video clip last week from some footage of a politician on the campaign trail showed
her challenging her supporters to dream big and make a change for the better in
their world. At this time of the year, that phrase is a cliche: change your world.
Every graduation speaker says something almost identical to that in every speech.
I was momentarily moved by the politician's rhetoric, which seemed to spark a
flash of insight on the screen at the back of my cranium.
was reminded that it was just that possibility that made me most reluctant to
make the transition from Protestant to Eastern Orthodoxy just over a decade ago.
For a fleeting moment that may have lasted a day, the thing that barred me from
choosing the Orthodox Way was my realization that if I became Orthodox I'd have
to give up my lifelong "calling" to be a reformer. In the Reformed tradition
that had become my ministerial home, the slogan was "the reformed church
is always reforming." As the editor of a string of religious periodicals
and an author and lecturer, I had the tools and means of changing the world, at
least a tiny bit of it, at my disposal. The thought of not being able to continue
that work was daunting and disheartening, because everything else pointed to my
It was, of course, a silly fear. Orthodox
figures like Dostoyevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, even Leo Tolstoy before his
apostasy late in life, have changed the world more in any one of their books than
I can ever hope to have done. But the Protestant church, from its liturgy to its
social programs, youth outreaches, missions, and its theology is all about reinventing
itself. The whole ethos of Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is the proposition that
God has revealed himself perfectly to the church and nothing more is required.
To be Orthodox is to keep keepthe faith, not reinvent it. By
the time of the seventh ecumenical council in Nicea, 787 A.D., the whole of Orthodox
Christian doctrine had been worked out.
It seemed I had to
choose between a life of creativitywith the ever-present hope of finding
some great new discoveryand one of "just" standing guard over
a well-kept treasure.
Of course this attitude isn't "Orthodoxy";
it's not what the church actually teaches. Though there has been no pressing need
for another council of the whole church since 787, there have been new church
fathers, new theologians, thousands of new saints, and millions of lives meaningfully
lived for the sake of coming to salvation. Fights have been fought and won (and
sometimes lost), an empire thrived for a millenium, new worlds were discovered
and missionized. I had to come to the awareness that the world I had to create
was my own: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians
And in the last analysis, that's the only world anyone
can hope to create.
complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2005