christ, but we do a poor job of spreading the Word. It's evident in the fact that people have never heard of us, or think they have to be Greek or Russian or the appropriate ethnicity to attend our services.

And it's just externally, either. I'm a 34 year-old, 2nd Generation, 100% Greek Orthodox Christian. I went to Church because my parents told me to. And they went, for the most part, for the same reasons. I went to Sunday school, but I didn't Bible read the everyday. I heard all the stories in Church, but I didn't know how they applied to my life. I received Holy Communion and was told what it was, but I didn't really feel bad if I missed one or two or even ten Sundays in a row. I definitely took my faith and the Church for granted.

I would say it is only in the past 5 or so years, that I've really attempted to gain deeper understanding of my Christian faith and have taken a more active role in it. And as a result, I understand now more than ever why it's important to go to Church on Sunday; it's not to be entertained; it's not because my parents told me to do it; it's to be healed through union with God's Word; both the written Word (The Epistle and Gospel reading) and physical Word (Holy Communion).

St John Chrysostom said it best when he said [paraphrased] "The Church is a hospital, not a courthouse".

May 5, 2009

You all would do better to try learning a bit about the history of the bible, and how it was cobbled together, argued over, and became a primarily POLITICAL document suited to the circumstances of those in power. Not one word of it is based on "divine revelation".

The bible itself is no more important, illuminating, or "true" than the ancient myths of the Greeks or Scandinavians.

The fastest growing "religion" in America today is "none at all". This is because more and more people are receiving basic educations in science. Anyone who learns the marvelously simple, and absolutely beautiful principles of evolution never again has to rely on the ugly collection of atrocities found in the bible to explain the origin of life.

(Do you SERIOUSLY believe in talking snakes, rib women, and magical trees? Grow up!)

Frankly, I feel pity for religious folks. It's as if some part of their brain is turned off. Fortunately, more and more of us have decided to stop paying lip service to those who demand "respect" for their superstitious nonsense. By confronting you directly, instead of giving you completely unearned "respect", we're treating you like adults instead of stupid children who have to be coddled.

I don't respect your religion. In adults, it deserves no more respect than sincere belief in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

Morality and religion have NOTHING in common. It's only when people grow up, give up that religious crutch, and face reality like an adult that truly moral decisions can be made.

Until then, every time I see some superstitious faith-heads extolling the virtue of their delusions, no matter how sincerely held, I'll take the time to point out that most intelligent people find these childish beliefs truly nauseating.

Best,

Fred Williams

May 6, 2009

Fred: I'm sure that the religious folk pity you in a similar way. They probably feel very bad for you that there is a spiritual hole in your life, that there is no hope beyond your mortality, and no morality beyond your own ability to reason. While I'm not trying to go all C. S. Lewis on you, I would point out that religion has done at least as much good as harm. All powerful ideas are exploited by politics, whether based on religion or something else. Gunpowder, for example, saved the World from Hitler, while gunpowder also killed millions of innocent people.

When reading Plato's Republic, it becomes apparent that all modern Democratic Republics are at least partially based inside of his framework for the ideal society. When it came to religion in this society, Plato called it the permitted lie. He conceded that logic and reason could not take the place of that which harmlessly allowed people to feel as though there was always some sort of hope beyond our own mortality.

There is a long list of "intelligent people" who believed in God. If you discount their contributions to society based on what you perceive as a belief in a fairy tale, then we would be lost, scientifically. Einstein, for example, believed in God. Yet, all of physical and chemical science employs his theories as a part of their foundation. Why should we believe in science when it is based on theories from a man that believed in fairy tales?

You are an intelligent man that chooses not to believe in a God. There are other intelligent people that choose to believe in a God. My argument, presented to both sides, is this: You are all disagreeing over an incorrect premise. There is a God, after all. The question is simply, did God create man or did man create God? I can answer my own argument; it doesn't matter.

In any faith-based religion, a belief in God is not confined by truth, proof, or reason. The existence of God, based on faith, cannot be refuted by the notion of whether man or God arrived first. Similarly, the denial or disbelief of God, conceptually and inside of a faith-based religion, is moot; if man indeed created God, then God exists irrespective of one's belief in a God.

I don't believe that aliens from a distant planet ever visited this one (I simply don't think that humans are important enough to warrant a visit). Many people do, even many intelligent people. If enough people believe that aliens were indeed here, then they were here, regardless of whether or not there is truth, proof, or reason in that belief. Because of this, I can easily wrap my head around their notions.

Respect,

gringo

May 6, 2009

Refried, you are correct...but there is one major difference between those of us who accept science, facts, and reason as opposed to those who choose to put their faith in wish fulfillment fantasies.

The religious people KILL us.

Non-believers are easy going, live-and-let-live folk.

Religious jerks want to impose their twisted view of the world on everyone else. At the point of the sword.

In America, they've gone so far that they practically took over our government, including the justice department itself.

Religious bigots band together to deny equal rights to those who disagree with their narrow-minded and factually incorrect view of life.

We don't do that. We non-believers could care less if two men want to marry, or if someone prefers smoking grass to drinking wine.

The religious idiots, however, insist that because their invisible friend commands them, they must impose their rules on all of us.

There's no equivocation, Refried. The religious are dangerous as well as by definition rather dim.

And, by the way, Einstein was absolutely NOT religious. His "God doesn't play dice" comments did NOT refer to a deity, but spoke rather of a vague sort of "Universe is God" notion popular with European scientists of his day.

As to my having a "spiritual hole"...no, the religious have a "logic hole".

Please don't equate me with the religious at all. There's no comparison. Religion, by definition, requires a person to give up on reason and rely on mythology instead. Reliance on reason, in spite of strong social pressure to be irrational, is NOT the same as giving in to fear and ignorance, and turning over your life to a nonexistent mythical sky daddy.

Best,

Fred

May 7, 2009

Oh bother here we go talking trash about those who believe in a creator. This is for those who believe and those who don't. The reason why we are here is so that the god can weed people out. For those that believe and try to follow the word of god , god has a plan for them. For those that don't believe in god , god has a plan for them too. The bible only teaches people how to live a good life. When you are free from lust , greed , envy , hate , jealousy you tend to live a better and healthier life. To deny god is to deny yourself. Man didn't create the earth , the sky , the stars , the trees or the fruits on them. Man didn't create the oceans , the mountains , the animals on land , the animals in the sky or the animals in the sea. Man didn't create the sun , the moon , rain , snow , clouds. If you really want to get technical , man didn't even create himself. The only thing man created is confusion in himself. When jesus was born , there was no fat azz white man in a clown suit flying in the skies with reindeer handing out present!!!! When jesus was reborn , there was no pure white bunny shytin out color eggs for the kids to go find!!! If you read the bible and can't understand it , it's because your heart and spirit isn't in it. People are like disobedient children that want everything except rules and guide lines. It's easier to say there isn't a god then to believe there is one , because there some many people influence by the devil with power. Some people influence by the devil are those who believe that humans evolve from monkeys into man. If you believe that an animal evolve into humans then why aren't we evolving into something else? Because in a world of evolution nothing is perfect so why hasn't man evolve yet? Why hasn't man begin to use more of the brain? According to biology it's be millions of billions of years since monkey to man and we still ain't using all of our brain for logic thinking , we still ain't evolve yet!!! The world probably wouldn't be so bad if people follow gods teachings. If people wasn't so lustful in ways we might not have so many single parents , high divorce rate , STDs , and homosexuallity!!! Anyone out there hatin on god can kiss the crack of my azz!!!! I'm in chula vista on Hst if you want to speak on it!!

May 7, 2009

Spliff wrote:

"People are like disobedient children that want everything except rules and guide lines.

[...]

It's easier to say there isn't a god then to believe there is one , because there some many people influence by the devil with power."

Spliff, you should rethink your first comment. The reason we have religion, and the reason we've thought up sky daddy is because human beings DO have a peculiar need to make up rules, then transgress them in pointless, circular fashion. This is a practice integral to Christianity in particular; break a rule, confess and absolve, break a rule, confess and absolve.

This includes creating a morality of black and white (and my friend, contrary to your statements all over these sites, you do appear to think very often in terms of black and white, good and evil), so we can bracket off and identify those who have evil in them, as opposed to those who do not. Don't you find it tiresome to live in such rigid dichotomies, always playing the same opposites off each other?

As for your (rhetorical?) question: "Because in a world of evolution nothing is perfect so why hasn't man evolve yet? Why hasn't man begin to use more of the brain?"

We've managed to bypass much of the usual course of natural selection, because we are at the top of the food chain, and idiots can not only survive but procreate.

May 7, 2009

Spliff, maybe YOU aren't evolving, but the rest of the world is.

I feel deeply sorry for you that there is such a hole in your life that you'll delude yourself with an angry sky daddy rather than face up to reality.

Evolution isn't just a theory. It's a fact repeatedly borne out by every serious researcher who has ever investigated it. The overwhelming proof has convinced intelligent people that it's the best explanation we have about how we came into being.

Religion IS a theory...and not a very good one. Every serious researcher who has ever tried to verify it has concluded that while there are bits of factual information here and there, for the most part it's just a collection of myths.

Spliff...I don't think you're a Christian at all. Quite the opposite. You're just using the label "Christian" to disguise your bigotry. If you were a "Christian" you'd be turning the other cheek, looking for peace, seeking after truth, lifting up the downtrodden...

Instead you attack gays, claim that those who disagree with you are possessed by the "devil", and seem to think that mankind is like a naughty child in need of punishment.

Grow up. Go take a science class...I recommend biology. It would open your eyes (and maybe improve your writing).

Best,

fred

May 8, 2009

It's funny to see people in this day and age questioning religion. The reason we have religion is to show people how to live a better life , it's not about trying to force anyone into doing anything. The bible teaches you that if you have poor judgement then bad things will happen to you , because of your poor judgement. The reason why people have problems with religion is not religion itself , but the people that are followers or believers in a certain doctrine. Like here in $an diego when the people were trying to bring justice to those catholic priest that molested kids in their congregation. The problem was not the catholic religion , but the men who were teaching the word of god they were not right. So you can't blame the catholic religion because the gay priest were molesting young boys. Blame the gay priest for molesting kids because they are the ones doing it , not the catholic religion teaching them to do it!!! It seems that everyone talks that trash about god , because the people that are trying to follow god are weak. Wake up people , humans aren't perfect!!! If you were perfect you wouldn't be here!! If you had all the answer you wouldn't be here!!! The people that go to church fill in their own spirit that the world ain't right and that man doesn't have the answers!! So why you scrubs hating on those who want to better their lives , while you sit back and bytch and complain about yours?!!

Is not the world in black & white? Is not the world centered around good and evil? There is no grey or middle area. This is what's causing people confusion!! People want a middle area , so they can play both sides of the fence!! Your either good or bad!! You either believe in god or you don't!! Your either for amerikkka or your not!! You are either a man or a woman!! Because we live in a world filled with lust , greed , envy , hate and jealousy people want to be good and bad. Men want other men , women want other women and they want to be accepted while doing it. I'm sorry man and women are like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly. Two man or women pieces you just trying to make it fit. Sorry people it don't work!!! You hear people saying ( i love amerikkka this is the best place to live in the world , but i'm tried of the government raising taxes and wasting my tax dollars). If your for amerikkka then you are for them raising taxes and wasting your tax dollars , because you went out and voted the people in to run the government. Which has been raising taxes since day one , they haven't stop yet and you already know they ain't going to stop. So you can only be mad at yourself for 100% believing and 100% allowing the government to continually to screw you over!! Now that has to be stupidity at it's finest. You don't believe in teachings of god even though god created everything man can't. But you believe in a man made government that has cheated and suck the life out of people!!!!! Real patriotic!!!!

May 8, 2009

Yeah fred , the rest of the world is evolving into the age of stupidity!!! If you truly believe that a monkey evolve into a man , then tell me what tribe of monkeys dose your family come from?? You seem like you would be part of the chimpanzee tribe , since you like to run off at the mouth a lot!! If man really came from a monkey then why are their no writings by the first generation of people out of the monkey stage telling us what life was like living with half human half monkey?? Was man still sleeping with half monkey women? Was women sleeping with half monkey man? If a man and women got together would they have a monkey baby? If monkey man got with monkey women would they have a human baby?? You claim evolution is fact and religion is theory. Religion has been talk about since man has walk the earth. While the theory of evolution is still new. If evolution is fact then how come humans weren't documenting details of us evolving while it was happening?? Why are we only now learning about it millions and billions of years after evolving. Yet in the bible humans walking with god has been going on since day one!! If you think the bible is myth because it deals with the past. Then all history is myth , because if you wasn't there then you going off what someone else seen , heard or what they want to say. So in reality the whole world is full of myths. So fred you believe in the myth of biology , now that's sad!!!!!

You said i'm attacking gays , but you didn't say i'm attacking single parents , people who've gotten a divorce , people with STDs or people who are lustful. Why you leave them out? I'll tell you why because you're a half azzer. You want to pick out want you want to argue about , because you don't have enough intelligence to debate a whole subject. Here's my take on gays!!! Don't nobody care if two dudes want to sword fight. Don't nobody care if two women want to rub bushes!! In fact gays are attacking everyone else because they want us to accept the BS they doing!! The way it looks to me , gay people are looking for acceptance because they have a low self esteem of themselves. So they have to have other peoples' approval , to justify their own actions. While at the same time they sit back and say i don't care what anyone thinks of me , i'm doing what makes me fill happy. So fred if you're gay monkey , i'm happy for ya because that's one less idiot that won't be producing any human off-spring on this planet!!!

Sorry i've never turned my cheek. Turning your cheek can get you slap on the other one. I can't be at peace when there are stupid and ignorant people controlling , influencing and misleading everyone with false knowledge. I don't need to seek the truth because i believe in god not in amerikkka. I'm a solider in god's army and it's only a chosen few in it and we always help those in need. Who do you help fred your male monkey boyfriend?

May 8, 2009

Spliff wrote: “The people that go to church fill in their own spirit that the world ain't right and that man doesn't have the answers!! So why you scrubs hating on those who want to better their lives , while you sit back and bytch and complain about yours?!!”

Sometimes I think you show a healthy sense of humor, Spliff, sometimes I think you provide a good earnest point or two for readers of this publication to ponder, and sometimes you are so full of rage and hate in all of those question marks and exclamations. Interestingly, when you get all religious on us, this is when you become the most careless, in more than one literal sense of the word. Let me first say that Spliff, the good feelings I have about you are not a result of Christian charity, and the negative are not a result of Christian ire—I am just a simple humanist, a lover of humanity. I do not think in strict opposites; I expect people to show all sides of themselves, and I most appreciate some dimension of character. I can be angry that a next door church is so loud that I have to move, without wanting to annihilate it. Sometimes a noise issue is just a noise issue.

Spliff wrote: “But you believe in a man made government that has cheated and suck the life out of people!!!!! Real patriotic!!!!”

I think you are arguing against multiple parties here. I think we have a flawed but workable system. There are many injustices to be righted, and your voice joins many in protest of what you see as governmental wrong. And do you really think we all just sit back and bitch? Many of us are out there fighting the kind of discrimination and censorship that you seem to applaud.

Us atheists (and no, we are not a ‘religion’) are not for the most part filled with outrage and judgement, unless we are witnessing the the violent actions and results of an ongoing holy Christian crusade or a jihad, or the diminishment of others’ basic (you would call them god-given) rights. I can disagree with you without thinking you are “evil” or possessed by the devil (you are possessed by some form of Christianity, to be sure).

Spliff wrote: “Yet in the bible humans walking with god has been going on since day one!!”

Spliff, we apparently live with different concepts of time altogether, and I refer you to any basic textbook for your questions about primates, humans, and evolution (and just as with the bible, you can pick and choose from your authors, but in this case, all is carefully, logically documented, and neither names nor traceable proofs have been lost).

May 8, 2009

Let me offer you this. Marx, someone you oughta read, because you share many of his views, is oft-quoted as saying that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” In other words, religion dulls the mind and distracts you from all of your political suspicions, and deflects your attention to trifling matters, and invasions of your own people’s rights to life, privacy, and freedom of expression. Hmm, why is it that our politicians pay such lip service to the dominant strain of Christianity, but invariably seem not to be the believers some think they should be? What if your particular construct of Christianity is such an opiate, meant to distract you from the real goings-on of your government agencies? What if the tenets you’ve been taught are, to paraphrase some words in Billy Wilder’s excellent film “One Two Three,” a ‘red herring in the moonlight, shining, but stinking?’

May 8, 2009

I guess you people still don't get it!! If you believe in nothing you fall for anything!! SDaniels you said our government has flaws but is a workable system. The flaw is that it is a man made government, so it will never work!! And yes everyone dose sit back and bytch all damm day. But you people still go out and vote on that same man made government that you sit back and bytch about!! You still send your children to die in wars to protect the government you bytch about.So my question to anyone is, if you vote on it why you bytching about it? Wait i know why.When the government is out killing people in other countries for drugs and oil it's time to be patriotic! But when the government is shytin on it's citizen, then it's time to voice your opinion on how you don't like the system we live in! Sounds like playing both sides of the fence. The reason why your government uses churches, is just to get your vote. The government doesn't have to believe in anything you do, they just want your vote. Haven't you notice that yet!! Your government goes out and recruits young man and women to fight wars they created, but none of their children are in the armed services. Your government says that doing or selling drugs is illegal, but they invade afghanistan to control opium and poppy fields so they can ship the drugs in. Politician have raised taxes even though they say they are against raising taxes. But you still go out and vote , thinking that maybe the next azzhole will make amerikkka better!! Wake the hell up people!! You believe that god dulls the minds? I think you only believe that, because god isn't for your desire of the flesh. People only stray away from god,because they desire things that god says isn't good for your spirit. Just like a child who eats a bunch of candy after a parent says it's bad for your teeth. That's how people are when it comes to follow gods' teachings! You want the candy even though god has told you it's bad for your teeth. Now your teeth are rotten because you didn't heed the warnings so you blame god for your own screw ups. When will people finally realize that following mans' thinking is the reason why the world is in the state that it is in now. Man has only study life and in all of mans' studying, man is still confused in his own studies. SDaniel sorry i didn't build any fences, they were already there. You say your world is full of centers, corners, right angles and the rainbow. Just remember you said your world, not the real world! You say you on reality street , but in what neighborhood? Well since you don't believe in god you must be in mans' neighborhood so aren't you really on confused street since man is confuse on life! I'm in gods' temple smoking on a phat azz blunt if you want to speak on it!! Oh wait i forgot some of you don't know where that is , so i guess we can't speak on it at my spot!! I'll take a marijuana cloud down to earth to halla at yall!!

May 11, 2009

Spliff suggested:

"If you believe in nothing you fall for anything!!" Why does the skeptic's position lead to gullibility? Not sure where you're going with that one.

Spliff opined:

"If you believe in nothing you fall for anything!! SDaniels you said our government has flaws but is a workable system. The flaw is that it is a man made government, so it will never work!!"

Spliff, if you had to take all of your requirements and issues,and cobble together a system, what kind of government do you propose? I ask because it doesn't look as though God has the time to run it. Let's get to work, my friend. Give me your platform; if you don't insist on putting church and state in bed together, maybe I'll vote for you.

Spliff wondered:

"I've never seen two male or female animals having sex , so why are people doing it if humans are suppose to be smarted then animals?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RlTAyNI8WE

Well, you asked for that, Spliff. :) Btw, as your bible demonstrates, rape of men by men was commonly considered a way to best the enemy in battle, and to dominate and emasculate them. Loving homosexual partnerships seem a lot more palatable--maybe that's just me...

Spliff metaphorized:

"SDaniel sorry i didn't build any fences, they were already there."

Exactly, why keep polishing them?

Touched by the muse, Spliff concluded:

"I'll take a marijuana cloud down to earth to halla at yall!!"

That is a beautiful image, Spliff. I hope you write much much more like this :)

May 11, 2009

What i mean by if you believe in nothing you fall for anything. The word of god is the teachings on how to live a healthy spiritual life and it explains how the world was created. As people, our own spirits will hungry and search for the truth as we go on living our lives. So if you don't believe in the words of the one who created you and the world you live in, your spirit will be searching for the truths to satisfied it's hunger. What ever concepts of how the world was created that you fill is acceptable to you, you will believe in. For all of those people that don't believe in god or the teachings of god, they fall for anything that sounds acceptable to them. Like those who believe in the theory of evolution and the key word is THEORY. Because by the definition of theory, if it's a theory then it's not a fact. That's why it's called the THEORY of evolution and not the FACTS of evolution!! Because man himself don't know if it's fact or not. Now you have people who don't believe in god or have faith in god, fall for a man made theory on how life was created instead of believing in facts!! Thus the phrase if you believe in nothing you fall for anything!! We wouldn't need a government if people followed the word of god and treated each other with we respect. The governments of today are only a collection of power hungry individuals who want to control the masses of people by any means necessary!! Every government takes teachings or ideas from the bible and uses them to govern the people. Like it says in the bible people shouldn't kill or steal. Has not every government adopted that church philosophy if you steal or kill you will be punished? So if you want my take on what kind of government we need, it's simple. Get rid of all the azzhole that are for themselves and not for the people. That has been the problem with every government, finding someone who is for the people and not for themselves. That has been the problem with churches, finding someone who is a true believer in god and gods' teachings. It's not the idea of a government or the teachings of the church that causes problems. It is the people who are at the head of the government and churches that are the problem. So get rid of the azzholes and bring in individuals that are truly for the people and better living for every one, not just for themselves!! SDaniels you said-the bible says rape of men by men was commonly consider a way to best the enemy in battle and to dominate and emasculate them. Where is that in the bible? Or are you going off the fact that your own amerikkkan government has gay solider that were in guantanamo bay raping prisoners and taking pictures of themselves doing it? The bible speaks of homosexuality, but it says that man shouldn't lay down with another man or animal, like he lays down with women. But i guess you didn't know that since you are a none believer! I had to take my marijuana cloud back home. Damm cops were after me!!!

May 12, 2009

So because animals are doing it that makes being gay okay? Dear god have are standards gotten that low!! What a bunch of loser!!! At least say i'm a horny azz person and i can't get any from the opposite sex. Or i was in prison and playing with myself was getting boring. Or maybe i was in the military and we use homosexuality methods as a way to make the prisoners talk. And no i'm not polishing the fences , i'm trying to tear them down so you can't play both sides. Okay i think i ditch the cops , damm marijuana cloud moves to slow i need to smoke more!!!

May 12, 2009

Spliff, you might want to re-read your bible.

Jonathan and King David sure were...ahem...pretty "close" to each other.

Right after the homos are called an "abomination" in Leviticus, the Bible clearly says that eating shrimp is an "abomination" too...so obviously gay sex is just as offensive to God as eating shellfish.

Look it up, my friend. If you've ever eaten lobster, you're going to hell. (Or, just maybe, you kinda believe what Jesus and especially Paul said about the old testament being out of date, huh?)

Remember when Lot was visited by the angels? Rather than let the crowd bother these divine beings (you'd think they could protect themselves) our hero sent out his pubescent daughters in their place to be raped silly...oh, what a great source of morality!

Spliff, you must agree that mental illness is caused by evil spirits. After all, Jesus was able to transfer evil spirits from a schizophrenic over to a pig herd, which then ran off the cliffs. No more reason to fund those mental health clinics...take it to the lord in prayer, he'll heal you!

Oh yeah, Spliff. If we just used the bible as our source of morality, we'd still have slavery. Didn't you know that Jesus even gives instructions on how to treat your slaves properly?

Religion is a THEORY. Problem is, it's not backed up by any facts.

Evolution is a THEORY. Great thing is, it's backed up, again and again, by irrefutable facts and evidence.

Which THEORY do you believe?

Best,

Fred

May 13, 2009

Wow!! I guess my half azz friend fred williams is back on the scene huh!!! I love to see people get mad at the teachings of god and think they are stupid. But the same people that don't believe in god or don't like gods' teachings , are they same people who go around kissing mans' azz and bow down to mans' authority!! You try to stand tall against the teachings of god , but you coward down like a bytch aganist mans' laws!! It's funny to see people try and to take only bits and pieces of the bible and try to argue about it. So if king david on jonathan were so "close" , where dose it say they were sexually active with each other? And please don't say just because they love each other , that means they were sexually active with each other!! I love all my male friends , but that don't mean we are sexually active with each other. Just because you simple minded people think love equals sexually activity , is't not true. I can love you and not be slepping with you. So fred williams if we go by your arguement that, if you love someone your sleeping with them. Tell me did you have sex with your parents , because i'm pretty sure your parents love you and you love them. So how was the sex with your dad? Did you and your dad have a threesome with moms? Bring the scripture were at says they were sexually active with each other. Don't just talk about what you think you read cite your sources give a scripture , don't just say oh they were close and were called homos. The only reason god says eating certain foods is and abomination , is because some animals you eat are unhealty to eat. And eating unhealthy is an abomination to your own health!! Just like eating swine or pig. I'm pretty sure you love to eat your sausage or bacon , but why would you eat an animal that lives in it's on shyt!!! Why would you eat an animal that you throw left over too. So if god gives you the tools to eating healthy , you choose not to and your health is bad you look like an idiot. That's like if your told don't use crack it will mess up your life. But you use crack anyway , then you can only blame yourself when your life is fucc up!!

May 13, 2009

The reason why there is an old testament and new is because god is still trying to give you non believers a chance to see the truth!!! You talk about Lot and his daughters. But what your dumb azz don't understand is that the angles were there looking for those who still believe in god!!! You don't talk about how god said he would spare the city if at least ten good people were found in it!! And what you can't even come to terms with is that some people are willing to give there life for god. Un like you fred. Are you willing to give your life for a theory of evolution? You talk that talk but can you walk the walk!!? I bet if i had a gun to ya head and told you the evolution theory was bull , you would agree to spare you sorry azz!!! So do you really have faith in what you believe or are you just full of shyt?? Yes jesus gave instruction on how to treat slaves , but what you fell to realize. Is that slaves back in those days were employees , not like amerikkka were africans were property of there owners. And we still have slave just look at our work force and amerikkkan prison population. Cheap azz labor , looks like slaves to me. And ya still ain't treating them right , even though you been told how to!!!

By your own words fred you said religon is theory. So your whole argument that king david was sleeping with jonathan is base on a theory not a fact!! How do you fell chasing your tail around like a dog. Don't talk about the bible as fact to point out a bullshyt arguement then call it theory. Learn how to be consistant with what you talk about. Get your head out of your azz man and smell the shyt you talking!!!!!!!

I don't believe in theories like you. And you still haven't said what tribe of monkeies you come from since you evolve from a monkey.

May 13, 2009
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
May 11, 2009

Fred Williams said "The religious people KILL us.

Non-believers are easy going, live-and-let-live folk."

Fred, that's horse crap. You may be easy going and live-and-let-live, but JOSEPH FREAKING STALIN wasn't! He was the most powerful anti-religious, atheistic man in history, and the most murderous. Hitler -- another anti-religionist, by the way -- was an amateur in comparison. Stalin killed between 50 and 100 million people. The other atheistic communist regimes of the world have killed countless millions more. And why not? If there's no God, and therefore no objective system of morality -- only Darwin's murky theory of evolution -- why not kill 100 million people to achieve your political ends?

May 26, 2009

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