Posts Tagged 'the convert dilemma'

Part the Third: The Nowhere In Particular Years

Where we last left off, I had been given an immersion, threefold, believer’s baptism at Overlake Christian Church in the spring of 1989, only for my mother and I to stop going entirely.

Why did this happen? Well, it’s complicated, and I’m not completely certain I understand it myself. What seems to have happened is that, as I said, domestically we were in crisis mode, and while Overlake’s services did a nice job of whipping you up into an arm-waving frenzy under their roof, Mom seemed to be weighed down by the disconnect between that stirring up and the despair that we were dealing with in the rest of our life. To a very real extent, I think the unraveling of our collective household well-being was also underscoring for my parents what it meant to be “unequally yoked”. In the midst of all of this trouble, the only two things my parents seemed to really have in common were me and their mutual unhappiness, and I think my mom maybe wanted to de-emphasize the religious difference to see what would happened, and perhaps she just wanted some time away from God to try to understand why he had put her there. On a practical level, between it taking over a year to sell our house, starting to hop from rental property to rental property once every year or so, and also having to go back to work, maybe Mom was just too exhausted to make Sunday mornings work for awhile.

Whatever the case was, she wasn’t going, and that meant I wasn’t going. For us, that changed a lot; absolutely zero changed for my dad, except that he didn’t have to worry that somebody was going to pressure him into doing something he didn’t want to do. (“Why in the hell would somebody who can’t think of a halfway decent way to spend Sunday morning want to live forever?” was one of his memorable lines in this period.)

In the vacuum, I became… I don’t know. Between all the arguing and the stress they were constantly under, all I wanted was to not be part of the problem. So I basically stopped talking to them and did my best to be a good kid, whatever that meant, on my own. In religious terms, I had absolutely no idea how to make that mean anything by myself; the only concrete ideas I had to fall back on were the precepts outlined in Josh McDowell’s Answers book, but those weren’t really holding up very well anymore. There was no community to reinforce anything, and my parents were dealing with their own problems, so I was scrambling.

I became a goth kid of sorts; I started wearing mostly black, I discovered the Cocteau Twins and David Lynch and Gary Numan and Blade Runner and Christian Slater and re-discovered anime, I started playing Rush songs on the guitar, and I got into the major Seattle bands a couple of years early. More about this later.

I have to skip ahead to my junior year of high school, because there really isn’t anything of note between the time we stopped going to Overlake and ’92/’93 in terms of me and Christianity. My grandmother tried to insist to my mom that she needed to find a good old-fashioned Lutheran church, and my mom just smiled and nodded. My dad had made friends with one Rick Snodgrass, an Evangelical pastor who had started a church in Redmond, and my mom and I tried to go there a couple of Sundays, but it just didn’t take. (Rick also offered to let me play guitar in their praise band, but I went to one rehearsal and felt like a square peg in a round hole.) The one major thing I can say, I suppose, is that I never lost my faith; there wasn’t anything in particular supporting it, and it was becoming evident to me that the Evangelicals on a national scale were distinctly interested in pointing fingers at other people as much as they could with no room for disagreement, but that couldn’t mean that Christianity itself was invalid, right? I didn’t really know what that meant for me, since so far as it had been explained to me, there were the real Christians who went to Overlake, explicitly non-Christian cults like Catholicism and Mormonism and Unitarianism, and then the “denominations” which were basically implicitly non-Christian cults made up of people who weren’t really serious about Christ. So where in the world did somebody like me fit in, somebody who believed but who wasn’t thrilled with who appeared to be controlling the conversation? I had no way to answer that question. It was kind of academic anyway, since I didn’t drive until my senior year of high school (I’ll explain later), and couldn’t get anywhere on my own Sunday mornings.

Junior year of high school, I had a crush on a very nice and very pretty Christian girl who went to Overlake. This was, alas, not destined to be my first successful attempt to convince somebody I liked that they liked me back enough to want to actually call ourselves something (that would have to wait a few more months), but she liked me enough at least that when I said that I used to go to Overlake until my mom stopped going, she offered to pick me up on Sunday mornings. Well, okay, then.

It was a curious experience, being back after four years. The high schoolers had their own separate service with their own pastor, which is what my friend and I went to, although it was basically the exact same format as the adult service. The very best thing I remember about the experience is that the high school pastor was a wonderful guy who genuinely cared about kids and had a very real love for God. He also had a heart for the outsider, which meant that the couple of times I specifically went to him because I needed to talk, he knew exactly what to say to me, and he appeared to actually be concerned with what became of me. I’m really grateful for that man, and only wish I could have gotten to know him better.

The rest of it… well, not to put too fine a point on it, but my chief impression was one of conservative rich white kids patting themselves on the back for being conservative rich white kids, and it was plain as day to me that I didn’t fit in with that crowd, no matter how much I wanted to go to church somewhere and no matter how much I wanted to make this girl like me. (She herself also didn’t entirely fit in, but she fit in better and more naturally than I did.) Most of my memories on this point are somewhat impressionistic — I remember a couple of guys who were very reminiscent of Roger and Burt, the two Young Republican groupies from Bob Roberts, getting up and singing a song one day called “All He Needs Is A Few Good Men”. I remember there being this guy who was far, far, far more of a suburban goth-wannabe than I ever was who was bragging one day about having written a “gay-bashing techno song” that he had poetically titled “Hey You Faggot”. I remember Bill Clinton’s candidacy being of great concern, with somebody getting up one Sunday and talking very solemnly and seriously about how we had to consider the possibility that he could be the Anti-Christ, and somebody else saying that the central credit card computer was being openly referred to by the banks as “the Beast”. I remember there being nobody who really talked to me besides my friend (plus a couple of other people I already knew who went there) and the high school pastor. I even tried to do some of the social events like rollerskating and whatnot, but I just felt awkward and didn’t know where to put myself. (Again, the pastor was the main person who talked to me that evening.)

I talked with one of my other friends who went there about feeling lonely at Overlake. “Well,” he said very sincerely, “you’re somebody who’s got a lot of questions. Overlake is really someplace for people who have accepted the answers.” Huh. Okay, then. If even this guy felt I didn’t belong there, then maybe I didn’t belong there. By that point it was also clear that my friend had considered the notion of being more than friends with me and found the idea ultimately wanting, which was making the extra effort for her of picking me up something of a strain. The best thing to do seemed to just stop going, and that’s what I did. I wanted so badly to be a Christian and to have a church to go to — but the feeling wasn’t being reciprocated, apparently, and it seemed really hard to fit in where affluent suburban Evangelicals wanted kids like me to fit in.

Shortly thereafter, during my very first trip to Indiana in fact, the word “girlfriend” actually became a practical word in my vocabulary rather than simply a theoretical construct. She was raised Lutheran, more or less, which, as somebody with Lutheran roots for whom non-denominationalism hadn’t worked, sounded potentially promising to me, only to find out that she herself had no particular interest in it. Ah, well.

A few months after that, another girl was in the picture (oh, the drama that was my senior year of high school) who had been raised Unitarian, sort of. By that point I actually had a driver’s license and could go to church wherever I wanted if I wanted to go; I did so want, and she was okay with going with me. The question was, where to? There was a Baptist church that one of my favorite teachers went to, and I had gone there once with my mom, but it was too much like Overlake. I was completely out of the loop otherwise and had no idea where to go.

One day at school, I overheard a guy, an acquaintance whom I liked and respected but didn’t know all that well, talking with somebody about the sermon they had heard at church the previous Sunday. I can’t remember a thing about what he actually said, but it sounded interesting and thought-provoking at least, so I asked where he went. “Northlake Lutheran,” he said. Huh. Okay. I looked it up, and it was maybe 10 minutes from where I lived. Well, why not.

That’s where I found myself the next Sunday. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the place was small. There were certainly less than 200 people in the nave, which made it smaller than Overlake’s high school service alone. The next thing was that there was some kind of order to the service — “liturgy”, I heard this referred to as, which was a word I couldn’t remember hearing before. The singing free-for-all at the beginning and end wasn’t at all what happened here; there seemed to be specific moments where music happened, and it was regulated. There were hymnals, and we were supposed to be able to pick up the hymnals to follow what was going on. There was an organ and a choir, characteristics that had seemed to be stereotypically “churchy” in the movies but hadn’t ever been part of my experience. The next thing was that the sermon was short — like ten minutes tops, and the pastor seemed to base his homily on something other than his personality, which was hardly magnetic. He was kind of awkward, really, but that actually made the content of his sermon all the more powerful. Well, I did my best to sing along from the hymnal, I stumbled along with service as best as I could, with everything being sort of half-remembered (since it had been ten years since I had been to a Lutheran service), I was sort of scandalized by the use of real wine at Communion, and then that was that — the service was over. Maybe an hour.

The moment that brought me back the following Sunday, though, was that as the congregation filed out of the church, the pastor (Wm. Chris Boerger, now bishop of the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod) greeted everybody personally, and when he got to me, he shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Pastor Chris. I don’t know you. What’s your name?”

What? The pastor knew his people well enough to know that there was somebody there he didn’t know? And he cared enough to find out my name? That was beyond my comprehension after what I had been accustomed to at Overlake. The very best part, though, was the next Sunday, when he saw me and said, “Hi, Richard!” Beyond anything else — beyond creationism, tribulation, abortion, whatever, I desperately needed somebody to actually notice that I had shown up, and cared enough to say something about it. Going by myself at the age of seventeen to a church I had no family history at whatsoever was really going out on a limb in ways I think I understand better now, and that notice and welcome kept me in the game at a time when I might not have otherwise felt like I had any reason to stay in it.

I kept going to Northlake up through my high school graduation. It started to actually feel like a “church home”.

Then things became a little complicated.


Secunda Pars, the Overlake years

Here’s how we got here, and here’s some corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

The whole point of moving to Wenatchee in the first place was that my parents wanted to get out of Anchorage, and my dad wanted to try to set himself up as a successful small business owner in a small town. After four years in Wenatchee, he still liked the small business owner idea but was done with the small town part, and in 1984 we passed westward over the mountains and wound up in Seattle. Well, Woodinville, which back then was barely no longer rural. Dad bought a small business furniture concern called Redmond Office Supply and we built a house maybe five minutes from Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, the house that I still remember my mother describing, on the day we moved in, as the house in which she and my dad would grow old.

Church was a question mark now that we were in something vaguely resembling a major metropolitan area. The truth is, I don’t think my mother ever had any particular love for the Augsburg Confession, and thought of it perhaps as mostly a default. My grandmother Helen (departed this life last September with her beloved husband Donald ten days previous, αἰωνία αὐτῶν ἡ μνήμη) had passed on some level of Danish-American consciousness to Mom, but nothing overwhelming, and nothing that I don’t think she got out of her system by living in Copenhagen for a year after high school. Since Dad certainly wasn’t going to church with us, there wasn’t any particular family cohesion to be maintained, so now that we lived someplace with more options, my mother wanted to explore them. I remember her taking me church-shopping several Sundays in a row; I don’t remember where, but I don’t recall that we ever went to the same place twice.

Somewhere along the way, we wound up at Overlake Christian Church, and I got saved for the first time. These were unrelated events.

This may be ancient history for some readers, but 30 years ago, kids actually would go trick or treating in a door to door fashion in neighborhoods rather than going to the mall. 1984-5 was the height of my Charlie Brown identification (which had a very interesting denouement I’ll go into later), so my recollection is that my costume in 1984 was the sheet-over-the-head ghost. Anyway, among the takings was a little card giving a phone number that you could call if you really loved Jesus and wanted to be saved. I really loved Jesus, so I asked Mom if I could call, she was thrilled to say yes, and a nice man on the other end of the line prayed with me that Jesus would come into my heart, and that was that.

Meanwhile, church shopping was going nowhere for us. At some point, my mom discovered KCIS, “The Christian Information Station”, on which Pastor Bob Moorehead’s sermons were broadcast. These connected with her well enough that one Sunday, we found ourselves in the middle of the humongous melee that was Overlake.

At the time, I believe, Overlake was the largest independent congregation in Washington state, with some ungodly huge number like 3,000 people. (Yes, I know, that seems like a small, quaint country church in present-day Evangelical terms.) They did something like three or four services a weekend, so their auditorium had around 1,000 people in it at any given moment in the course of a weekend. My recollection is that there was a huge cross on the wall with the text, “Go forth and make ye disciple of all nations…” You came in, and half an hour of lively singing to words projected on the walls was followed by some announcements, special music while an offering was taken, a 45 minute sermon, maybe communion, and then another twenty minutes to half an hour of congregational singing, usually wrapping up with an altar call. It was completely different from what I had experienced in our little Lutheran congregation back in Wenatchee, and it seemed to be exactly what my mother was looking for.

I remember asking my mom, “Does this mean we’re not Lutheran anymore?” “No, honey, we’re just Christians now,” she said.

One of the interesting things about Overlake — and to this day I don’t have a great sense about how common this is or is not for Protestant groups — was that a baptized Protestant Christian couldn’t just start going there and bam, they were a member. First you had to have a believer’s baptism — infant baptism didn’t count — then you had to go through the six-week “Basic Beliefs” class (so, yes, you had to undergo an action that, by virtue of its appellation — believer’s baptism — strongly implied belief in something, and then you had to take a class to find out what you had just professed to believe), and then you were welcomed as a member. My mother, who seemed to embrace what Overlake was all about fairly quickly, responded to an altar call one Sunday, took the class, and was welcomed as a member. I did not; I didn’t really understand why all of this was necessary — wasn’t I already baptized, and didn’t we make a big deal out of it? But there we were.

Even as a little kid, I can’t say I ever felt like a totally natural fit at Overlake. It seemed weird to me that you never sat next to the same people twice, I didn’t understand how it seemed that everybody knew the songs we were singing except me, particularly when all they projected were the words and no music? (This was also right towards the beginning of my boy alto period.) Why was all the music so incredibly different from what we had had at Grace Lutheran? Why was the music… well… stupid? Why was the sermon so long? Why couldn’t I leave to go to the bathroom? (Seriously. I got blocked at the doors by the ushers.) Who actually got to talk to Pastor Bob? Why did everything seem so centered around him? Why, if being saved was something that happened to us once, was a big point always made of saying the prayer to let Jesus into our hearts as personal savior at the end of every service?

Still, it was where we were going. Sometimes I went to the adult service with Mom, sometimes I went to the kids’ service. At the kids’ service, sometimes they showed things like the Christian anime Superbook (which went well with my love of Star Blazers), and a movie called “Music Box” that I’ve talked about before. I also remember them talking to us about evolution and AIDS, and sometimes in the adult service hearing them talk about abortion and how there were no Christians in Russia (keeping in mind that this was the mid-1980s).

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, as I mentioned, had some interesting bits on various supernatural phenomena (including an article on demon possession that absolutely freaked me out). Among other things, there was a riveting, lengthy piece on the Shroud of Turin. I remember showing it to my mom, who said, “Well, most Christians don’t think it’s real.” In support of her answer, she gave me the book Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell, which had roughly a 30-page section debunking the Shroud. (Curiously, I discovered about ten years ago that newer editions of the book no longer have this section. I’ve not encountered any comment or explanation as to why; it just seems to have been quietly dropped. Perhaps McDowell changed his mind. If anybody knows anything about that, I’d love to hear more.)

I’m trying to remember how old I actually was when I read McDowell’s book for the first time. Maybe eight? Nine? Anyway, much of the Shroud of Turin stuff seemed a little over my head, but a lot of the evolution/creationism material was gripping for an eight year old, particularly since we were doing a unit on Jericho at school that could serve as a bridge between the “historical” past and the “creationist” past. I was inspired to try to calculate the age of the earth counting what seemed to be the Biblical chronology backward from the historical dates we were talking about in class. I can’t remember what I came up with — a 10,000 year old earth, maybe a 15,000 year old earth. My dad pointed out that even that was far older than what most creationists seemed to want to talk about.

McDowell aside, there was a nagging question that I had that nobody could seem to quite answer for me. I was becoming aware through certain cinematic tropes and articles in — again — Strange Stories, Amazing Facts that what seemed to be the Christianity of history and the Christianity I experienced at Overlake Christian Church were two different things. Why was this? I mean, I got what seems to have been the standard fundamentalist lines about Catholicism and Mormonism being in the same category as “non-Christian cults”, and I also was starting to become aware that Christian bookstores usually had a shelf devoted to the subject of Why Catholics Were Wrong, but I didn’t understand who the Pope was supposed to be (beyond my dad saying once, “He’s an old Polish man who believes that he has a direct link to God”), and I didn’t understand the disconnect at all between past and present. The way some people talked, it sounded like we were to understand that there were no Christians between the time of the apostles and Martin Luther. Could that actually be? The way other people tried to explain it, however, it sounded like their way around it was to say that if there were Christians during those centuries when the Roman Catholic Church was all there was and they were leading everybody astray, they were saved by the grace of God and that was incidental to their being Catholic. Well, whatever the case, I had to admit to myself, even at the tender age of nine or ten, that as far as Overlake was concerned, that I didn’t understand all the hand waving and I hated the music. Regardless, since Overlake was where the real Christians were going in the Seattle area, that’s where we were going.

An anecdote that, while random-seeming, demonstrates even a small way that I felt this disconnect — in sixth and seventh grade, I was big into Piers Anthony. I’ll go into how big in a different post. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that there is a key moment in On A Pale Horse that involves the singing of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”, and depends on its near-universal familiarity. I had never heard of it before, I could not place it, all I knew is that for all the book implied its fame, it was never sung at Overlake. It was easily another eight or nine years before I heard it, and of course by now it has achieved “old chestnut” status, but it’s an example of the gulf between the Christian culture that Overlake promoted and “recognizable” Christian culture.

Another thread in all of this was that starting in 1986, our lives were falling apart. The really short version is that Dad’s livelihood was not coming from being a small businessman in a Seattle suburb; that was a hobby. Rather, to the extent that we were at all affluent, it was a result of Dad’s interest in a commercial building in Anchorage, and this is around the time that the price of oil collapsed, tanking Alaska’s economy. Some of this I talk about here. The house my parents built for $250,000 in 1984 was sold in 1988 for something absurd like $150,000 after more than a year on the market — and one of the tragedies there is that, had they been able to hold onto it for another few months, they would have been able to catch the rebound of the Seattle housing market which just went up and up and up and up for the next twenty years. As you can see for yourself if you check out the Zillow link I provided, the house sold again for $425k in 1994 and peaked in value in 2007 at around a million. It’s now sitting somewhere around $625k, I think. And we, the family that built it as our dream home, had to take a $100k loss. Before my parents got divorced and when I still thought I might walk away from the software industry with something worth having, I had a dream that someday I might be able to buy back that house for them — just show up on the doorstep with a blank check, ask whomever lived there, “Hey, I think I can convince you to sell,” and give them whatever they wanted. Ah well. Anyway, we lost our shirts, to say the least, and to call it a strain on our family doesn’t even begin to describe the hell that the three of us were collectively in from 1986-1993.

And when I say strain, I’m not necessarily talking in terms of subsistence. The money was what it was — the real tragedy was the irreparable damage done to relationships, some of it immediately, some of it long-term. I’m not going to go into the details of that here, although I’ve alluded to some of the permanent consequences of it here and there throughout the life of this blog. The point is, my mom was starting to discover that the emotional high she got from Overlake’s services simply did not prepare her for what the reality of the rest of her week actually was.

In the spring of 1989, I got baptized again. As I said, each service at Overlake ended with an altar call, and one Sunday, for reasons still unknown to me, I felt compelled to respond. My mom, as noted earlier, had gone through the membership process, but I never had. This was, theoretically, the first step. A nice man took me back to an office, we talked a little bit, I explained that I had been baptized when I was little, and he asked if I wanted to be baptized again. I said yes. He said the same prayer with me then that the other nice man had said with me over the phone at Halloween in 1984, so once again I was saved, and I agreed to be baptized the next Sunday.

Dad didn’t understand. “Wasn’t he already baptized?” he grumbled, but he came anyway. (Ironically, he, the grouchy atheist, has attended three out of my four reception ceremonies, thus holding the record of any of my friends or family members for such things.) I showed up early the next Sunday, I was led through the back to a changing room where I was given a white robe. During the service I was led to the baptistery — a pool built into the stage — and somebody, not Pastor Bob but a different member of the ministry team, baptized me by threefold immersion in the name of the Father… <dunk> …and of the Son… <dunk> …and of the Holy Spirit <dunk>. <applause>

That was that; when I got back to where my mom was sitting, Dad had already left to go sit in the car for the rest of the service (somehow getting past the reverse bouncers at the doors).

So, supposedly, after getting baptized, I should have gone on to take the Basic Beliefs class, and then I would have been a member of Overlake. Shortly after my second baptism, however, we stopped going to Overlake altogether.

More to come.

Everybody’s got a story

I have never particularly wanted this to be “a convert’s blog”. I am an Orthodox Christian, yes, and a convert to same, and that’s one of the things I write about, but hardly the only thing. This is basically my notebook for interesting things that happen to me and the things that occur to me that I hope will be interesting, and I’ve written about my experience as an Orthodox Christian but also about religion as a broader phenomenon, movies, music, travel, language, school, and so on. There are big things that have happened to me I have specifically not written about, either because discussing them publicly will either be awkward, send the wrong message to certain parties, and maybe they’ll just be boring in the context of a blog.

My conversion experience falls under the last of those categories. There was a time when I was devouring convert stories and eager to tell my own to whomever might listen, but after awhile I realized that it The Journey of the American Orthodox Convert had become its own genre with its own tropes. Much like, say, Rush, it’s a kind of product that is principally interesting to other people who produce the same kind of product (and I speak as a Rush fan), and while that’s not to say that people don’t encounter such an account for the first time and find it meaningful (after all, I had to become a Rush fan), the Next Great Conversion Story isn’t, I don’t think, really the cultural lack that somebody like me needs to be desperate to fill. I’m happy to tell my story if people ask, but the other problem is that if the chrism oil going on the forehead is the telos, the happy ending and the whole point of the story, then that’s a truly unrealistic picture of the Christian life. It’s really not a matter of being dunked and/or basted, everybody saying “Seal!”, receiving the Body and Blood for the first time, going home, and then everybody lives happily ever after on a diet of incense, icons, and chant, all covered with awesome sauce. That’s no more true than the wedding being the end of the story for a relationship — and also recall that the normative experience for an Orthodox Christian would be infant baptism, which makes these kinds of convert stories not just outliers, but self-selected outliers. Anyway, there’s still a life that has to be lived afterward, and that’s the real story and struggle. I’ve seen my share of converts who fall off as quickly as they jumped on, and I think it’s because they weren’t adequately prepared for that, perhaps due to the unrealistically rosy picture that some convert accounts paint.

Still, some of my recent posts, I realize, perhaps need more context. I came very close a couple of times to referencing things that happened to me during my path to being received into the Orthodox Church, and I realized that they wouldn’t make any sense without the whole story. So I left those things out. I told somebody recently that I’m no good at apologetics, because what I find convincing is a result of some points that are a little too peculiar to me, but I should probably explain what those points actually are.

Here’s the thing — I’m really terrible at short versions of stories, as anybody who is the least bit familiar with me or this blog probably knows (and certainly as the board members of the St. John of Damascus Society know by now). I also really really really don’t have time to just write a novel right now, so this is going to get split up into multiple posts. It’s entirely possible that it may not happen linearly. Nobody’s exactly begged me to write this, so I’m certain the three of you out there who read this won’t care, but just so we’re all clear. Don’t make me pull this car over.

Where I will start for now is that my first real “religious” memory is being baptized at the age of three on Easter Sunday, 6 April 1980 (right in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis, and evidently the same day the Paschal greeting was first given in Hebrew by Pope John Paul II), in Anchorage, Alaska at St. Mark Lutheran Church (way back in the day when it was LCA rather than ELCA). I got dressed up in a sailor suit, and what I remember is that my godfather (Karl Bartholomy, my dad’s best friend) picked me up by my ankles and dipped my head in the baptismal font. That’s about all of that I remember, but my mother provides an account in my baby book:

Richard was baptized on Easter Sunday. It was a lovely and very special ceremony. Karl lifted Richard up to the baptismal font and the highlight was when they lighted a candle and gave it to Richard to hold. He wore a little white sailor suit with gold buttons, a red tie and his black water boots! (His new sandals were too small.) Uncle Dan [my mother’s brother] couldn’t make it as he lives in Seattle. But Mimi [my paternal grandmother], Great Grandpa [my dad’s maternal grandfather] and Alma came up especially for Richard’s baptism! He was so cute and sweet and such a good boy. I took my first communion on that day too. So it was all in all a very special day. (Karl and Nancy camee from Fairbanks just for Richard too.) And Daddy came to church!

Huh. I actually don’t think I knew that Mom took first communion that day. She was 25, and my dad was 34.

My mom and I went to St. Mark’s semi-regularly, as I recall, but my first memory of regular church attendance was when we moved to Wenatchee, Washington towards the end of 1980. We went to Grace Lutheran Church, and what I principally remember are a) not really wanting to go because I liked to sleep in on Sunday morning, b) sitting in a pew at some point during the service and reading a book, minding my own business, and some dude standing behind me thumping my shoulders to try to get me to stand up, c) the pastor giving me a blessing at the rail rather than communion, and d) being entranced by the candlelight service at Christmas Eve. It’s the only aesthetic point I remember at all about my Lutheran experience, truth be told.

If it’s not evident by now, there was no particular unity of faith in our little family — my dad, as I understood by the time I was five, is an avowed atheist. More on that as it is relevant.

This manner of being didn’t last long, as in 1984 we moved from the east side of the mountains to the Seattle area, at which point much about how my family functioned in relation to Christianity changed. So much, in fact, that it’s going to have to wait for another post.

When, evidently, unity in Christ is not enough

Some bloggers are having an argument right now. (What a surprise.) I’m really hesitant to name some of the parties or link to them, because up to this point they’ve mostly ignored me (with one exception), and I’ve really enjoyed not being on their radar. More than that, I am really reluctant to give any of them referral traffic. Rather, I will link to this person, already on my blogroll anyway, who is discussing the matter rather succinctly (and accurately, I think). You can find a link in his post that will take you into the heart of the conflict.

(Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at some point explored the implications of treating monasticism as a track of apostolic succession parallel to the episcopate; I am wondering if perhaps we have reached the point where we need to posit yet another parallel track, that of the blogger who has taken it up on himself to exercise the prophetic office. But I digress.)

I’ve met a lot of people during my time in Orthodox circles who have absolutely no problem being hostile, implicitly or explicitly, to other Orthodox Christians. I’ve met “ethnics” and “cradles” who have absolutely nothing but contempt for the American who presumes to convert; I’ve met converts who think that it’s okay for them to be dismissive of “ethnics” as being Christ’s lost causes. Thankfully, there are fewer of either type than many might assume, but those who are out there are disproportionately loud and obnoxious, and I don’t mean exclusively in blogdom. I have had the misfortune of having to spend large amounts of time with people of both types, and have had to experience their open and very real hostility, either towards me or towards others.

The implication from either side that somehow there’s a second class citizen status among Orthodox Christians depending, positively or negatively, on heritage, is simply astounding to me. Is there a Christian birth certificate other than baptism?

To move to another facet of the problem for a moment, it has been suggested that part of why it’s acceptable to hostile to converts is because they aren’t really Orthodox Christians; they’re Protestants playing dress-up according to things that they’ve read in books rather than actually receiving a lived tradition of Orthodox Christianity from a living source. Presumably this line of reasoning is how such people justify showing disrespect to ordained clergy and consecrated bishops by calling them things like “Mr. Paffhausen” or “Mr. Freeman,” for example.

While I would concede that there’s a real problem being identified in such a statement, the extremity of the response to the problem reveals another problem or two.

There’s an ancient heresy called Donatism. You can look it up for yourself, but I don’t think it’s misstating the position to say that it was basically a macho movement within the Church gone horribly wrong; e. g., “If you’re not at least as rigorous or pious as we are, you’re not really a Christian, and there’s not any room for error.” They reserved the right for themselves to judge the validity of Mysteries of a priest or bishop whom they deemed less rigorous than they were; in effect, much like certain parties today, they were big on saying, “We’re more Orthodox than you.”

Origenism and Arianism were also early heresies (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that it was not until he had been dead for three centuries that Origen’s “fabulous” and “monstrous” views were anathematized), and the trouble there can perhaps be summed up as Origen and Arius trying too hard to make Christianity palatable for the educated elite of the day — to make it possible for a respectable philosopher to be intellectually honest with himself and be a Christian at the same time, in other words. For God to truly be God in the worldview of Greek philosophy, one could not meaningfully discuss the homoousios of the Son with the Father; Christ had to be something fundamentally other than God, however exalted he might otherwise be, or else God was not God.

Now, be these as they may, there is not necessarily a fundamental error of intent in either case. Being rigorous is not in and of itself a problem; neither is trying to have a Christian intellectual culture. Monasticism is perhaps one of the correct expressions of a rigorousness that might otherwise be inclined to Donatism, and without Origen, our tradition of Scriptural exegesis would be much impoverished. The trouble is the extent to which these intents are realized; the Donatists could not stand to be in a Church where there might be worse sinners than themselves, and Arius and Origen ultimately were catering to a target demographic.

One can legitimately argue that learning the Orthodox Christian faith from the works of Schmemann and Ware, the Popular Patristics series, and maybe even Pelikan and Rose for that matter, is, as a substitute for receiving a lived tradition, rather thin gruel. There is a problem there that is most certainly worth discussing, a problem which perhaps lends itself to Origenistic or Arian developments down the road — an overly-intellectualized Christianity that finds itself at variance with the actual faith. However, to then determine that problem invalidates at a sacramental level the chrismations, ordinations, and consecrations of individuals itself suggests an issue of Donatist proportions.

At a practical level, that attitude assumes that there are alternatives of which the “konvertsy” simply hasn’t availed himself, when that’s just not the case, many times. It’s not exactly like there are large ROCOR or Serbian parishes or monasteries everywhere one goes (and even that’s not necessarily a guarantee of “real” Orthodoxy, evidently, given a particular person’s ongoing disdain for Fr. Seraphim Rose and anybody who ever had anything to do with the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood). A particular person commented to me yesterday that of course I was the “bad kind” of convert, since “I’m Antiochian.” Now, in all fairness, I acknowledge that this exchange was intended to be humorous, but as I told this commenter, it’s just not funny right now. It’s not funny coming from this particular individual given the kinds of negative comments they’re typically inclined to make (however cleverly and humorously formulated), it’s not funny given some of the current issues facing the Antiochian Archdiocese, and it’s not funny for the simple reason that actually, no, I’m not “Antiochan”; I’m an Orthodox Christian who happens to go to an Antiochian parish because that’s all there is locally, and I do so in spite of whatever reservations I may have about the AOCNA. Bloomington, Indiana isn’t exactly a hotbed of traditional Orthodox ethnicities and activity; all there is is the little group of people trying to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There’s a little bit of everybody — Russians, Romanians, Arabs, Greeks, and us “konvertsy” — but not enough of anybody to constitute any kind of a critical mass. I guarantee you there are individuals in every ethnic group in this community would be more comfortable with a church of “their own people,” but that’s a luxury nobody can afford. It’s All Saints or nothing. I’d go so far as to say that our situation is absolutely fantastic relative to that of, for example, Fargo, North Dakota.

I am disheartened by people who jeer at Americans who are trying to live out their faith doing the best they can with what they’ve been given by Mother Church, which in many cases is next to nothing. I am not amused by those people when they insist that those Americans trying to do this or that in order to live out their faith and their calling more fully are not in fact Orthodox, but then refuse to offer any kind of a practical alternative. I can only conclude such people really mean that the Americans they are deriding are simply “not as Orthodox as they are.”

At the same time, I am disheartened by Americans who regard people of Greek or Russian or Arabic or whatever heritage with suspicion automatically, claiming that all of our problems stem from “foreign bishops” and culturally unintelligible practices, and assuming that such people probably don’t pray, don’t fast, don’t confess, don’t commune, don’t go to Vespers daily, and most importantly, don’t buy books or liturgical music recordings, and are only in the Church by an accident of birth, rather than Having Truly Grappled With the Big Questions the same way that they, being Godly Americans in a Godly Country, have done.

I am disheartened by people who would say that American converts are rigorous about all the wrong things and can never understand what Orthodox Christianity actually means in a lived cultural context, and use that as an excuse to disrespect the Mysteries those converts have received; I am just as disheartened by Americans who seem bent on proving exactly those points in order to demonstrate they’re better than the so-called “cultural Orthodox”. At some point, the sides start insulating themselves from each other, and then the snake is eating its own tail.

All of these things dishearten me because it would appear that unity at the Chalice, unity with Christ through Communion with Him in His Church, is simply not enough. It is evidently so meaningless as to in fact have it’s very existence be something that should be denied.

Tell me, why are we Orthodox Christians so inclined and eager to judge other Orthodox Christians so quickly? Are we not already small and scattered and minimized in this country, that it is necessary to try to splinter ourselves from each even more?

Is that love?

Is that Christlike?

Metropolitan Jonah: “There is an American Orthodox church. Leave it alone.”

Pan Orthodox Sermon by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Well. Right or wrong, God bless Metropolitan Jonah, who has the saint’s utter lack of fear when it comes to saying what he believes God has called him to say.
So, is he right? Is he wrong? Hard to say. I suspect some people are going to find these remarks disrespectful, and I am not unsympathetic to that point of view, but I also think the reality is that prophetic words which need to be said tend to rub somebody the wrong way no matter what. That’s not to say the people who feel disrespected are wrong.
All I can say is, whether he is right or wrong, I hope people are listening. Not just the “right people,” whomever we might imagine them to be — I hope everybody is listening. Only if everybody is listening will these prophetic words have the value they need to have.
(Among the people I hope are listening is His Grace Bishop MARK. I think he and Metropolitan Jonah would be an utterly devastating team.)
(Second tip of the hat of the day to Rod Dreher.)

Xenophobia, xenophilia, and watching what everybody else is doing

There’s a C. S. Lewis quote from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer that Orthodox love to pull out:

What pleased me most about a Greek Orthodox mass I once attended was that there seemeed to be no prescribed behaviour for the congregation. Some stood, some sat, some knelt, some walked; one crawled about the floor like a caterpillar. And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing. (p. 10)

My instinct is that the reason why this dynamic worked is because except for him and his wife (elsewhere he mentions attending the Divine Liturgy when they were honeymooning in Greece), everybody and their families had been Orthodox as long as anybody could remember, and it was an entirely natural thing to be there and to be doing whatever they were used to doing.

I suggest that we Orthodox Christians in America, cradle and convert alike, have been less successful in reproducing this dynamic, and it seems to me there are a number of reasons for this. For us converts, we’re new to this, everything is totally unfamiliar, and we’re all here because we think Orthodox Christianity is Right and therefore we want to do things the Right Way.

I might also suggest that the presence of pews or rows of seating otherwise in many American churches, contributing to the sense of passive participation as it does (see article by Paul Meyendorff here), also makes us even more afraid to do something different from what the congregation as a whole might be doing.

So, to some extent, we think we have to take notice of everybody else; we’re all sort of nervously and self-consciously glancing sideways at the rest of the congregation, not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb and wanting to Do Thing the Right Way.

Among cradles, I’ve seen definite reactions to what they perceive as “things only done in the Old Country”; I’ve seen ethnic Arabs freak out when fasting gets talked about, or when there’s a conversation about possibly removing chairs from the nave, for example. I’ve also seen a Romanian woman get very nervous and almost confrontational when it seemed like women wearing headscarves was something that might catch on at a particular parish.

I’d say that for both cradle and convert alike, there can be a worry that, if you do something that I don’t, it’s because you think that you’re holier than I am, and if what you do catches on and becomes normative, I’m going to be judged because I don’t. Another nuance could be that there’s something disingenuous-seeming about somebody telling you how non-legalistic and non-clericalist Orthodox Christianity is, just before that same person, say, does three metanias before asking for a priest’s blessing, kissing his hand, and then looking at you expectantly to see if you’re going to do the same thing. (In the interest of clarity, I don’t shake priests’ hands, I kiss them, so this is not a knock against that practice by any means.)

It’s an odd mixture of self-consciousness and pride. Is that uniquely American? Could be — I’m not sure.

There’s a deeper aspect to taking too much notice of what other people are doing, however, and that’s a particular xenophobia, as well as its twin, xenophilia, that can occur with converts. There’s the person who wants to be Orthodox for convictions of faith, but upon encountering anything the slightest bit Greek, Arabic, Russian, or otherwise non-Western, gets extremely uncomfortable and wants to write off all of these things as ethnic custom, “little-t tradition,” that we should jettison as quickly as possible and replace with practices which seem more “American.” There’s also the exact reverse of this person, who will tell you why the Orthodox traditions of <fill in the blank with a country name> are actually the “purest” version of Orthodox practice, and anything else is a deviation.

These are two manifestations of the same overall problem: preoccupation with something which seems exotic, which we could restate, in keeping with our present theme, as preoccupation with what somebody else does.

Realistically, this is going to take a few generations to work out, but I think figuring out how to be Orthodox Americans in a non-self-conscious manner is going to be a necessary step towards unity, and, to get back to what I was saying yesterday, I think having our own saints, our own indigenous models of sanctity, will be one of the major things that helps us do that.

One other thought along these lines — as some have pointed out, there is an irony to a foreign-born hierarch telling American-born priests what is American and what isn’t. Surely, as the natural reaction to this goes, this isn’t 1970 anymore, and people aren’t going to make negative assumptions about somebody with a beard these days.

Here’s where I think the disconnect is — I think Met. PHILIP and company have a very Wall Street-level perspective of what “being American” is. I think the question they’re asking is, “What do wealthy, powerful Americans do, how do they dress, how do they act?” This is not totally unexpected, given that Met. PHILIP has made it clear that those are the very people he wants to be able to influence. Those are, nonetheless, exactly the people who don’t care about Orthodox Christianity, simply because they are least likely to have any reason to care. What we do will be far more effective in the long run, I am convinced, if we ask ourselves what the urban poor, the lower class, and the rural would do and to what they can relate. If you’re going to build a big church in a bad part of town, throw your doors open to your neighbors — don’t do everything you can to keep them out. Minister to the masses, and the classes will follow. Minister to the classes, and the masses aren’t going to care. Isn’t that what Christ told us to do in the first place?

The golden rule, reality and other musings: or, happy first day of Great Lent

You know, there’s a particular reality that’s a bit hard to face when it comes to organizations. Not just churches (but churches are definitely included) — really, any organization. What I’m talking about is, of course, the Golden Rule.

“Of course,” you’re thinking. “Do unto others as…”

Nope, sorry, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is this: He who has the gold makes the rules.

This is more or less true everywhere. Government, non-profits, business, so on and so forth. There’s a very simple reason for it: unless the people able to write big checks have an interest in staying in the game, they won’t. Probably most of us would like to think that if we had lots of money, we’d behave differently, but the fact of the matter is that the more you have to protect, the more you will act to protect it — that is, the more you will act in what you see as your own best interests, and you will define what your best interests are in terms of what you have to lose.

Take charitable foundations. Do you think those exist for any other reason than it is in the best economic interests of the people funding them to do so? These entities exist because what it costs to fund them is less expensive than paying taxes on the same money. Show me somebody who gives away lots and lots of money without setting up a foundation or a charitable trust, meaning that they don’t care what the tax implications are, and I’ll show you somebody who is being truly selfless with their money. That’s not to belittle those who set up these organs of charity with truly the best of intentions, not in the slightest; this interaction of tax laws, wealth, and charity functions as intended, and in our society there’s probably no other way it could work. I’m just saying that it is probably naive, at best, to think that there isn’t anything in it for the person writing the checks.

As I said at the start of this rambling monstrosity, of course this applies to churches. At Overlake Christian Church, which is where I spent the plurality of my childhood churchgoing, the folks who wrote the biggest checks were the ones who got facetime with Pastor Bob Moorehead. That was evident even to an eight year old. And, really, why would it be any different in a church of 6,000 people (huge by 1985 standards) which had a mammoth building to maintain and which had designs on building an even larger structure?

At the church where my wife and I were married, it played out a little differently, but it was still the same story. The service schedule was structured around giving pride of place to the “Contemporary Praise Music” Eucharist — why? Because that was the service that had the greatest attendance of young, wealthy families. The choir and organ Eucharist had several older wealthy people, but the Microsoft families were able to outbid them (this was the late ’90s and early Aughts, after all).

You have to keep the people paying the bills in the game. They have to get value for their money, and there has to be an additional benefit proportional to the additional giving. How can it be any other way?

In the same way, I tend to see the perceived discomfort between so-called “ethnic” or “cradle” Orthodox and converts, if it actually exists at all, as being primarily an economic issue. Pews? Organs? Byzantine chant? Liturgical language? Even, yes, how episcopal authority gets defined and exercised? These are all issues subject to how the bills get paid. This isn’t something many of us who came to Orthodox Christianity for convictions of faith want to hear, but I think it’s probably the case.

Let’s take a hypothetical Orthodox priest from a country we’ll call Dolaria. He’s got a parish of three-quarters ethnic Dolarians, the richest five of whom give approximately 95% of the parish’s annual budget. The other quarter is mostly converts and maybe people from other ethnic backgrounds for whom a parish from “their own” church is too far away; maybe this group gives more consistently and regularly than the previous group, and maybe not. One way or the other, all told, this quarter of the parish makeup gives about 15% of the annual budget. On a given Sunday, the church might be three-quarters full and attendance might be split 50-50 between converts and ethnic Dolarians. Despite a fulltime priest, the parish only serves Orthos and Divine Liturgy on Sunday during a normal week. The metropolitan area in which this predominantly Dolarian community finds itself has a number of other parishes which tend to be heavier on converts, but the Dolarian parish’s annual budget is bigger than all of the rest of them combined.

Perhaps this hypothetical priest doesn’t participate much in pan-Orthodox events when they occur. Maybe a convert priest presses him about this, and also rags on him a bit for building a brand new church, an exemplar of traditional Dolarian Orthodox church architecture — except that it has pews and an organ. We can hypothesize that the Dolarian priest replies, “You know, you converts can play happy-clappy pan-Orthodox unity all you want, but the reality is that I’ve got a big church of Dolarians that takes up all my time, and the people who pay me to do that are Dolarians. When you converts actually match or outnumber us in giving and in attendance, then we’ll talk. A convert who comes to every service but gives $1,000 a year doesn’t help keep the doors open and the lights on in the way that a Dolarian who comes maybe once a month but gives $500,000 a year does. If ten people are writing me checks for $1 million apiece towards a $15 million church, and they want pews and an organ, they’re going to get it. If a hundred people are writing me $100 checks towards that church, and they want an open floor with no organ, I’m sorry, but they’re in the wrong demographic across the board for me to be willing to die on that hill.”

And you know what? While I wouldn’t like it or agree with it, I wouldn’t necessarily be unsympathetic to that point of view. Freedom of religion in a pluralistic, capitalist society where there is officially a separation between church and state effectively means that you get the religion for which you’re able to pay. To put it another way, if you want a church to be a particular way, you have to put your money where your faith is. We speak as Christians about “sacrificial giving,” but the reality is that the vast majority of people, particularly the wealthy, even Christians, and yes, even Orthodox Christians, are not going to give anything they can’t afford to lose. Ten middle-class converts who have bookshelves of the entire Popular Patristics line from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press are neither going to be able to match ten ethnic millionaire entrepeneurs who have no idea what the Council of Nicea decided and prefer to hear the Liturgy in <fill in name of language> because it makes them feel more <fill in name of ethnicity> even though that means they don’t even know what we actually sing in the Paschal troparion, nor are the middle-class converts going to bring in enough additional middle-class converts to outmatch the same.

We converts can say all we want that we just want to submit to the Tradition, that we should follow the Typikon, we want traditional music (but sung in English!), traditional architecture, have a fuller liturgical schedule, take out the pews and chairs, only have a tuning fork for instruments, have icons handwritten in Byzantine style with egg tempera and mineral pigments, and burn nothing but olive oil and beeswax with not an electric light to be found. I myself am firmly in that camp, believe me.

Economic realities interfere pretty fast with that picture, however. First of all, a priest costs money, or at least he does if you actually want him to be able to survive. Not paying a priest carries its own cost — if he works a secular job, that means he will have less time for his parish. Plus, if you really want a fuller liturgical schedule, and you have a priest with a family, you almost need two priests. That costs money, too.

Traditional music? It takes having people who know what they’re doing musically. Guess what? That will in all likelihood cost money.

Traditional architecture? Hoo boy, does that cost money.

Take out the pews and chairs? Since that will likely cause a chunk of your congregation to leave, that has a cost.

Longer services? You’ll probably lose people over this, too. Check.

Handwritten icons? Wait till you see the bill. Yes, that costs money. A lot of it.

Olive oil and beeswax? Inherently higher maintenance, which means it costs money.

To apply this to current events, if there is a perception among people who write checks with lots of zeros (at least, zeros to the left of the decimal point) that an organization is in the process of giving away the farm to people who write checks with far fewer zeroes, behave in a way which makes them uncomfortable, and frankly, whom they might perceive as having less of a vested interest in that organization than they do (because, let’s be honest, this is a group of people who already left something else to be part of this organization, so how do we know they won’t do it again?), they are going to pressure the leadership of that organization to start making different choices. And, eventually, the power of the pocketbook will be the deciding factor. The outcome will go to the highest bidder. He who has the gold makes the rules. Issues of canonicity, conciliarity, communion, doctrine, tradition, etc. simply do not have the force in our current system, the so-called “marketplace of ideas,” that being willing to write a check does. When the emperor was able to outbid everybody, that was one thing, but that’s not how we do things here and now.

Let me make something clear: this is in no way an indictment of the people who write the checks and expect, implicitly or explicitly, things to go their way — neither is it an indictment of the people to whom those checks are given and who then act accordingly. That is, for better or for worse, the way our culture works. Adjunct to that is the idea of choice — if you don’t like it, go someplace else or start your own. That Orthodox ecclesiology doesn’t exactly allow for that is an internal technical matter, not truly the concern of the culture at large.

Rather, I’m really talking to fellow converts. We need a reality check, folks. I include myself in that — I’m low-level support staff at a university and a part-time grad student, married to a full-time grad student. I can only do so much, and even that’s hard to do. The people whom I have brought to church with me are people in similar situations — students and working class folks who read a lot. It would take around sixty pledging units like us to be able to pay the priest’s compensation (which is already less than what he’s worth), and two hundred pledging units like us to be able to completely replace our parish’s budget. As it is, our parish has around eighty pledging units total. Yes, I’m there for virtually every service, but so what? That means I’m taking up more space and resources than that for which I am able to pay, more than likely. I’m a net loss for my parish, in other words, particularly since as the choir director and cantor I’m also one of the only paid staff. My potential as a net loss is further amplified by music having a status as a potential flashpoint of controversy. The most mild, reasonable, and practical of musical decisions made by a cantor/choir director — say, picking a setting of the Liturgy that the choir is actually able to sing — has the potential to be a reason for somebody to leave, and take their pledge with them. Trust me on this point.

We need to assume that we, as converts, will get the respect we can afford. Metropolitan PHILIP likes to point out the growth in the number of Antiochian parishes since he was became primate; what would be a better metric of growth, I think, would be an aggregate total of the annual budgets of all parishes, adjusted for inflation. I’m going to guess that that number would not suggest as optimistic a present reality as the number of parishes does.

I suspect that current events are, in one way or another, related to people in charge having to follow the money. I’m not sure it’s any one person; I think both New Jersey and Damascus have vested financial interests which need to be tended, which, again, canonicity or no canonicity, is the way things work in the here and now. The rent has to be paid, whether or not a bishop has been canonically enthroned as a diocesan bishop and not as an auxiliary. We proclaim ourselves to be the true Church; it does not follow that we are the perfect Church or a Church which, under current circumstances, can operate independently of financial concerns.

Does that change what anything looks like, for good or ill? No. However, does it change anything about the faith or how we are supposed to live it? No. Does it change Christ? It would be blasphemy to suggest that it did. What it does mean is that we must necessarily scale our expectations about what parish life is like to appropriate levels, and not to expect that people who are human are going to be anything other than human. Our deacons, priests and bishops (and cantors — especially cantors) are all working out their salvation with fear and trembling, too. It also means it is incumbent upon us to pray, to confess, to act and give according to our convictions, as much as we possibly can, and to understand that the way the world works, to say nothing of all the broken people in it, things are going to move slowly even if we do that.

I’m not thrilled about what I’m hearing about this decision from Antioch or the potential consequences; I love my bishop dearly and do not like seeing him demoted, not in the least. It’s actually rather shaken me to the core, simply because it seems to be a very large and significant action which is about nothing so much as power and money and which has nothing to do with the faith. But that’s exactly it — it has nothing to do with the faith. It does not impact who Christ is, or my need for communion with Him, one whit. As well, given that this is the very beginning of Lent, to rush to judgment and start separating the various figures into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is very clearly a temptation which requires resistance. Avoiding Big Macs and nachos over the next few weeks isn’t all we have to do; we also have to avoid judging our brothers… and our priests, and our bishops… and especially our cantors who have to sing so many ginormously long services over this week alone to say nothing of Holy Week… and instead put in the effort to love them.

Richard’s Twitter

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