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orthodox hot dogs

By July 19, 2013 One Comment

For the past two weeks my family and I have been hanging out in Grand Rapids where I’ve been immersed in a seminar discussing Eastern Orthodoxy for the West. Generally speaking, the Orthodox have a practical approach to the Christian faith. There are a few issues to which they hold on tightly (the creed, the incarnation, the trinity, Chalcedon) but they also leave room for a diversity of perspectives within these boundary markers. Their worship is high liturgy, very formal, yet the practice of that liturgy leaves room for informality. In Orthodoxy the creed, dogma, and the tradition function as boundaries or guard rails that protect the life of the Christian community. G.K. Chesterton writes somewhere that the role of doctrine is to be a fence or boundary that isn’t about keeping people out but creating a safe space inside the Christian community for a playful life. I realize that the Orthodox church has  issues – every Christian community does – but these past two weeks have shown me a different approach to doctrines and dogmas. I wonder if protestants hold on to doctrines too tightly, making them into the “end” instead of the “means” to a created, vibrant, playful way of life.

At the suggestion of a friend I decided to take my son to Yesterdog – a hot dog place in Grand Rapids. I looked online to check the hours and found a page dedicated to “rules.” Apparently there is a right and wrong way to order hot dogs. So I read them over and thought I knew the appropriate way to order a yesterdog. When I got there, however, I broke every rule listed; the cool guys with the hip goatees behind the counter helped me anyway, graciously giving me delicious hot dogs regardless of how this Iowa hick broke ordering procedure. Soon, my son and I had chili and onions dripping off of our chins. But that’s the most important part, after all, the eating of the hot dog.  Rules and regulations are put in place to move us toward the playful enjoyment of eating a good hot dog. This is what I discovered with the Orthodox – rules and practices that direct us to the playful life of the Eucharist. Yes, some of these rules and creeds are non-negotiable, but not very many of them. These non-negotiable beliefs function like the walls of a bouncy castle, pushing us back to the center so we can lose ourself in the euphoric pleasure of play.

So here’s to a good hot dog and to the basic tenets of the Christian faith – may they continue to prevent us all from going off of the deep end.


Jason Lief

Jason Lief teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He served as editor of Reformed Journal for many years and was one of the original bloggers on the RJ blog. You can find more of his writing at

One Comment

  • Al Janssen says:

    I am more and more convinced that we Protestants (and more often Reformed) have centered unity around doctrine (often parading as confessions) and lost touch with the fact that we are already one in Christ and that that is acknowledged and celebrated in the sacrament. I think Calvin knew that and — wonderfully — that is in fact reflected in the classic Reformed confessions.

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