Saturday, October 01, 2011
A Busy, Churchy Week
My blogging activity has been at a low ebb lately. That is usually a sign that real life is intruding onto the unreality of online life. Perhaps that is the case with me. I devote more time trying to keep my business afloat, as well as attending to my second and third jobs--teaching a couple of classes at two local colleges. In addition, this has been a particularly eventful week in church, with two extra Liturgies and a 3-day lecture series we hosted with Fr. Demetrios Carellas.
Before Liturgy last Sunday, I found myself in the strange position of giving a talk to the "old folks class" at First Presbyterian Church in the city. I do not have a Calvinist bone in my body, though many of my oldest and closest friends are of that persuasion. I do not understand it and it has never appealed to me in any way. My best friend would wryly observe, no doubt, that I was predestined not to understand. [And this reminds of my favorite line about Calvinism: In the movie Cold Comfort Farm, Calvinist preacher Amos Starkadder, portrayed by Ian McKellan, proclaims right before he leaves town: "The Lord will provide.....or not.....depending on His whim."]
My tie to the Presbyterian Sunday School class is two lifelong friends who are the youngest members of this class. They had been studying church history a bit, I think, and had been focusing on "religious art" through the ages. In so doing, they finished up with Byzantine icons and iconography. My friend suggested that I come and talk to them about iconography, the Orthodox mission in our city, and, ahem, my journey to Orthodoxy. I say this with some trepidation because I was trained-up online under the stern tutelage of the old Ochlophobist blog during its glory days. Those of us who hung on every word there were shamed away from the convert stories on the tip of our lips. Seemingly, it was a slippery slope--once you had posted a "journey" story, then before you knew it, you would find yourself listening to Fr. Peter Gillquist on AFR and wearing Get to Know the Original tee-shirts. I jest a bit a bit at Owen's expense here, but he did discipline many of us away from posting self-centered and silly convert stories. But what do you do if someone actually asks? In that case, I think you have to comply, and so I did.
I talked with them a little about iconography, concentrating mainly on what it is not. Apparently, they viewed it as just an exotic form of religious decoration, so we had to start from scratch. As it turns out, while iconography was the excuse, what they really wanted to hear was how a Church of Christ elder from East Texas ended up in the Holy Orthodox Church. I told the story as well as I could within the time constraints. I'm not going to post it here, but if anyone is interested they can email me and I will forward a transcript. The class was a congenial bunch and the talk seemed well-received, though I suspect a presentation on most anything would have fit the bill for them.
I attended lectures Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night at our mission by Fr. Demetrios Carellas. He is a noted speaker, I think, in Orthodox circles, and is the spiritual father of our priest. The topics were Faith, Hope and Love. The talks were excellent and well-attended. Fr. Demetrios is warm-hearted and a delightful man to know. We videotaped the sessions, and I hope to post links here to all three in the near future.
Friday night, after Vespers, I attended a talk by Ken Myers at Sylvania Church in the city. As many may know, Myers is the man behind Mars Hill Audio. He is well-known nationally, and the lecture should have attracted more people than it did. Sylvania Church is a former Baptist Church that dropped the B-word, though they still have The Baptist Hymnal in the back of each pew. They emphasize that they are Reformed, and have elders, so this is not a typical Southern Baptist congregation. Everyone seemed well-scrubbed and earnest. The young men would clasp your hand in a firm handshake and smile broadly at the same time. It has been a while since I visited an evangelical church and I had forgotten some of the routine. The lecture series was entitled Abandoning God's Gifts: The Tragedy of Modern Suspicion about Beauty. The specific talk I attended was Life, the Universe and Everything: Why the Gospel means more than a ticket to Heaven. Myers himself is Presbyterian. He conveyed a good grasp of the topic and I found myself in agreement with much of what he had to say. His audience listened intently, talking copious notes all along. But it was a little sad, I thought, for it all seemed just another abstract intellectual construct. In coming weeks, no doubt, they will appoint a committee to investigate how they can incorporate beauty into their services.
Liturgies on Monday morning and Friday night finished out my week in church--that, and a Catholic funeral on Friday afternoon, where the priest delivered as beautiful a homily as I have ever heard.