Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hooked on sailing

My dear fiancee and I took a little sailing trip this last Monday evening. Valerie, desiring me to have some practical seamanship experience before I start school, contacted the Puget Sound Sailing Institute and booked one of their 3 hour introduction to sailing trips. We arrived at the Pier 66 marina in downtown Seattle at 5pm, and met our guide Mike, who introduced us to the 22 foot boat we'd be taking out. With very little ceremony Mike had the small outboard running adn was motoring us out of the marina. Once out onto Elliot Bay he handed the tiller over to me with even less ceremony and began raising the sails. Once the sails were up and trimmed he reached back and said "we won't need this anymore" as he hit the kill switch on the motor. All of a sudden our boat was being compelled forward by the invisible wind. Mike gave me some basic directions at keeping the wind at the right point and the sails drawing and we were soon flying across Elliot Bay, heeled over (to Valerie's slight distress) and casting a fine bow wave. For the next three hours we sailed around the bay, tacking back and forth when necessary while I got as much instruction as I could from Mike.
The word sublime is under-used these days, and the old habit of granting it a capital "S" has sadly died away, but sublime is the best description for my first sailing experience. The feeling of being propelled by the wind, actually pulled by the wind in some cases was excellent in a way that even the most powerful motor-boat could not equal. Every motor boat I've been in, alays feels as though it is struggling against the water. Even when the wind was abeam and our progress was slow, the pace always seem natural. The ever-practical Valerie was pleased to hear from Mike that one could fish from a sail boat. In any case, a sailboat (preferrably wooden) is now high on my list of things to own. Once we move across the water, I even hope to make it a semi-regular form of transportation if possible.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Something we can all agree on...

... that is assuming one is a man of literary refinement.
As if one needed a reason to esteem the departed servant of God Jaroslav Pelikan more highly, he was also a man who appreciated fine literature. From the preface of "Whose Bible Is It?":

One day she asked me rather casually, in what Patrick O'Brian in the fourth of his Aubrey/Maturin novels calls "a fluent though curious English devoid of articles"...
[emphasis mine]

Monday, July 17, 2006

Orthodoxy at the "Amish point"? Part II

If we admit that Orthodoxy is not growing in America and that our faith and praxis somehow seem lukewarm, and that the Orthodox Church truly is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, then the fault must lie in ourselves and how we are living out our faith. The essential problem is that we have not made Orthodoxy the foundation, adapting it to our modern lives and not the other way around. We start out as Republican and Democrats and then find ways to dovetail Orthodoxy into our existing beliefs. Thus you have the spectacle of those trying to defend economic libertarianism or veganism, or materialist consumption as somehow compatible with Orthodoxy, when we should be doing just the opposite. If the teachings and witness of the Church, the message of the Gospels, and the lives of the Saints contradict libertarianism or radical veganism or what have you, then we must be willing to abandon those secular doctrines in the face of Christian teaching.

This is where the Amish provide a powerful example. Despite the criticism by those who at heart are probably profoundly uncomfortable with what the Amish stand for, the Amish are not “stuck in the past”. While it is most visible in the realm of technology, the Amish are engaged with the modern world, but the critical difference between them and us is that they meet the modern world on their terms. Anything that enters their society is prayerfully evaluated on whether or not it is compatible with their beliefs, and what the possible effects will be on their families and society. I would submit that us Orthodox in America as a whole would be well served such an outlook. Replacing our modern life with the Orthodoxy “add-on”, with a way of living that was Orthodox first, with modern life intruding, if it all, only when and where it is found compatible with the Orthodox faith. If this means starting from scratch in an agrarian fashion, so be it. But even without a “back to the land” ethic, would mean a more organic sense of community. It would mean Orthodox faithful living with a close distance of the nearest Orthodox church, and thus each other. It would mean an end to “commuting” to a distant church simply because you like the icons there, or they aren’t “ecumenist”, or they speak your grandfather’s native tongue. In order to attend my Serbian church I must drive past (or further than) SIX canonical Orthodox churches. While I speak Serbian semi-fluently, and understand the Slavonic liturgy, does it make sense to drive an hour to church? Am I ever going to have a shared sense of community with the other Serbian parishioner who drives an hour from the south and thus lives two hours away from me?

Ultimately our Christianity, our Orthodoxy is not radical enough. I mean this not in the sense of the joyless Orthodox piety-fascists one meets here and there, but in the sense that, like the Amish, we need to start making Orthodoxy the foundation for how we live our lives, and how we interact with others and God’s creation. We need an Orthodox ecology (in the broadest sense of the term). If living in humility means watching a 20” TV (though the argument could be made that in truth an Orthodox Christian has no business watching TV at all) instead of a wide-screen plasma; or driving a ten-year old Subaru station wagon instead of a new Hummer H2 then what is stopping us? If it means becoming agrarians and living at peace with God’s creation and our neighbor, not participating, or participating as little as possible in the exploitive and soul-warping chaos of secular materialist society, then what is stopping us?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Orthodoxy at the "Amish point"?

I’ve been reading with interested the four-part series on the general state of the Orthodox Church at the Ochlophobist’s blog. Much of what I’m about to write will deal with some of the issues brought up in these four lengthy posts, so I recommend anyone about to plunge ahead with this post, first go and read the First, Second, Third, and Fourth parts of the series…

By all accounts Orthodoxy in America is not growing at an appreciable rate. Using corporate business ideas of perpetual growth to judge our Church is a very poor idea, however, leaving aside a mania for abstract numbers, realizing that our Church is not growing should cause us to look at our praxis, both as individuals and communities. The fact my subconscious evangelism is ineffectual (because God forbid we Orthodox do any active evangelism- and for those who want to quote St. Seraphim and talk about aquiring the Spirit of peace- show me the thousands around you being saved. If you even had a tiny bit of the Spirit of peace, could you not at least show me a dozen people around you being saved?) should cause us all to sit down and ask ourselves, “Where is the Orthodoxy Christianity in my life outside of church?” By this I don’t mean do I have an icon on the dash of my car, a prayer rope on my wrist, and how many co-workers have I explained why I’m not eating meat or cheese to today, I’m talking about the more rudimentary and oft-forgotten basics of the Gospel message. All those things Christ told us would separate the sheep from the goats, all those outward manifestations of basic Christian virtue that should identify us as members of the Body of Christ long before they see our icons and our Byzantine chant CDs.

If the way we our living our Orthodox faith does not produce in us even the faintest germination of the seed of Christian virtue, then what is the point? Do we really think we are being saved by going through the motions every Sunday? Perhaps I am simply projecting my own inadequacies on the state of Orthodoxy at large, but I see it around me as well. Imagine, just imagine, someone who for whatever reason becoming interested enough in Orthodoxy to walk into their nearest Orthodox church on Sunday, and they are unfortunate enough to walk into a Greek or Serbian (or any other heavily “ethnic” congregation). Are they going to hear the Liturgy? Of course, but they won’t understand most of it. Are they going to see the beauty of Orthodox worship? Sure there will be the singing in an incomprehensible language, the beautiful icons, the incense, etc. But do you really think this person is going to be received by THE PEOPLE there in a welcoming, loving Christian manner? I’m as guilty as the next “ethnic”. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an “Anglo” at church, and never bothered greeting or speaking with them after the service, because I’d rather go speak Serbian with the usual bunch of guys near the bar. Of course by the time the priest is through consuming the whole Eucharist (because in the Serbian church only infants receive Holy Communion more than once or twice a year, myself included), these proto-inquirers have left in dismay. On an Orthodox e-mail list for converts, the usual answer to enquirers that receive this sort of treatment is “Keep going back, you’ll get through to them.” or, “Find another parish that is convert friendly.” This strikes me as basically saying either, “We may have the Truth, but it makes us a bunch of insular xenophobes” or “We may be the True Church, but you’re going to have to do some looking around before you find a church in the True Church that is a True Church.” Now of course mostly convert churches have a much better track record in accepting inquirers, but only up to a point. Nothing in more bizarre to me than the existence of entirely convert missions in the Serbian Orthodox Church. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see new Orthodox communities form. But I cannot for the life of me comprehend why (aside from the fact that though the OCA is the Orthodox Church in America in name, it does not function as the American Orthodox Church) a group of people who are named Smith, Jones, and Hanson would decide to begin a mission in the Serbian Orthodox Church (or ROCOR or any more “ethnic” jurisdiction for that matter). I esteem Patriarch Pavle as a living Saint, but I can’t grasp the logic of a convert parish, somewhere in America submitting to him as chief hierarch, or a church administration that thinks it makes sense to create parishes of “Anglo” converts who have no connection to Serbia at all. One begins to suspect less-than-pure motives on both parts, Converts: “It has to be Traditional, gotta be Old Calendar, and, yeah definitely no Ecumenism.” Bishops: “More money in the coffers, more numbers of parishioners on the rolls.”
(to be continued)