Chance, Orthodoxy, and Re-inventing the wheel

One might infer from the title that the three topics mentioned will somehow be intricately intertwined herein – that new, special revelations of a three-fold nature will be unfurled.

Not so much. These are just three ideas that have been bouncing around in my brain lately – like a pair of tennis shoes in a dryer (which, by the way, thanks to a mostly-warm almost-springtime, we don’t use anymore! line-drying is the only way to fly…). They’re connected only by the delicate fibres of my warped brain, and also because everything is connected with everything.

So much for disclaimers.


Rolling dice, hockey games, the choosing of disciple #13

It’s everywhere. I mean, I don’t know whether or not I actually believe it exists – the sovereignty of God being what it supposedly is – but it seems that something like chance is all over our lives.

I was watching some church-gym-floor-hockey the other night (we play most Thursday nights at the church – it’s intense). That ball was bouncing around everywhere, and I noticed that chance seemed to govern much of the game. If you simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, you could get the ball, swing your stick, and if everybody else happened to not be in the right place at the right time, that ball would go into the goal. Now, clearly some hockey players are better than others – this skill is a combination of quickness, strength, and probability calculations. The adept player stands where he/she thinks the ball will probably go, waiting with bated breath and readied stick for that lucky chance at striking the ball.

It’s a fun game – hockey. But it’s largely just a roll of the dice.

Speaking of dice…

Everybody loves dice games. A favorite around here is Backgammon. Also Settlers of Catan. And we basically acknowledge that dice-rolling is flirtation with something like chance. The dice limit your moves, and sometimes, no matter how skilled the player, he/she will lose because the dice were “unkind.” In fact, the gameplay of Settlers of Catan has each player placing settlements on board hexes identified by the numbers 2-12 (potential dice rolls, with 2 dice). Six and eight should be rolled the most, followed by five and nine, then four and ten, then three and eleven, finally two and twelve. That’s “probability.” So one places his/her settlements on those middle numbers – six, eight, five, nine – if possible, counting on the dice to do what they’re supposed to. Sometimes eight almost NEVER gets rolled. Ten – a decently probable roll – never seems to get rolled. One game I think we rolled a five about 25% of the time – improbable! And whoever was on fives won, I’m pretty sure. So we love (or hate) chance when we play those games. Sure, there’s some strategy involved – but it still ultimately depends on those fickle dice.

But then there are those who roll dice for more important things…

Remember in the book of Acts (chapter 1) when the remaining eleven disciples decide it’s time to replace Judas? It comes down to two good men – Joseph, aka Barsabbas, aka Justus, and Matthias. Then the disciples pray…well, I’ll just quote the passage.

24 And they prayed and said, You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen
25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.
26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

That’s it! They pray, then the roll the dice, and trust that the dice pointed to God’s man. I want to see a church do that with their decision about a new pastor. “God, we really like both of these men. So we’re gonna flip a coin – please help the coin to tell us who should be our new pastor. Amen. Okay boys, who wants to be tails?”

Anyways, I don’t really know what to do with that. All I get from it is that the disciples had this incredible faith in God – the kind of faith that really doesn’t make much sense – and it seemed to work out pretty well for them! Perhaps they believed that the idea of chance is really just our inability to see the intricacies of God’s infinite, constant movement all over the earth, at every single moment, in every single place.


We have no claim to it as Protestants. Ortho- structure, Dochia- teaching. Orthodoxy is used by the majority to preserve the status quo and not be challenged.

My Greek is a little rusty, from lack of use (sadly…though I intend to teach Greek to Saylor soon…). However, I think the word “orthodoxy” comes from two Greek roots – one, ortho, means something like “straight” or “correct.” It’s where we get our word “orthodontist” – the guy responsible for all of our junior high aesthetic misery. Then there’s dochia, which means “teaching.” So orthodoxy is essentially “right teaching.” That’s nice. In Christianity, we contextualize it historically – when we say something is “orthodox,” we compare it with what has been taught in the Church throughout Christian history.  An idea or teaching stamped as “unorthodox” has received a veritable death sentence.

But are our estimations of orthodoxy so measured and equitable as we pretend they are? Here’s an example of a possible conversation between two people (perhaps about Rob Bell’s new book…or a myriad of other controversial ideas)…

“It’s heresy!”

What do you mean? Why is it heresy?

“Well, it’s just not orthodox!”

Not orthodox? What do you mean?

“Well, it’s not what the Church has largely believed for the last two thousand years!”

Yeah, but hasn’t the Church changed her mind about anything in the last two millenia?

“Not the most important things, like this. Look, it’s just not truth, and it needs to be discarded. It’s heresy!”

Anyways, an appeal to “orthodoxy” in the literal sense of “right teaching” doesn’t work, because it’s circular. “It’s not orthodox” simply means “It’s not right.” The statement doesn’t provide a reason why the idea in question is not right.

Two things more.

1) The first authority most people turn to in ascertaining orthodoxy is “the word of God” (a phrase I find problematic, since they’re referring not to Christ, The Word, but to our canonized scriptures. But that’s another blog…). “The Bible,” they say, “clearly disagrees with this new heretical idea.” Then they’ll turn to a few passages, taken wildly out of context, to support their claim. What they really mean to say is, “My reading of the scriptures suggests this idea is unorthodox and heretical.” I am not splitting hairs, and I am not denying of the power and importance of our holy scriptures. I’m saying that some people have wacky interpretations of the Bible. Sometimes really large groups have wacky interpretations of the Bible. The removal of one letter – a definite article – in John ch. 1 has done all sorts of awful things to the Mormons. Most protestants reject the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18. Those are some big groups with some majorly conflicting interpretations of scripture.

But the Bible is not the only weapon in our arsenal. We have a second orthodoxy litmus-test…

2) “It’s not what the Church has historically believed.” Well, no protestant (Baptist, non-denom, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) is allowed to use that one. For the Church has “historically” (before the 16th century – reformation) believed in the authority of the Pope, in transubstantiation (at least since the 13th century…maybe that’s not a good example), in certain authority structures (bishops, cardinals, etc.), in Purgatory. Those all sound very “Catholic” – well, they are, and were, and so our protestant history is inextricably connected to Catholicism – we were all once simply “the catholic church.” catholic = universal.

So anyways, how can a protestant appeal to orthodoxy? We protestants departed from the Catholic church – our roots – four hundred years ago…so it’s all befuddled. And if we’re appealing to “orthodoxy” of a protestant variety…well, we haven’t quite settled that one yet. A new protestant denomination forms every few hours, it seems, based on a slightly different understanding of some obscure scripture.

It sounds like I’m appealing to theological-epistemological chaos. I’m not. I just have some problems with the way we talk about what we think we know.

And now that you’ve stopped reading…

Reinventing the wheel

“Don’t reinvent the wheel,” someone might say. It’s pretty good advice: don’t waste all your time messing up what others have learned not to mess up – just learn from those others how to do it better.

Here on the farm, we learn from the internet and actual people, too. It’s amazing how a conversation with someone will provide vast oceans of knowledge about methods and ideas for new ventures.

But sometimes we learn from mistakes, or just from doing things not the best way. This has been the most evident with our animal-containment systems, aka fences. Every single animal we own (except ToolCat) has escaped. Gertie ended up in the middle of the road one time. The pigs continue to show us the weaknesses in our fence. The chickens wandered off the first day we had them. Those were frustrating moments, where we found ourselves praying really hard that we hadn’t just lost a farm animal to the Ozark wilderness.

There are indubitably more things we’ll screw up. Growing season is all but here, and though I have experience gardening, by the time October arrives, we’ll probably have a list of “things not to do ever again.”

But we like it. It’s a special kind of learning. Reinventing the wheel makes us inventors, and what better thing to invent?! Or, to put it another way, we find the joy of the inventor, the discoverer, by learning things ourselves. We also learn new things – nuances of old things, in this place, for us, for this time.

So I mandate: Learn from those who know. But sometimes, even if just for fun (and definitely to preserve a sense of adventure), go out on a limb and reinvent the wheel!

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3 Responses to Chance, Orthodoxy, and Re-inventing the wheel

  1. friendmouse says:

    Hmmm…some may argue that truly you cannot “lump” Baptists in with “other” Protestant denominations. I’m no historian, but I’ve read and heard with some consistency, that “Baptists” of one form or another, have always (since the resurrection) been around, and were not “break-aways” from the catholic church. You probably ought to get those potatoes in the ground.

  2. Courtney says:

    I have never thought of “orthodoxy ” in such a literal way. And this post is so thought provoking that it may take me some time to think through it. But thank you for putting it out there.

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