Entries with tag practice .

Being a Lenten Apprentice

Great Lent is often called a time to return to basics because we focus on central dimensions of our Christian faith: we read from Scripture to remind us of the need for a Savior; we become more focused on matters of prayer and worship; we increase our philanthropic and charitable efforts; and, of course, we follow the ascetic discipline of fasting from certain foods.

In some ways, we return to being novice Christians, doing things we were taught years ago. To borrow a concept, we become apprentices once again. According to the dictionary, an apprentice is someone who is “learning by practical experience from more skilled workers.” Parish life could and perhaps should be thought of as an “apprenticeship program” in Christian life.

We learn how to be an Orthodox Christian by participating in the life of the Church with more experienced teachers. The experienced share what they have learned with new generations of participants. The wisdom of experienced people is really important. They have internalized the wisdom of the community through their practice of the Faith. This is best shared in face-to-face encounters.

Who are the “more experienced” in our parishes?  First, of course, are the clergy. They have been educated in the Faith at a fairly high level and should be considered the chief teacher of the Faith in a parish (of course the bishop is the chief teacher in the Church). Second, there are the adults in the community who have years of experience living as Orthodox Christians. Don’t underestimate the influence of grandparents and senior citizens. Studies have repeatedly shown that grandparents have enormous influence on the religious lives of the young. Third, there are the teachers and youth advisors. They are a specialized group because of their focus on intentional instruction, class work, discussions, and activity.

Who are the apprentices? First, the young. They are learning and need a great deal of guidance. Second, there are the new to the Faith. They may have read about Orthodox Christianity in a book, but are now trying to apply what they’ve read to their lives. Finally, all of us are apprentices to one degree or another. We are continually learning. We are always disciples – students -- of Christ and the way of life He invites His followers to observe.

 

How we do this?

Work together, alongside one another. We don’t just bring prosforo to church; we can bake it together. It’s learning by doing.

Advice and guidance. There’s a great deal that is learned “on the job,” especially what’s unwritten or can’t be explained easily. Apprentices are often observed performing their jobs by more experienced teachers, and if possible, being corrected or reminded of things along the way. To continue with the prosforo baking example, someone probably has to show us when the dough has been kneaded adequately. That part of the process can’t be found in a book.

Small jobs, in time, become large jobs. Being a GOYA officer can lead to Parish Council membership. Serving on a committee leads to chairing the committee. Small liturgical roles can become larger ones in time. In this approach, the lived work of the Church is handed on to newer generations, little by little.

Classes are useful. Apprentices often take classes, to learn the theory about their job and to deepen their knowledge of an area. It’s often in preparation for performing a new task. Let’s not underestimate the power of teaching groups. Jesus often His disciples, privately, apart from the crowds. He explained his teachings to them.

Great Lent offers opportunities to place all of these qualities into practice in our parishes, teaching one another, but especially the young and new to the Faith, the way of Christian living.

 

Loving Unseemly Characters - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I’ve long been a fan of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting for Guffman are some of the funniest movies I have ever seen. For fans of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family, Guest’s movies are probably right up your alley. The other day, I revisited his 2000 release, Best in Show, and I was amazed that I had forgotten just how enjoyable it was.

Guest and his crew tell the stories of a handful of participants in the Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia. The characters are very colorful and extremely eccentric. They are so zany and so full of strange quirks, it would be easy to look down on these characters or to treat them as fodder for mockery. But that’s not what Guest and his cast do.

In each of Guest’s movies, he presents a unique set of persons, but he never does so in a way that tears down the characters, but rather, his cast tells the stories of these persons with great compassion. Today, that’s what I’m interested in.

I acted from the time I was a kid all the way through college. Being in plays was always fun, but more than being an enjoyable hobby for me, it was deeply formative on the way I understand relationships with people.

During one play, I was given a role that I hated. It wasn’t like the character was a bad person or anything like that; he was just boring. There didn’t seem to be too much to him. He seemed flat and uninteresting, and I couldn’t wait for the play to be done. After one rehearsal, my director asked me to stick around because he had something to say to me. As everyone was filtering out of the theater, he put his arm around my shoulder and simply said, “You know...You can’t really love him if you’re too busy judging him.”

And I was. I was judging him. I was judging him for being boring.

Guest and his cast are confronted by the stories of people that would be easy to dismiss as bizarre, as somehow over the top. The ensemble could easily tell these stories as slapstick, as caricatures. But they don’t. They listen to the stories of their characters, and they present them tenderly, gently, and with great love.

Art – television, film, music – is great because it allows us a safe space to “try on” different behaviors. It allows us to practice embracing the mysterious. It allows us to practice facing death. And it even allows us to practice loving people we might find to be otherwise bizarre, people with whom we might not readily associate or find “lovable.”

In the last episode of The Trench, I asked a question: what kind of mother has the Church been? And today, I’m wondering something similar.

Have we been a community that makes real room for people, in all their weirdness? Are we a community that tenderly handles persons that we might consider otherwise undesirable?

I think there is a great lesson we as a spiritual community could learn from actors: We can’t really love people, if we’re too busy judging them.

When actors play a role, their work is to tell a story with integrity, to advocate for their character fully and without irony. It is an act of love, and because an actor is that character’s only chance of having her story told truthfully, it is an act that demands the most sincere of attention.

What if we were more like this all the time? What if when people told us their stories, we really attended to them? What if we really listened to others with kind and open ears, rather than with ears that already think they know what the other will say?

I understand how difficult this is. I’ve been surrounded by my fair share of dullards. But we must remember: even the dullard is the icon of Christ.

This is why C.S. Lewis writes, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may be one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare" (Weight of Glory, 45).

We are all possible splendors, and we are all possible nightmares. But if we are going to walk toward the Light of Christ, we have to do it together, and we have to do it in love, and we can’t love each other, if we’re too busy judging each other.

Photo Credit: 

Boys: Depositphotos

Girls: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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