:: Monday, January 30, 2006 ::
Being Special: A brief review of a tour to Las Vegas
:: Saturday, January 21, 2006 ::
This last week, I have been on a tour with the brass ensemble from Biola. We went to multiple locations, including (most interestingly), Las Vegas. I had a hard enough time burning 3 free hours there…Let’s summarize my Las Vegas experience this way: if I ever willing go to the strip again, I have given multiple people permission to put me out of my misery. Decadent. Gaudy. Extravagant. Blech.
I think, however, that I found at least one of the catches or ‘drives’ of gambling. Especially in our ‘feel-good’ society, we think we are special. We get star stickers in school, and every paper gets an “A.” In our desperate desire to be loved, and our misunderstanding of the only source to fulfill this longing, we believe ourselves special; as odd as it sounds, I believe gambling is one of the fruits of this belief and desire.
I am almost positive that everyone in Las Vegas knows that, statistically, everyone who goes there looses money. If someone does not know this, he does not need to be rebuked for his gambling habit, but for his stupidity. Look at the strip! How do you think they got all that money? So, everybody affirms the fact that, “Most people who go to Las Vegas lose money.” The problem comes with the word “most.” People desperately want to be that special winner; they have been told their whole lives that they are special, and so wish to believe it that they are willing to blow a weeks worth of wages just because while it is true that “Most people who go to Las Vegas lose money,” they are in that special 2% that will actually win.
So, as we become more ‘special,’ we will have more of a gambling problem. And places like Las Vegas will grow. God help us!
Glory to God!
:: 12:08 PM on
Monday, January 30, 2006
:: Sunday, January 15, 2006 ::
“Of Thy mystic supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of Thy mysteries to Thine enemies. Neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss, but like the thief will I confess Thee, “Remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom.”
We say this prayer frequently enough, both at the end of the preparatory prayers for communion and the priest says it immediately before we receive the Eucharist (in some parish practices). But, at least for this convert, I fear it is not true.
I have converted to Orthodoxy. The Greek word for convert is “proselyte;” the “pro” part is a preposition meaning “to” or “towards.” To go to something, one must go from another thing. In this specific case, I have converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism.
The problem is, I am Judas. I swore I would never convert, never leave my faith. I didn’t think it possible to shake my deepest convictions in Protestantism. If you had told me five years ago that I would soon be an ex-Protestant, I would have laughed in your face. This is why it is so hard for me to convert: I swore I never would. In fact, it is one of the only things I have ever sworn to in my life; I take vows very seriously. So, now, I stand on the cusp of becoming Judas, betrayal with a kiss.
Not only am I shaken in the sense that I may deny what I swore I never would, but I am shaken by the thought that I can deny it. Knowing the seriousness with which I have always taken my Christian faith, the yearning for God that has so shaped my life, I find it hard to believe that such a formative and deep part of me can change as radically as it has. Perhaps I do not know myself as well as I thought I did. Perhaps I am too easily convinced of things. Perhaps I am shaken by every wave of doctrine that crashes to the shores of my insular world. If I can loose my Protestantism, anything can happen. More specifically (and worrisome), it means I can loose my Orthodoxy, too; worse yet, it means I can loose my faith altogether.
These thoughts, and related ones, have shaken my faith in the last few weeks. I do, and always have, defined myself by my faith. I swore it would never change, and now it is. I swore I never would, and now I feel as though I have given the last kiss to the Protestantism that I vowed I would never abandon. I feel as though I do not know myself; the only thing I do know is that if my faith can be changed, anything can be. Scary.
Glory to God!
:: 12:03 AM on
Saturday, January 21, 2006
:: Thursday, January 12, 2006 ::
Tomorrow, at around 4:30AM, I will drive myself to Los Angeles to return to school. It is the first time I will have driven the 9-hour trip all by myself, with no one else in the car. Needless to say, I am slightly nervous. As I was telling a friend, she smiled and said, “You should pray to St. Nicholas.”
Firstly, let me say that I will pray to St. Nicholas, no matter what the conclusions of this blog are. I tend to be, shall we say, superstitious; I trust my intuitions more than my reason in this case.
That said, I feel a little like a Greek pagan in the late 200s BC. If they wanted a good hunt, they prayed to Athena. A good wife, and they prayed to Hera. A good crop and they prayed to Apollo. Their pantheon is as polytheistic as possible, but luckily I’m a monotheist, right?
I want a safe drive, so I pray to St. Nicholas. I want good health, and I pray to St. Pantelemon. If I want a good husband, I can pray to St. Xenia of Petersburg. Something in your throat? Pray to St. Blaise.
Does anyone else see this as suspicious? I’m all for praying to the saints, and I recognize that they may have ‘specialties,’ but this still feels a little too Greek for my liking. Maybe the Prots are right in abolishing the Church Triumphant; it sure does away with a lot of pantheistic-sounding prayers. Of course, having relationships with these saints is informative, encouraging, and helpful to the Christian life, but one does encounter this problem. However, I’ve noticed it less in Orthodox circles than in Catholic circles (there seem to be ‘patron’ saints of everything there, and they seem to function differently); I assume there is something I am unaware of or am overlooking. Anyone know what this is? Can you recommend a good book on the subject? Does anyone else know what I am talking about?
Glory to God!
:: 11:00 PM on
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Praying for ME
:: Wednesday, January 04, 2006 ::
Being somewhat of a slacker (and having a relatively hard time keeping my prayer rule while at home), I had put aside the list of names of people for whom I pray on a daily basis. I figure I don’t have time, and hey, I need to pray for number one, right?
That’s the sad part. I want to pray for me and only for me. My logical brain says that I should pray for other people and not worry about what is going to happen to me, since God watches over even the sparrow. My sinful heart tells me that I should pray most of the time and hardest for myself, since I am who I most care about (in other words, I am utterly self-absorbed). “When you get everything worked out OK,” my sinful heart tells me, “Then perhaps you can add for someone else occasionally. Maybe.”
I guess I should be happy that even my sinful heart clearly believes in the power of prayer, even if I want use improperly use that power. Now if only I could convince myself not to worry so much about me and to care more for others. “But,” my heart whines to me, “If I don’t pray for me, how do I know anyone will? Will God forget me? Will he only bless the other people for whom I pray?” Of course, my brain responds that this is an unfounded fear; of course God will continue to bless me. “But what if…”…it’s too great of a risk to take, isn’t it?
Glory to God!
:: 4:35 PM on
Thursday, January 12, 2006
To Teach the Heart and Spirit
:: Monday, January 02, 2006 ::
There are (at least) to parts to man: his mind and his heart. One of Fr. Jonah’s themes this last week was on the difference between belief and faith.
Belief is what we know. It is an intellectual exercise. Personally, I cannot think of any of tenants of Orthodoxy that I still doubt in any major way. While I may have objections or questions (often harshly stated), I harbor little doubt about any of the major doctrines or practices of Orthodoxy. In all truth and sincerity, I can say the Creed. I believe correctly. But it doesn’t seem to be enough.
Faith is the other side of the coin. If belief resides in the head, faith resides in the heart. Faith is the knowledge of the Holy Spirit in us; it is what enables us to abide in Christ, and it is the gift which God gives us. Faith is that aspect of religion which we are unable to compartmentalize; it is not what we do on Sunday morning when we go to church, but it is what we do on Monday morning when that car cuts us off at the intersection. Faith is belief that has become salvific.
If belief is something of which we slowly convince ourselves, how to we acquire faith? It seems like a gift from God, and not something we can earn of our own merit, but it does not seem to necessarily be a fruit of belief. “Faith” is one of those aspects of religion I have never understood or been particularly good at exercising; I can give mental assent to a proposition, but not necessarily “have faith” in it. So, how does the heart acquire faith? I go to services nearly daily, pray, fast, give alms, and try to do all I can. Why don’t I have the gift of faith that seems so essential for salvation, and how can I acquire it?
Glory to God!
:: 12:02 PM on
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Church: In Or Out
Liturgy was on Thursday. There were about 5 people who had been in the choir, and I was one of them. With a choir of 5, every voice is important. The choir had all been there last year and we knew each other; we would just go around singing with each other, whether in service or out of it. So, after vespers on Thursday, I approach Fr. Jonah and ask for a blessing to stay through the “catechumen’s depart” point of the Liturgy. He asks why I’m still a catechumen, but blesses me all the same to stay and sing. Great.
Well, later that evening, we went up to tour the monastery. We met Gerontissa Markella and she showed us around, finally ending up in the sitting room with Greek coffee and sweets. When Gerontissa slipped out of the room, Fr. Jonah mentioned that she was really cool and we should all get to know her. I figured that was good enough for me, and I would hang around and get her blessing. Anyway…I found myself the last person there (late for dinner, as usual!), and so I asked for a blessing. She was nice, and we started a polite conversation. I must have mentioned I was a catechumen, because suddenly, she asked when I was getting baptized. I wasn’t expecting it…I just kind of shrugged and mumbled something. So, she started hitting the top of my head (y’all know what I mean?). Weird. Anyway, she kept doing it about 20 times until my headscarf came off. Then she told me, “You should get baptized. Soon.” Anyway, she hit me a few more times, gave me her blessing, and I escaped. Weird.
The next morning, I was early for church (so early, I had to find a nun to let me into the catholikon). In the morning silence, I was saying my prayers and minding my own business. As people started to come, I went forward to the chanters stand, and as our small choir assembled, we prepared for Orthros. We had everything set up and started…as soon as the 6 Psalms ended, Gerontissa walked over to us. She takes my hand, and leads me outside, “You cannot be in here when we are praying because you are not an Orthodox Christian.” She deposited me outside of the church, and went back in.
In a word, I was humiliated. Frustrated, ashamed, sad, angry, hurt, and all of those other good words also describe being kicked out of a church by an elderess, especially after I had gotten a blessing to stay. I stood there, quite unsuccessfully fighting back tears. She must have told Fr. Jonah, because he came over to me twice during the entrance at Orthros and said, “It’s not permanent; you’ll be baptized soon,” and “Obedience is already communion.” Yeah, it didn’t help. I was not happy. So, I stood there, humiliated and crying, as more people went into the church. Then Gerontissa came over to me; I’m not sure why, but it seemed as if to rub my non-baptism in my face. She said a bunch of things, most of which I didn’t hear because I was cornered, mad, and crying, but one of which I remember exactly, “You feel as though you have been kicked out of Paradise.”
Well, yeah! I am poignantly aware that I’m not Orthodox. But church is good, and being in church is good. Even if I am rightly deprived of the ultimate communion of the Eucharist, why should I be deprived of the communion of prayer, of the church, or of my friends? Is the church some sort of social clique to which only the elite and worthy are admitted? Last I checked, one is holy, and the rest of us are called from the highways to be at the Master’s banquet. Why should some turn away others? I know I am fallen from Paradise; I don’t need to be reminded. Rather, I need the small taste of Paradise that I am permitted while on this earth: Church. Why was I kicked out?
Glory to God!
:: 7:44 PM on
Monday, January 02, 2006
OCF: West Coast College Conference
:: Sunday, January 01, 2006 ::
If you are college age, and have not been to an OCF conference, you do not know what you are missing! This year, we were up at St. Nicholas Ranch in Dunlap, CA, right next to the Monastery of the Life Giving Spring of the Theotokos.
We have awesome speakers. Fr. Jonah from St. John of San Francisco in Pt. Reyes was the key note speaker, delivering three interesting addresses to the approximately 80 college students from all over the Western United States. Then we divided into smaller groups to hear such speakers as Ms. Katrina Bitar, Fr. Chris Salamy, Mr. Michael Kallas, and Fr. Jim and Donna Pappas. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the workshops I attended, on such topics as Short Prayers, The Divine Liturgy, The Nicene Creed, and Sacraments. They were small enough to be highly interactive and very ‘personal’ feeling. The speakers were dynamic and engaging, and were very involved in the rest of the conference, so they were highly approachable and we felt as though we really got to know them.
The activities were also a blast. The first night we broke into teams and did Olympics. It was useful because even though we barely knew each other, the high level of organization in the games made us feel as though we had been there for a long time; it was big enough to be a ‘closing-of-the-week’ game, and it was just on the first night! We also had a dinner mystery theatre (which was really tough!) and a closing dance.
I’ll leave the church activities for another post, but I can say that the conference rocked, and that everyone should go to one if they have the chance…
Glory to God!
:: 7:44 PM on [+] ::
I was unable to post this when I wrote it, so…
Joseph spoke thus to the Virgin, ‘Mary, what is this doing that I see in you? I am at a loss and am amazed, and my mind is struck with dismay. Go quickly from me then and secretly. Mary, what is this doing that I see in you? Instead of honour, you have brought me shame; instead of gladness, sorrow; instead of praise, reproof. No longer will I bear men’s reproach; for I you took from the Priests in the Temple as one blameless before the Lord; and what is this sight?’
Joseph, tell us, how is it that you are bringing to Bethlehem great with child the Maiden you received from the Holy Place? ‘I have searched the prophets,’ he says, ‘and I have been warned by a Angel, and I am persuaded that Mary will give birth to God in a way beyond explanation. To worship him Magi will come from the East, honouring him with precious gifts.’ O Lord, incarnate for our sake, glory to you!
These hymns really struck me on Friday. Being still relatively new to the concept of Virginity in Mary (in its philosophical/theological, not its physical, sense), I had never thought of Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s being pregnant. Now, while the Biblical account tells us that he was a just man and thought to put her away quietly, I had never really understood what this meant.
If Joseph received Mary from the priests of the temple, and had truly been selected to be the earthly caretaker of the Word Incarnate, he must have been a pretty devout man. Through observing people around my church, I can think of a few devout old family men around the church. Now I can imagine one of them being made protector of a very holy girl a few years younger than myself; there wouldn’t be anything weird, but it would be more like a father/daughter relationship. Now, imagine that this holy girl comes home one day to this holy man, her protector, obviously pregnant.
I have had friends come home pregnant. Nearly without exception, their fathers are crushed. They do not know what to do. Just imagine Joseph, this broken. He has not only betrayed the trust of the community in keeping this holy Flower a virgin, but he has put a blot on his own reputation.
Now imagine Mary. Try explaining to Joseph that you’re pregnant. And now try explaining to him that the father is…God. “Yeah, riiiiight…” Of course, the dream helped. But still. Imagine the talk of the ‘church’…
Today then as we celebrate the feast day of the Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, let us ask him to interceed for the salvation of our souls.
Glory to God!
:: 6:21 PM on
Sunday, January 01, 2006