Thursday, January 11, 2007

everyone else is doing it . . .

In the past few days, two of the Orthodox blogs I read have had something to say about transience. First there was Godmother Laura's musing on her own background, which I discussed a bit with her off-line, since she doesn't normally allow comments. Then, this morning, Fr. Stephen posted about loneliness in our present culture. I started to write a comment but realized it was getting too long for a mere comment, so figured it would be better to post my own thoughts here. I'm sure I've said something similar before, probably multiple times, but since everyone else is doing it, why not . . .

We moved around a lot growing up, and although my wife and I knew each other throughout high school and college, as soon as we got married, we moved away from our home in rural upstate NY, and have lived in the DC area ever since. My in-laws grew up in adjacent towns and have lived for decades in the same house, two blocks away from both sets of grandparents. Here, churches regularly joke about running their own moving companies, since loading a truck seems to be the most often-provided service to each other. There are a lot of military personnel in the area, so they often don't stay more than a few years. Those with Federal civilian careers might put in their time here but get out as soon as possible. Who can blame them? (We'd do the same thing if we had a good opportunity.) It's an expensive area to live, with one of the worst commutes in the country. When you drive 90-120 min. each way to work, you might make friends there, but they probably don't live close enough for outside interaction. (Check a map sometime--how far apart are the co-workers from Annapolis and West Virginia?)

Anyway, I long for rootedness. I read one time about the three major factors that help people put down roots--family, land, and religion. My family is scattered. We spend our life in cars and buses, surrounded mostly by concrete and asphalt. And at some point, I discovered that Evangelicalism fits hand-in-glove with Western transience. It is the spiritual embodiment of our rootless culture. Always keep moving. Never leave anything alone long enough to become a tradition. Re-invent. Re-discover. Scrap the old songs for new ones, the old methods for something more flashy, the old doctrines for the latest book. And if none of that goes your way, just pack up and move on to the next church.

Unfortunately, Orthodoxy is not completely immune to Western transience. Now, instead of driving 20 min. to the Evangelical church, I get to drive 30 min. to the Orthodox one. There may not be 20,000 denominations, but there are several jurisdictions to choose from in America, and a hundred shades of variation between the cultural ghetto and the fully Westernized. And of course, the people can come and go just as they can in other churches. Still, I appreciate the ideal that is there, and the still-glowing cultural memory of a world where church is a fixture of the community, where this parish is your parish, because it happens to be the one in your neighborhood or village, where "catholicity" really means what it should.

It was by no means my only attraction to Orthodoxy, but it was an important one. If I can change nothing else about my situation (although, trust me, I'm working on the other factors too), at least I can find rest from my wandering in the Church. At the same time, there are things I do appreciate about my transient life. I think it's enabled greater cultural sensitivity and understanding. It's given me a chance to appreciate things that I might otherwise have taken for granted or even resented if I'd stayed in one place my whole life. And in a very real way, it seems to have been indispensable for my journey to the Orthodox Church. Where would I be today if we'd settled down in one geographical place, or if I'd been more content with my Evangelical faith? I don't know if I would ever have met an Orthodox person, or come to a place where I was ready to consider Orthodoxy as a valid Christian expression.

As I find myself saying a lot, the last Evangelical thing I need to do is become Orthodox. It's the last step of my wandering, the last decision based on my own best judgment, the last time I solve my problems by moving on to something new. (I'm not trying to discount the many other factors that have come together to bring me to this point, but it's still a personal decision that I'm making--to judge the Church on its merits and accept or reject it based on what I consider to be the most reasonable course, rather than to believe and to do what the Church tells me, because it is the Church.)

But I've added a parallel idea--that the last physical move I will ever need to make is the one that takes me to a place where I can put down roots. Perhaps I can do that here. I don't rule it out. Perhaps I can find a job and an Orthodox parish that are so close together that I can live in one place and walk to both. Perhaps that one place will have affordable housing, so that I can buy a home and not have to move every time someone decides to raise the rent out of my range. Or perhaps (and I feel like this is more likely) I will somehow learn to feel rooted while commuting long hours to work and to church. But more likely still (it seems to me) is that the search for a more stable life will take us out of this area and closer to family. And if God provides what we're looking for, I'll happily move that one last time.


Jim N. said...

I appreciate and share these asperations.

We should also remember something very important as we seek community and rooted-ness, IMO: the inner desert.

I think rootedness starts and ends there, in the desert we cultivate in ourselves for our own salvation. After all, the more we ourselves are sanctified, the more the world around us is sanctified.

Trevor said...

There you go, getting all spiritual on me! But at least it's easy to bring it back to my point--we get to hell on our own, but not to heaven. Yes, there are those extreme ascetics who spend decades physically separated from other members of the Church militant, but even they only survive the struggle because of their connectedness to the Church. It may take less typical forms. (I don't think most of us commune quite as well with the saints as we do with the living, breathing parishoners around us.) But in this too they surpass us.