Sunday, October 29, 2006

one foot in and one foot out?

Well, there's been a lot going on this week. I'm just hesitant to say too much at this point. I met with Fr. Gregory. He thinks it's about time to move forward, so we're starting to talk dates for me to become a catechumen. Woo hoo! One thing this would mean, obviously, is that I'd have to step up my involvement in the life of the parish. There's no minimum standard per se on most of this stuff, but I would need to make an effort to be in services with some regularity, and hopefully attend at least some of the classes that are coming up.

Transportation is going to be an issue. As I've mentioned before, we have only one car. I'm open to changing that if necessary, but I'm trying to be cautious and explore other options first. I don't really want this situation to put a strain on our budget, when it's already stressing other areas. Still, it might be a worthwhile trade-off if my wife doesn't feel like she's having to give up her car every time I want to go to a service. One positive development today--I was talking with someone after DL this morning and she offered to provide rides when Ian and I need them. Another possibility--my in-laws are talking about selling one of their cars, which might meet our need without too much expense. Then again, who knows what they'd think if they knew why we were interested.

That's the other thing that's getting close. If I do take the next step pretty soon, we're going to have to look seriously at telling parents about what's going on. I'm not exactly looking forward to it, although it will be nice to have it out in the open. Particularly, I'm concerned about the negative effects that might fall on my wife as a result. Some of that has already happened this past week, with her brother, who's known about this for some time. I'm not going to say exactly what happened, but it's something that affects her a good deal more than it does me, and is specifically in response to where I'm at with Orthodoxy. I can deal with negative reactions that affect me--I pretty much expect it. But I don't know what to do with things that affect her. It's probably the only thing that makes me question whether what I'm doing is worth it.

It's been good to get to more services this week. The car wasn't done Thursday evening, so I didn't make it to vespers. But I got there Tuesday and last night, as well as this morning. I was able to attend all of matins, DL, and hang around talking until about 1:30. Now I have to decide what to do this Tuesday. I could go back for the usual weeknight vespers, or I could visit the ROCOR parish for St. John of Kronstadt. The biggest reason I'm thinking about the latter option is that I feel like I should get over there sometime to explain in person what's going on, and how I'm probably not going to be back there much anymore, as I get more plugged in at the Antiochian parish. On the other hand, maybe it would be better to do that sometime when it doesn't require passing up another service to get there.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Orthodox marathon week

This is going to be another Orthodox-intensive week. I haven't had one of those since sometime during Lent, when my wife took Ian out of town to visit her parents. This time, they're visiting her brother and his family, leaving tomorrow morning and returning next Tuesday. I'll be able to attend vespers tomorrow night and hopefully Thursday, great vespers Saturday, matins and DL Sunday. I also have to take the car in to get it looked at, so Wednesday is out. Guess maybe I'll get some time to work on my dissertation as well. If all that's not enough, this past weekend had two significant events. Fr. Gregory came to our condo (for the first time) to meet with my wife after Ian went to bed Friday. Saturday evening, we went to a Russian festival at a nearby Moscow Patriarchal parish. Ian didn't seem to think too much of it at first--wanted to hang out in the little courtyard away from all the action for quite a while. But he really got into the music when we sat down for the concert. My wife also admitted that she had a good time. (Not that there was much religious about it, aside from being on the grounds of a church and having religious items for sale.)

The meeting on Friday seemed to go pretty well. Fr. Gregory was very gentle and skillfully avoided any opportunity to argue about Evangelicalism vs. Orthodoxy. He said the main reason he wanted to meet was that I wanted in, and he didn't see much reason to keep me out. He wanted to know first, though, whether and to what extent my wife would support me. She, for her part, said she didn't agree with what I was doing, but that she would not stand in the way. I'm going to try to meet with Fr. Gregory one-on-one this week, so hopefully I'll get a better sense of how he thinks things went.

One thing that came out of the meeting. My wife wanted a friend and mentor present, so she'd have someone to talk to about it afterward. When Fr. Gregory asked if we were praying together, we got rebukes from both sides of the aisle, so to speak. It's something we've never been able to establish as a habit, but we're trying again. Last night was our first time in I don't know how long.

Yesterday, in our Evangelical service, one of the action points from the sermon was to take a day sometime in the next two weeks if possible to do whatever we like, and to thank God for it. We were talking about it later, and honestly I'd want to spend such a day in as much Orthodox worship as possible. Since getting to a monastery would mean driving a long distance (which would mean it's no longer a day doing what I want to do), the next best option is to do exactly what I'm planning to do this Sunday (speaking here of the liturgical day, starting with vespers)--spend it in church as much as I can. Beyond that, if the weather's nice, I'll probably try to take a long walk. I'll try to keep things updated as the week unfolds.

Friday, October 13, 2006

words and deeds

Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!

I pray for my wife, because she has such a miserable example of an Orthodox Christian to look at. Our interaction about Orthodoxy has changed over time, but it never really seems to get any better. Early on (for quite some time before I encountered Orthodoxy), I didn't talk to her about what was going on in my head. I didn't share with her the changes in my thinking about truth and revelation, or how that was affecting my faith in Christ, or how desperately I needed to find a supportive community. I didn't talk to her when I was thinking about leaving Christianity for Judaism. I mean, we talked--just not about anything particularly important or directly related to faith. I just kept going through the motions at church and kept my mouth shut. The reason I gave myself for this silence was that she would take things too seriously, too personally, too emotionally, and she would overreact to ideas that might or might not stick around. Of course, I know now that it would have been better to start talking with her--and with others--about this stuff a lot sooner. But there it is anyway.

Eventually I realized that my thinking was leading me dangerously close to real action--going to a different church, or converting to a different faith, or something along those lines--which would inevitably affect her. The only way I could move forward in any sense was to talk to her about what I was thinking. By that point, we were so far apart in our thinking, that nothing ever really connected. From Messianic Judaism to Orthodox Christianity, the best we could ever do was occasional discussion about the issues involved, mixed with long stretches of silence, hoping that things would somehow work themselves out.

After several unproductive attempts at discussion about Orthodoxy, I began to get advice that I should just pray and live my faith before her, and trust God to work in his timing. So that's what I started to do. My prayer life became more stable, I was reading Scripture regularly, I was learning and growing and strengthening in my faith, and I was trying to make substantive changes in my life. None of it seemed to have much effect, but it's not like I was doing it just so she would be impressed. It was all stuff that I needed to do anyway. Still, it would have been nice to see it have some kind of effect.

Now I'm wondering, though, if I took the advice further than it was meant. Was the point to expect actions alone to make the difference? Or do actions need to be explained to have any effect on others? Take an example. During the Dormition Fast, I decided not to watch Simpsons reruns during the week. For several years now, one of the local channels has aired two Simpsons reruns every weekday evening (6:00 and 7:00). Most evenings I would watch one or both of them--usually episodes that I had already seen multiple times. For some time, my wife had been bugging me about it, since I get home at 5:00, and Ian goes to bed at 7:30. At some point during the fast, I decided that I was going to give it up entirely. I knew I was watching too much TV anyway, and that was the biggest single change I could make to my viewing habits. As a side effect, I was expecting her to notice. It was a few weeks before she even noticed that I wasn't watching Simpsons anymore (aside from the Sunday evening episode--usually new or recently released). When it finally did come up, I tried to simply acknowledge the change and drop the issue, without making a big issue out of my reasons. Some time later I was asking why she didn't seem to credit Orthodoxy with any of the changes in my life, and it turned out she had never put together the connection. I don't know if it made any difference in her opinion of Orthodoxy when I finally did explain my thought process, but the point is that she never would have had any clue if I hadn't explicitly spelled out what I was doing and why.

Last night, I brought up an idea I'd been mulling for a few days about how we might change our TV viewing habits during prime time. I won't go into the specifics here, but one of my main objectives was to create enough flexibility that we could interact more directly in the evening. She brought up that often she spent the evening watching TV because I was reading in the other room. I responded that I was reading in the other room because she was watching TV. Again, the thinking behind my actions never came through until we actually sat down and talked about it.

So, what does this mean? Was I wrong to think that my actions would speak for themselves? If so, is it a general rule, or is it a problem with my own execution? If not, why does it seem like nothing ever gets through until we talk about it? And how do I make a point of discussing what I'm doing and why, without an attitude that she should look at what a great job I'm doing?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

lay aside all earthly cares . . . right!

So, during the most solemn parts of DL this morning, I was wrestling Ian to keep him from climbing into a chair. I'm not sure how I was supposed to focus on the mystical transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ--maybe it's just as well that I don't have to worry right now about being mentally and spiritually prepared when the moment arrives, since I can't take communion anyway. I suppose some are wondering why I wouldn't let him sit in a chair anyway, and is it really worth all that struggle? Honestly, it's not that I object to him sitting in a chair. The problem is, once he gets in a chair, he starts moving the chairs around him. Not only is he not paying attention to the service (which is the least of my worries by that point--what three-year-old can concentrate that long anyway?), but he's disturbing other people in the process. It tends to snowball once he's got in a chair, because inevitably he'll cause a disturbance, and I'll have to retrieve him, and then the fight will be that much worse. Last night, he got so squirmy that I took him out for the last 10 min. or so. I didn't want to repeat that if it could be avoided, especially since it would mean dragging an upset kid through half the people during the most important part of the service. So since he was being relatively quiet (he whispered his protests), I just spent the time proving that I'm still big enough to hold him down (barely).

It's a frustrating business. You don't want to "reward" misbehavior by predictably removing them from the service when they're being disruptive (essentially what they want you to do), but at the same time you don't want to disturb other people. I suppose some would say that I should take him out and give him a good thrashing, so he knows it's better to stay in and behave. It's not that I'm opposed to spanking; I'm in favor of it when it works. The problem with Ian is, it doesn't generally accomplish much. When you ask him if he wants a spanking, he says "yes" and laughs, and the laughter generally continues during and after the spanking. He seems to have high tolerance for pain, and I don't feel particularly comfortable beating on him repeatedly until it finally produces some negative reaction. (Plus, it's very difficult to avoid getting angry in a bad way when he's just laughing at your feeble attempts to evoke some remorse.) So I normally consider spanking an absolute last and not very good resort. I find it much more effective to deny him something that he wants. Normally, when the three of us are together, this denial has something to do with separating him from Mommy. The threat that Mommy won't put him to bed, for instance, is usually enough to stop most problems that arise in the evening. In this case, however, Mommy wasn't around to begin with.

Normally, he's better behaved with me. That's probably still the case here, but it's just such an easy target. He knows better than I do that options for discipline are limited. I don't want to make the service seem like its own punishment, or to disturb others, or to give him what he wants by taking him out without some other consequence. Last night, I tried various idle threats. (Yes, I did invoke spanking--and regretted doing so as soon as the words left my mouth.) I said Mommy wouldn't bring him a present from her trip, as she'd promised. I said he couldn't go to the playground after the service. Eventually, I had to take him out, and the only other thing I could think of was to keep him in the narthex, where we continued to stand facing in the direction of the altar, and I followed along with what I could hear of the rest of the service until it was over. Then, after the service ended, we continued to stand there. He observed that the service was over, but I explained that, even though it was all done in there, what we were doing out here was still going on--and pointed out that if we had stayed in there, we would also be done by now. (I doubt that he got what I was trying to communicate, but it made me feel better anyway.) He didn't care much about missing the playground, but we did stay longer than he wanted to, while I talked to other adults about things that didn't interest him. He smelled the food downstairs and said he was hungry, but I made him wait until we got home to eat a piece of toast (the only option I gave him, but I doubt that he noticed or made the connection).

This morning, as I said, I didn't want to take him out of the service again if it could be avoided. I tried picking a position in front, so he could see more of what was going on. We also weren't terribly close to any other kids his age, which probably helped. Last night it all started with him making faces at a little girl nearby. He did fine through the liturgy of the word. Actually, both last night and this morning, he participated more than usual. I've been talking to him about participating, and he seemed to catch on. He doesn't know most of the words, but he tries to sing along anyway, and he sometimes follows what others are doing in the way of crossing and bowing. He's even started to venerate stuff--icons when we come in, and the cross at the end. (Fr. Gregory's offered it to him before, but this morning was the first time he did anything with it.) Then he wanted to sit in a chair, and it was a fairly continuous struggle from that point on. I restrained him for a while, which wasn't working very well. He's very stubborn when he gets something in his head, and he probably would have kept trying to get in the chair until the end of time.

It finally dawned on me, though, that there was one thing I could do to him--I took his pants. That probably sounds weird--even downright embarrassing--but it's not what you think. He has a pair of pajama bottoms that he's carried around with him for the past couple of years. I guess a normal kid would carry a blanket. We're not so fortunate. You've got to hand it to him for originality, but the bad part is, there's no way we can ever replace the darn things. We don't even know where to find another pair, let alone reproduce the various holes they've acquired over time. His worst trauma right now is on the rare occasions that we wash them--the dryer can never work fast enough. (Speaking of which, they're starting to stink again.) Anyway, I took them away from him and said he could have them back when he was ready to settle down and obey. For a while, he tried to get them back on his own, but eventually he figured out it wasn't going to happen and agreed to behave. A while later, he went for the chair again, and we had to start over. So it doesn't seem to have eliminated the problem, but at least I have some kind of weapon that works.

I guess everyone has to go through this kind of thing. I feel like it's probably worse because he's gone this long without being in services for the most part, but who knows? Someone relayed last night a comparison made by the Khouria regarding this kind of thing. She says DL is like Christmas dinner at Grandma's house. You dress up and use the best china, but the house is full of screaming kids, and it's to be expected. I guess. It's still frustrating. I am glad to see him participating more, though. It also seems like it helped to explain some things to him. I never quite know how much he gets of what I say, but between last night and this morning, I explained to him that it was important for all of us to do things together in church, and that's why I tell him to stand up at certain times, or not to lie down on the floor. I suspect that had something to do with his obviously following what others were doing around him this morning. Not bad for an unregenerate little sinner.