Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Past, Present, Future

You'd never guess it, but in reality I'm somewhat of a closet recluse. I don't like crowds of people, parties, new places, new faces, big gatherings, large tables with lots of people sitting at them, conferences, meetings and events. But I have the gift of gab from my Dad and from an early age people told me I'm good at being in front of an audience, (though I wouldn't go out of my way to try to get there), and when I became a protestant Christian at age 17, I discovered I had the gift of teaching. So, to not "bury my talent", I do it if asked. I admit once I'm there I can and do have some fun, so its not torture, but it is exhausting.

This year marks 40 years of being pretty "public" as a Christian in various situations, roles and ministries (even though 37 of them have been as a layman), and 50 years of serious pursuit of God and concious desire to serve Him. I hadn't really thought of it until I wrote this sentence, but 40 (or 50) years is well... a lot of wandering around in front of a lot of people.

My recent trip to St. John's Monastery gave me a lot of time to reflect. Actually, I always have time to reflect, it was just a different landscape and routine which sometimes we need to jolt us out of our familiar ways of doing things that connect to familiar ways of thinking of things which connect to familiar ways of seeing things which connects to continuing to do the familiar things in a familiar way. The series of podcasts I did seemed to take on a life of their own as an extended rumination about life and death. It's not the first time I've thought about death. Death has been a constant underlying stream in my conciousness since I can remember, but it just seemed to bubble to the surface. I've known I'm mortal for a long time, so its not that kind of awakening. I know I'm much closer to my death than I am to my birth at this point in my life.

One of the questions "discussion starters" like to ask is, "What would you change about your life if you knew you only had a year left to live?" (or some variation). In my mind the shallow answers have always been the self indulgent ones: take a cruise, sky dive, have an affair with a bimbo (or gigolo), or even go to Africa and dig wells in the Sahara for the poor. That too is a self indulgent fantasy. The unfulfilled dream, the unrealized false image of my magnanimous self, the egoistic self created image of myself I never had the time or motivation or will to do anything about because deep down we know we're lying to ourselves, its not real. The problem with discussion starters is our answers are still a fantasy and still tied to our current delusions about our selves. But that's another whole discussion...

Anyway, for about 49 years I thought I was supposed to be a priest. It started in first grade at St. William's where I went to a Catholic Parochial elementary school and served Mass as an altar boy every morning with Fr. Wiley for three years. The desire continued through my detours through protestantism, Episcopalianism and into Orthodoxy (though I have the canonical impediment of a divorce prior to Orthodoxy that can be pastorally overlooked if a Bishop decides to do so.) I became Orthodox with little hope of being ordained or ever getting to teach in any public setting due to the clerical nature of the Church. But, without me pursuing it but mysteriously being in the right places and meeting the right people, I've been able to have a lay teaching ministry beyond any wild fantasy I could have ever conjured up even as a Protestant teacher. I know it is a blessing from God.

Because of my wanderings and meeting so many people, over the ten years I've been Orthodox, I've been put before five bishops by laymen, priests, bishops, abbotts and abbesses for ordination, and denied by all for various reasons (not all related specifically to anything about me or my divorce). I saw a pattern developing... I've been told which Bishops in which jurisdictions ordain divorced men, I've been told to move to Greece and spend "x" months at "x" monastery and "x" elder would see that I got ordained...yada yada yada. But I won't play that game.

The last couple years I've been more and more convicted (that's a good protestant term), that I in fact would make a lousy priest and my desire for the priesthood has been a lifelong delusion reinforced by the unwitting affirmation of my public "spiritual persona" by even some very holy (and sometimes goofy) people over the years.

Recently, an old friend I've known for about 25 years who journeyed into Orthodoxy with me, graduated from seminary, moved back here and got a position with a large parish in town. He read me his "job description". I listened, and when he finished, I told him I have no desire to do any of that stuff. Finally, the coffin of "full time ministry" and ordination to the priesthood was nailed shut,(or so I think...I know better than to predict the future.) The realization that I have actually been doing for forty years what I really love and have a gift for truly sank in.

But that isn't the point.

I had dinner with my wife a two weeks ago and told her I've been feeling like I need to disappear. Or in another sense, to re-appear. I need to disappear from the internet and reappear to my family, my aging parents, my kids, and yes, my wife and even my dog. The last couple times I visited my parents (who live about 90 minutes from my house) my Dad has said, "Come up some time and let's go fishing." He's had 3 bypass operations. He's 80. I haven't been fishing with him in over 30 years, because my weekends and down times in construction have always been spent in church activities. I've thought lately, some night I'll be producing a podcast and I'll get a call from my mom... My wife said, yes, that is the good.

The evening we had that discussion over a Chinese dinner, I came home to a couple of emails from podcast listeners..."Your podcasts have helped me so much" etc. The following week I got more "fan" email than I get in a month. Even though I know Orthodoxy on the internet will go on just fine without me adding anything more to it, and my websites and podcasts will still be available, and I will still answer email, I began to waver.

My wife is at St. John's Monastery for their feast day. I stayed home because I had work scheduled and I can't afford to miss a day of work now. I emailed her and told her I was reconsidering. She wrote back tonight (in part):

"Here is my honest reaction: You have such a powerful influence on us all. I don't know if you realize how important you are to your family. You've spent a long time helping the world, and it's been good. I think it would be nothing but positive for you to focus on your Dad and Mom while they're still here...and for you to get a little rest , write a book if you want, and just "be", even if it's just for a few years. Really, that's my heart on the subject. It's not like you've squandered the gifts that you've been given, my Precious. We've all shared you with the world for a long time."

I've always told new converts who are looking for a "clairvoyant elder" to tell them their sins to just ask their wife or family to be honest with them. I think I've been told, and by my saintly wife who has never complained about my ministerial wanderings (one might note that she never mentioned "more time with her" in her response).

So, I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks. Things to wrap up and close down and leave to others. I need to do some internet things in order to make them self perpetuating (the OLiC website will be redesigned to be more user friendly for new people, but no new content added in the forseeable future). With one click, the delete button will take care of all the bookmarks and links to everything I spend hours a week checking in on. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be fishing with my dad and sitting on the back porch holding my wife's hand watching the sunset and maybe even praying a little bit more instead of producing podcasts in the basement catacomb studio, reading, studying, moderating discussion lists and commenting on blogs etc.

That said, I'll stick around until I get all this in place and then probably do a final podcast about this decision before I close it all down. I will probably keep my blog since it is the only way my kids and friends know what is going on in my life (I won't do Facebook).

Pray for me. This is a hard decision.

20 comments:

Larry said...

Steve,

Do it. It's absolutely the right decision. Part of my journey to Orthodoxy was your podcast, and the Orthodox Study Bible you sent me is now nicely dog-eared and well-thumbed, but we're not on the planet forever, and at some point we all have to take responsibility for our own path. Guides only get us so far, you know?

Like you, I've always been aware of death. Probably something to do with losing my own father at age nine. I learned the hard way that people disappear suddenly and without warning, and I'd hate to think of that happening to you because you were focused on your outreach work. Your wife is right (as our wives usually are)--focus on your mom and dad. You can always come back later, but for now, you've got some living to do.

So vaya con Dios, Amigo. You've earned a break. And if you want to drop by my page occasionally, feel free. I won't tell, and I always enjoy your comments. :-)

Cheers,
Larry

elizabeth said...

Yes. It is okay. Prayers.

Trevor-Peter said...

By all means! I think about it every day, but then I always stop and ask, How would I keep up on the corruption in my archdiocese? ;-)

Seriously, OLIC was a great resource for me in my journey to Orthodoxy, but you've already laid a solid foundation for that purpose. I would love to hear more of you and Bill, but we all have to move on--I think that goes as much for the listeners as for the hosts. (And I'm pretty sure you won't take offense at that.) And after all, this is Orthodoxy--it's not like the content of the show can go out of date :-)

Cameron said...

God bless you, Steve. You have my prayers.

James the Thickheaded said...

Steve:

I think the post you did when you sat at the bedside of your employee.. suggests that your writing and all the rest may be no more than a gift leading into your real vocation... and now you're ready. Thanks so much for all you've done... OLIC, Steve the Builder, Pithless Thoughts, all the blog comments... the whole Nine Yards. You've helped us all. Go with God!

orrologion said...

Your wife-abbess has spoken. Obedience is life. It is the right choice.

God knows where to find you when and if he needs you for a purpose beyond that of a good Orthodox Christian man, husband, father, son and employee.

Holding my infant son before the icons and praying evening prayers with him before he goes to bed has made me realize how priestly the regular life of an Orthodox Christian is. We offer sacrifices other than bread and wine, we offer our bodies that have been united to Christ's Body and Blood - we offer the Eucharist in that fasion. The commitment to morning and evening prayers, the commitment to keeping the fasts quietly and unobtrusively, the commitment to practicing the Beatitudes, not judging, completing our obediences without grumbling, being thankful for everything, etc. These are priestly actions, in Orthodoxy. In fact, we Orthodox stand in the place of the OT priest in the Temple. We are priests. Some are called to the degrees of high priesthood in the Altar.

For my part, I like to paraphrase Grouch Marx: 'I wouldn't be a member of any Church that would ordain me.' If I am ever ordained it will be because they caught me running the other way, bound me and forced ordination upon me. That, or my own abbess-wife will give me the word (and she's not Orthodox).

The Lord will bless you.

Jason said...

Steve,

While I will miss your voice and influence, I'm thrilled about your decision. It is so God-honoring. The image of you and your dad fishing together brought tears to my eyes. So few men have such a relationship with their dad. Enjoy the time you have with him, your mom, and your wife and kids.

And thank you for all you have sacrifice to give to us.

Jason Z.

Lynny said...

Hello Steve,
Well I ran into your post from another blog and I found this post just so delightful. I keep having this thought pass through my mind,
"You want to make God laugh?, plan your future". God bless you and your family. Oh and I loved the statement that your wife never asked you to spend more time with her. lol.
Linda

Philippa said...

S-P, I remember well the post you wrote when your FIL reposed. It is time to care for your Dad with the same Grace you cared for your FIL.

By your prayers brother.

Sophocles said...

Steve,

Man. Reading this confirms our sentiment towards one another we exchanged in private e-mail. We truly are on the same page in so many ways. My heart aches for your decision, not in a bad way, but in a bittersweet way when we realize the letting go of it all is where the journey with our Lord takes us and that the journey itself provides the impetus, pressure and intuition to go in that way which we must.

It is "deep calling onto deep".

Go, dear brother, in peace, knowing that you will be missed but that your memory, may it be eternal!

However, just like you I'm fearful and shy in so many ways and meeting new people for me can be disconcerting. But, we still have to meet,especially as I like to travel to St. Anthony's fairly frequently. We need to see each other eye to eye and give one another an embrace.

Yours in Christ,

Sophocles

yudikris said...

And too, my prayer be with you! :)

TechEduk8r said...

DO IT.
I live technology for my job (both of them). Therefore, I'm basically "plugged in" 24-7

I have 4 weeks off in July, and, other than my spiritual readings in the morning, have made a concious effort to shut off email, facebook, all of the garbage during these weeks.

My husband is chronically ill, my parents are only here for 1 week out of 52 (and my dad is 72 and had a heart attack- I know what you feel).

It is a hard choice- you have helped many. BUT- you have left yourself here.

THE THING HAS AN OFF BUTTON.
:0)

Your post here actually helped me reinforce MY decision. Just shut the durn thing off.

Praying for you.

Brigid

Konstantina said...

Dear Steve, I must say I felt so liberated on your behalf when I got to the point in the post that said you were going to turn off the internet. I wanted to throw my hands in the air as though you had just won some kind of race! I think I had such a strong reaction because when you asked the question about only having one year left what I would do, I immediately said "stop reading blogs"! And I meant it. We're struggling for our salvation and I act like life is just a chance to relax. Lord have mercy.
I am so pleased to know that you have made the conscious decision to take back the freedom I feel I throw away every time I carelessly waste the precious time God has given me!
Besides, prayers are stronger than words and so through your prayers we your listeners/readers will receive even more benefit!

Dianne said...

Steve,

Everyone's already said it better than I could. Will miss your blog and podcasts, but agree that you've made the right decision.

Also have not forgotten a helpful exchange of private emails with you about eight years ago when you offered sane and reassuring reflections and advice about a situation affecting a member of my family. Thank you again for that.

I aspire to be like you and cut at least some of the internet cords that bind me. Hurray for you--it *is* like winning a race or something, as Konstantina said.

Catrin said...

It is time for the next stage in your life! There are forks in the road for all of is & this seems to be one for you. You have helped so many through your radio program and Internet (including me) and now it is time to focus on your loved ones. That power switch is an important thing to know how to turn off. I am sure that you are in all of our prayers.

Fr. James Early said...

Steve,

I just got around to reading this. I too will miss your podcasts, but I agree with the other commenters. Do it. Life's too short to not follow that which God has laid upon your heart. May God bless you richly in this new phase of your life.

Anonymous said...

I only came across your blog and podcasts 6 months ago and have found in you a ability to humbly communicate highly complex topics both simply and with depth. I too will miss you and your insights. but I'm thankfull for what you have given already.
Evan

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

So much of what you wrote on the Metanoia list , OLIC and your blogs has affected me deeply and influenced me a great deal.
I just want to thank you for all of this and what it has meant to me ....

May God richly bless you as you honour your dear father in this way...
Enjoy your father's company, have fun and catch lots of fish :-)

Jim H. said...

Your ministries have been a major influence on me in the last four years. I agree that you deserve a break, and pray for all God's blessings on you and your family.

Mary said...

S-P,

I first "met" you about 10 years ago on the Orthodox-Convert list, when I was first inquiring into Orthodoxy. You have a wonderful gift for helping people, and you have used it well. Enjoy the days with your Dad and you wife and kids. Vaya con Dios.

Mary