The layoffs, in retrospect, shouldn’t have been a surprise. All of the signs were there, the top management jumping ship, the ramping up of the propaganda concerning the rosy future of the company, the wave of earnest young consultants walking around asking questions. I was taken in the first wave of three, and so I lost the most comfortable sinecure of my entire life. The panic attacks started about a half a month later. I awoke in the middle of the night with cold sweat pouring off my back, my heart racing like the engine of a Formula One race car. Fortunately, the panic attacks went away after a time. For some people they don’t, and I count myself extremely fortunate.
Slowly, we learned to live at a less opulent level, and were the better for it. About five years ago though, the attacks came back. This time, they attacks were occasioned by the material I was reading about climate change, ecological collapse, and Peak Oil. In particular, I got myself really worked up over Peak Oil, the concept that the production of crude oil had peaked and was heading for a slow but inexorable decline. When I thought about how intertwined petroleum and petroleum products were in every facet of our society, I began to despair deeply. It is one thing to lose your job. It is another thing to lose your civilization.
At one point, I blamed the Lord. “Why did you have to go?” I upbraided Him. “I could sleep nights if I knew you were the Secretary General of the United Nations with plenipotentiary powers. As it stands, we’ll probably end up with Tony Blair or or some other Eurocrat. Why couldn’t you stick around and fix things?” Almost immediately I realized what I had done. I had joined the crowd who wanted to make Jesus king by force after his picnic in the wilderness.
It was at this time that one passage of the Gospels stood out with particular force. It is to your advantage that I go away (John 16.7). Jesus was saying here that it was to the particular advantage of the apostles, and to the rest of humanity as well, that He return to the Father. That was a better state of affairs. When I sat and thought about it for a while, the presence of Christ in the flesh, although it was a great comfort to the faithful and believing Jews, did not usher in a Utopia for them. He didn’t chase out the Romans; He didn’t fill the Temple treasury; He didn’t even dethrone the reptilian Antipas family.
What Jesus did do was to ask the Father, and send the Holy Spirit. This is very important. The only change that Jesus made to the status quo ante after completing His great work was to send the Holy Spirit. Here, then, is the crux of all the arguments about authority in the Western Church. Nobody denies that the Holy Spirit has authority, but the rub is that nobody can tell you with any certainty where or when the Spirit is moving. There have been historically three main answers to this quandary; either the Spirit illuminates people directly, in which case you become a Pentecostal, or the Spirit operates fairly rigidly in a top-down hierarchy, in which case you become a Roman Catholic, or the Spirit inspired the Scriptures, then left us to our own devices, in which case you become a sola scriptura confessional Protestant.
When I was very young, in my ancestral Dutch Reformed church, I learned very little about the Holy Spirit, except that you weren’t allowed to cut a sheet full of eyeholes and go out for Hallowe’en disguised as “the Holey Ghost”. I asked my grandparents about the third member of the Trinity, and got very little in response. In my early twenties, I made up for this ignorance by coming under the influence of the Pentecostals. I was forthwith “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and spoke in tongues. My wife’s “spirit baptism” was far more dramatic than mine, so self-authenticating that I have not in twenty-five years of anti-Pentecostal polemics been able to so much as leave a scratch on the diamantine surface of her certainty that the Pentecostals have a lock on the Holy Spirit.
Since my baptism was so mediocre, I started doubting it almost immediately. I saw that people often got caught up in ‘tongues battles’ in churches, that people who ‘spoke in tongues’ could do, and often did do, terrible things to one another. “Tongues” and “interpretations” were often used pointedly and personally to maintain control, or to avenge a supposed wrong, or just to warn some woman off of some man or vice versa. At the extreme fringes there were emotional excesses and outright mental illness. In addition, many prophets who weren’t at all shy about ascribing infallibility to themselves were proved to be horribly wrong by the passage of time. To be scrupulous, I used to believe this about David Wilkerson’s 1973 vision, but going back to his original material after forty years, he seems to have been remarkably prescient. After Rev. Wilkerson’s dramatic vision was made public, the other Pentecostal prophets seemed to want to out do him. For a couple of years, we moved amidst a cloud of foretold events; hurricanes, tidal waves, economic collapse, Russian invasions of the Middle East (As an aside, there are also Orthodox prophecies concerning Russian invasions of the Middle East, but they are considered a Good Thing rather than otherwise).
What I observed in the midst of this conflicting mélange of prophecies was not something that an idealistic young man of not yet thirty should have to experience in sacred precincts. Soon after this, the Charismatic movement appeared to lose its impetus in the late seventies and early eighties. It joined forces with the emerging Christian Right and all but disappeared as a distinctive movement. Although some say that the so-called ‘Third Wave Pentecostalism’ is a logical continuation of the Charismatic Movement, my experience is that it is composed mostly of the flotsam and jetsam of the more aberrational elements of First and Second Wave Pentecostalism, particularly the repudiated Manifest Sons Movement and the Jesse Penn Lewis school of spiritual warfare. Third Wave Pentecostalism held no charms for me. I decamped for the flinty plains of Neo-Calvinism where I felt certain that I would be free at last from the excesses of the Pentecostals and their feathery friend.
I was right. I heard very little about the Holy Spirit among the Calvinistas. He inspired the Apostles to write the scriptres, illumined you to believe them, and then conveniently departed without leaving a forwarding address. Since everything we needed to know was in the Bible anyway, the Spirit wasn’t even missed that much. I learned that the key to power and ecclesiastical influence among the Calvinists was an arcane art they called “exegesis”. This is when you use an expensive seminary education, a modicum of knowledge about the original languages of the Bible, and an active historical imagination as reagents to extract the gold of “true truth” from the raw material of Scripture. Then you argued, argued, argued incessantly your findings, always preparing another paper or book for publication. When I observed that perhaps, just perhaps, one ought to read the Bible in the same Spirit in which it was written, I was basically told to go back and ululate with the Pentecostals.
So, it was either return to ‘Halloween in Saved Town’ or join the gladiatorial combat in the arena of the Booklords, neither of which appealed to me. Add to this the unsettling fact that the Calvinistas had lost control of the Academy three generations ago when the monster that they created declared its independence, turned the same critical eye on the Bible itself and found it to be a not very well-edited pastiche of ancient Near Eastern narratives. Not to worry, I was assured. As soon as they could frame the right presuppositionalist argument, they would storm the Academy and Theology, the Queen of the sciences, could return from her painful exile.
It was at this time that I began investigating Apostolic Christianity, in both its Catholic and Orthodox form. By unfortunate chance, I picked up a child’s catechism book on one of my coworkers whose daughter was preparing for Confirmation. On the page dealing with the Holy Spirit, I read that the ministry of the Holy Spirit primarily worked upon the Pope and the hierarchy as they sought to define the Faith for the rest of us. I was aghast. ‘Is this what they really believe?’ I thought to myself. I have since read the official Catholic catechism and found it to be entirely orthodox (small-o), but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that I had been given a glimpse behind the curtain, and suddenly it dawned on me that when my Catholic friends said ‘the Church’, I had to listen closely to hear whether it was being used in an inclusionary sense, meaning the whole body of the Church, or exclusionary sense, meaning primarily the hierarchy.
So, in the West, it appears that there were three answers to the question, “How does the Holy Spirit exercise His authority in the Church?” “Directly, through His anointed prophets and apostles”, say the Pentecostals (and, ominously, the Mormons and the Sufis). “Through the Scriptures as understood by the Academy and subjected to peer review”, reply the classical Protestants. “Through the Magisterium, but, uh, practically speaking, through the Holy Father”, reply the Roman Catholics. It wasn’t until I had been Orthodox for other reasons for almost two years that I learned there was a major difference in the understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church from that of the Western Churches. The Orthodox Church confessed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, whereas the Western Churches insisted that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son.
At first, my reaction was like, “uh yeah … This like, matters how?” When I stopped to think about it, I understood that it was a very, very big deal indeed. The necessity of God existing as Trinity, as One and Many simultaneously, is so central to the existence and composition of the Universe that the slightest change in the internal economy of the Holy Trinity has ramifications for every other branch of Christian belief and practice. To be honest, there are Orthodox like Met. Kallistos Ware who don’t believe the filioque is any big deal, but there are also others, like Vladimir Lossky, who blame it for the French Revolution (“the Revolution was born in the cradle of the filioque, ancient Austrasia, and extended to the Third Rome”) and the emergence of logical positivism. Pastorally, does it matter? I’ve been reading Lossky and yeah, I think it does. But I’ve also been reading an unexpectedly vigorous defense of the filioque by Dietrich Bonheoffer. I’ll report my findings here next week.
Uh, about Peak Oil? I still believe it is going to be a major problem. Like all addictions, this one is going to be the very devil to give up, but all the really important things about life; art, literature, family, religion, good food and drink, were all there before we let the oil genie out of the bottle, and they’ll be there after we, as a species, collectively learn to ratchet back our passions like I had to do following my layoff.