Orthodox Diary: Who I Am

Texting from the Church, against the sea. Photo by Valdemaras D. on Pexels.com

Orthodox Diary is the work of one person. My faith tradition is Christian, and my faith journey has led me through several variations of Christianity. My parents were married in the Lutheran Church; my father was an ex-Catholic. I was baptized as an infant, but my family was not especially devout until we began attending a Pentecostal church. Like most Evangelicals of their generation, my parents felt that they had turned away from mainline Protestantism for a purer, more authentic form of Christianity. Like many Evangelicals, I grew up believing that we were simply “Christians” while other Christians were…something else. Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, &c., didn’t quite “get it.” Their churches were cluttered by vestiges of the past: superfluous traditions, impersonal worship, fraudulent infant baptisms, and dull liturgies. The most important aspect of Christianity—a personal relationship with Christ—got lost in the shuffle.

I experienced Pentecostalism during a time of intense revival in my church. I saw all the sights and heard all the sounds you might expect from a Pentecostal revival: speaking in tongues, becoming “slain in the spirit,” dancing in the aisles, convulsions, even exorcisms, the works. That level of intensity is hard to keep up, to say the least. Inevitably, like so many of my Evangelical peers, I burned out and fell away from the Church. I had been disillusioned by its obsession with proselytization (often at the expense of tending to the Church herself), its near-exclusive focus on the moment of salvation (often at the expense of helping its members develop mature spiritual lives), its politics (anti-gay and anti-abortion, yes, but also identical in nearly every other respect to the Republican Party’s politics, even on issues like taxation and budget deficits), its coziness with political power (from presidents and senators to city councilmen), and its sheer size (mega).

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

I migrated to smaller, more liberal forms of Evangelicalism. I briefly attended a boutique church where the worship included short, artsy films by the worship pastor and where the sermons made references to Quinten Tarantino movies. I never really connected with that church’s loosely organized, free-form spirituality…in part because I had grown up in a truly chaotic, manically free-form Pentecostal church. Hipster Evangelicals felt tame by comparison.

I spent many years as an unaffiliated liberal Protestant. The doctrines appealed to me, but the churches did not—I never felt at home with what, to me, felt like lifeless worship, static prayers, exotic liturgical practices, and feel-good homilies. Intellectually, I sympathized with the mainline denominations. But religious faith belongs to the entirety of our experience, not just our intellect, and I couldn’t connect emotionally or communally with liberal Protestantism. For a short time, I figured that I must be an atheist. But I never stopped reading and thinking about Christianity.

Eventually, while in graduate school in Massachusetts, I discovered the Religious Society of Friends—the Quakers. This was my spiritual home for nearly a decade, and it was a good one. The Quaker practice of silent worship created a neutral space where I could begin to develop faith. I had found a tradition that combined the best aspects of my Pentecostal upbringing—deep, personal worship and sensitive responsiveness to the Spirit—without all the cultural and political baggage. Indeed, if Quakerism had any baggage at all, it was from the other side of the political spectrum. Sometimes I would grow weary during Quaker Meeting while some elderly hippie Friend would stand and deliver a fiery testimony against the Afghan War. I had long ago developed an aversion to politics in my faith, even my politics. But I also learned from the Quakers how to be patient and tolerant, how to listen to my brothers and sisters in Christ without judgment, how to let go of my personal preferences for prayer and worship and submit to a community.

I never imagined that I would journey beyond the Religious Society of Friends. I had found a community and a practice that suited me. Any complaints I had about the Quakers were petty; in any event, I was learning to set aside the desire for a “perfect fit,” to accept the Church as I found it, to love and tolerate others, to grow within a tradition. I was no longer seeking a different or better path.

I was surprised, then, when in summer 2019 I discovered that my life was becoming populated by dozens of Orthodox voices, friends, and books. I began to think and prayer Orthodox thoughts and prayers. I quietly began to research Orthodox tradition and practice. The more I learned, the more strongly I felt pulled toward Orthodoxy.

This brings me to the present. I am a catechumen, in the early stages of my journey. As I continue to move toward God and the Church, I feel the need to document and share where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. That is the purpose of Orthodox Diary. I’ve already shared some of my story here. I will continue to share specific stories from my journey at this blog, along with posts about faith, spirituality, comparative religion, culture, tradition, and yes, even politics. My audience consists of anyone who is interested in these issues. Given my background, my imagined audience consists of Evangelical Christians and ex-Evangelicals. This group comprises the majority of devout religious believers in the West. Because I come from the American Evangelical Church, I know how easy it is to forget that Christianity isn’t a monolith; that different cultures and nations experience Christianity differently; that worship and prayer can be communal; that Jesus and the Apostles were not twenty-first century libertarians from Peoria; that Christianity existed for two thousand years between the Early Church and today; that these two millennia of traditions and teachings shape every aspect of our faith; that that the Bible wasn’t written by God in the NIV translation.

If what I’ve described resonates with you, I hope you will find something edifying in this blog. I should note that one of the lessons God is teaching me right now is how to be an amateur (as opposed to an expert, a status I’ve spent too long pursuing). The word amateur comes to English from the Romance languages and means “lover of.” God is teaching me how to love. I am taking pleasure in being a layperson, in becoming someone who doesn’t have all the answers, who isn’t expected to speak as an authority. That’s the ethos of this blog. I am not a priest or a theologian. I do not speak with authority. I try to speak with love and curiosity.

This is who I am, and this is what Orthodox Diary is about. Welcome.

One comment

  1. Thank you. My name is Matthew Allison. I was your student in the seminar, The Novel, a number of years ago. I thank my luck and my god to have found your Orthodox Diary at this point in my life. I lived in The Bay, near Oakland, CA, before returning, Odyssean-style, to my beloved Dakotas and the second chance at something solid. I am on a similar path, as a catachuman, as you have described.

    Liked by 1 person

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