Reblog: The Adoration of the Konvertsky

From Second Terrace’s The Adoration of the Konvertsky:

I will deal more ethically with the reflexive irony. How go the konvertsky — that famous (or infamous) influx of unlikely American Anglicans and distraught establishment Protestants, and even more unlikely mishmash of “free church” Evangelicals and Charismatics — that immigrated into that patently odd jurisdictional ambiguity of the American Orthodox Church?

I hope that the majority of those who have left their own heterodox “Ur” and entered the Orthodox nave of Canaan have stayed. I hope that they and their families have continued along the eternal path of becoming, and have tasted the first fruits of theosis. I hope they have learned of the Church’s tradition and “theoria,” and have become wise in responding to the foolhardiness of this contemporaneity. I hope they have become adept at fighting the passions, and fending off the feints and wiles of the loathsome powers.

…There are, as you might expect, anecdotes, as far as data is concerned. I am aware of several narratives of ex-protestants who tell stories of disillusionment after five to ten years in Orthodoxy. The first apprehensions of beauty have worn off, and the frustration of relationships and disappointments have set in.

Other, more extreme, narratives include the exposure to egregious ecclesiastical misbehaviors. Some converts have seen Bad Things — and some of these converts have had Bad Things done to them. Some of them have seen persons in the Church not only ape the patterns of the world (“world” in its negative, not John 3.16, sense) — but have seen churchmen actually surpass the world in worldly behavior. Some converts have seen the Church replicate the marketplace DNA, having given religious preference to the term “entrepreneur” and have adopted the management-by-objective procedure and newspeak of corporate America.

…You take Communion differently now, and Chrismation is a one-way seal. You never experienced those things before — but the other part of deification is a providentially-ordered sequence of burden-bearing and grace-sharing. The disappointments from other people are such that God has elected you to bear that particular burden, and to bear His Grace to those particular people.

Yes, they hurt your feelings, but in our hurt feelings is His strength made manifest, and through our hurt feelings do we find the sufficiency of His Grace.

The entire blog post is here; it goes into the various kinds of converts–from the former Evangelicals and fundies, such as me, to former mainline Protestants–and various reasons why we can get disenchanted with Orthodoxy.  It includes the political right-wingers and left-wingers.  It goes into reasons why we should stay put and work on our own judgmentalism (wherever we fit on the spectrum of converts).

 

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7 Years of Orthodoxy; struggles in continuing; should I stay Orthodox?

I just realized it’s been 7 years already since I started attending the local Orthodox church and began the process of conversion.  Wasn’t it just last year?  My story is here.  Sadly, Richard is the guy who led me to Orthodoxy in the first place, as described in my story.

I sometimes wonder if I would’ve stayed Presbyterian if not for him; most likely.  I had only just discovered that it was okay in the PCUSA to believe in universalism, and there was much freedom of thought in other matters as well.  But I wanted to find out what the ancient Church believed about everything, because the different doctrines in Christendom were so confusing.

I’ve been going through a crisis of faith for some time, as described here, here and here.  I’ve also heard on Orthodox forums (often populated with converts) of falling away after about five years, when the convertitis wears off and you start to lose your fervor.

It took me a whole summer of research to decide to try out the Orthodox church, and another two years in the process of converting, before finally joining.  And I kept always reading, reading, reading, to find out if Orthodoxy was correct.  I have an entire box full of Internet printouts.

So this was not taken at all lightly, or done quickly.  I’ve also experienced so much richness: in the liturgy, the fasts, the Lenten and Holy Week services, the theology, the spirituality, even the Greek Fests which have nothing to do with Orthodoxy.

Maybe the doldrums are simply because of my conversion’s connection to Richard, and the doubt of God’s existence that came out of that.

Maybe it’s the same disillusionment that led me out of evangelicalism to Presbyterianism: the people who make it seem like you can’t truly be Christian unless you’re a Republican, believe gay marriage is an abomination, and put so many limitations on who can do what in the church.

I hated the legalism of so many fundamentalist Protestant churches: head coverings, no long hair on the men, no pants or short hair on the women, no rock music–But in Orthodoxy (not my own church, but many others) are people who insist on head coverings, beards on the men, women not reading the Epistle, getting rid of organs/pews/ecumenism because they’re “Western innovations.”

I did NOT become Orthodox to become more fundamentalist.  I LIKED women preachers.  But I did not like the milquetoast worship that evangelicalism had turned to, or the doctrine that all non-Christians are destined for Hell even if they have good reasons for not converting.

But after becoming Orthodox, I lost my taste for all the other churches.  There is a richness of theology and practice here which has been lost elsewhere.  Sure I sometimes miss listening to a long sermon by a skilled preacher.  But the focus of the homilies, at least at my church, is not on the preacher’s diction, skits, or bullet points; the focus is on the teachings of the church and living out Christianity in the world.

Also, I must remember that when I first “met” Richard online, he was himself a new convert of only a year or two.  When he and I were able to finally meet in person, we both were new converts, and in the midst of convertitis.

I tried not to go to the extreme of, “Nothing in this parish is Orthodox enough, get rid of the pews and organ and change everything back to ‘tradition,’ I’ll wear a headcovering to church and a peasant dress, and I’ll do a full fast even if nobody else does!”

But other signs were there, such as disdain for any theology that isn’t “Orthodox” enough, or any Christian book not written by an Orthodox.  (Not that I feel like going back and changing anything in my theology pages or old Left Behind reviews at this point.)

And Richard kept complaining that my church was not Orthodox enough, and disdaining other theologies.  Two recent converts feeding each other’s convertitis.

Part of my convertitis was moving away from the path I was already on: becoming more liberal.

I had always been a feminist, but with very conservative views on abortion, homosexuality, housewives.  Over the years before converting, I began to move toward more liberal views on homosexuality, and away from the idea that the best way to raise a family was as a housewife.

I now believed that women should have the choice of working mom or housewife without getting grief for it, that it’s about what’s best for your family.  I was in favor of birth control, and believed that some married couples should not be parents.

In the Presbyterian church, I examined studies on homosexuality and the Scripture, and more liberal views of abortion.  But Internet Orthodoxy led me off that track, into a strict view against homosexuality, against legal abortion, against birth control, even against being a working mom.

I don’t remember what exactly shook me out of that and got me back on the liberal-track.  But I do know that it was a combination of Richard’s charisma and Internet ‘doxy that got me off track, neither one claiming full responsibility; the part against working mothers did not come from him.

Internet ‘doxy is full of Pharisaic zeal against things that, when you go into an actual church, especially Greek, nobody seems to care about.

I feel that Orthodoxy is wrong about homosexuality, but even if it’s right, it is NOT Orthodox to condemn homosexuals, condemn women/girls (single, or young, or dirt-poor) who feel their only option is abortion, or prevent others from living their own consciences and religions (NOT ours).

How about working to make abortions unnecessary, because if you make them illegal, desperate girls/women will still take some dangerous herb, use a coat-hanger, or get butchered in some back-room abortion.

I don’t see how this makes me “unOrthodox,” or how it’s “unOrthodox” to vote Democrat to try to make a better life for the poor, weak and downtrodden.

Richard told me he hates Democrats, and had some extremely harsh things to say about Democrats and their policies.  But I became a Democrat partially BECAUSE of the things I saw him going through as a dirt-poor person.  The same feeling which led me to take him in and help him in his poverty, is what led me to become Democrat.

But as written in On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian:

We come to the Church and we remain in the Church in order to save our souls, and nothing else. Church is not a hobby, a game, a private interest, a pretence, or even a community. It is our soul’s salvation.

We achieve this by first being ourselves and then being the best of ourselves. If there is anything else, it is all secondary. We must never lose this perspective. If we do, then we are out of perspective and on our way out of the Church.

But this part certainly got lost on the way, both with me and with Richard/Tracy:

In order to save our souls, we first have to know ourselves, searching out and discovering our own faults, sins and failings. Then we have to take issue with them and fight, however slowly and weakly, and begin to tame them and never give up this battle. We will know when we are not doing this, it is when we start dwelling on the faults of others.

If our personal pride is hurt in the course of Church life, thank God. That is what we are there for, to become humble.

This does become tricky when people are abused or molested, of course.  It doesn’t help an abuse or rape victim to be told, Stop dwelling on what they did and look at your own sins!

But once you have processed what happened, told about it, and hopefully had some sort of justice, you can begin to focus on your own sins, without justifying what the other person did to you.

To avoid becoming personality disordered, or being constantly angry with others, we need to deal with our anger against the person who actually caused it, not push it down and then take it out on others.

We also are told, right there in the Bible, to watch out for and keep away from wolves in the church.  There are whole passages describing how to tell who is not truly Christian, so you can separate from them.

So some judgment of others is not only allowed, but expected, so you can protect yourself from being poisoned by toxic “Christians.”  It’s not about how you dress, but if you abuse, use and manipulate others.  This does need to be remembered when we are told not to focus on how a fellow church member abused us.

I keep my stories up to vent them out of my heart, and to help others who are still in the healing process after narcissistic abuse.  But if Richard/Tracy ever did repent, I would do some serious cutting.

Most people, however, aren’t dealing with abusers, but with normal faults and flaws among church members.  Getting upset because that lady keeps running off whenever work is to be done, is not the same thing as being molested by a youth leader.

Threatening lawsuits for anything less than getting physically attacked or molested–this should be out of line.  And it is, really; the Bible says this as well.

This website offers a different perspective on converts in the church:

On one level, many Orthodox converts are fleeing megachurch Christianity. They are coming because they want something on Sunday morning besides a rock band and a giant plasma TV screen.

Converts are also fleeing from mainline Protestantism, which is in the midst of a three-decade statistical nosedive and demographic suicide.

At the same time, I believe that most of these converts are coming out of that core 20 percent of their former churches. They are active, highly motivated people. They read, they think, they sing, and they serve. That hunger for more, that hunger for sound doctrine, is sending them to Orthodoxy.

These Orthodox converts are seeking mystery. They want a non-fundamentalist approach to the faith, but they are not fleeing the faith of the ages. They are trying to get back to the trunk of the tree. All around them are churches that are either modern, postmodern, post-postmodern or post-post-postmodern.

It makes the case that churches do need to become more traditional if they want more converts, and to keep their young people.  These two websites demonstrate the two different strains working against each other: one says change back, the other one says accept the church as it is.

But this is why I became Orthodox:

There is only one criterion for entering the Orthodox Church and that is because you are convinced that it is for your personal salvation, for your spiritual survival, because it is God’s Will for you, because you know that this is your spiritual home and that, whatever the cost, you can never be anything else. —On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian

 

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Trying to Explain the Wreck of My Faith to a Worried Husband

There is one very frustrating thing which made me glad, in the “old days,” to have Richard to talk to: Richard understood spiritual searching and questioning, while my husband seems to see every question or exploration I make into theological issues, as the sign of the End of My Faith.

For example, the questions I had about such things as Hell, who goes there, is it eternal, all led me to Orthodoxy–but along the way, he seemed to think my questions would lead me to atheism.

I held certain theological positions based on my Nazarene upbringing, which got him asking how any Christian could believe that way.

Those positions, by the way, also led me to Orthodoxy, because the search I started to show him I was not a heretic, led me to discover that many of the things my dad had taught me, were very similar to Orthodox beliefs.  (This is all related to the Harrowing of Hell and the meaning of Old Testament sacrifices, could Old Testament pagans be saved, that sort of thing.)

Ever since at least as far back as 2005, I’ve had occasional doubts that the supernatural and God even exist.  We have all sorts of evidence, yes, but where is the proof that cannot be explained away as hallucination, brain malfunction, lack of sleep/food, or other natural causes?

Then I found “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros, and that doubt vanished for quite some time, as I finally found the pearl of great price, the evidence that God was not a stern judge, and that Hell was not filled to the brim with good people who happened to be Buddhists or Muslims instead of Christians.

No, I can’t call a sweet, pious, loving Muslim woman, truly evil and depraved just because she happens to believe in Mohammed instead of Christ.

In Orthodoxy, I found prayers being answered as I prayed during Divine Liturgies and asked for the prayers of the Theotokos and saints alongside my own.

The doubts did resurface at times; I remember asking Richard about these questions during this time.

But friends I’d made over the years had drifted away, as they tend to when you change churches, or change jobs.

In one situation, I kept inviting to parties a friend with whom my other friends had problems.  My main group of college friends and I were still close via e-mail, but we were scattered around the state, too far to see each other often.

My husband and I would try to make new friends, but it just wouldn’t work out.  He no longer did stuff in the SCA, because he kept having arguments with people, and our son was a toddler, making it more difficult to do much in the SCA.

As for another group of friends, he had a falling-out with one, the husband stopped coming to the gaming group as well, and the other couple had work schedules which did not work with ours.

So I was desperately lonely.  I was starting to get to know people at my new church, but I’m shy and introverted, so it is always a struggle, and I was alone because my husband did not want to be Orthodox.

During Divine Liturgy one day, I prayed for a friend.  It was in my head, not something that Satan could detect, because he can’t read minds the way God can.  So it seemed a safe prayer that only God could answer.

A few months later, God seemed to provide this friend, as Richard moved his whole family to my city.

Richard and I had been friends for a couple of years, meeting on an Internet forum and also talking on the phone, so that I trusted him, believed in him, thought we had connected on a spiritual level.

He was my spiritual mentor, the one who led me to Orthodoxy and helped me every step of the way with my questions, who explained various parts of the faith to me.  He was the one to whom I spilled all the private details when my dad left my mom for a short time.  I didn’t even tell my college friends what I told him.

And now he was moving to my city.  A friend again at last!  An answer to prayer!  And for quite some time, it seemed that God had predestined us to be friends, that we were meant to help each other, bless each other.

…Which is why my faith has been so sorely devastated since Richard turned his back on me and betrayed me just two and a half years later.

More and more evidence keeps coming out that Richard was not at all what he claimed to be.  That he hasn’t reformed from his young and wild “evil” days as much as he claimed.

That he was keeping things from me,  deceiving me.

That he would convince me his liberties were all platonic, but I would be treated otherwise for believing and trusting him.

That he was a violent person, not just past violence which he claimed to be defeating with the tools of Orthodoxy, but was still violent and dangerous.

That he complained that his wife abused him and the children, when he himself turned out to be an abuser, beating one child mercilessly when she was little, then choking her to unconsciousness when she was 9.

That he was using me for my generosity.

He threatened my husband.  He turned on me.  He threatened me and has been stalking me online for months, when he knew very well I wanted him to go away and leave me in peace.

His cruelty has been unbelievable.  I never would have expected this from him.

How could God answer my prayer with a curse?  If, indeed, there is a God?  I suppose a deep question which I barely dare to admit even to myself is, not just how could Richard betray me, but How could God betray me?

This wasn’t the only thing that brought it back up, however.  On June 9, 2009, I watched the movie The Seventh Seal; it explored the same feelings I had about death, that we can’t really be sure what will happen, that we are afraid of the void, of going into emptiness.

I e-mailed Richard about this, since I could safely talk to him about these fears.  I know from this e-mail that those feelings had been stirring again in me already in 2009.

But the true test of faith did not come until Richard’s betrayal more than a year later.  Then everything just fell apart.  Then I no longer knew what to believe.  The first time I wrote about this was Fighting the Darkness.

My husband and I have discussed this before.  I try to put his mind at ease, try to explain that in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, this is called the Long Dark Night of the Soul.  I try to explain that saints have gone through this, that Mother Theresa suffered from it for 50 years, that it’s actually considered a mark of mature faith to go through this and yet keep at the faith rather than just chucking it all and becoming an atheist.

But he keeps bringing it up again and again.  He just doesn’t understand the constant questioning of an intellectual, that not only can I not help the constant questioning and analyzing my brain does of everything, but that I don’t want to.

If I were to lose all these constant questions and thoughts and the drive to research, I would lose what makes me creative, what makes me comfortable with my own company, what leads me to write and draw and lose myself listening to music.  I would feel lonely without my thoughts.

But he thinks I over-think.  He thinks I should be like him and just ask a question for a few minutes, resolve it and not think about it anymore.

But I don’t want to be like that.  It seems that if I became that way, I would lose my drive for life.  What would keep me going if not those endless questions and searches which keep me looking for answers?  Just day-to-day drudgery of housework, exercise and getting my son to school?

Yesterday, my husband became very concerned yet again, wondering how I could be so comfortable with questions and doubts in my head that never go away completely.  But this is what I live with.

Without those questions, I still would be a fundamentalist Nazarene who believes that dancing, alcohol, and going to movies is sinful, who believes that Catholics are not Christians and doomed to Hell, and various other beliefs which I have long since examined, found wanting, and replaced with Orthodoxy.

It’s kind of funny that he talks as if I have any sort of control over this.  I don’t.  God made me with a brain that always questions and thinks and reads and contemplates.  Even in elementary school, teachers noted it.

And these thoughts have been with me since at least 2005, have been with mankind forever.  I also see them in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a work which my fellow Orthodox converts online love to talk about.

He wonders how I can just accept this if it leads to losing my faith?  But I can’t be scolded or argued into reassurance or an ending of questions.  That would just be denial.

It’s not my choice–It just is!  I can no more stop the questions than you can stop the tide from coming in.

And no, it has not led to loss of faith or atheism.  It has, rather, led to a period of spiritual blackness, where I hold onto the Church, hoping to one day be led back into the light of certainty, hoping that there really is an afterlife and I won’t just blip out of existence after death.

I don’t want to end.  I want to see what comes next.  I want to go to Heaven and find that Richard wants to make peace with me there.  I want to see if mankind ever goes past the moon.

I want to know the truth about religion, rather than just dying and knowing nothing, not even that religion is false–because if religion is false and there is nothing beyond the grave, none of us will ever know the truth, because when we find it, we’ll be dead.

And the simple fact of the matter is: If in any way Hubby can explain to me how God can answer my desperate prayer for friendship with a curse, giving me a couple of narcissistic sociopaths who destroyed my faith in humanity and God, and still exist, still be a loving God–then sure, I can stop doubting….

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