Let it all hang out man!
First of all, thanks for trusting us (and me especially!) with what's on your mind. It is really a great compliment that you should feel free to engage with someone who is more or less a 'captive' (for lack of a better expression) of a worldview so antithetical to your own.
Perhaps it is not necessary, but I think I should explicitly state that my views are in no way representative of a multitude of others connected with this web page. My views are my own and (I hope) reflect in some measure a broader view of the Orthodox Church, of which I try my best to be an observant member faithfully reflect. I am not always successful and, as you have said yourself, I apologize in advance if I offend anyone, too.
But let's face it - toes get stepped on even in constructive dialogue. I believe it is important be direct and I appreciate your efforts in this regard.
I don't really have any comment on your take on the Christ the Savior Brotherhood except to say I have been in and around Brotherhood parishes and people for my entire Orthodox experience and can understand your point of view. I guess I was lucky in that even before I became Orthodox, I had experience with a number of spiritual-communal social units ('cults'? maybe not a good word here) in several Buddhist (Soka Gaki, Zen) and Hindu (Hari Krsna, Yogananda, Vipassana)traditions and when I encountered the Brotherhood I was well aware of many of the common ailments of communal spiritual organizations / alternative communities. I have never wanted to become a member of the CSB, but I have and continue to have rewarding relationships with CSB members. I fully understand that the majority of CSB members want you to be / see you as either a subordinate disciple (the worst) or as their own son or daughter (still difficult, but better).
Personally, I saw and still see noble aspects of the CSB as a collective endeavor to maintain their community within the context of the higher calling to Orthodoxy. Yes, they brought a lot of baggage with them, but I don't see anything inherently wrong or un-Orthodox with this phenomena. Sometimes I think we forget how novel the American (Western-European?)cult of individuality is in historical terms. The CSB is a kooky thing nowadays, sure, and your criticisms, to my way of thinking, point more to a conflict between the aesthetic (romanticism?) of communal life and its practicality in an Orthodoxy tradition already established in vastly different social context, but historically such a collective conversion to Orthodoxy and continued identification with local group identity after conversion was not an anomaly but the norm. Most ethnic Churches got their start this way and Church history testifies abundantly to local variation in Orthodox practice. Our times are different. Better? I can't say. Still, there is a spirit in the CSB that reminds me of all I found exciting and attractive about the (often bizarre) religious movements of early American history - the Puritans, Shakers, the Ghost Dancers and others.
Yet their 'tribe mentality' is by no means unique in Orthodoxy. The Evangelical Orthodox Church also suffered / still suffer, though to a lesser degree, perhaps, from their own version of 'groupthink'. I am in close contact with members of the Staro-Obrachesky (aka Old Believer Orthodox)and other sub-groupings within the Church, most notably Gregorian calendar Orthodox, Ukrainian Nationalist (separatist) Orthodox and even Syndesmos (an Orthodox youth movement popular in Europe) and each group has its own comparable sickness - some much worse than the CSB. What to do? I have never been a 'club joiner' (at least I tell myself this)but there certainly seems to be an unstoppable human propensity to congregate, congratulate, cliquefy and separate. I think it has something to do with the ofttimes precarious relationship between freedom and identity which can resemble a love / hate paradigm.
Perhaps the most interesting example of Orthodox 'tribalism' I have witnessed has been the painful birth of the Indonesian Orthodox Church. This example is important, I think, in that they are not Americans, white or even western people. It has been a totally separate history, yet there are many similarities between the CSB thing and the emergence of this nascent national Orthodox Church. To my mind, the problems and patterns echo the process of the birth of the Church in countless local groups in the first centuries of Christianity. Basically, though the Indonesian Orthodox Church continues to exist and thrive, there are persistent issues and seemingly unsolvable issues regarding local authority and autonomy complicated by diverse ethnic groupings within the Church. A plethora of languages, each with their own interpretation of the Gospel and services and cultural and legal aspects which complicate foreign oversight of the Church. How to make sure they are 'really Orthodox' when Greek and Russian churches are potentially seen as 'colonial institutions'? Who the 'Grecified' or Russified priests really represent? Who has the authority to say local customs are ok or even necessary? Where is the dividing line between the economia afforded to culturally different people who become Orthodox and the persistence of Muslim, Protestant, Hindu or Buddhist beliefs and practice within the local Church?
It is above all interesting to note the slack we tend to cut non-white converts to Orthodoxy that we do not allow for people who we see as wacky in our own culture where the ideals of freedom and individuality would seemingly engender similar problems in conflict with Church authority. A question emerges from this that touches on many issues in your letter and floating around on this website: is there a way (ways) for the Church to embrace diversity that is both consistent with Orthodox tradition and fresh and reasonable enough to appeal to the those who want to embrace Orthodoxy but for whatever reason can't fit into the mold?
For me, the answer has always been love and bearing one anothers' burdens so as to fulfill the law of Christ. Sadly, I am more familiar with this as it is practiced on my behalf than as an proficient representative of such love. It is my ideal, though.
I'd like to address other points in your letter - I found it very engaging. Unfortunately, work calls.
I find it interesting that most of your reply has nothing to do with what I wrote. It was actually more of a proof to how disjointed Orthodoxy is. If there is such a large misunderstanding in the church where is the truth?
You sound like a fairly educated person. You throw around some sociology vocabulary and add in some psychology terminology as well. I don't know your stance on "worldly" things, but your writing projects worldly knowledge very well. Your stance on homosexuality is very conservative, amongst other orthodox beliefs, it sounds that you may be fairly narrow minded. I don't want to jump to conclusions. I just want to relate how unfortunate it is for Christians to believe that healing cannot happen without Christ, but there has been proof in the complete opposite. In reference of this to homosexuality, for instance, it would be a shame for someone to come to Christ but have to completely deny who they are and sacrifice themselves, cross themselves, along with their fingers and toes that Jesus may be building a mansion for them in heaven. This denial would seem to not help themselves or anyone else, since they would probably be living in a state of confusion. On the other hand it is my intention to help people, and an ethereal view of life does not seem beneficial in this respect.
I have found it interesting that the Holy order of mans had mission houses to help people, but eventually assumed them (the people) into their cult. Their initial idea was good, but they should have allowed the people to come to religion on their own. I find it even more interesting that many of their missions have now been closed, so not only are they not trying to help people, but if someone comes into contact with their church they suck them in and suffocate their will. They also preach against anything worldly especially education, which of course keeps the parishioners ignorant just like in medieval times. Not to mention that most people in the CSB are poor, and have difficulty in providing for their families. The denial of worldliness again hurts the parishioners. Though some may have been saved by the CSB, it would be interesting in seeing how many people are actually content in their choice, or only in it because they feel like if they fled they would go to hell. I had to run from the monastery and St. Innocent's Academy because they would not give me a ride out or to the airport. I had to hike down the backside of the mountain and then walk ten miles to the gas station to get a ride to red bluff. When I tried to leave Kodiak, AK I was actually told to get into the car and guilt tripped into staying there. Also while at St. Innocent's Academy I had my head pushed against the wall as a way of "counciling" that the dean performed. He also used screaming as a way of performing this. While there he related a story that when he was in the order he had knives thrown at him in a theraputic way. These are the kind of people in the CSB, so I don't believe anything has changed.
Well, if I'm off point or incoherent its becasue I only tried to address one of the points in your post. You did speak of the CSB, among other things, and had earlier asked about other people's experience. Perhaps my reply was disappointing becasue didn't get fried to a crisp by my experiences? Perhaps we are speaking past each other. I hardly see how this proves that I am disjointed, though. Slow down man, I am far away and unable to do you any real harm.
Why don't you just ask me if I am conservative or what my stance on 'worldliness' is? Your reaction suggests that there might very well be a right or wrong answer to this question and the wrong answer will seal the lid on the box I have been shoved into.
I assume you are wiling and able to have a discussion with someone who doesn't share your views. The gist of your writing suggests that you are miffed by people who need to ram crap down your throat. Who isn't? If I appear equivocal (big word - 2 points!) in my communication it is most likely becasue I am kinda stuck on trying to see the bright side. It can be an annoying habit that looks like sidestepping the issues. Hard to tell in cyberspace. bad.
I really do think what you have to say is important and my status as Orthodox or a conservative or a wacky (but educated!) non-thinking drone will not be affected (or hurt) by whatever judgments you may have to pass in order to express yourself. I feel that we are in a potentially win-win situation here even if we don't see eye to eye.
I will offer one correction in your assumption that I am "lucky that I have received authentic Orthodoxy from living in Russia." I have not. I received it from Fr Herman and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. Your assumption that Orthodoxy is more authentic here is one that is also deeply held by many CSB people. It is not. It is just different. The Russians have their own issues and Orthodoxy in America has many distinct advantages. Among those advantages, I would definitely include the very possibility of this discussion. Call it Protestant residue, the curse or blessing of rugged individualism, our brand of education, social mobility or whatever, Americans poke and prod and fuss and fight and generally try to make full use of whatever piss and vinegar that resides in their guts. Trying to make sense of things is a healthy response to a world gone mad. There is a confident spark in Americans that is lacking in many Russians. To me, it is a sign that hope isn't dead, despite our crippling cynicism. I would agree with you that some people use their freedom to hide behind doctrines and rules, but Americans are also often bold enough to break those rules to discover their limits, to flounder, to fly and perhaps to reach something authentic. The Russians are very often content with the furniture of Orthodoxy. Americans, lacking such furniture - the bells, the ancient churches, the piles of books by and about holy elders - are forced to grapple with the meat of the real issues that constantly hover around faith, its real meaning and potential.
Sir, feel free to label and accuse me of whatever faults and unforgivable notions I may or may not have. God knows, even if you are just spraying venom becasue you have to get it out, you are as likely as not to hit the nail on the head. I'm as fucked up as the rest. Only let's not make it a crime among us when someone says he knows his own mind. Let us not assume that just because someone clings to what appears to be absurd Church drivel that he is unable or unwilling to think for himself. Equally, let us not assume the utter depravity or faithlessness or hell bound destruction of those who brazenly question authority that cannot explain itself to the satisfaction of a mind that has difficulty letting Divine love have equal standing alongside their wounded soul's coveted freedom to doubt.
It is hard to express it in the virtual world, but I am trying to listen to what you have to say. I can offer no foolproof evidence of my sincerity. I cannot see what you have to loose by trusting that I mean well.
Now if you will excuse me, I am going to take off my robe of sanctimoniousness and make a very worldly (possibly sinful!) salmon and brie sandwich.
"The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion." - G. K. Chesterton
2009-09-03 03:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Further Off Point
First of all I wasn't trying to accuse you or assume that you are a certain way. I was trying to to ask your views on worldliness, and I apologize if that's not how my writing came out. I also didn't accuse you of being disjointed, I was complaining about how your last post was proof that the church is disjointed. If my words came out rough or wrong again I apologize, I feel comfortable to state my opinions on this site, and I think you feel the same way. I would like to hear more from you. In reference to "having difficulty letting divine love have equal standing alongside their wounded soul's coveted freedom to doubt. I would guess that would about me, correct me if I'm wrong. I would have to say may soul feels more free now that I don't have to strive for divine love, or maybe I never had it. Again I have to say people are able to be healed without a god or jesus or whatever. I'm a humanist and I believe that everything we need we have within us or around us in other people, or nature. The only love I need is for my family, because that is the only important love in everyday life. Spirituality is good in the sense of transcending ourselves, but that is not something reserved for normal folks in everyday life, who struggle with work/school, children, bills etc. I have the struggle I need right in from of me without adding anymore, thank you very much. If it ain't broke don't try to fix it. Spirituality would be good for someone trying to overcome a definite problem in their life, don't get me wrong. Anyway thanks for letting me rant.
Great read! I wish you could follow up to this topic