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Having the Talk with the Kids

Father Andrew Damick, a friend who is an Orthodox priest, writes on his Facebook feed:

Just overheard an earnest conversation in which the speaker was making a serious argument that church attendance on Christmas and Easter was quite enough.

People do it, of course — lots of them. But I’ve never heard anyone actually defending it.

I wonder if they realize how much other people’s regular participation is subsidizing their twice-a-year appearance.

Also, I’m always glad to see even the folks who so rarely show up — and we welcome them — but I can’t understand what they think worship is actually for.

One of his followers commented:

Fr. well I think a few things are happening. The grey area on moral issues is being removed. That is a blessing and a curse. Consequently, people are figuring out that if they don’t think it is true then there is no reason to go to church anymore, so they stay home.

The problem is that this is by and large, as far as the Orthodox go, specifically GOA, a product of the unpaid bills of the church. People assumed things would continue as they have without noting the cultural change due to propaganda and pressure tactics, among other factors, and without doing what is necessary to preserve the church.

We aren’t going to combat privately accessed pornography with talk of values. And we are’t going to keep our youth with “teen talks” and babysitting sunday school. We can’t combat Hume, Kant and Co. with that stuff. It just doesn’t work.

That last line is so true. On Sunday, after church, Julie and I had a Full And Frank Discussion with our boys over inattention at the liturgy. We tried to impress on them that there are places in this world where Christians are risking their lives simply to do what we can easily do on Sunday morning. I told them about Father George Calciu, and what he and the other Romanian Christians endured in Ceaucescu’s prisons — and how they celebrated that same liturgy inside prison walls.

I told the kids that in their lifetime, they will all face pressure to abandon their faith, pressure much more serious than anything their parents or grandparents have had to deal with. I told them about Brendan Eich, a tech genius who was thrown out of his own company because he had given a small amount of money to a campaign to preserve traditional marriage, a cause that our faith teaches is just and right. I mentioned to them that Gordon College was being systematically dismantled by outside entities for a similar reason, and that this was going to get worse.

The liturgy, I told them, is not something we do on Sunday out of mere obligation, or because we have nothing more fun to do on Sunday morning. The liturgy is preparing all of us to live our faith with courage and joy. The time of testing is coming, indeed it is upon us every day. You kids are protected from a lot because your parents are vigilant, but we won’t be able to be there all the time. The liturgy, and the life of our church, exists in part to form your consciences and make you strong enough to choose the good when there is nobody around to make you do so. You can’t imagine how strong the forces are in this culture attacking your faith, and telling you it’s all a lie, I said. But you’re going to face this. In the liturgy, and in liturgical prayer, is our strength.

Later that night, e-mailing with an Evangelical friend, I told him that I had inadvertently ended up having a conversation with my kids about the kind of world they’re going to enter as Christians, and how they had to be prepared for degrees of martyrdom for the sake of Jesus Christ. My friend responded, half-joking with this first line:

I don’t think there’s any small group curriculum training parents how to have that conversation with their kids. You did the right thing, I am convinced. I said something similar to a group of homeschool parents this past weekend.

This is a conversation that Christian parents had better start having with their kids, not because They’re Coming To Get Us, as in the ages of martyrs, but because the middle-class softness of most American Christianity today — in nearly all the churches — will leave them extremely vulnerable to the acid of post-Christian American culture. Moralistic, therapeutic, happy-slappy Jesus-is-my-homeboy Christianity will not prepare anybody for what’s to come. Last night, after I read the usual story to my two younger kids (they’re on a Madeleine L’Engle kick), I lingered to read Father George Calciu’s testimonials about celebrating the liturgy in prison, despite the torture. Father George’s 2006 obituary from the Washington Post [1]gives a short version of the two stories I read to the kids last night, from a book of his writings, sermons, and interviews [2]. From the Post:

His clandestine faith was discovered by secret police in 1972. To save his life, Justinian appointed him professor of French and the New Testament at the Orthodox Seminary in Bucharest. He was ordained that year. For the next five years, Ceausescu’s government tolerated his anti-Marxist sermons. But after Justinian’s death in 1977 and the appointment of a hard-line church patriarch, conditions worsened.

Father Calciu announced plans to give a series of seven Wednesday sermons in the winter of 1978. The sermons attacked Ceausescu’s persecution of religion; after the third, he was thrown out of the church. He then preached on the church steps. The government closed the gates to the seminary, but the faithful climbed over the seminary walls to hear him. The new patriarch expelled the dissident priest, and, deprived of the church’s protection, he was arrested.

Prison the second time was much worse. “Ceausescu saw me as his personal enemy,” Father Calciu said. “For this he applied to me special methods of torture.”

When he did not break, the government decided to have him killed by two cellmates, convicted murderers who had been promised leniency if they would kill him. He was made to stand in a corner of the cell and not allowed to eat, drink, speak or relieve himself without permission, and he was often beaten.

After three weeks, the other two prisoners were summoned by the head of the secret police. When they returned, Father Calciu said, his tormentors were subdued. Taken to a small prison yard, his cellmates told him to stand in one corner while they conferred. Ready to die, Father Calciu confessed his sins and prayed for his family. Fifteen minutes later, the men approached him.

“And the youngest one said, ‘Father,’ — and that was the first time they called me Father — ‘we have decided not to kill you.’ ”

That Sunday, he asked their permission to celebrate Mass. He was making preparations and turned to see the two criminals kneeling on the cold concrete floor.

The kids wanted to hear more, so I promised to find other (appropriate) passages to read for them later. That boring Sunday liturgy looks different in light of what Father George suffered for it, and to be able to say it in prison. I could tell a change in my children’s view.

These are the stories we have to start telling our kids. They are the stories that belong to the church. Again, I don’t tell these as horror stories to convince our children that what happened to Father George will happen to them. Instead I focus on the faith and courage of the martyrs, and what that has to tell us about how to live when we are put to the test. If Father George can endure prison and torture for the faith, how much more should we be able to endure lesser forms of martyrdom (= “bearing witness”), like losing a job, being refused entry into professional societies, and so forth?

A Christian lawyer working at a high level on religious liberty issues told me recently that American Christians have no idea what’s about to hit them. He meant in terms of the loss of status, and the aggressive attacks in civil society against them and their institutions. He did not mean persecution in the sense that Father George and his comrades suffered. But then, he didn’t have to. When there’s a serious price to be paid for access to the mainstream, to maintain social peace, and to gain the peace of mind that comes with conformity, that’s a price that very many nominal Christians will be eager to pay.

The comfortable Christianity in which we were all raised isn’t going to survive this. Nor will the faith of Christians who have not prepared for it, who instead thought that everything would be okay if they just sat tight and stayed optimistic.

UPDATE: In 2011, Wesley J. Smith reviewed Father George’s book in First Things [3], saying:

Fr. Calciu lived what he preached. He did not hate his persecutors. Rather, he prayed for them daily and trusted in God’s mercy for their salvation. He also found joy. In her introduction to the book, Frederica Mathewes-Green, one of Calciu’s spiritual children writes of Fr. Calciu, “He had a beaming smile. He was often amused by life, and ready to laugh . . . . Fr. George was joyful . . . . He was naturally affectionate, and would hold my hand or anyone’s . . . just beaming with a radiant smile.”

45 Comments (Open | Close)

45 Comments To "Having the Talk with the Kids"

#1 Comment By Jake On May 19, 2015 @ 10:08 am

Another great column.

#2 Comment By CharleyCarp On May 19, 2015 @ 10:17 am

This seems to me to be a tough needle to thread. You might be too young, Rod, to have watched the movie Reefer Madness with a bunch of laughing stoned college students in an on-campus showing, but people 5 or 10 years older than you aren’t.

I think you’re right, though, that the vast majority of Christians are going to come to see efforts to prevent SSM legalization not as defending traditional marriage — your kids and grandkids are going to be able to have marriages as traditional as they can talk spouses into having — but as bigotry. Especially as the argument has up to now been about civil marriage, not how the sacraments of your faith are to be administered.

#3 Comment By Pat On May 19, 2015 @ 10:17 am

Do you worry that in using the current gay marriage flap as your impetus and example, you run the risk of tying your kids’ view of religion to that issue – one on which they may very likely come to disagree with you as they grow up?

I’m thinking about testimonies from ex-fundamentalists who found that their loss of belief in young-earth creationism presaged a loss of belief in their religion, because they saw the two as united.

(Your new captcha requires me to say gravy is not a drink. That’s just wrong.)

#4 Comment By Todd On May 19, 2015 @ 10:19 am

We tried to impress on them that there are places in this world where Christians are risking their lives simply to do what we can easily do on Sunday morning.

Ah yes, the notoriously effective, “Eat your Brussels sprouts there are kids starving in Africa.” method. I’m thinking your overwrought harangue is having exactly the opposite impact from you intended.

#5 Comment By TA On May 19, 2015 @ 10:21 am

If times of persecution, jail, torture and martyrdom are in fact coming your training is likely the right thing.

I am curious if you recognize the dangers of this instruction if you are wrong in your prediction. What if the great persecution turns out to be little more than that a few people leave the weddings business because of public accommodations laws? (I know you disagree, but this is closer to my own feelings.)

When I was young, I got a lot of “you will be persecuted for His name’s sake” warnings like you mention. By the time I hit age 25 or so, I was looking around and seeing that there is real persecution in the world, but it sure isn’t happening in the US.

This contrast prompted more of a “you’re nuts if you think this is persecution” response than steely embrace of orthodox belief.

#6 Comment By Stephanie Stevens On May 19, 2015 @ 10:39 am

I think you’re on the right track. I was homeschooled in an evangelical home and this was a common topic of conversation. While my mother took it to extremes (requiring us to read gruesome martyr stories at ages far too young, buying into fantastical conspiracy theories about coming persecution that were in no way grounded in reality), I really benefited from a couple of things.

One is that we read stories about the lives of Christians under communism such as the book God’s Smuggler. A fictional children’s series we enjoyed are the Ivan books by Myrna Grant, about a Christian boy in communist Russia. They just came back into print and I ordered them for my own kids. They aren’t great literature, but they tell an engaging and age appropriate story.

Also, we always subscribed to newsletters from organizations that support the persecuted church, like Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors International ( not to be confused with the gay rights group with a similar name).

Reading these stories brought it home that persecution of some sort is the norm in much of the world and has been for much of history, and that it is happening today. It showed us what it looks like to be faithful to death, or imprisonment or firing or marginalization. While I have rejected the ” sky is falling” terror with which I was raised, i do have an awareness of what Christians experience globally, and that it could happen anywhere eventually.

#7 Comment By Fiestamom On May 19, 2015 @ 10:49 am

The culture is overwhelming. I live in a bubble, I homeschool, try to attend Daily Mass with the kids, and I am struggling mightily to counteract well, everything. Thanks for this post, I will try to do this.

I recently attended a baby shower for an older mom, and the women in attendance were in their 40’s, large families, home schooling their kids. And the talk was of how we “felt” the evil around us. We sense the culture rotting and the governmental persecutions coming our way. This was at a baby shower!

#8 Comment By Matth On May 19, 2015 @ 10:52 am

CharleyCarp, this is very much a discussion of how the sacraments of our faith are to be administered. I’m not one to think that persecution is coming, but many, many people will react quite angrily to a religion that says they can’t “be right with God” in their relationship, regardless of the theological absurdity of their argument. I’ve had this very conversation in the last two weeks.

#9 Comment By pinkjohn On May 19, 2015 @ 10:56 am

I have been thinking about this stuff a lot lately, and have come to see it as an “Eden” issue. Of course, we want to keep our kids in the Garden but it that just is not possible. I used to hear a lot in evangelical circles about teaching kids about the “spiritual warfare” of the world and “arming” them to fight with the right theology and spirituality.

Sorry, but none of this stuff is going to work, though I wish that were not so. At the same time, I’m not sure I actually want the church of “middle class softness” or the “comfortable Christianity” to survive. I am not much of culture warrior anymore. Marriage equality, which I support, will be the law of the land sooner or later. Abortion will rightly continue to be extremely contentious, but the American civil religion of Christianity, both mainline and evangelical wings is clearly collapsing and these questions will not be decided by it, but by the religiously unaffiliated. Right or wrong, good or bad, it’s just how it is. Christianity is truly going to have to become countercultural again. There is no going back to the Garden. We’ve been kicked out.

[NFR: I agree, of course, and it’s interesting that you and I, though theological opponents in so many ways, agree on this. I think the “Eden” is the belief that Christianity can be “normalized” anymore — that is, that Christians can continue to bump along as we always have, and expect that our children and grandchildren will still hold on to the faith. That is the unreality within which so many American Christians live. — RD]

#10 Comment By FedeV On May 19, 2015 @ 11:13 am

Rod, I’m absolutely convinced you’d continue to be a great father and love your children no matter what, but your children will grow up, and they will have to make up their mind on their own about what faith (if any) they choose to follow.

I am just saying – no matter how strong the bulwark you build, eventually they will make a choice as adults, and there’s really no easy way to anchor them into a faith.

#11 Comment By MrsCole On May 19, 2015 @ 11:14 am

My friends in Viet Nam are Catholics and Buddhists. They experienced real, gulags-and-executions persecution for a short time after the communist takeover, but things have since shifted to “official discrimination”: harrassment, difficulty getting the proper authorizations to build churches, occasional state land-grabs. Religious people can’t get government jobs. They are discriminated against on college entrance exams. The govt. keeps track of religious affiliations– there’s no “incognito” option. Outside every church and shrine, there’s a loudspeaker on a pole that intermittently blasts communist propaganda.

As a result, Viet Nam now exports Catholic priests the way Ireland used to. Atheism is the official creed, and the majority are at least nominal adherents (the little shrines and offerings at every waterfall and banyan tree belie this, I think). But the religious minority is very observant, and is thriving, as far as I can tell. Over the years of being barred from govt. jobs, they became the business class, and it appears the govt has realized that stamping them out is less desirable than just extracting money from them.

I can imagine official discrimination in the same vein happening in the US, in my lifetime. And it might be just as good for the church here as it was in VN.

#12 Comment By Antony On May 19, 2015 @ 11:24 am

The thing about constantly predicting disaster in lurid detail is that nobody really gets angry at you for being wrong. Second thought, that might not be true, there are people who bought $1,600/oz. gold because socialism.

#13 Comment By Frank C. On May 19, 2015 @ 11:28 am

We all face trials and temptations in our lives. Opportunities to demonstrate heroic virtue may not be presented to all of us (God forbid), but I think a Christianity that expects nothing of us should expect nothing FROM us. Jesus was clear that to follow Him would have a real cost. We Christians in America have been very fortunate to live in a country which allows us to practice our faith very comfortably. Whether or not we are ultimately taken to the lions (and I’m perhaps more skeptical than Rod that this fate is looming, but far less skeptical than many others around this blog), we will face choices that will mark us as different and strange from our friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and others. This may be a relatively easy burden to bear for most of us (please God!), but recognizing and even embracing our rejection from the world is probably a good indication that we are on the right track as followers of Christ.

#14 Comment By Lasorda On May 19, 2015 @ 11:28 am

Your comments section is wild. Your commenters seem to have these profound insights about your most private interior life. They are also experts in the efficacy of your parenting and the true meaning of your religious life. Remarkable!

#15 Comment By Brendan On May 19, 2015 @ 11:31 am

It’s true that change is coming, but the word “persecution” rankles many, I think, even if you define it carefully as you have done, just by virtue of what the word connotes to many people.

I don’t think any of us expect that (o)rthodox Christians are going to be arrested for being such, fed to the lions, have the serving of the divine liturgy outlawed and so on, as occurred in the early church or under the Soviets, for example. For many people that’s what “persecution” means, but I don’t think most of us who see dark clouds on the horizon for orthodox Christians really think this is what is in the cards.

It will be, instead, a social ostracism that will increase over time. This will winnow the numbers of practicing orthodox Christians, both because fewer people will believe to begin with, and those who may be on the fence will be coaxed to the secular side of it in order to avoid the kind of social “tax” that will be inflicted upon orthodox Christians by the average secular American. This social tax involves social avoidance, negative impacts on professional/business/career aspects, social segregation of children and so on, as orthodox Christians gradually become ostracized as ignorant crackpots.

All of these elements of the social taxes will conspire to place a lot of pressure on orthodox Christians to “loosen up” and “get with the program” so that they can avoid the social taxes that will be imposed on them for not doing so. In effect, many orthodox Christians will be forced into a kind of Benedict Option by default, simply as a result of the social ostracism that the social tax will impose. Those who do not wish to live this way will go along to get along (and we can assume, given human nature, that this will be most people), and either become non-orthodox Christians or, more likely in an increasingly secularized culture, unaffiliated. If Europe is any indicator, it seems more likely the latter than the former.

Now, people can disagree about whether this is “persecution” or not. Many would say it is not, because after all you aren’t being arrested for being an orthodox Christian. But it will be socially very difficult, and it will force orthodox Christians into some kind of option that looks like a kind of Benedict Option over time.

#16 Comment By Ethel Ryan On May 19, 2015 @ 11:37 am

Interesting – I don’t know very many Orthodox Christians, and they’re all Greek, not Russian (apparently a difference similar to Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics) but all of them are nice, pleasant, happy people who have no problem working together with those of us Christians who are not small ‘o’-orthodox in our views.
They’re joyful.

All the small ‘o’-orthodox Christians I have encountered, with the exception of Erin Manning, whom I know only from her writing, are anything but joyful.

Joy is, in fact the last word I’d apply to their expressions of Christ’s redemption of our world.

In any event, I’m glad you’re trying to raise your children to understand that being a Christian is something one does because it’s right, not because it makes life easier.

As for the happy-clappy MTD churches. They’re theology is an inch deep, at best. None-the-less – they’re Sunday mornings are full of joy.

It’s a fruit of the Spirit and one which, together with charity, is notable by it’s absence in most small ‘o’-orthodox Christians.

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 19, 2015 @ 11:44 am

I don’t think there is going to be much resistance, unless the Spirit of the Lord comes upon one. Even the disciples of Jesus abandoned Him without that. A nation that rests largely on individual self indulgence and amplifies that message is not producing a people who have ears to hear the truth, or even care. What Christian parents have to say will have limited impact unless the children accept the Lord, by the process Jesus called being born again.

#18 Comment By Anthony On May 19, 2015 @ 11:46 am

When I was growing up as the child of Evangelical missionaries, fear and shame were a huge part of religion. If you leave, it means you never were really saved and you’re going to go to Hell. If anyone in the world dies when we could have shared the Gospel with them, they’re going to Hell, and it’s our fault. Persecution is coming. Antichrist in on the move. Bill Clinton is going to round up Christians and put them in camps. People in China and the Soviet Union have suffered for their faith; what are you complaining about? You’d better watch your mouth, becuase if you slip and say something blasphemous, God may punish you.

And it worked, for awhile. But then life happened, and death. Loss. Disillusionment. Depression.

Coming out.

All through that, though at times kicking and screaming, I’ve retained my Christian faith, even as my views have changed on so many of the issues that you, Rod, think are critical. But I am still a Christian, and my Christian faith remains the central, guiding principle of my life. And now I know peace, whereas for much I my life I knew only fear.

But that is in spite of the fear and shame, not because of them. The fear and the shame have driven me on more than one occasion to the point of giving up on church altogether. But something else kept me from taking that last step, and it had nothing to do with fear. What is fear of hell when you’re already living it?

What kept me from taking that step, and what has enabled me to keep struggling with Christianity long enough to work through my issues and find the peace of Christ, was the witness of my grandmother.

Some of my earliest memories are of seeing my grandmother rise before dawn and spend her quiet time in Bible study and prayer, of overhearing her prayers whispered throughout the day. My grandmother knew Jesus. He was real to her, as real as any of us, and He loved her, and she loved Him.

My grandmother was kind and gentle. She would undoubtedly agree with you on so many things. But she would never attack anyone, never get riled up about how awful things were. That was my grandfather. But my grandmother would just love people, saints and sinners alike, accept them into her heart, and bring them before the Lord in prayer. I am fully convinced that if I had brought my boyfriend home to meet her, that she would have welcomed him, and loved him, and cooked for him, because I loved him. Then, after we left, she would have gone into her bedroom and prayed for us, fervently and with love. And all of this without changing one iota of what she believed just as strongly as you do.

My grandmother showed me what it means to be a Christian. And when the fear and the shame nearly destroyed me, she showed me the way to joy. If you want your kids to stay Christian, I truly believe that’s the way to go. Fear may keep the sheep in line for a time, but ultimately it breaks them. And then the only thing that will keep them from wandering off or running away is the love of the Shepherd.

#19 Comment By Heatherer On May 19, 2015 @ 11:53 am

I’m stuck between your view of the culture and TA’s in the comments because my experience matches his with all the warnings being for, well, at least less than they were predicted to be. I am definitely worried about the corrosive culture making it easy for my children to abandon their faith through apathy. I’m a bit less worried about persecution, particularly as I see issues of human sexuality as less central to the maintenance of faith than you do.

Regardless, the Jesus Freaks books might be an interesting resource for your kids. I’m revealing all of my evangelical upbringing underbelly here, but DC Talk help publish them in the 90’s as short accounts of the martyrs and persecuted from the disciples through the present day. Some of them are probably much to intense for your kids right now, but the books were meaningful to me as a teenager and I have reread the first one a few years ago as an adult. It covers all traditions, not just the Orthodox and all the accounts are probably four pages or less so they may not always have the theological richness of some of the accounts your tradition keeps. Still, it gives a potential resource for talking about what it means to hold to Christ when it is costly.

#20 Comment By Gina On May 19, 2015 @ 11:53 am

I’m of two minds as I read this fascinating post, Rod. Growing up, I was marinated in this approach: as Anabaptists, we were reminded daily that real faith in Christ will cost us everything, and we listened, with a mix of nausea and relish as my dad would read accounts of all the Anabaptist martyrs who suffered gruesome deaths at the hands of Lutherans and Catholics alike in the 15th and 16th centuries… “This is Christianity,” we were told, “and you may be called to suffer like them one day.”

On the one hand, I’m grateful my parents and church community forever robbed me of the illusion that Christianity is something easy and comfortable–that it has anything to do with maintaining the status quo or feathering our nest here on earth. I will forever associate the word “discipleship” with “cost of.”

On the other hand—sheesh. These gory stories and woeful predictions inspired brief moments of admiration, followed by paralyzing fear, overwhelming despair, and flirtations with apostasy. I was barely coming to know and love Christ; hearing year after year that I ought to be willing to undergo torture for Him was like a cold shower on my budding faith. Those lectures didn’t inspire love or conviction or even human bravado–just dismay and anxiety, (as fascinated as I was by the stories.)

As someone pointed out above, I think it’s dangerous to focus on the “persecution” aspect, lest that doesn’t materialize in the ways we expect. It’s far, far more likely that the idols we will be asked to worship (indeed, the idols all of us freely choose to worship at at times in this society) are those of individualism versus communion, “liberty” versus true freedom, and “success” versus self-gift to others.

That’s where the battle is taking place for Christians today and that’s where apostasy is really happening, in terms of practical atheism…. I was raised to be constantly on the lookout for a state that would rob me of my religious liberty and imprison and torture me–and perhaps those warnings were important–but but I wasn’t prepared very well to fan the flame of Christ’s love in my heart so that it wouldn’t choke under distractions, careerism, and self-determination…

[NFR: Yes, the far greater temptation in this culture is indifferentism. But indifferentism is getting a stronger push from the state and the civic culture. I think focusing *only* on the threat from the state is a Maginot Line. — RD]

#21 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 19, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

I hate to say it, but Todd is right. Of course a blog post may not convey the full effect but reading it, it does sound like the old “starving children in Africa,” line that became a joke as the kids got old enough to either not give a damn about starving children in Africa or to say, “It’s Africa! They’re supposed to starve!”

This really sounds like the sort of thing that can backfire in the long run.

#22 Comment By WillW On May 19, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

The question is, will the kids stay strong in trad faith, or will they go over to whatever kind of MTD branch of their faith that will go along to get along? I think for most folks come 2030 or so the thing to do will be going to the branch that says “sorry about that whole gay marriage thing, of course same sex couples can get married in the rites of the church” . I’m more or less Rod’s age, and I really dread what this country will look like if I make it on this Earth another 40 years.

#23 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 19, 2015 @ 12:31 pm

Remember the Y2K apocalypsism? I guess, like the neocons’ eternal support for failed war without repercussion, false prophets themselves pay no price, even as the public comes to disbelieve.

But the moral of the tale of the boy who cried wolf too often, was that the hearers were anaesthetized against hearing the warnings about the wolf who really was now at the door.

#24 Comment By Silouan Green On May 19, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

As the father of eight children, ages 10 months to 15, I’ve found it’s less what we say, but more how we actually act and live. Kids get good as separating BS words from the clarity of actions. Live like the things we harp against, kids will call BS and eventually stop listening to us. Live our lives following God and learn to forgive, ask forgiveness, and help others, your children will see a kindness they will want to emulate and make part of their lives. I see this in our children and it gives me peace that we are raising them correctly. The alternative to death is life. Show your kids how to live and that is your best chance at passing on your faith.

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 19, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

Relax. If the liturgy is worth paying attention to, it will grab the kids’ attention. If you lecture them on How Important It Is, but they don’t see it, nay, if they don’t feel it, they will simply come to resent the pressure. Your kids could end up writing one of those memoirs about their repressive Christian upbringing and good-bye to all that. On the other hand, if allowed to float, they will probably be a bit inattentive for a while, and drift back to the faith in their twenties. Or, maybe they are called to find God in a slightly different way than their father or mother was. Keep taking them to church, and keep telling them what you believe and why, but let be. They’ll find their way. You did.

#26 Comment By Chris On May 19, 2015 @ 1:24 pm


I just started humming the song “Jesus Freak” as I read through the comments, and I completely agree that the book is a good resource.

No, it’s not an old-fashioned book of the martyrs, but it had a strong (positive) effect on me as a teen.

#27 Comment By hooly On May 19, 2015 @ 1:27 pm


The first thing that struck me about your story about telling your kids about the coming persecution is how it resembles ‘The Talk’ all African-American parents tell their kids (sons especially). And your martyrdom tales so resembles the Facebook postings of George Takei, where gay kids are bullied, where gays in Africa are murdered, where basic rights like marriage are denied in America.

Fascinating parallelism!

#28 Comment By Chastened On May 19, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

Growing up in a Catholic home, I endured lots of serious talks instigated by my parents (I hated these talks). But my parents meant well by their strict observance and reproofs of our characters.

In spite of the boundaries, the womb-like protection of a good family and caring parents, regular church attendance, and the strict monitoring of the daughters’ dating lives, by the time I was out of the house, I went wild, and took advantage of all the sinful options available to a person in their 20s (sex, drugs, rock n roll).

Years later, I have wondered, why? Where did my parents fail? How was my Catholic upbringing deficient? We had all those talks, all that teaching, a solid family.

I finally got an answer to this puzzling question this morning, in talking with a Gen-X colleague who had the *opposite* experience. She married at 20 because it was expected of her. How did this happen?

It happened because she was sent to a private Lutheran school in high school and in early college. She was surrounded by a strong PEER GROUP of conservative Christian kids who policed each other.

That was the missing link! I suddenly understood that no matter how much you invest in giving values to your kids at the dinner table, once they leave home, if they are in a peer group that is nihilistic and experimental, they will mimic the crowd.

The peer group always wins out. It is much, much more powerful than one’s parents during the critical late teen and early college years. I came to appreciate the value of my parents’ nurturing and steadfast faith too late in life for it to make a major difference in my happiness, because I was let loose into the secular wilderness of my peer group, and they were more or less Godless, like most young people have always been.

I’m not sure how this applies to the Benedict Option, but I feel I have received a major clue this morning and wanted to share it for consideration. My parents were not wealthy, so they couldn’t send me to an expensive private Catholic college. And even if they had, whose to say that the college wouldn’t have had the same corrosive peer influence as the bohemian atheists with whom I hung out in my twenties?

#29 Comment By Liam On May 19, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

I think one should prepare children for undramatic but probably far more insidious dangers. Americans have a cultural love for melodrama, so it’s almost natural to take a dramatic threat from that same culture and melodramatize it: it’s really responding to the culture, rather than a Christianity-rooted response.

What if the real danger turns out to be the things that Americans of all stripes detest: not persecution, but the absence of sensory and narrative gratification? What if things happen or don’t happen randomly (at least in our perception of them)? What if children perceive an increasing disconnect between how they are told God acts and how they perceive that? Et cet.

#30 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 19, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

I’m a little uncomfortable with martyr stories. They imply that the intensity of some people’s beliefs is a measure of the truth of those beliefs. They can confuse being persecuted with being right. Some of history’s most odious movements have had martyrs, and have trafficked heavily in persecution-based propaganda. By contrast, there are beliefs — the germ theory of disease, for instance, or the belief in equal political rights for people of different races — that aren’t producing too many martyrs anymore, if they ever did, but nonetheless are extremely important and good for the world.

That said, it’s very important that parents read and tell stories to their kids, and if they’re stories that the parents believe in strongly, all the better. Kids like stories and experience having them told as an expression of parents’ love and concern for them. If they happen to be martyr stories, fine — the kids might learn something about sticking up for their beliefs, and we can hope that whatever beliefs they apply that lesson to as adults will be among those worthy of being defended.

#31 Comment By Chris 1 On May 19, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

The comfortable Christianity in which we were all raised isn’t going to survive this.

[NFR: Yes, the far greater temptation in this culture is indifferentism. But indifferentism is getting a stronger push from the state and the civic culture. I think focusing *only* on the threat from the state is a Maginot Line. — RD]

Indifference arises from comfort.

The civic project of American Christianity was about making America comfortable for Christians, the result was the creation of a religiously conservative Moral Majority coalition that embraced, voted for and still supports the atomized social order of Libertarianism as proposed by the Heritage Foundation and defended by the Acton Institute.

We did this to ourselves.

It is impossible to have traditional family values in a world in which “personal responsibility” makes each of us of entirely responsible for ourselves while divesting us of responsibility for other people who are likewise entirely responsible for themselves, and which explicitly refers to the constraints of living in community as “tyranny” and “theft.”

We embraced an economic (and hence social contract) restructuring that is antithetical to the formation of families and communities, that places self-interest at the top of the heap and treats ruggedly individualistic iconoclasts as heroes and pillars of any community as losers for not having gotten more for themselves.

The opposite theme of community runs through all your books…Crunchy Cons views consumerism as a threat to conservation of anything, The Little Way reflects the virtue of commitment to community that can only arise from staying put and not seeking greater economic or personal fulfillment in always-greener pastures, How Dante explores a cosmology in which the greatest sinners are those whose self-interest trumps the interests of their communities, and in which salvation comes by putting self-interest aside.

And so a book about a Benedict Option could be a kind of epilogue. It could transcend the liberal/conservative politics-first culture by focusing on forming deeply Christian communities along lines that are organized around commitment to people and place who are focused on Christ. Necessarily this means sacrificing self-interest for the good of the Body of Christ, and giving up the comfort of fitting in to an Americas culture we helped to create.

If I’m at all correct in understanding you, embracing a Benedict Option would be an act of radical repentance.

#32 Comment By MikeCA On May 19, 2015 @ 2:15 pm

I’ll advocate a bit for your boys and their inattentiveness; did you zone out as a kid in church? I did and I never had to sit through church services as long as those in the Orthodox Church. Or in your case stand for services. It must be difficult for your boys- that’s not excusing but stating a reality. Church,school, anything that is obligatory is a trial for all but the most reverent. You converted to Orthodoxy as an adult knowing full well what it entails; your kids, being your children were more or less conscripted. Would you have been any more attentive at their ages? From all we read of them on this blog they sound like fine young men and that of course is no small part due to the efforts of yourself & Madame Dreher. I guess I’m saying don’t push too hard and cut them a bit of slack.
Totally unsolicited advice and I apologize for sticking my oar in. But I remember being their age in the not so distant past ….

#33 Comment By Timothy Furnish On May 19, 2015 @ 2:56 pm

Thank you for this, Mr. Dreher. I thought I was the only Christian (Lutheran) father having this discussion with his sons.

#34 Comment By Steve S On May 19, 2015 @ 3:25 pm

Some great comments here that really help me reflect on my own faith. Anthony, thanks for your personal witness and for telling us about your beloved grandmother. I hope I can be half the Christian she was.

#35 Comment By Jesse Ewiak On May 19, 2015 @ 3:51 pm

The truth is, Rod, your kids are likely to come to agree with civil gay marriage down the line, and their kids are extremely likely to look at gay marriage with no more scrutiny than you looked at interracial marriage. Even if they stay within the Orthodox Church.

Maybe if you began your attempts to shield them away from larger society now, but I mean, as you’ve pointed out, even at “good” Christian schools, the wave is in favor of gay marriage. Because all the books and the old dead men giving rules can’t defeat the idea of a friend or family member simply wanting equal civil rights, no matter what stories you tell about a college having to follow the same rules as everybody else and a CEO losing the faith of his own workforce and having to resign.

#36 Comment By mwing On May 19, 2015 @ 3:51 pm

Brendan says:
“…and those who may be on the fence will be coaxed to the secular side of it in order to avoid the kind of social “tax” that will be inflicted upon orthodox Christians by the average secular American. This social tax involves social avoidance, negative impacts on professional/business/career aspects…”

I think I’m a pretty average secular American. But if I wanted to impose some sort of social tax on orthodox Christians (which of course I don’t), I not only wouldn’t know how, I wouldn’t know WHO.

For example, I work in an large office which is super-international. I know the religious affiliation of exactly one person, and it was because of a chance conversation over lunch. I’ve no idea what her level of adherence to her denomination is, besides not drinking booze, which came up at lunch. I’ve no idea what her views about socially controversial topics in the USA are-probably more conservative than mine.
(The average Seventh-Day Adventist from Jamaica has GOT to be more socially conservative than me).
The reason or occasion for me to shun this person, or anyone else at work, based on religious beliefs, just doesn’t come up. Why would it? That’s even assuming being shunned by me would be considered a problem – some might call that a perk!
If one day she started spontaneously preaching at me that my way of life was sinful and decadent and would lead to hell, why, then, yes, I would socially avoid that person, wouldn’t you? But I don’t think that is what Brendan means, I don’t know what he means.

There’s another thing..
I get that the fear of “Christians as social outcasts” is a legitimate one, though I don’t think it is likely to occur. . But for some small percent of Christians – a small percent!! – it does seem like the prospect of being persecuted is almost preferable to the prospect of being ignored.

#37 Comment By Anne On May 19, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

Evangelical Christians and many Catholics of similar mindset are fond of saying you have to preach the Bad News (of death, judgment and hell awaiting) before the Good News can make any sense. Unfortunately, many people are so overwhelmed by the Bad that the Good barely registers. It’s a matter of personality, experience and maybe what house earth’s moon was in at the time of their birth (just kidding). My only point is that it’s always hard to say exactly what impact anything we say will have on specific individuals, including our children.

During my own daughters’ childhood, I had essentially the same talk you mention here. I too followed through with readings and “fun night” movies featuring pizza and movies about saints and courageous Christians.

Just today I asked one of my daughters what she’d thought about all that, what had gone through her mind when she heard it, and she just said, “That I was bad and needed to do better.” That, of course, had not been my point at all. Did the movies at least make some impression? “Honestly, “she said, “at that age I just didn’t give it a lot of thought. Whatever I’d been taught was true; I just didn’t want God or you guys to be disappointed in me.”

The only movie she remembered was a French flick about St. Therese of Liseux that showcased, to my shock at the time, some of the saint’s more peculiar ascetic practices, including licking the spittle of tuberculear patients to expose herself to the possibility of redemptive suffering through contracting their disease. Apparently, that seemed so weird nobody believed her when she and her sister talked about it at school. Wonderful.

All in all, not exactly the lessons I’d been hoping would stick.

#38 Comment By Brendan On May 19, 2015 @ 7:02 pm

The reason or occasion for me to shun this person, or anyone else at work, based on religious beliefs, just doesn’t come up. Why would it? That’s even assuming being shunned by me would be considered a problem – some might call that a perk!
If one day she started spontaneously preaching at me that my way of life was sinful and decadent and would lead to hell, why, then, yes, I would socially avoid that person, wouldn’t you? But I don’t think that is what Brendan means, I don’t know what he means.

It’s this: being an (o)rtodox Christian will become gradually associated with being a bigot. It will be akin to being a racist today. Technically permitted, but shunned, impossible to expressed, and reviled (by me as well, by the way).

Now there will be un-orthodox Christians who accept SSM in their churches. Their existence will be used to bludgeon, socially, the orthodox Christians who do not, just as was done with interracial marriage. In fact, the advocates of SSM are very explicit in this even today.

The net impact: orthodox Christians will go into the closet — meaning not only “don’t ask, don’t tell”, but also denying their faith, even when asked, because the social and professional cost of not doing so will be too high for most of them to bear. And the questions will come. As fewer and fewer people are Christian, people will become intensely interested in “just what kind of Christian is that Brendan, guy, anyway?”, and the questions will come.

The choice for those of us who are orthodox Christians will be between the cross of Christ and the denial of Peter. The Benedict Option, in part, is to strengthen more of us for that inevitability.

#39 Comment By Erin Manning On May 19, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

Something bugged me a bit about this post, and not sure what it was, I turned to my in-house experts (my young adult teen daughters). I read parts of the post aloud and asked my girls what they thought. My oldest put a finger on it right away: frankly, she said, it seemed like emotional manipulation.

It’s not that they don’t get that children have to learn to pay attention in church–they recalled learning that themselves. But for my second oldest, for example, the key (she said) was the wonderful textbook we used for sophomore year in high school (the Didache series’ “Understanding the Scriptures,” much of which was written by Scott Hahn). Where before she had tried to school herself to listen to the readings etc. at Mass out of a spirit of obedience, this book helped open the Scriptures to her and made a lot of things make more sense.

Something else they learned as they got older was that their Protestant Christian friends didn’t have a similar liturgical experience at all, and that made them appreciate the Mass with its regular form and reverence (their word, and yes, we attend an O.F. Mass).

Apart from those insights, they also (including the youngest who is not quite 17 yet) admitted that while sometimes it could still be a struggle to engage fully, they also knew that our early Mass time (now 9 instead of 8:30, and what a difference that extra half-hour makes!), our involvement in the choir, and just being ordinary human beings who are bound to get a bit distracted here and there were sometimes causes of inattention. Yet they all articulated correctly that “being distracted at Mass” is only a sin if it’s deliberate (not because you suddenly realize you marked the wrong offertory hymn and have to find the right one before the Prayers of the Faithful are over, etc.), and that Christ does not expect nor demand that we stop being human during the liturgy.

In fact, the youngest, who is an introvert and a daydreamer, says that she had lots of problems paying attention when she was younger and that the Catholic Mass is a lot shorter than the Divine Liturgy. I have met Catholics on the Internet who insist that only sinful bad behavior can make a five-year-old fidget during a 15-minute family rosary, and that anyone over the age of seven should be able to remain still and silent for an hour to an hour and a half of the Mass, but this has never been a philosophy of parenthood to which I have subscribed.

I asked my girls what it is that keeps them Catholic, since the two oldest are adults (I jokingly said, “…except knowing that both of your grandmothers would come after you if you left,” to which my youngest replied, “Mom, one of our grandmothers is already coming after us about the Miraculous Medal,” which is true, but I insist on the primacy of conscience when it comes to private devotions, and always have). I was impressed by their answers, which included finding at Mass generally and in our parish specifically a place of prayerful repose from the craziness of our world.

More than seeing the Church as a place to gird up for battle, I think they’re on to something when they see the Church as a place of rest. Unless the Dreher boys are punching each other or something (not that I think that for a second!), perhaps they could be encouraged to rest in the Divine Liturgy too, warming their hands at that bonfire of Divine Love before heading back into the everyday world.

#40 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 19, 2015 @ 10:47 pm

It’s this: being an (o)rtodox Christian will become gradually associated with being a bigot. It will be akin to being a racist today.

Laugh at those who perpetrate such nonsense. It sure beats calling for beheading them. Those who pat assumptions rest on unproven axioms need their balloons punctured.

By the way, do your kids read your blog?

#41 Comment By Anne (A Different One) On May 20, 2015 @ 12:22 am

We’ve had “the talk” – or a version of it – with our children over the years. And I don’t think it’s necessarily manipulative; it’s part of our Christian history, and a possibility we prepare for through discipline, asceticism, prayer, confession, the Sacraments … I am also a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.

My pappou (Greek, but not Orthodox) grew up in Constantinople: Armenian students and teachers at the college he attended in Merzivon were massacred, his birthplace (Smyrna) destroyed. He didn’t speak much of the difficulties he experienced except to say that a Christian dare not walk alone in out-of-the-way places in Constantinople. Persecution is part of my children’s family heritage as well.

About 15 years ago, we attended a small Russian Orthodox parish while visiting family. The priest there had recently returned from Russia – he had been called out of retirement to help there as there were not many priests in Russia after the collapse of the USSR. I commented that the situation must have been challenging. He agreed, but said that something much worse was coming to the US, and we should be prepared. In the USSR, he noted, people could easily identify the “enemy”; in the US, the ‘attack’ would be much more dangerous, as it would be insidious.

I remind my children of this as well.

#42 Comment By Agathonika On May 20, 2015 @ 1:31 am

I always thought one of the draws of Eastern style liturgy is that while it is very reverent, it is not especially starchy. No rows of people sitting as still as possible staring to the front. You can go off to the icon stands, light a candle, and you’re usually standing. Children have leave to look through books or play quietly to the side so long as they are not disturbing anyone else. Before long they have the whole liturgy memorized, even including sections in multiple languages, without having seemed to have paid much attention. It becomes part of them, organically, without someone standing over them and cracking a whip and drilling them.

It’s the trad refugees from the NO and uptight converts from conservative evangelicalism who don’t seem to be able to trust this process. They want rules and regimentation. I was horrified to overhear once such man angrily sneer at his little 4 year old, fidgety midway through a liturgy, “PRAY!!!” That’s not going to teach reverence, it’s going to tear apart a child’s faith from the inside out.

[NFR: Our kids usually do these other things. We don’t expect them to remain still the entire time. Things were particularly bad this past Sunday, though, and correction was necessary. — RD]

#43 Comment By Mark Hamann On May 20, 2015 @ 1:38 am

This has been an interesting post. My main issue the l’OB is this: 1) it’s likely to be a community of people who truly want to be a part of the community and 2) children don’t know what community they want to be a part of. If the purpose of l’OB is generational continuity, then…I don’t see it happening. At least not reliably and repeatably.

This talk was an attempt to foster generational continuity. I think some of the criticisms raised by the commenters are valid. Rod, you got religion by visiting Mont Saint Michel. Before that you weren’t religious, right?

I think one of the great hopes of parents is that they can teach their kids the wisdom they’ve collected and give them a head start and prevent mistakes already learned by the parent. It’s a universal hope and it universally fails.

If faith requires a spark and not just discipline, the l’OB might need a spark generator and not just enforced discipline mixed with deprivation of popular culture. But it’s hard to make a reliable spark generator.

Of course, everyone agrees that parents have to keep their kids from distracting the adults (why urban Starbucks are soooo much nicer than suburban Starbucks where mothers meet with their strollers). But until your kids have their own Mont Saint Michel moment at the right time of their life, can you really make them want to be part of l’OB?

And I think I’ve hinted at it before, but we tend to mimic our parents–even those aspects we don’t like. If your kids decide to pursue their own interests but then return, will you repeat the lines your Dad said to you? Would you secretly think it even you caught yourself before uttering it? How much of l’OB is because you, like your own father, think you know what’s best for the next generation and, gosh durnit, it’s going to happen come hell or high water?

I understand wanting to preserve what’s important to you. It’s natural. But I fear that l’OB will substitute stick when carrot doesn’t seem to be working or is too slow or too leaky. Especially if the more authoritarian types become leaders in the l’OB communities which is a huge risk in any closed community.

#44 Comment By dominic1955 On May 20, 2015 @ 1:54 am

“Ah yes, the notoriously effective, “Eat your Brussels sprouts there are kids starving in Africa.” method. I’m thinking your overwrought harangue is having exactly the opposite impact from you intended.”

Yes, I agree with Todd here. As much as I hate to admit that this doesn’t work-it just doesn’t. The young mind is not often impressed by the very real sacrifices and suffering of historical people, and even those martyrs and confessors who suffered under the Communist regime are historical. I think back to my pre-teen and teenage years and learning about the horrors of the Holocaust and Communist attrocities-all the bad pictures and videos and stories and museum exhibits just didn’t leave a dent. I could acknowledge that attrocities had been committed, I knew really horrific things were done, but all the print and all the grainy photos and newsreels and piles of old shoes just didn’t move me at all. It just didn’t click.

What got me interested in the Faith was more the good things, like it being Truth as well as being family custom from time immemorial. Sleeping in the pews and going to grandma’s after Mass, etc. etc. a lot of propositional truths and a lot of marinating.

As much as I appreciate the suffering of the martyrs and confessors of all times, what amounts to a guilt trip counterintuitively belittles what they went through.

Erin Manning,

“In fact, the youngest, who is an introvert and a daydreamer, says that she had lots of problems paying attention when she was younger and that the Catholic Mass is a lot shorter than the Divine Liturgy. I have met Catholics on the Internet who insist that only sinful bad behavior can make a five-year-old fidget during a 15-minute family rosary, and that anyone over the age of seven should be able to remain still and silent for an hour to an hour and a half of the Mass, but this has never been a philosophy of parenthood to which I have subscribed.”

I don’t really care as long as they are decently quiet enough to not really bother those around them. When I was little, we had no toys or books or food or any of that stuff. We could follow along or sleep. I have never been opposed to encouraging kids to sleep during church, personally, if that’s where its going on that particular day. I don’t see what you get out of trying to force a child into an adult mould of church behavior, i.e. being “attentive” as in meditating and the like.

“I asked my girls what it is that keeps them Catholic, since the two oldest are adults (I jokingly said, “…except knowing that both of your grandmothers would come after you if you left,” to which my youngest replied, “Mom, one of our grandmothers is already coming after us about the Miraculous Medal,” which is true, but I insist on the primacy of conscience when it comes to private devotions, and always have).”

Good for you. I hate it when people try to push private devotions as some sort of dogma of the Faith. Take it if it works for you, leave it if it doesn’t.

“I was impressed by their answers, which included finding at Mass generally and in our parish specifically a place of prayerful repose from the craziness of our world.”

That is pretty much the best we can really do, as far as I’m concerned. Give kids a good memory of church, let it be a place of rest for them. Some of us become theologically and/or liturigically astute, but that doesn’t mean our kids will necessarily. It took me a lot of time and books to get to where I am now, and I know that my kids might not ever get there or even have the interest to get there and that’s ok because Catholicism does not require one to be an intellectual adherent. In some ways, I’d say its better to be a simple member of the Faithful than a learned one.

As to the liturgy, proper “paying attention” sometimes requires a bit of disengagement. One doesn’t have to slavishly follow every word. Rest in it, marinate in it. If something really strikes you-stay with it unless you are the priest or one of the Sacred Ministers that have to keep going on account of worthily presenting the liturgy. There is much liberty in liturgy-as should be common sense with something that gets repeated over and over and over again, season after season.

#45 Comment By FRWB On May 20, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

Rod, apropos of this (and of your reading list), I highly recommend Rene Girard. And especially his recent “Battling to the End” and the interviews with Girard surrounding it. He believes the apocalypse is upon us, but that it is long, grinding, and slow. In answer to the question of what Christians ought to do, he responded to the interviewer (I believe it was in First Things): “nothing spectacular,” and pointed out that Jesus himself said that the great danger to his disciples was not being burned in the public square, but that their love would grow cold because of the multiplication of lawlessness.