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He recalled how, the night before the service, half of St. Francisville had waited in the rain to pay their respects. Her friends sprinkled creek sand over her body, pulled up beach chairs, and sang to her. The next morning, because Ruthie often went barefoot, her daughters stood barefoot in their pew. When the funeral party arrived at the cemetery, Dreher saw that the pallbearers, too, had removed their shoes. He and his wife, Julie, had friends there, and a rich cultural life, but it was impossible to replicate the deep roots his family had in St.

Francisville, which seemed an illuminated place. The people there had an expansive, natural, spontaneous relationship to God that made his own faith feel intellectual and disembodied by comparison.


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This, he thought, was a function of how they lived: to really know God, one had to feel as much love as possible, and to really feel love one had to live among loved ones. The following month, Dreher moved with his wife and kids to St. His plan was to fall back in love with his family and with God at the same time. From the porch of a rented house, he began to codify his intuitions.

I. INTRODUCTION

He had long been fascinated by Benedict of Nursia, the sixth-century monk who, convinced that it was impossible to live virtuously in a fallen Roman Empire, founded a monastery where the flame of Christianity might be tended during the Dark Ages. Francisville—places where faith, family, and community form an integrated whole.

Dreher thinks that liquid modernity is a more or less unstoppable force—in part because capitalism and technology are unstoppable. He urges Christians, therefore, to remove themselves from the currents of modernity. They should turn inward, toward a kind of modern monasticism. I imagined him as argumentative and intense: a twenty-first-century version of a nineteenth-century preacher. Without them, Dreher, now fifty, has an open, vulnerable, and strikingly handsome face. His graying beard and fashionably upswept haircut suggest a Confederate soldier in a historical drama.

He wore black Chelsea boots and an oversized black leather jacket, and, around his left wrist, a knotted prayer rope. He speaks slowly and quietly, with a soft Louisiana drawl. Over dinner—Dreher, who was observing Lent, confined himself to oysters and crab cakes—I learned what happened when he moved back to St. They just could not accept that I was so different from them.

It just broke me. When Dreher speaks, his emotions flow across his face with complete transparency, changing phrase by phrase. His glasses, I realized, provide him with some emotional privacy. As he told his story, he looked freshly wounded, as if it had all happened that morning. Dreher had planned to travel the next day to Washington, D. Because trains were cancelled, his publisher hired a driver to take him there that evening, after dinner, through the storm. Dreher sat in the back seat, his hands folded in his lap, regarding with serenity the spun-out cars along the highway.

He was such a force. You thought the sun was in the sky in the morning because Daddy had hung it there, while he was making our honey buns and getting us ready for the school-bus ride. Ray O. Dreher grew up so poor that his family hunted squirrels for food. He liked to build, repair, hunt, and fish, and his forearms were freckled from the sun. He raised Rod and Ruthie with a firm sense of right and wrong.

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Dreher lay face down on the bed while his dad removed his belt. Daddy, whip me! He remained on the bed, mystified by what had happened.

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When Dreher was fourteen, he went hunting with Ray and Ruthie, and, with a shotgun, he killed two baby squirrels. Filled with remorse, he sat on the ground and cried. Year by year, the distance between father and son grew.

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In college, at L. In South Louisiana, religion was everywhere, but, as a kid, Dreher was indifferent to it. Then, when he was seventeen, his mother, Dorothy, won a trip to Europe in a raffle and sent Rod in her place. He visited Chartres and felt judged by the beauty of the cathedral. He began to take religion seriously. At twenty-six, he converted to Catholicism.

Fed up with what he perceived as his own caddishness—he had dated one girlfriend longer than he should have—he decided to embrace chastity until marriage. Three years later, he proposed to Julie in a church, kneeling before an icon. Dreher left Catholicism in ; after covering the Catholic sex-abuse scandal for the Post and The American Conservative, he found it impossible to go to church without feeling angry.

He and his wife converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and, with a few other families, opened their own Orthodox mission church, near St. Francisville, sending away for a priest. Two life-changing events occurred after Dreher began the regimen of prayer. He was alone at home one evening, lying in bed, when he sensed a presence in the room. Ray was sitting on the porch, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. When Dreher leaned down to kiss him on the cheek, his father grabbed him by the arm. Tears were in his eyes. And I told him I was sorry. And I think he heard me. The next summer, the mission lost its priest and one of the founding families moved away.

To be near an Orthodox church, Dreher and his family moved to Baton Rouge. Looking back on his time in St. God tells us how to be good—but are the things he deems good actually good in themselves, or good just because God says they are? The nominalists thought they were doing God a favor, by recognizing his power.

In fact, Dreher writes, they undermined him. Today, most people are nominalists. They doubt that entities like God, beauty, and evil are real in the same sense that the physical world is real. Even if they believe in God, they imagine a boundary between the transcendent plane, where God lives, and our material one. This boundary makes God abstract—a designer, a describer, a storyteller—rather than a concrete presence in our everyday life.

By contrast, the early Christians were realists. Many of these mostly Protestant congregations count thousands of people in attendance on a weekend--in some cases more than 10, For their hugeness they are often known, and often chagrined to be known, as megachurches. Among the other labels one hears are full-service churches, seven-day-a-week churches, pastoral churches, apostolic churches, "new tribe" churches, new paradigm churches, seeker-sensitive churches, shopping-mall churches.

No two of these terms mean quite the same thing, but together, like the blind men with the elephant, they describe the beast rather well.


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