Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stages of Conversion

I don't think I have ever lifted a complete blog post from someone else's blog (though I've quoted and recommended a few... very few).  Silouan posted this on Facebook and I read it. It is about the process of "converting", something many or most of us have done.  I'm posting it because I don't want to take the chance that you won't take time to click the link.

Wisdom, let us attend!
It doesn't seem to matter what version of the Christian faith you join, because this seems to be a near-universal process:

Phase 1: The Cage Phase
So you've found your new tradition, and you've finally discovered all the answers to life's problems encompassed within it. You've also read a few books that explain how every other Christian tradition (especially the one you just left) has absolutely ruined the piss out of the Christian faith as a whole. As God's apostle to the unconverted, it now falls upon you to save the world (especially your friends and family in the old tradition) by enlightening them as to just how perfect everything is about your new tradition and how stupid and wrong everything about their current tradition is. It is very important for you to have a blog during this time so that you can enlighten as many people as possible.

Phase 2: Addiction
After having ruined all your relationships from your past life, you are now disillusioned with the willful ignorance and impiety of all those outside your new church. Let the heretics stew in their heresy. It is now time to busy yourself with drinking as much religious Kool-Ade as you possibly can, preferably until your skin becomes the same color as Purplesaurus Rex and your body's pH levels are completely thrown off. You need to read every theological or devotional book you can, buy lots of the assorted trinkets associated with your tradition, and make lots of pilgrimages to either theology conferences or monasteries, depending on how your church rolls.

Phase 3: Apostle of Renewal
You've recently noticed that most of the other people in your church are not nearly as obsessed with it as you are. They aren't reading those books, and they aren't buying all that crap you've strewn your house with. They're more concerned with paying the bills than why those awful sectarians are wrong. They even have friends outside the church! Many of them are not aware just how right and perfect their church is, or how great their lives would be if they would just fling themselves with total abandon into the kind of obsession you yourself have. This is clearly a problem that must be fixed, for it threatens to destroy the purity of the faith. As God's chosen agent of change, you busy yourself with trying to whip up everyone in the congregation into the same frothing devotion you yourself exhibit.

Phase 4: Beaten by Reality
You've finally faced the harsh truth: The people in your new tradition are, at their core, a whole lot like all those people from your old tradition that you despised so much, with all the same foibles and failings. You give up on saving the world, on restoring your tradition to its purity, and have lost your confidence that God himself has appointed you to fix everything. You've discovered that your new church in fact has a lot of ugliness in its history, has a lot of jerks in its power structure, can't solve all of life's problems, and isn't always all that consistent or believable in what it teaches or what it does.

Phase 5, Option 1: The Rat Leaves the Ship
Clearly, you were had. You thought you had found the One True Perfect Tradition, but you were deceived. You know what you must do--find the tradition that really does get it all right, because it must be out there. Back to Phase 1 for you!

Phase 5, Option 2: Complete Disillusionment
You have realized, perhaps after going through this cycle several times, that you are perhaps the only sincere, thinking Christian in the world. Everyone else is a hypocrite or a dunce, and all these corrupt denominations and hierarchies have ever accomplished is completely screwing up everything. Completely embittered at the idea of organized religion, you isolate yourself in order to go be a true follower of Christ without all those awful other people screwing things up. If you meet some like-minded folk, you start meeting up with them in order to transcend organized religion by organizing a religion. It's very likely that you eventually realize that all religious people are deluded fools and become an atheist or agnostic.

Phase 5, Option 3: Partial Disillusionment and Accommodation
After facing the harsh reality in Phase 4, you've further realized that phases 1 through 3 ought to be renamed "Jackass," "Nutjob," and "Know-it-All," respectively, which suggests that you are, for the most part, much worse at being a decent human being than all those people too stupid and impious to realize how awesome your new religion is. While many of the reasons that you had for joining your current tradition remain, and thus so do you, you decide it's time to cut yourself, your church, everyone else's churches, and rest of the world some slack.


Cranford Joseph Coulter said...

On the Varieties of Religious Experience by William James opened my eyes up to my adolescent born again experience. It shook my faith to its foundation. I found that foundation to be a steady Rock.
My disillutionment eventually brought me to Orthodoxy.

Matushka Anna said...

Steve, pleasepleaseplease let me lift this too!!!

Rachel said...

AHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Brilliant! Thanks so much for posting this. I'll have to share it with my husband, who is a priest.

tabitha said...

I find this very funny. It was true for my father when he was 'born again' in the Oneness Pentecostal church . I was a kid.

Still, as recent Orthodox 'converts' this sort of humor seems a little trite. This joke is not true of us, nor is it true of anyone I have met in our parish.

Florianus said...

I think this post is a bit relativistic - sounds as if truth can never be found and that there exists no absolute truth. But Jesus said that he is the truth (John 14,6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.“) so truth must exist and it must be absolute. See also John 8,32: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Stacy said...

Well, that was all very familiar!

Thanks for posting.

Matushka Anna said...

Well, of course this doesn't describe everyone's experiences, but most converts, if they look at it honestly, can say they see hints of one thing or another in themselves. Usually this is the sort of thing you recognize years later. And I have unfortunately known several people who have joined the Orthodox church with zeal, become disillusioned and left, seeking something "more Orthodox" than the Orthodox. Usually this means a schismatic group. At least two of those people I knew have been or are being ordained so they could have their OWN, spotless, perfect and undefiled churches. I wonder how long that will last...

tabitha said...

Florianus- I agree with you.

Matushka- I am not sure if this is in the same vein, but as our Deacon told me, we are all converts. He was born into an Orthodox family where everyone was in the Church. But he also had his conversion when the time came for him to make a choice.

Perhaps the person I most admire at our parish is our Reader, who does not make compromises. He does not encourage me to do/learn what is right because others are lesser, or in any form of judgement of others. "What is acceptable is not always advisable." It is not a contest to be perfect, but neither should we aim low.

Anonymous said...

DUDE! This is me several times over. Currently in #5 Option 3 but not quite ready to cut slack to too many people or groups including Orthodoxy. Currently unaffiliated, and don't know if I will ever affiliate again.
Matushka Anna, agree with you 100%, you are growing in wisdom, Many Blessings and Many Years.
Florianus, you are so missing it. Nowhere does it say anything about denying Christ or that He is not the Way, the Truth and the Life. It's about finding that place to live it all out. Finding that place is where a person is truly set free in the truth of Christ. Not everyone finds that place, and not all people who chose to follow Christ as Way,Truth and Life are going to end in the same place in this lifetime anyway. Not everyone sees TRUTH the same way. Yes, some are fulfilled in Orthodoxy, some are fulfilled in Catholicism, some in other Christian denominations, some claim to be fulfilled in Islam or Buddhism or even Mormonism or some other religion, sect or cult. We may think they are wrong, mislead, deceived, of the devil or just plain stupid. Name calling, judging or shunning proves nothing.
(We all do it or have done it don't deny it!)
Tabitha, I sense a sweet, well-meaning spirit in you. Yes, even the 'homegrown' Orthodox must be converted somewhere along the line if they are to be accounted 'truly' Orthodox Christian in GOD's eyes. What I encountered in a number of Orthodox Churches especially the Greek and Serbian is that so mant, if not most of the people think they are above such things and don't even consider they might actually 'need' conversion. They go through the motions, which is fine and helpful, but they think their 'good works' will suffice. I found this in the Catholic Church, the Anglican/Episcopal Churches, the Lutheran Churches; it is a universal state of being and it is not that they don't hear the Word to be converted but they are closed to the Holy Spirit IMO. Just because you haven't met us yet doesn't mean we aren't there.
I still believe in Jesus, I still believe Jesus that He is the Way,Truth and Life but where I belong(?) I do not know and perhaps will never know, GOD KNOWS!

Matthew the Wayfarer

Reader John said...

The post is excellent. I'm pleased to say that after 14 years, I'm still in Phase I, berating my old Evangelical gang. Considering that I'm an older man already, I'll probably never make it to disillusionment and apostasy! Woohoo!

It helps that one of my early realizations was that in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, once you're in, you're pretty much in, and short of something spectacularly evil you're unlikely to get thrown out. Thus, ironically, they're more individualistic in a way than Evangelicalism: it's really up to you what you make of your baptism and formal membership, which makes it a bit easier to live with people who don't seem to realize what a treasure they have.

Further, I'm not an "Elder" sitting on a Council deliberating what we should do about so-and-so, who (for instance; other instances are uglier) hasn't darkened the doors for X years but whose sweet, aged mother would be heartbroken if we formally expelled him. Pray for our priests who do have to think about such things.

Athanasia said...

I see you have been living in my head the last few months of my disillusionment and frustration. I've working on entering Phase 5 and accommodation, realizing that God would have done better had He decided elephants should run the church rather than the jackasses He has doing so. However, since I have been one of those jackasses, I guess I'll stay where I am and pray that He forgives me for all my judgements and idiocy.

I hope heaven is better than this hell.

tabitha said...

Matthew the Wayfarer, thank you. I well meaning and would not want to offend anyone. For what it is worth, I know from experience that such people [as you describe] exist, and I am sure many of them are in the Church. I simply think this amusing Stages of Conversion is not as universally true as many may think. And, sadly, it is a self-fulfilling thing. Of course converts will eventually reject the church they have embraced if they are treated as if their excitement and zeal is pathetic.

I find the Church perfectly adequate. There is no moment of disappointment in me. I require nothing more. I have no desire to convince anyone else. My conversion happened to me, I didn't seek it out.

Steve Robinson said...

I didn't read anything in the piece about "truth". One can embrace truth without going nutz-o. Orthodoxy has its share of "career coverters" and because of the nature of the Church it can attract people who tend to be a bit on the rigid and judgmental side of the spectrum. When one enters anything, whether a faith, organization or relationship with highly idealized expectations it can lead to radical disillusionment and despondency. I think that tends to be a "personality thing" rather than an indictment of what people are embracing. Not everyone is like that, for sure and thank God, but it is real for many. God knows I've been on both the give and taking ends of all of that. Sometimes I think it is a miracle I'm still Orthodox after all I've been through and seen, but in the end I have to land someplace and as they say, "No matter where you go, there you are". I've decided all I can work on is me and "here" is where I may as well settle down and do that.

J.D. said...

After three years I am happy to say I have not met this guy yet.But, I must say I've been around the block a few times so I am not going to get chippy or chirpy from existing in Convertland.

Anonymous said...

Lord have mercy! Pray for true, continual conversion.

Fr Nicholas said...

I have only jumped once (from southern Catholic to Orthodox) and it was a very difficult time. Trying desperately to stay "under the Pope" and finally admitting to myself that Orthodoxy was the place for me. I've been through most of the "stages"; I think they are almost required in exploring one's new faith. However I was blessed with a series of Spiritual Fathers (and Mothers) who whacked me between the eyes - or perhaps lower down the anatomy- when I got too wrapped up in super-correctness. At the time it really smarted, but thank the Lord for them! I think perhaps the two best comments I received, were "Orthodoxy is a cross between Paradise and a lunatic asylum" and "They nailed our Lord to a cross after beating him almost to death, you think you should be treated better?" (Both from an 80 year old Arab lady who been Orthodox her entire life). If one can preserve a sense of humor in it all (as Steve most admirably does) there is hope.

Anony-mouse said...

What about those of us who convert, only to realize that it was a lot better back where we were?

Alexander The Mediocre said...

>One can embrace truth without going nutz-o.


> I think that tends to be a
>"personality thing" rather than
>an indictment of what people are
> embracing.

Yup! I agree.

> Sometimes I think it is a
> miracle I'm still Orthodox
> after all I've been through and
> seen, but in the end I have to
> land someplace and as they say,
> "No matter where you go, there
> you are". I've decided all I
> can work on is me and "here" is
> where I may as well settle down

As someone once said: Orthodoxy IS Holy, but not necessarily the Orthodox.

There is no "squeeky Clean Church". There is ,of course, a "True Church". In the Church the weeds will co-exist with the rest until the end of time itself.

That is true from the very start of the Church. People are people everywhere.

The Church is a hospital. And in a hospital you mainly find sick people.

Steve Robinson said...

Anony-mouse, Unfortunately "buyer's regret" happens more often with Orthodox converts than we like to admit. "Better" is tough to define because everyone encounters Orthodoxy within a parish/jurisdictional context and if there are not many options available the "where else can I go, you have the words of eternal life" motivation can get really thin if someone is dying on the vine for lack of good pastoral care, fellowship and spiritual nurture. If dogma doesn't get incarnated it is tough to live on "correct doctrine" as a motivation to stick with anything in the long run.

Anony-mouse said...

S-P, if I tell you my current situation then you will see that in my heart, I am an adulterer.

Unlike the stages of conversion, I never felt a need to be super-Orthodox or be a crusader who will whip up the rest of my congregants into shape. I converted for a number of reasons, but the ones that stood out more than others are 1). The Eucharist, and the respect given that sacrament compared to the Catholics, where a guy in this modern day can trick a lay minister into giving the host to a him if he looks Filipino enough (and I have). 2). The Orthodox view of salvation.

I left my old church quietly, without fanfare, and with only a token explanation to very few people without dragging it into a prolonged theological debate.

However, in my old church there were many, many opportunities for fellowship, accountability, and those who became members (there is a strong emphasis on church discipline) are treated like members of the family. I even remember them holding a fund raiser for a former member who left for seminary who needed back surgery.

That is absent in my current situation. Everyone in my parish is either older than me by at least a decade and a half or much younger than me. Besides my godparents and a few other people that I can barely count on both hands, everyone is just a mass of faces with a last name ending in -is -as or -os. There are feast days but hardly anyone goes to those.

What's worse is that all of my friends from my old place, ALL OF THEM are now married or engaged. I'm feeling a bit conscious now because I've heard that "all Orthodox converts are nerdy twentysomethings who can't get l... who can't know a woman."

I visited my old church friends in an outside-of-church function and they seemed pleasantly surprised to see me, and (I think) not the least bit judgemental that I was absent for almost two years and didn't become a member. That gave me brief sliver of hope that I could come back and resume things as if nothing happened, and who knows, maybe befriend a girl I liked and make her the future Mrs. Anony-mouse. But my dumbsmart brain reminded me that if things don't work out the way I want them to, I'd be nothing more than a flake, a backstabber and adulterer. Any thing I may say to leave one and join the other would be a rationalization; I'd be playing games with God.

I guess TL;DR, I'm torn between what I want and what I need to do.

James the Thickheaded said...

Perhaps the whole of this progression measures a direction we follow when the beginning of our maturing in the faith starts from a point where we emphasize brokenness in others rather than ourselves. And so a journey like this reverses the job and opens one's eyes to the fact that the failure of traction might just be well earned, as in: "Hey dude... "you" (meaning "me") got a lot of problems yer ownself." So if we start our process from a point of not admitting our failures, we will ultimately fail somewhere along the way that just might be the breakthrough.

So I'd differ with the language, hyperbole and descriptions but that's detail. I'd also wonder that this only begins to shovel off the excrement covering the real conversion process... the stuff we heap on ourselves to hide what's happening underneath (or not).

Steve Robinson said...

Anony-mouse, email me off the comment box. sevp dot robinson at gmail dot com if you wish. I've discussed this issue with several monks, priests, abbots and abbesses. I should probably do an interview or podcast on the topic some day.

Silouan said...

Hi Steve! Thanks for the nod, but what I facebooked was actually a link to Metalutheran. Credit where credit is due and all :-)

Anony-mouse said...

Dear S-P,

I'm not sure what you meant by "from the comment box" so I'll just leave my e-mail here. lordblurst AT hotmail DOT com.

Over the past few days I think I've learned to stop being so selfish, say "no" to my ego, and stop playing games with God. So I don't know if you still want to hear from me.

Anonymous said...

I converted from nothing. Growing up, the Methodist Church was the one we didn't go to. So after the kids arrived, the wife was pounding on me with the "we have to find a church" thing, so after making the rounds of this non-denominational and that Lutheran and &c., I convinced her to go the local OCA parish, as I have some Russian friends and had attended a funeral and wedding or two. Our first Liturgy was Heaven; the soaring heights of the choir, the beautiful chants of the clergy, the "smells and bells", the solemnity and dignity. I was astounded, and my wife was likewise "in love at first sight". We've never looked anywhere else.

But of course I direct the choir now, and those "soaring heights" are usually when the sopranos are sharp. More than once, I've wondered about the direction the clergy were going, and had an alto look up at me and whisper "What the hell are they doing?". Don't know, just go with the flow. I know the personal foibles of those clergy now, and I count them as among my dearest friends. Which is greater?

My Russian friend divorced his pious wife, because she was a nut-ball.

It is what it is. Holy crunchiness on the outside, nutty nougat on the inside.

"We endure the stench of the Ark because of the ferocity of the storm outside".

Katie W. said...

Thx for posting. I'm somewhere between Stage 5 points 1&2 I think, but see myself in each at various stages of my faith journey.

And a thousand hat-tips because I am lifting this as well, with full link-backs, credits and such. Not sure what blogger etiquette is, but it's all good if I close with a smiley, right? :-)

Robert Mahoney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Mahoney said...

I would say I am at Phase 5, Option 3 with a rider that says to shut up, worry about your own salvation and if God wants any input as to how the furniture should be arranged He will personally ask you.

Anonymous said...

This is simply magnificent!

ofgrace said...

Fr. Nicholas, oh, how I have needed a few of those 80-year-old Arab ladies in my own life! Somehow I have struggled through four years without (although one of my current Priests comes close).

S-P, this is all so very familiar! Being the only convert in my Evangelical family, however, I have had a lot of reason to keep it mainly contained in my own head. Most of the time my head hurts. Occasionally my idiocy bursts forth in a blog comment or question. Then I really have reason to feel like a nut-job (i.e., I'm saying/asking this ON THE INTERNET??!!!).

Anonymous (choir director), that comment about the sopranos going sharp got a belly laugh from me. God bless you for that--I surely needed it!

Anonymous said...

Laughing out loud all the way to the sacristy! ;)

Anonymous said...

I arrived at Stage 5 and chose option one. I returned to my original factory setting and am trying to work through all the things that sent me off on a spiritual search mission in the first place. I am rediscovering a lot of things being back where I started. I don't sound quite like the description of 5-1, so maybe I am just a country mouse. :)

Unknown said...

i think if someone converts without zeal then there's something to worry about ...

KK Icons said...

Too true! And faster to read, and funnier, than Fr. Seraphim Rose's warning to converts. I went through most stages as an Orthodox, and know people that seem to be stuck in each stage. A mentor in Orthodoxy told me it attracts a high proportion of mentally ill or just plain eccentrics, and very individualistic people. There are a couple of reasons for this, but one is it is the hospital for the sick, as another commentor mentioned. People are in various stages of awareness of just what sick puppies they really are, so we can be patient with them, but it's easier to do from afar, isn't it?

Steve Robinson said...

iceyicons, that's one thing I've NOT heard many people (especially clergy) admit is there seems to be a disproportional rate of marginal people attracted to Orthodoxy. Unfortunately for about 25 years a lot of them got ordained by bishops who mistook zeal and eccentricity for "Orthodox piety". Yes, the Church is a "hospital", but it can also be a theater for people who are playing out their "avatars". At least people are exposed to "the treatment program" no matter which.

KK Icons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Robinson said...

Hi icyicons, actually I'm just a subdeacon and my blessings have been known to get people in trouble. :)
You are correct, unless you are clergy for the most part no one pays much attention to convert blogs and rants (especially if you aren't looking to get ordained.) The worst that can happen is Orthodox people call you names, but I usually just figure I've been called worse by better. :)

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