Thursday, June 07, 2007

a "wasted trip" and an unexpected discussion

Last weekend Ian and I flew up to Buffalo for a quick visit with Julie's parents. They were selling us their car pretty cheap, which would have been nice as a backup and so I wouldn't have to mooch rides to church. I drove around quite a bit there, and it seemed to run very well; Monday, it did great on the eight-hour drive home. We took it in for an inspection yesterday, and it turned out the bottom was so badly rusted that it would take $2500 to pass. The mechanic didn't advise putting that kind of money into it and urged us not to drive it any more than to get it home, he was so worried the rear brakes would give way at any time. It's all probably a bit exaggerated, since down here they're just not used to seeing as much rust as you get on a car in the north, but all the same, we trust his judgment on the standards involved, so there's no point trying to drive it. Fortunately, they didn't want us to pay them for the car until we knew whether we could use it or not. So we're only out the cost of the trip, the titling, and the inspection. It's still a really good car otherwise; hopefully we can find someone who needs it for parts or something. We're thankful in any case that nothing happened on the way back from NY.

It wasn't a completely wasted trip. Ian got to ride in Opa's boat on Saturday. I annoyed him by singing "Erie Canal," since that's where we were. (He usually doesn't like it when we sing.) Opa likes to go up there, because it's not very crowded; when we were there on a sunny Saturday afternoon, no one else was at the boat launch, and I don't think we saw another watercraft in an hour of tooling around. Some kids were jumping off a bridge into the water, and we stopped to look at a waterfall where a creek of some kind actually flows under the canal. Ian was ready to go by the time we packed up, to head back in time so I could drive back out to Buffalo for a vigil service.

That was the highlight for me. There's not a single Orthodox parish (as far as I can tell) in Genesee County, where Julie's parents live. Buffalo is a bit closer than Rochester, but you still have a 40-minute drive to the closest one. It's a nice little converted something-or-other, with gold onion domes on the outside. The nave is about the same size as at Holy Cross and oriented correctly. The ceiling is rather flat, though, and plain white. I don't recall any icons painted directly onto the walls, but there are a lot hanging, and an extensive collection of relics to the side. It's a ROCOR parish with a solid Russian iconostasis and minimal seating. I didn't take a head-count, but there were maybe 15-20 people there. The priest served alone. There was a three-voice men's choir, with a reader who sounded vaguely like Johnny Cash. I talked with the priest a bit afterward. He and his wife are converts--former Evangelical missionaries. We talked about my experience so far as an explorer and a catechumen, and about the recent reunion between ROCOR and the MP.

I was disappointed that I wouldn't be returning for liturgy on Sunday, but I really wanted to spend the day with my in-laws and figured it would be good to see some old friends from their church (where Julie and I both grew up). Sunday evening, a friend (former youth leader, former boss, now an elder in the church) came over to talk. After we'd told Julie's parents about my interest in Orthodoxy, her dad had asked if he could share about it with this guy. I'd heard a while back that he was planning to call me about it sometime, so I figured it would come up when we got together. It didn't. We talked about just about everything else, but not that. In fact, the whole weekend, aside from asking how the service went after I got back Saturday night, no one talked to me about it at all. Not that I'm particularly dying to talk with them. But people have a habit of talking to Julie about my interest in Orthodoxy, while avoiding bringing it up with me. It's not fair to her, and I really wish they'd come out and say what they're thinking to me.

Last night, our small group from Bethany met for the first time in a few weeks. And it had been even longer since we'd done an actual Bible study together; the previous meeting was in some degree of disarray due to circumstances in people's lives, so we skipped the study. The meeting before that Julie and I had missed while we were on vacation, so for us it had been an especially long time since the last group study. When we went off on vacation, we expected to miss the discussion of John 6, which was part of a rather large section covered in one lesson. In some ways, I was relieved, since I really don't want to come across as trying to convert everyone to my way of thinking. It turned out, though, that questions had come up about the "bread of life" discourse, which the study guide barely touched on. They'd run out of time to discuss it, so decided to delay it until the next meeting. Lucky me.

The study guide brushes aside the whole issue with a one-sentence marginal note, to the effect that eating Christ's flesh and drinking his blood is metaphorical for believing in his death on the cross. (I don't have it in front of me at the moment, but that's the gist as I recall.) The only actual question for discussion simply asks what it means that Jesus is the bread of life. Judging from our discussion, most people in the group at least saw something more going on in the passage. I feel like I was reasonably successful at avoiding argument. I tried to present the Orthodox view and some of the reasons and bases as straightforwardly as possible. For good measure, I explained the spectrum of Protestant views on communion, and highlighted some of the key arguments for the strict memorial view (the standard opinion at Bethany). We have two former Catholics in the group, one of whom commented that having learned as a child that the communion elements were the body and blood of Christ has left her with a high level of respect for the rite; the other one said that since becoming Protestant, he feels like he now takes communion too lightly. Julie shared about her impression of the Episcopal service we visited, where communion was open to anyone and everyone.

Along the way, one of the group members expressed strong reservation about the idea of clergy preventing people from taking communion. It seemed to her too much like the actions of the hypocritical religious leaders in Jesus's day. She didn't see how any human could judge whether another person's heart was in the right place. I pointed out that he'd be in a better position to make that call if we practiced regular confession, but I don't think that really helped :-) At least now we're through the sacrament portions in John. I really don't feel at all qualified to discuss them, since I have no real experience in this area, so it's a relief to put them behind me.

Well, God willing, I'll be back at Holy Cross tonight for the monthly Paraklesis. This Sunday will be our second visit to the Episcopal church, this time to check out their traditional service. I guess that's all the news for now.

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