Talking Theology

SuperStock_990-2182I learned during years of theological study that it is possible to give a “theological account” of almost anything and even make it sound cogent. Of course everything that sounds cogent is not necessarily true. In my morning paper I read the following account from a local Church. It was under the heading, “Cafe Worship”:

Cafe Worship is an interactive church service designed to engage all five senses. Instead of pews, congregants sit at round tables and interrelate through various exercises created to encourage deeper spiritual awareness. “Sometimes we forget that prayer can be more than just words”….”Prayer can be song, or it can be moving our bodies in an attitude of prayer. If you feel like you’re lacking in the ‘ability to move’ department, you can sing. If you feel like you’re lacking in the singing department, you can move. If you feel like you’re lacking in all of those departments, you can listen. Listening is also prayer”….At Cafe Worship, you’re still having a real worship service”…”but…you’re going to feel bread, and drink coffee, and look across the table into other people’s faces as people of God. It’s funny how intimate that is, to actually look someone in the eyes.”

The idea of Cafe Worship came as a response…to be inclusive toward all people.

If you’re going to have an open and inclusive theology or version of Christianity, you want your worship service to be open and inclusive as well…”

Of course, it is easy from an Orthodox perspective to view such theological accounts and worship arrangements from a self-satisfied distance. I believe myself to be fortunate that there are no ‘worship decisions’ to be made on a Sunday morning. The liturgy is the liturgy. But distractions abound – particularly within our own minds. We are all frequent customers of the “Cafe of the Mind,” in which we can judge others and generally distract ourselves either with our dissatisfaction with the past or our anxieties for the future. I could probably find a way to theologically describe such anger and worry as “worship” but it would not make it so.

Worship is communion with God in which we offer to Him all that we are and have. It is the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”

On the other hand, we live in a very broken world. For most of the modern world, inherited traditions have disintegrated and those who seek God are left with no marked trails for the journey. The journey is made all the more difficult by the fact that one finds so few authentic Christians along the way. I cannot judge the lost – only myself for being less than authentic.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





22 responses to “Talking Theology”

  1. GVM Avatar

    It is hard for us to judge others when our lives (should) be characterized by the prayer ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on ME a sinner.’

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Quotes in the article are from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Nov. 7, 2009.

    If I feel the need to judge anything, I need go no further than the Cafe in my head.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fabio Leite and Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο, Veronica du Bruyn. Veronica du Bruyn said: Talking Theology – I learned during years of theological study that it is possible to give a theological account of… […]

  4. Jacob Ramsey Avatar

    Father bless.

    It has not been long since my mind was dabbling in the realm of “worship decisions,” and even pondering ideas such as Cafe Worship. I remember building countless churches and styles of worship in my head for ways to connect with “Post-Christian America.”

    “Relevance.” Relevance was my goal in ministry back then; to blend an ancient faith with a modern culture; to be “cutting-edge”, innovative, and “emergent”. Things changed, though. It’s tiring toil to try to keep up with culture. It is disheartening, also, to see what you intended to be holy look more like earth than heaven; and then to see the idea of heaven sound more and more like earth as well.

    I remember reading about St. Vladimir’s envoys to Constantinople, and their report that in the Agia Sophia they were unable to tell whether they were still on earth or in heaven. I remember feeling the same way during my first visit to St. Anne’s when we sang the Creed. I commented to my friend afterward how it felt like the weight and substance of Heaven was upon us as truth resounded around us and in us.

    The more I learn about and experience Orthodoxy, the less qualified I feel. I am less wise than I once thought, and more foolish. Less righteous, and more sinful. I am proud, foolish, and infirm, and in dire need of grace and forgiveness. I am in no way qualified to judge anyone, and yet I see I do so all the time. Kyrie eleison.

    I have to remember that now. I am grateful to God for leading me to Orthodoxy. I am grateful to God for overcoming my fears and hesitations. I am especially grateful to God for working to overcome my hyperinflated ego. May his work continue.

    Thank you for your loving instruction and example, Fr. Stephen.

  5. Robert Avatar

    And yet Father, we are called to judge and to make judgments, wouldn’t you say? This very article can be said to be the result of a lifelong series of carefully weighed judgments concerning theology, life, worship, associations, and history. Should we cease to make judgments (assuming this were even possible) all will devolve into meaninglessness and absurdity, such as it seems it is in no short supply within contemporary Christianity.

    So what then does it mean when you write “If I feel the need to judge anything….” Perhaps you would be so kind to elaborate?

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is, of course, a contradiction in the article. No judgment at all would have passed the news article over in silence. But cultural observations are part of what I write. I thought the final comment necessary, lest the article be no more than a “smarmy” swipe at a neighboring congregation. At least the reminder to myself, and anyone else that’s interested, that I bear a greater judgment (as someone who has accepted ordination) and that own sins are doubtless far greater.

    But Cafe Worship seemed to me a fitting image to many of the temptations in my mind.

    It would seem to me that the excesses born of various “worship movements” in our culture either need no comment – or need a great deal of comment.

    And yet I also think that having once accepted Orthodox worship the journey has only just begun. You are right that we make many judgments and many decisions. And I pray that most of those do not carry the nature of sin. We live in a difficult time. We cannot simply and patiently accept and live in an Orthodox world working out our salvation. Modern life is quite complicated for all that. But in the midst of such complication it is good to find some path to simplicity at least at some level.

  7. Robert Avatar

    Yes we live in difficult and specially complicated times indeed. It’s a struggle no doubt about it! I look for simplicity and purity but it is ever so elusive, even within the Church. This is of course no real surprise as that what I long for is not within me. But I keep looking. Perhaps I am an insufferable idealist, a glutton for disappointment? Keeping the faith in the midst of the mess this is the very challenge as I encounter it.

  8. Bruce Avatar

    Father Bless,

    Sometimes, I think my desire to describe my life as complicated, stressful, difficult (or just fill in the blank) is my way of excusing my lack of faith.

    I have this simple image of a door. On the other side is Paradise. The door is always available but never visible. Faith is what opens the door to the Treasury of Good Gifts and Giver of Life.

    When I’m convinced my life is just too _______ for God to be found, I am lost in a lie that the door is gone. I’ve forgotten the Truth that God fills all things. When I can begin to find God in new places, my life enlarges along with my heart.

    The old man wants to convince me that what my eyes see is real while the new man reminds me that with eyes and ears of faith, I see and hear a Kingdom not of this world.

    Your blog and the Glory to God of your message are great reminders of His Kingdom and His Love. God bless you.

  9. Bruce Avatar

    The beautiful words and images of the Akathist of Thanksgiving written by HIEROMARTYR GRIGORI PETROFF shortly before his death in a prison camp are great reminders of how little of what is Eternal is encumbered by what is temporary.

    Here’s a snippet:
    Kontakion 10

    No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

    Ikos 10

    Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer full of pride, keep me safe with the power of Thy Grace; save me from falling away from Thee. Save me from doubt. Incline my heart to hear Thy mysterious voice every moment of my life. Incline my heart to call upon Thee, present in everything.

    Glory to Thee for every happening
    Every condition Thy providence has put me in
    Glory to Thee for what Thou speakest to me in my heart
    Glory to Thee for what Thou revealest to me, asleep or awake
    Glory to Thee for scattering our vain imaginations
    Glory to Thee for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering
    Glory to Thee for curing our pride of heart by humiliation
    Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

    Kontakion 11

    Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Thy breath, I feel Thy blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now Thou art the present. I stand by Thy Cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Thy praises: Alleluia!

    Ikos 11

    Blessed are they that will share in the King’s Banquet: but already on earth Thou givest me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Thine own hand hast Thou held out to me Thy Body and Thy Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Thy love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

    Glory to Thee for the unquenchable fire of Thy Grace
    Glory to Thee, building Thy Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world
    Glory to Thee for the life-giving water of Baptism in which we find new birth
    Glory to Thee, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily
    Glory to Thee for the cup of salvation and the bread of eternal joy
    Glory to Thee for exalting us to the highest heaven
    Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

  10. fatherstephen Avatar


    It is perhaps my favorite Akathist!

  11. Theo1973 Avatar

    while we are talking prayers, i quite like st ephraim the syrian’spiritual Psalter. Such humility. he searched and searched his soul. So self aware.

  12. hilary Avatar

    I dunno. Cafe Worship and other “emergent” movements can get unchurched people to a place where they are thinking about God — or soul, or Jesus, or the Bible, anything — more publicly than ever before. These things could be the first baby step in a journey that isn’t all baby steps but eventually a great, amazing slippery slope which lands them in your church, wondering what they ever thought about before.

    Please don’t forget the people who might need a million simple beginnings (like Cafe Worship, perhaps) until something “hooks” them into getting kind of obsessed with Truth. All the timid searchers in the bookstore’s religion aisle can’t get straight to Liturgy. Takes some time. And we want it to take some time.

  13. Damaris Avatar

    There are a lot of good religious things out there, including cafes, concerts, picnics, sports get-together, etc. — but they’re not church. So long as they aren’t offered as church, or fill up the time and space that should be for church, there is probably nothing wrong with them, and some of them may be helpful. But it might shock a lot of Americans today to be told that, although they are busy for an hour or two on Sunday mornings, at a big building, they have not been to church for years.

  14. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    hilary and Damaris, I agree with you both. Your insights resonate here.

  15. Marsha Avatar

    Hilary, I absolutely agree. If we had walked into a church that even pretended to take itself and what it believed seriously…..well, we wouldn’
    t have walked in.

    We first went to a church that had a large jazz band that also played commerically and the pastor wore a Hawaiian shirt and told jokes with a little moral for 15 minutes. Then we moved into another “contemporary worship” but one that had more “form”.

    One must start somewhere, that’s for sure.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Hilary If the sight of a fox can convert someone (in the words of Elder Paisios) then a cafe table can do the same – occasionally even a blogpost. No argument here.

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  17. Justin Avatar

    I agree, if someone starts to foster a relationship with Christ at one of these “Cafe Worship” events than that is a good thing. It was a Gideons NT that reawakened my thirst for the peace that only Christ can give so you never know how God will help people come to Him. I’m glad I found your blog Father Stephen, it’s very enjoyable.

  18. George Patsourakos Avatar

    If Cafe Worship is effective in inspiring Christians to worship Christ — especially those who do not enjoy going to church — then it is a good substitute for church.

    I know several people who have not attended church for years, because they find church services to be boring. Some of these people will go to a wedding reception directly, having skipped the wedding church service. Others I know will skip the Sunday church service completely, and go directly to the church hall for coffee fellowship. These people feel no guilt or shame whatsoever for avoiding church services. I call this unwillingness or “fear” of attending church services “ecclesiaphobia.”

    I believe that the Cafe Worship could be an effective means for these people to find Christ in their lives, since they do enjoy the social byproducts of the church, but not church services.

  19. Robert Avatar

    Yes what Darlene points out is an important point to consider.

    What I find very insidious is the re-definition of terms: so in the example of “Cafe Worship” it is actually called a church service; prayer is called a song or a movement of our body, and so forth. This only confuses people, before long we won’t be able to recognize up from down. Of course many folks would argue we have long since passed that point.

  20. Darlene Avatar

    “Jesus Christ Superstar” the rock opera, sparked my interest in Christ. I know someone else that told me “Godspell” led them to investigate the claims of Christianity. So yes, God can use all sorts of things to bring people to him. The important thing is that they don’t get stuck along the way in something that obscures them from Christ altogether.

    For example, I was involved in a Christian para-church ministry that eventually turned into a full-blown cult. At first, I found much encouragement reading the Scriptures, praying with other Christian believers, and street witnessing. Gradually, as the leader began to take control of every aspect of our lives, the joy I had originally experienced turned into fear and unhealthy introspection. I, and many others in the group knew that we had to leave or we would be swallowed up by false religion parading as the true Christian faith.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    All of these things that are not the true faith have possible downsides. Were it not for the mercy of God none of us would be saved regardless. Many heard Christ Himself and turned back. May God keep us by His mercy and may the company of our pilgrimage grow ever larger.

  22. Robert Avatar

    Yes may it be so indeed, and praise be to God for His great mercy! What a crazy mess we are, it saddens me.

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