Entries with tag tradition .

How Hamilton Taught Me to Love the Scriptures - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I can’t stop listening to the soundtrack of the hit Broadway show, Hamilton.

It’s amazing. The genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda is astounding as he finds rhyme after rhyme to tell the story of the “ten-dollar founding father without a father.”

When I was in high school, I dreaded U.S. History. To be perfectly honest, history still frequently bores me. It often seems like a bunch of things that happened to a bunch of people a bunch of years ago that, apart from setting the stage for the present, really has no bearing on my life now.

Hamilton, however, has opened my eyes to the riches of history.

I wish someone would have produced this musical when I was in high school so if I needed to recall some detail of the establishment of the national bank, I could have remembered that Hamilton’s idea was strongly opposed by Jefferson and Madison, as dramatized through a rap battle in cabinet meeting. Genius.

But history retold through the lens of hip-hop isn’t simply engaging because of the phat beats. Rather, by interpreting history in a new light, I can see that that the problems the founding fathers faced are really no different than the problems we face today.

Hamilton explores the reality that politicians form coalitions, quid pro quo arrangements to further their own agendas. Those in power have affairs, hide scandals, and blackmail one another. They get upset by petty disputes and take professional slights personally, calling people out publically (even to the point of being willing to kill each other).

In other words: nothing has really changed.

It took hip-hop to reveal this to me. In a lot of ways, the America of today looks a lot like the America of then. By looking at history with new eyes, we can see that it has a lot to tell us about our current context. It is not just the story of the founding fathers; it is the story of America. It is our story, too.

So, if this is true with the story of America, how much more true must it be with the story of Christianity, the story of God’s people?

Often we look at the scriptures and are baffled that the apostles didn’t understand who Christ was; after all, they saw the miracles, the healings, the resurrected Christ. Perhaps we look at the stories of the scriptures and feel the same way I felt about American history: good stories about people who are all dead.

Or perhaps more arrogantly, we read the scriptures and think, if we had been there, we would have recognized Him as the Son of God. Of course, apart from the one time Peter proclaims Christ as the Son of God and Longinus’ revelation following the death of Christ, the Gospels make it abundantly clear that the only people who recognize Jesus as the Son of God are those who are possessed by demons! Suddenly, I’m not so confident I would have gotten it either.

But if we read the scriptures with the same eyes we’ve learned to have through things like Hamilton, we may see that the story of faith is not just a series of events that happened to people millennia ago, but rather it is a living story, a story that we are a part of. It is not just the story of the founding fathers of Christianity; it is the story of God’s people. It is our story, too.

Perhaps the cast of Hamilton has taught us that it is indeed possible to look back at the stories of yesteryear and realize that we have much to learn from those who have gone before us. Perhaps when we look at the stories in scripture we realize that we are not simply reading about apostles who don’t seem to get what Christ is saying; we are reading about ourselves, disciples of Christ who still don’t understand what He wants.

Perhaps when we open the scriptures we can see ourselves in its pages. Perhaps we can take great comfort in realizing that even those who literally walked with Him had no idea what He was doing, so we, too, might begin to feel a little more comfortable in our own questions of discipleship to Christ.

The story of following Jesus is something that is written anew for everyone baptized into Christ, but it is indeed the same story. It is the story of a ragtag group whom Christ has chosen, people He has commissioned to be His witnesses in all parts of the world. It is a story that happens in this moment, in every moment, and it is a story to which we know the ending: Christ wins.

So while we may feel disconnected or lost as if we are seeking Christ in a dark room, we can have hope as we realize that our struggle to take hold of Christ now is the same struggle people have encountered for the last 2,000 years. And if we can learn to rap, it’ll just make it all the more fun in the meantime.

Photo Credits:

Hamilton Stage Joe Shlabotnik Flickr via Compfight cc

Cross: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.


Finding Ourselves Within Tradition - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I recently binge-watched the ABC musical comedy, Galavant. The show begins when the show’s eponymous medieval knight’s ladylove, Madalena, is forced to marry the evil King Richard. As Sir Galavant rushes to her rescue, attempting to stop the wedding dramatically, Madalena tells the romantic Galavant that she actually is now choosing to marry Richard, largely because she desires to be wealthy, powerful, and live in a castle.

Distraught, Galavant turns to drink and becomes a has-been hero.

The story is thus about Galavant’s return to being a hero and his desire to win back the heart of Madalena and overthrow the King. Of course, I don’t want to give too much of it away as there is a lot of fun to be had, but I highly recommend it to anyone who might be amused by such thing.

The show itself is very clever. It is a lot of fun, heart-warming, and delightfully silly, full of dancing knights and the like. What is most enjoyable, however, is that this show has quite intentionally chosen to place itself within a long tradition of musicals and other knightly stories.

Without taking itself seriously (whatsoever), the show makes unapologetic references to all kinds of stories: West Side Story, Les Miserables, The Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones to name only a few. By doing this, the show has no pretense at all about being some kind of unique story, unique offering to the world of television, musicals, or medieval lore.

But in so doing, it actually emerges triumphantly as an entirely original and marvelously enjoyable show. It borrows (and some times flat out steals) from other stories, but Galavant nonetheless succeeds not only as an entertaining way to spend half-an-hour, but also as another comedy, musical, and knightly tale.

As I reflected on this, I considered the ending of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in which he writes, “In literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”[1]

Here, in Galavant, this proved to be entirely true. Galavant not only didn’t seek to make itself unique, it intentionally paid homage to the other stories it was almost exactly like. In so doing, it showed itself to be entirely original.

I think this rings true with our lives as well. Unfortunately, we so often spend our energy trying to be unique individuals, trying to express ourselves or live authentically. We don’t want to be “fake,” so we go to extensive lengths in order to “live our own truth.”

Usually, this involves deciding what kind of person we want to be, and then doing the things that kind of person would do, and so:

We shop at Abercrombie.

We only eat organic.

We start CrossFit and then never stop talking about it.

Yet a great irony occurs here: that by trying to be unique we actually end up being just like everyone else. We are not truly being ourselves, we are buying ourselves from people who want to sell our selves to us.

In trying to find ourselves, we lose ourselves – I think Jesus may have said something like that (Matt. 16:25).

Rather, instead of just trying to express ourselves, trying to be unique and individual, if we saw ourselves as being placed within a larger tradition of saints and sinners, people who have been brought to new life in Christ, we would see that we, too, might find a way to newness of life.

This is why it’s amazing to note that there have been all kinds of saints: doctors, lawyers, warriors, teenagers, married, monks…really, the difference among the followers of Christ is far and wide, while those of us who pursue authenticity according to our own desires, according to what we think makes us original end up looking like carbon copies of one another.

We may feel that following Christ is “boring,” or something that we resist because we don’t want to be told what to do. But if we seek originality by our own judgments, we are still likely to fail to achieve uniqueness as we are simply being branded by companies that want our money.

If we follow Christ, however, if we lose ourselves by following Him, by throwing it all in and giving ourselves to the long tradition of those who have come before us, we may be utterly delighted when we discover that by giving ourselves away in service, we find who we really are: persons made to reveal the image of God uniquely.

And since I’ve tried over and over again to write a brilliant (original) conclusion to this and have continually failed, I’ll let C.S. Lewis close for me:

Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.[2]

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980), p. 226.

[2] Ibid., p. 227.


Photo Credits: Depositphotos



Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.


Orthodox Fundamentalism

One of the cornerstones of Orthodox Christianity is its reverence for the great Fathers of the Church who were not only exemplars of holiness but were also the greatest intellectuals of their age.  The writings of men like St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Maximos the Confessor have been and will always remain essential guides to Orthodox Christian living and Orthodox Christian faith.

Thus it is alarming that so many Orthodox clerics and monks in recent years have made public statements that reflect a “fundamentalist” approach to the Church Fathers.  And unless leaders of the Orthodox Church unite to repudiate this development, the entire Orthodox Church is at risk of being hijacked by extremists.

Like other fundamentalist movements, Orthodox fundamentalism reduces all theological teaching to a subset of theological axioms and then measures the worthiness of others according to them.  Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching.  For example, when the Theological Academy of Volos recently convened an international conference to examine the role of the Fathers in the modern Church, radical opportunists in the Church of Greece accused it and its bishop of heresy.

The key intellectual error in Orthodox fundamentalism lies in the presupposition that the Church Fathers agreed on all theological and ethical matters.  That miscalculation, no doubt, is related to another equally flawed assumption that Orthodox theology has never changed—clearly it has or else there would have been no need for the Fathers to build consensus at successive Ecumenical Councils. 

The irony, as identified by recent scholarship on fundamentalism, is that while fundamentalists claim to protect the Orthodox Christian faith from the corruption of modernity, their vision of Orthodox Christianity is, itself, a very modern phenomenon.  In other words, Orthodoxy never was what fundamentalists claim it to be. 

Indeed, a careful reading of Christian history and theology makes clear that some of the most influential saints of the Church disagreed with one another—at times quite bitterly. St. Peter and St. Paul were at odds over circumcision.  St. Basil and St. Gregory the Theologian clashed over the best way to recognize the divinity of Holy Spirit.  And St. John Damascene, who lived in a monastery in the Islamic Caliphate, abandoned the hymnographical tradition that preceded him in order to develop a new one that spoke to the needs of his community.

It is important to understand that Orthodox fundamentalists reinforce their reductionist reading of the Church Fathers with additional falsehoods.  One of the most frequently espoused is the claim that the monastic community has always been the guardian of Orthodox teaching.  Another insists that the Fathers were anti-intellectual.  And a third demands that adherence to the teachings of the Fathers necessitates that one resist all things Western.  Each of these assertions is patently false for specific reasons, but they are all symptomatic of an ideological masquerade that purports to escape the modern world.

The insidious danger of Orthodox fundamentalists is that they obfuscate the difference between tradition and fundamentalism.  By repurposing the tradition as a political weapon, the ideologue deceives those who are not inclined to question the credibility of their religious leaders.

In an age when so many young people are opting out of religious affiliation altogether, the expansion of fundamentalist ideology into ordinary parishes is leading to a situation where our children are choosing between religious extremism or no religion at all.

It is time for Orthodox hierarchs and lay leaders to proclaim broadly that the endearing relevance of the Church Fathers does not lie in the slavish adherence to a fossilized set of propositions used in self-promotion.  The significance of the Fathers lies in their earnest and soul-wrenching quest to seek God and to share Him with the world.  Fundamentalist readings of both the Fathers and the Bible never lead to God—they only lead to idolatry.

George E. Demacopoulos: Professor of Historical Theology; Director and Co-Founder, Orthodox Christian Studies Center  at Fordham University. @GDemacopoulos

What do we mean by "Living Tradition"?

We often say that the Orthodox Tradition is a "living tradition."  But what does that really mean? We have to admit that the definition might elude us.  This recent experience led me to think about the phrase and it led me to some kind of "working definition."

About two weeks ago, I arranged for one of my classes at Holy Cross to visit the St. Catherine’s Church in Braintree, Massachusetts. The iconographer, Mr. George Kordis, and his team were working to paint the icons for the church. Mind you, he had not painted on canvases in a studio and was now installing them on the walls (picture a very wallpaper hanging job!) but instead, he and his team were painting the icons (in egg tempera) on the walls themselves – the dome with its Pantocrator, Prophets and angels, the drum under the dome, the pendentives, and the sanctuary apse (the Platyera). In addition, other pieces were being painted as well. In about six weeks all this work would be done to be “unveiled” to the parish at its feast day on November 25.

The students had the opportunity to climb the scaffolding and get very close to many of the pieces. The students also had the opportunity to meet the iconographer, hear how he goes about his work, and his thinking behind it.

Kordis made an interesting observation, which I can only describe as the definition of “living tradition.”  He told the group that he was not just copying older icons and placing them on the walls. Rather he was “creating” icons, relying on the models of the past (Kordis has written and taught extensively about the art of the Church) but fitting the new situation of the new building in order to create a unified vision for the worshipping congregation. This new building had requirements that older buildings did not have, so a new approach to the icons had to be taken. On the trivial side he noted, how does an iconographer work around sprinklers, recessed lights, exit signs, and the particular placement of windows?  The drum supporting the dome created a unique challenge (he has painted miracles of Christ) On a grander side, the pendentives in this structure are enormous and more square than triangular, requiring the placement of other scenes (four scenes from the life of Christ). As he said, placing Evangelists in these four spaces would mean they would have to be so large that they would overwhelm the congregation, thus disrupting the harmony of the whole.

Living Tradition -- Being in faithful continuity to the past while meeting the needs of the present and thinking about the future.


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