Saturday, January 29, 2005

"Putting my head through a wall," or, "What I'd rather do than inservice"

Yes, it's that time again, the time that all teachers look forward to with mixed emotions: INSERVICE!

Mixed because, one, we're not with the kids, so in a way that's a break. Two, however, is where the mix comes in, as ever since these things have been in existence, they've (pretty much) been largely worthless. I'm thoroughly convinced that somewhere, etched into a cave wall somewhere, there are primitive diagrams from caveman teacher inservice on how to achieve maximum learner mastery in spearing a mastodon while teaching students with different learning styles, or something like that. Several feet away from this revolutionary archeological find, I expect to see, on the ground, the small, pool-shaped indentations of the drool puddles from those poor neanderthals made to suffer through this who, unfortunately, just couldn't make it through and nodded off.

One good thing coming out of the time "spent" at inservice, though; another young, male teacher is looking to make a move to a better-paying, professional position that will make use of his Spanish abilities. We swapped some leads (job fair in February, a good website to post résumés on). The job switch comes, not because I don't like teaching (I most certainly do), but because we'd like Audra to stay home, if possible, and that can't happen if I'm teaching...and if I have to do other work along with teaching, I will have no life and family in name only, basically. So huzzah for leads!

Baby Gender Findout Day postponed (boo!). Feb. 8th will now be the day, as Mr. Sonogram only comes in once a week to the Dr.'s office. Ah, well.

Thought sparked by Ps. 51 (50 LXX), emph mine: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and steady me with a guiding spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and the impious shall be converted unto thee." Joy and steadiness in the Faith before witness. How often we see folks (like me) who get so serious when they talk about churchy or spiritual things, who see their witness as one argument after another! And how often we preach without the necessary practice of virtue! What a great example folks like St. Innocent Veniaminov and Herman of Alaska are, along w/St. Nicholas of Japan; through their holy example they gave life to those who did not have it. Pray for us, holy missionary fathers!


Later that evening:

Along the same lines as my last thought, a quote from a really good article from Father Joseph Huneycutt's blog ORTHODIXIE:

There is much work to be done if we are to introduce True Christianity into this wayward society of ours. Yet if we’re too full of zeal to convert out neighbor, chances are we’ve neglected God in the process. Christ said, "Love God. Love your neighbor." Some have interpreted this to mean, "Convert your neighbor and God will love you."
Very well said; in the words of St. Herman, let us love God above all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hard to Be a Man of Peace

A Pre-Communion Prayer of St. John of Damascus:

I stand before the gates of Thy temple, and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts. But do Thou, O Christ my God, who didst justify the publican, and hadst mercy on the Canaanite woman, and opened the gates of Paradise to the thief; open unto me the compassion of thy love toward mankind, and receive me I approach and touch Thee, like the sinful woman and the woman with the issue of blood; for the one, by embracing Thy feet received the forgiveness of her sins, and the other by but touching the hem of Thy garment was healed. And I, most sinful, dare to partake of Thy whole Body. Let me not be consumed, but receive me as Thou didst receive them, and enlighten the perceptions of my soul, consuming the accusations of my sins: through the intercessions of her that, without stain, gave Thee birth, and of the heavenly Powers; for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Tonight wasn't communion, but the first line was clear enough...I stand before the gates of Thy temple--tonight, even within Thy temple!--and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts. Yet the prayer doesn't call for us, in those moments, to stuff our brains full of proper, "theological" thoughts; we are called to pray for mercy and, through the communion of the saints, open ourselves and be opened by God (at the same time!) to His grace! Found myself telling my mind tonight to "shut off," and just allowed my body to follow the movements...make the sign of the cross...bow...make three prostrations...remained bowed for the priest's prayer...cross yourself at metion of Trinity or attentive only to the words...allowed myself to let the rhythm of the Vespers service carry me along, assauging my passions, gently redirecting me.

Coffee with friends from church after Vespers--I'm pretty sure it's an undisputed fact that I talk too much, that I dominate conversations if not careful. Attempted to bring up topics pertinent to our friends, but my wife and I--dramatic, loquacious souls that we are--still seemed to talk more and listen less than our more pensive, less chatty friends. Not that they mind (at least, I don't think so). They seem to be gifted, patient listeners and will be the godparents of little John Davis or Hope Elizabeth (we'll know next Monday, Lord willling!). Good coffee, good conversation in spite of me, good afterglow from Vespers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Being in Christ," or, "Squinting, Newborn Converts"

I just read an article (full text is here, from a forum I'm involved with) about the situation of Orthodox converts here in America. The article runs the gamut of typical converts, with everything from those who are tired of their former confession's liberalism to those who seek out the history of the Church and want to be more in line with what the first Christians practiced (this was my initial reason for converting) to those monastics who, in their obsessed search for total purity, have walled themselves off even from those in the very Church to which they've converted...trying to out-Herod Herod, they're trying to be more Orthodox than their bishop, I suppose....

It is tempting, this desire to be right all the time; even more dangerous is the tendency to think, via your still-all-too-simplistic and newly-acquired worldview, that you've arrived and are seeing clearly. In reality, I think we converts are really just better off if we stand around and squint in the light of our new-found life in Christ for at least a couple of years before making judgements on Bishop N.

Though I'd be lying if I said this desire to know it all (especially in relation to my former confession) played NO part in my conversion. Sinful as I am, it feels good sometimes to look back in mock bewilderment at my former life as a Southern Baptist, even engage in theological debates (always with myself, of course) wherein I crush my nonexistent opponent into the dust with the undeniable logic of MY position.

What does it mean, though--and this is what it all boils down to for me--to be "in Christ"? Ultimately--thankfully--this seems to be my main reason for joining the Orthodox Church. Does it refer to a mere spiritual renewal brought about by "saving knowledge" that wars in opposition to our fleshly, corrupted bodies? Or is it a union--spirit, soul and body--with the One who emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and renewed me entirely...and continues to renew me entirely, by His mercy? You can see, obviously, my answer...union w/Christ through the Eucharist (aka Communion or The Lord's Supper), which Orthodox believe is somehow truly the Body and Blood of Christ, mingles our own blood with the very Blood of Christ, fuses our flesh with the very Flesh he took onto Himself! Sinful though I may be, He contunually bends down to administer what is known as the medicine of immortality--His very Self! Truly He is the Bread of Life. (selah)

And this, I guess, is why I get so annoyed with converts who just harp and harp about how horrible their former life was...kind of like how I'm harping and harping about them now, huh? Truly, though--how much more effective would it be to focus instead on the beauty, the radiance, the theotic renewal that is the life in Christ in the Orthodox Church?

Some words from the article cited above...Father Christodoulos, a Greek monk sent from Greece to Denver to set up a monastic community, was interviewed by the author and had these grace-filled words to say:

Father Christodoulos greeted us with a warm smile, but he too was quiet while the two young men talked about the upcoming chrismation, Mike’s work and their parishes in different parts of the city. Finally, Mike turned to the monk. “Father, did you get a chance to listen to those CDs I lent you?” Father Christodoulos remained quiet for several seconds. At last he said, “My mind is still on the liturgy. I haven’t fully come back yet.” Then he paused again and in his voice was gentle instruction. “The liturgy is heaven on earth. Paradise on earth. Maybe we shouldn’t move beyond it so quickly to mundane things. Maybe we should take time to savor it.”

An American by birth, Father Christodoulos spent many years in a monastery on the island of Rhodes in Greece. Three years ago, he was asked by his bishop to start a monastery in Denver. The monk’s manner exuded gentleness and humility. During our conversation, his face often lit up with delight. When I told him that I was a member of St. George Episcopal Church in Leadville, his eyes sparkled. “St. George! Oh, I am sure that is a wonderful place, filled with grace. St. George has so much grace. He was tortured for seven days, you know, and did not renounce Christ. Truly he is filled with the mercy of God.” He refused to answer my question about his own conversion to Orthodoxy. “We are all converts,” he said. “Each of us.”

Father Christodoulos’s manner was profoundly welcoming, and the hospitality that he offered me was central to the work of his life. “A monk’s life is two things: prayer and hospitality. In the first we try to fulfill the commandment to love God, and in the second we try to fulfill the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Clearly I was not alone in feeling the draw of the monastery. As we talked, several people came in and joined our circle. Father Christodoulos radiated a welcome to all of them.

“What is the purpose of an Orthodox monastery in Denver?” I asked. “What does Orthodox monastic life bring to American culture?”

The monk’s answer contained none of the critique of American culture, religion or life that had been so prevalent in conversations with other converts to Orthodoxy. “I don’t like to think of myself as bringing anything to American culture. I simply have been asked by my bishop to come here and live as a witness to Christ. I would live this life if I were in Greece. I live it here. People come. The Holy Spirit moves them, and that is enough. We have tried to build an oasis of prayer here.”
I think this is the way to look at life as mission. Instead of seeing missions as "being called by God to be His instrument to go where there is no voice to tell them how to have right beliefs (or orthodoxy, if you will)," mission work is simply being called to live as you normally would, just in another place, radiating the light of Christ.

I also like the fact that he didn't go on the offensive; like I said, I think the best offense is a good defense, which is harder to fall back on (since it always involves the pain of pointing your finger at yourself). Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Monday, January 24, 2005

No Fun on a "Day Off"

Three-day weekends are supposed to be fun. This sucks.

So I'm getting ready for school today and I feel what can only be politely referred to as "severe gastrointestinal distress" the likes of which I haven't felt since my time in Ecuador in '95. We'll just leave it at that. Anyways, it's severe enough to leave my kids at the hands of a sub today and sit around with a gallon of Gatorade to try and keep myself hydrated.

Finished reading Thirsting For God in a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin. It's written from the point of view of a convert to Orthodoxy from Calvery Chapel-type charismatic protestantism. I bought it for my wife, ironically, as I had heard it would be a helpful voice in "crossing the wilderness" of lowered emotionalism that moving from "Celebrate Jesus" to "Only Begotten Son and Word of God" can cause. She's reading it now.

Guess I found right. He does a good job at defending Orthodox beliefs against the "What th-?!" types of questions posed by many a confused friend from the Evangelical days. What I found repeatedly frustrating was his simplistic view of the Evangelical experience with God. He seems to be the kind of person who will, in romantic fashion, sing the praises of whatever confession he's in at the time, leaving the other confession to obviously lack something.

Don't get me wrong; I'm very well-convinced of the numerous advantages I think the Church has over my "Bapticostal" upbringing, say that the Protestant experience is always limited to knowing about God through the Scriptures instead of experiencing Him directly? That wasn't my experience at ALL. Guess I'm just one of those guys who likes the "best offense is a good defense" up your side and the light it shines out will cast light on the ugly parts (and I stress the word parts) of where you come from.

I'm not about burning bridges; just crossing them.

Ugh. Gatorade time again.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Launching Out...

Well, here it is...another blog launched out into cyberspace amongst the already dizzying number of personalities represented online...this one from a guy buy the name of Bryan, Christian name Peter.

At 25 years of age--not a lot by most people's standards but pretty much standard fare for bloggers--I've already marked my existence with several labels, some much deeper than other temporary and transitory ones. Right now I'm a high school Spanish teacher--yes, that's me, the one who made you suffer through all those irregular verb conjugations you've long since forgotten!--a swing dance aficionado, a casual lover of fine tequilas and cigars, a soon-to-be father (June 16th, Lord willing), and a communicant of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church.

That, though, is what I would I begin to say who I am? At this very moment, I'm a Texas Democrat (soon to be independant, most likely) who's trying to figure out how to relate to the prison-bait punk in his late teens who lives just down the street and gets his kicks talking trash to all us suburbanites who live on the impending fatherhood has awakened all sorts of emotions in me, not the least of which is the instinct to buy a gun "just in case"...which is something that shocks my more liberal, pascifist side but is comforting in a primal sort of way. Tonight, a bit of resolution, if only in my heart; this young man may be nothing more than a banger (one who dresses and acts as a gang member but who is, in reality, merely posing for intimidation or attention purposes). But if he is, after all, a real danger, I know the real battle--after doing all within my power to act wisely and protect myself and my family--is to allow my Lord to "direct my life in the paths of peace," as one prayer puts it, realizing that all is a gift, my loved ones included. If--and may God forbid and prevent this!--something were to happen, all things would return to Him who sent them and owns them. My rage, my indescribable anger, my confusion and bitterness and disillusion and second guessing...all of these, if nothing else, must be tempered with the knowledge that I brought nothing into this world, and I truly can take nothing out. Nor can Kilo (the young man). This boy may touch our bodies; he may not. But regardless, all he can do to our souls is hasten the day when we come face to face with our Judge and Lover.

All these are the (heavy-handed!) opening comments of a Peter who's trying to find his footing on the unsure, open waters of life, with only a prayer--"Lord, save me!"--to sustain him.

Welcome, everybody, to Stumble On Water.