Saturday, December 23, 2006

What I Like

Last week, we observed the second Divine Liturgy held at our mission, with 27 in attendance. An adjacent small portable building serves as our temporary "hall." Needless to say, some of us had to spill over outside during and after the fellowship meal. I chanced upon an ongoing conversation among 3 of our young men. What were they discussing? Sports? Hardly. Pop culture? Please. Work? Nope. They were comparing their favorite Flannery O'Connor stories. I just love Orthodoxy.

6 comments:

David Bryan said...

Mmm, you know? I know it's considered en vogue among a lot of Orthodox/Catholic literary types to like O'Conner, but...eh...I just can't get into her.

Regardless, it is interesting that similarly literate young men would find their way into the Church. What do you think is...not so much missing from, but rather...not as easily accessible in the Church to those who would be more inclined to, say, talk about the assembly line at work or the most recent Cowboys failu--I mean, game?

John said...

Not like Flannery O'Connor??!!! Not like Flannery O'Connor??!!!
Go read either "Revelation" or "The Displaced Person" or her collected letters and then tell me you don't like her!

All kidding aside, I know what you mean. She is somewhat en vogue these days, and thank God for that. O'Connor deserves to be better known. I have been a fan since 1981. My wife had a copy of her collected stories when we married.

Your question is a good one. I do not want to paint with too broad a brush, as my past experience was limited to restorationist churches, which are something of a step-child of mainline evangelicalism. But I believe two things were in play for me. First, there can be an entrenched, underlying anti-intellectualism in place. I had a friend from my former church who refused to read literature. He did everything but say it was a sin to read such. Biography and history were fine, but literature was simply foolishness. I used to argue that one could gain a better insight into Victorian England by reading Dickens and Trollope than by reading any history of the era; just as one could understand England between the wars by reading Waugh and Powell, or colonial New England by reading Hawthorne, and on and on. I recall classrooms situations where a leader of the congregation stated that books by C. S. Lewis out to be burned. (I am not making this up.) In retrospect, I wonder why I butted my head against the wall in such an environment for so long. The second point is one where I must tread gently. I suspect that the lack of intellectual life can be indicative of a superficial, “top-water” spirituality. For let’s face it, to talk of Flannery O’Connor is almost by definition to talk of spiritual issues. A conversation about the writings of Flannery O’Connor with be conversation about the nature of grace and forgiveness. In my former experience, such a conversation would never, ever-in a 100 years-have occured. After the last prayer, we immediately switched into our secular modes and concerns. And this leads into my answer to your question. In Orthodoxy, the sense of worship is so profound, that it is "not over when its over." It overflows into the conversations afterwards. A commitment to Orthodoxy takes everything you've got--mind, body and soul, and permeates all aspects of your life. To one who expects faith to work as some sort of on/off switch--back and forth between the religious and the secular--then to that person, Orthodoxy will be distinctly discomforting. Those are my ideas. What do you think?

John said...

One more thing--a little old-time proselytizing. Here's the last paragraph from a essay on O'Connor that I'm fond of:

"Don't be afraid of Flannery. Let her mess with your head. Let her disturb you. As she observed, "all human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful." She's not the first or the last word, but she has an amazing grasp of Christian drama, and it's hard to see how contemporary Christian culture can mature without having her stories or others like them very deep in its bones. Let her show you how surprising grace is, how dark and healthy it can be, what a gift it is. Let the ugly girl in the waiting room turn her lip inside out again, let her make a loud noise through her teeth, let her fingers clamp onto the soft flesh of your neck."

For the entire article, see:
http://www.credenda.org/issues/18-2thema.php

David Bryan said...

"Go read either 'Revelation' or 'The Displaced Person' or her collected letters and then tell me you don't like her!"

-- Well, I just got A Good Man is Hard to Find for a birthday present, and "Displaced" is the last one in the bunch, so I'll get to it soon. She has an amazing grasp of the rural South, I'll grant her that, yet I've yet to come upon a story that doesn't cast the religious, "Church folk" as anything but hypocrites...not that that's unreasonable to assert here in the South, but still...she's someone "whose stated purpose was to reveal the mystery of God's grace in everyday life"--hmm...perhaps grace through and in spite of death so far, but perhaps things will change as I go along...

"First, there can be an entrenched, underlying anti-intellectualism in place."

I've experienced this more in the idea that the full gospel message is "quick and easy"--pray to receive Christ, and one will receive freedom and deliverance from much of what ails ya', as well as a guarantee that one will spend eternity it complete bliss with God in heaven...to these people, resistance to "anything else" within Christianity comes from what they see as an unecessary complication of their "short and sweet" gospel. Sacraments, the Holy Mother, liturgy...what does any of that have to do with accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? It's not that they see any inherent evil within the things we hold to that they don't, but rather that, for the most part, they're befuddled (and contentedly so) that we'd insist on such strange things in the first place. Again, like you, this is not meant in a "broad-brush" fashion, as lots of Evangelicals out there are quite ready to engage in all genres of literature and theology.

"The second point is [that] I suspect that the lack of intellectual life can be indicative of a superficial, “top-water” spirituality...In Orthodoxy, the sense of worship...overflows into the conversations afterwards. A commitment to Orthodoxy takes everything you've got..."

-- Interesting. I found that my conversations regarding "what God was doing in my life" were much more prevalent after Protestant circles than they have been since becoming Orthodox. There are some exceptions--noteably the fellow former Evangelicals that have likewise "come over" with me, such as my wife, and are used to such conversations. If I tried to start a conversation with folks from other backgrounds in my parish about how the Eucharist truly allows me to lay aside all earthly cares due to the reality of the Kingdom made manifest in our midst...I think they'd look at me like I had two heads...

"Those are my ideas. What do you think?"

-- I still wonder, from an Incarnational perspective, how we can incorporate the Athanasian concept of God's lowering Himself to our "eye-level" so He could get our attention through immersing Himself in the things we were consumed with at the time...this, instead of insisting that and waiting that we should look up to the higher things of heaven. How can Orthodoxy, without changing what it is, "kneel down" with the tailgaters, the blue-collars, the gangstas...and speak to them? Why do converts often seem to middle-class, college-educated (or otherwise-educated) folks...?

John said...

"She has an amazing grasp of the rural South, I'll grant her that, yet I've yet to come upon a story that doesn't cast the religious, "Church folk" as anything but hypocrites..."

Well, that gets at her whole point. But really she is not condemning "church folk" at all. Her targets, often women, are hard-working, self-reliant, independent, frugal, self-made and proud of it. Most exhibit a thin veneer of "churchiness," but what they really worship is the world they believe they have created themselves with their own hard work. And while their superficial church-going may take some hits in O'Connor's story-telling, that is not the real issue. In her stories, these false worlds crumble when the self-reliant must ultimately confront the grace of God, which in O'Connor's telling is never warm and fuzzy. More often than not, they are hit upside the head with it. When you read "Displaced," pay close attention to the interplay between the lady farm owner and the priest. Also note, for example, how each side views the peacock.

"I've experienced this more in the idea that the full gospel message is "quick and easy"--...to these people, resistance to "anything else" within Christianity comes from what they see as an unecessary complication of their "short and sweet" gospel."

My experience is a little different, as my former church, to their credit, didn't ascribe to the "quick and easy" approach or the JAJCIYHAYPLAS approach ("just accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior). But they do view themselves as having it all figured out, so to speak, and frankly, it would have been more understandible to them if I had renounced Christ altogether (and some consider that I did in fact, do this.)

"-- Interesting. I found that my conversations regarding "what God was doing in my life" were much more prevalent after Protestant circles than they have been since becoming Orthodox."

Well, maybe so, if put in that context. But here again, in my experience, such was not the case.

"How can Orthodoxy, without changing what it is, "kneel down" with the tailgaters, the blue-collars, the gangstas...and speak to them?"

Good question, that. But we'd better figure out how to do so. We are all guilty from time to time of treating Orthodoxy as if it were some sort of intellectual exercise. The faith lived out is, or should be TRANSFORMATIVE. To the extent that we rediscover this, we will find our voice to the "tailgaters," etc.

"Why do converts often seem to middle-class, college-educated (or otherwise-educated) folks...?"

There's no way I can answer this without sounding elitist. Perhaps the college-educated are conditioned to thinking through certain things in class, and this approach carries over to their specific church situations. Or perhaps, not.

Mimi said...

Congratulations on the second Divine Liturgy - may it be the second of many.

And, I've never read O'Conner myself.