Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Half Gone, an Update

To say things have been quiet here on OTAS would be an understatement. We have successfully moved into a much larger apartment here on campus, in preparation for the arrival, Lord willing, of little Laura Louise in a few short months. With increased living space comes increased financial responsibilities. It is interesting to note that, in the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, "either God will provide, or He won't!" While I'm in no position to speculate as to how the finances will pan out over the next two years, it has been interesting to note how some things have just fallen into line (here, where the unexpected showing turned into a sale, and, just recently, here, for example). Prayers for God's continued provision are encouraged.

The girls have also enjoyed the move to the larger apartment, as the ability to socialize with the other little Vladimites is something they didn't get as much of in our old place. Much impressed with the imagination and creativity of the older kids; banding together in roaming tribes, they have been pirates, vikings, knights, military recon, going out and doing what normal, unplugged kids do.

I have been teaching for the Institute of Reading Development this summer and have finished one of two sessions. The institute focuses on various stages of reading from pre-readers (four and five year-olds) through adults. The program seems to open up access to the written word quite well to people who've grown up fearing books. Anything to get them to crack one open.

And speaking of cracking them open, I have begun, for the first time in my life, to really encounter Karamazov, and this due in large part to my exposure to the speed/comprehension techniques I have been teaching. Interesting to note is the degree of human interconnectedness in Dostoevsky; were I a strict humanist, I would be tempted to treat his work from a post-modern (post-theist?) perspective and cite this as the central theme of a well-meaning, albeit misguided, work of fiction. Such a perspective would be very "two-storey," to use Fr. Steven's language, as Alyosha's tearful kissing and embracing of the sky following his vision of the wedding feast can only be an embrace in love of individuals (and not simply of "mankind," a la Ivan) if it is to be genuine, and an embrace of man must also be an embrace of the God in Whose image those individual men are made if it is to be complete.

Also incredible is the characterization within the novel; as I am constantly analyzing and over-analyzing certain foibles in myself and others, the ticks and quirks that "give us away" are brought to sharp relief through the Russian's pen.

Had I received such a systematic means of teaching basic literary analysis when I was an English Education major, I probably would have given the idea of teaching the subject much more thought (as it was, the almost-total lack of any methodological training in my undergrad program left me completely ill-equipped to teach literature). As it happened, I got a job teaching Spanish and, after seeing a total lack of success in my district's plan for teaching second languages (the textbook was mind-blowingly bad and grammatically disorganized so as to preclude utility), I searched out and taught myself a methodology which led to success, at least on a basic level of language acquisition within an inner-city setting. Such an experience has prepared me for what may lie ahead post-seminary. While I am looking forward to my classes in Missiology with Fr. Chad Hatfield and auditing the class on Palamas w/Fr. John Behr (words fail me as to how comforting it is to see this saint get an entire class devoted to him here), I must say that pastoral formation is, as I've mentioned...under revision here. What I mean by that is that, as any place of learning is constantly in a state of flux with regard to faculty, SVS is, at this point, not as equipped in terms of personnel to handle pastoral training as it is to handle other areas of formation, which is lamentable, though I take comfort from conversations I have had with some faculty members regarding the need for this to change and the desire to do so. Having said that, two things emerge to my thinking:

1) To expect seminary to cover all aspects of parish life preparation is to misunderstand the scope of seminary, much as expecting an Ed undergrad to "fully prepare" a student for the classroom; either one has it in them to be a teacher, or one doesn't; educational preparation will always be secondary. While I think that the ideal for pastoral formation at SVS has yet to be met, I in no way expect that any sort of comprehensive watermark can be expected. A different sort of education seems to be what I am to learn here: At SVS, we are given far more than we can handle, and a priest I respect very much--an alum of SVS himself--has said that such is the case by design; the art of "learning what to cut" begins now, and such a skill may prove far more applicable than any classroom subject.

2) As Fr. Basil Biberdorf has said, continuing education isn't optional. I will, of course, have to figure out how to continue my learning as a priest, if indeed that is what I am called to, long after these three short years have passed. Any system is bound to have its shortcomings. I have been here before, and with God's help, can work in this situation again if need be. Lack of this kind is hardly insurmountable, it seems to me.

Speaking of pastoral formation, however, I am looking to take on a unit in clinical pastoral education (CPE) this coming Spring in place of six hours of elective credit. This is an example, I think, of how SVS is looking to give us more options regarding pastoral formation. I will be spending time (400 hours, to be exact) with patience in chaplaincy settings. With an M.Div and this unit under my belt, I would need to complete an internship (paid, in most places) in order to be a nationally-certified chaplain (prison, medical, military, fire/police, etc). Whether this would be used as a "side job" to supplement part-time parish ministry income or simply as a help to minister to parishioners (my ideal would be to train laymen for prison ministry in conjunction with OCPM, whose influence has led to this year's incoming M.Divvers fulfilling a 20-hour prison ministry requirement...a good start), such an endeavor is one I very much pray comes to fruition. Either God provides, or He doesn't, but I pray He does.

Keep us in your prayers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Franky in T-Town

George Michalopulos has weighed in at the AOI on a Franky Schaffer screed which happened as of late in my old stomping grounds of Tulsa, OK; his article has also been published in the Tulsa World.

Why anyone would ask Frank Schaffer to speak *nowadays* for the Orthodox Church is beyond me, as he has departed from Orthodox faith in numerous ways. Conversations about this article on Facebook (I posted it to my profile) have 1) been quite intelligent, thankfully, and 2) tended either to blast Schaffer for "liberal" politics or to blast George for equating Orthodoxy with neo-conservatism. Both, I think, miss the point (or, better, the two points) entirely.

Regarding politics: I am (as is often the case in these debates, I find) in agreement both with the idea that the Church has a history of social progressivism in many areas, yet a strong--and I would say monolithic--tradition of consistently standing against homosexuality and abortion (amongst other things, but since those issues tend to be the main whipping boys in Schaffers' tirades, I'll limit myself to those).

All this means is that the Church does not fit neatly into one political party, which suits me fine. However, that means that the polarization via Huff-Po that Schaffer thinks he can just come along and put forward uncontested is just absurd. Likewise, a neo-con equivalence of GOP=Orthodoxy is ridiculous, yet this is not what I see George doing in the article. He was making a point that the issues Schaffer likes to harp on are not compatible with Orthodoxy, and as soon as Orthodoxy looks to accommodate such issues in a sort of "Orthodoxy must change or die" mentality, it will cease to be what it essentially is (not because of a political-issue-as-identity, but because of an expression of a reality that is incompatible with the image of Christ crucified) and, ironically, begin to whither and least, the parts that, locally, officially adopt and teach these lies.

Regarding evangelism: I am less bothered by Schaffer's tirade against Evangelical Protestants [=EvProts] than I am by his complete dishonoring of his father and mother. His tone is absolutely inexcusable and unnecessarily polemical to the point of outright untruth.

Having set that forth as the main objection, regarding evangelism--while there are differences between what "Gospel" means to EvProts and us, I don't see there really being a chance of *real* confusion of us w/EvProts *if* the distinctions of asceticism and theosis are kept at the forefront. If this is put forward--and deliberately so, merely as an example of holy, humble lives of prayer and service to the poor that the Spirit must lead and initiate--the "cold calls for Jesus" approach of many EvProts, or the used-car salesman feel of much of what passes for "evangelism" in the EvProt world will be easily seen for what they are, while genuine Orthodox invitations to come and see (which assumes that a provision of something *to* come and see is being made) will still be deliberate and sound, and not just a cop-out citing "relationship evangelism" while doing nothing.

We *are* called as Christians to let our light shine to the ends of the earth; that Franky seems to want to hunker down so as not to "offend" anyone doesn't negate this.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

America the Beautiful, and the Church Orthodox

Fr. Jonathan Tobias has a stirring, yet sobering, post that all American Orthodox Christians should read this weekend (and every weekend, as far as I'm concerned).

So read it.