Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 3, 2010

America and Orthodoxy

“America and Orthodoxy” is a touch pretentious as a title, huh? Sure it is. But of course, there’s no right answer to how these two come together… only a question that we seem to see so many certain of what it should amount to. I’ve been paused by this sort of common thread and instead offer something more of a question. I see parallels probably too obvious to the rest of the folks out there to mention. Well, Master of the Obvious that I am… I’ve felt compelled to mention a few. So the effort here is to avoid being definitive. Leave that to the other folks. The thought begun here and it is only a beginning… for these thoughts evolve rather slowly in my graying mind… but the thought is to begin an exploration of what it is we’ve constructed. Frankly, I’m more interested in what others have to say if started on the right foot than I am in what I have to say. But maybe I can help some others restart the discussion. So here’s part of my bit. There’s more than one in mind, but here’s one I think of as…

America: A Land of Converts

Pausing for a moment to think over discussions of Orthodoxy in this land, I wonder that we don’t go about this backwards. Inevitably, we begin many of these discussions with a host of assumptions, the greatest of which seems to be that we share a common understanding of what it means to live in this country as Americans, and that thenceforth we can proceed to discuss our Orthodoxy.  Back that up a bit though, and start with the  overlooked divergent beginning, and perhaps we can sidestep some of the ways folks seem to find for talking past each other. I wonder if instead we began to look at both being American and Orthodox as part of a convergent process, we might instead redirect the conversation more constructively.

Admittedly, it’s a simple thought, but it seems to me that if we thought about being in this nation as much as we seem to think about being in the Church, both cradle and native, convert and immigrant might see some interesting parallels in each other’s experience. My guess is that it should be quite natural for the divergences of our expereinces of America and American life, of Orthodoxy and Orthodox life, of life abroad before coming to these shores, and life in other churches before converting to Orthodoxy – that all these should create a rich field for building a common understanding of an organically American and Orthodox future rather than one which is imposed from a rationalized set of “marketing ideas” or normative thoughts.

I’m just not sure that the American genius for adapting to the realities on the ground is all that much different from the Orthodox genius for adapting to the realities of the prospective Body of the faithful. Instead it seems to me that rigid notions in both cases tend to reflect an inorganic notion of tradition rather than a sense for infusing each new generation with a living encounter of it. There is a balance between adaptation and conservation and I won’t pretend that I can articulate it, but the extent of its conservation is born out by the fact that  its experience of tradition is seen as consistent with Orthodox experience found everywhere and Orthodox lives lived throughout time, and the extent of its adaptation is reflected in the measure of its authenticity as a complete absence of artifice.

While inevitably there is much speculation as to what this will look like, what it ought to look like, what it ought to NOT look like, my sense is that this is simply unproductive. As entertaining as it is to engage in, the tendency in these discussions leans towards narcissism in that each of us sees our own preferred vision rather than the breadth of all that is in the Church, and all that is in Her Body… both good and bad. And of course in our heads, we’d all be perfect or nearly so, or far along The Way rather than at the beginning… which is where I find myself. And the sum of all our discussions of this nature unfortunately seems to result that few preconceived notions are changed, few interchanges result in illumnation, and instead attitudes tend to harden, whole jurisdictions, ethnic groups, converts and cradles are crossed out, and any move toward  genuine engagement with each other put off as unworthy, uncreative of a common vision of more than one particular person, and the shift seems toward dissension and retreat to respective hidden silos. Prayer, if any prayer is involved over a denouement of this character seems to be that at last here that old Cold War standy known as Launch-onWarning might really work.

So I have some other thoughts I’ll offer later… but for now, it seems worth closing without going further.  Here is my warning that we’ll never get launched into American Orthodoxy unless we really work at it. Further, let me suggest that if this is not just my observation, but indeed a broader view, if indeed others feel that we have missed the mark, then maybe a simple suggestion of this sort is enough to measure a step towards recovering a common experience, and towards building a common sense that we need to claim a role in the process by intentional living rather than useless  jawing. I like useless jawing as much as the next guy… but I’m getting too old to take it seriously. Rather, silence would be wonderful until we have had more opportunity to reflect on how we come together as a people in the Body of Christ… even with whomever some of us are certain is unworthy… for surely the truth that it is instead we are not worthy of them. My thoughts… such as they are… relate more to how our twin loves parallel each other. And yet the pages are unfinished.

I’ll have to get back to you as they turn up. “We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast.”


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