Monday, September 03, 2018

Recent Article on Orthodoxy in the South

I don’t post much about Orthodoxy on FB these days. This is not from any dimming of enthusiasm on my part, but rather more from a recognition that the truth of the faith does not rise or fall on FB posts. I have learned to give a wide berth to anything smacking of triumphalism, which I find to be ultimately unconvincing. And, I do not enjoy theological polemics, even though I realize that for some, this is the very breath of life itself. Finally, I don’t want to provide a target for those who enjoy taking potshots online. So, outside of something of interest involving our particular parish, or an appealing online homily, or perhaps something more related to history, then I avoid Orthodox-related posts.
But I feel a need to make this one--and to promote a recent article in the “Oxford American,” the premier magazine of Southern literature and culture. The journal is in its twenty-seventh year, and we have all the issues, save for three or four from the first couple of years. The article is “The Light of Heaven: Father Damian Hart and the Pull of the Orthodox Church” by Nick Tabor. The broad subject is the Orthodox Church’s history in the South, and more particularly the establishment and growth of the Diocese of the South in my own jurisdiction, the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
The author is no disgruntled ex, but a convert of some years, a communicant of the OCA Cathedral in Manhattan. Tabor’s conversion story is similar to many of ours. He first became aware of the Church while in college in MIchigan. Later, his Orthodox life took a detour through the South for a short while, feeding his interest in the subject matter at hand.
His research into the very early years of the Diocese is fascinating. But his story is no puff-piece extolling the growth of Southern Orthodoxy. And while laudatory of Archbishop Dmitri, it is no hagiography. Tabor squarely addresses the laxity in oversight and discipline in the early years. This allowed for the occasional flowering of what might, at best, be charitably denoted as runaway eccentricity, but sometimes something much worse. One aspect of the story is of particular interest to me. Tabor’s examines the noticeable fixation some Southern Orthodox (mainly men) have with monks and monasteries. Monasticism is an essential part of Orthodoxy, so the concept is not in question. But poorly supervised monasteries have sometimes fallen under the spell of rogue abbots, from which much lasting harm can come.
Overall, the piece is even-handed, which is to say that it is a real history. I do take pride in the fact that Orthodoxy has taken hold in the South, so that we are a permanent fixture here, albeit in our small way. When the history of Southern Orthodoxy is written, Tabor’s work will be an essential source.
I didn’t post this to elicit comments pro or con on Orthodoxy. So, please don’t. I wanted to spread the word of this article--in an unexpected source--to interested Southern clergy and parishioners. The piece is in the Fall 2018 issue (# 102). The OA is sold in Barnes and Noble, at least in the South, but the Fall issue is not yet on the shelves. You may go to their online site, click the Shop tab, and there you will be able to purchase a single issue hard copy or a more affordable digital copy for $2.99.

On John McCain and his Funeral

Now that John McCain Week is over, I thought I’d make a comment or two. I’ve always been ambivalent about McCain, neither greatly admiring nor detesting the man. And, I do adhere strongly to the old adage about not speaking ill of the dead.
So, yes, I hate it that he was in a prison camp for over 5 years, just as I hate it about the death and suffering resulting from the missiles he fired. The hagiographies this week have skimmed over the personal and career messiness of his post-Vietnam, pre-Senate years. But then, most of our lives couldn’t hold up to very much scrutiny either.
His senatorial career has largely been characterized by warmongering; unthinking, reflexive, bomb-first-ask-questions-later warmongering. Over the last 20 years or so, you can chart my foreign policy positions as being consistently 180 degrees from whatever John McCain and the Amigos were promoting. Coming off the Bush Administration, there was not the remotest possibility that I would consider voting for him in 2008. His choice of Sarah Palin, a decision breathtaking in its reckless irresponsibility, confirmed my worst suspicions. In recent years, in issues ranging from Syria to Iran to Russia, he has surpassed even himself. The image of a clueless McCain, grinning broadly, surrounded by his Syrian jihadists--excuse me, “freedom fighters,” is one I’ll never forget.
I do appreciate two things about his public service. The first was his self-deprecating humor. He did not take himself too seriously. Up until November 2016, that had always been a mark of a successful American political career. I sorely miss it. Second, I do appreciate the tone he set following DJT’s election. McCain did not pretend that this is all normal when it is not. He was not hesitant to call-out Crazy when he saw it. So, McCain's calls for civility and dignity and respect have been appreciated, by me, at least.
Even so, the week-long events have been, I think, just a little much. The schedule was choreographed by McCain himself, in his last days. Clearly, he was trying to send a message to the nation, and I don’t fault that, necessarily. The endless and obligatory references by his hagiographers, however, to his, shall we say, “earthiness,” quickly wore thin. In any other context, they would have been describing a foul-mouthed old crank. The last straw came from Jon Meacham, whose commentary usually runs the gamut from smug to insufferable. He referenced Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the groundbreaking for the National Cathedral. TR quoted James 1:22, “but be ye doers of the word…” Meacham then brought it around to the present, stating that “there was no greater doer of the word than John McCain.” At that point, I had to turn off the radio. A political life in public service can, I suppose, be a good thing. But that is not at all what the Scripture was saying, if not, in fact, the exact opposite. I have heard no better recent example of the conflating of politics, nationalism, patriotism, and religious sentimentality into the toxic mix that is our national civic religion.