Monday, December 31, 2007

My 2007 in the Past Tense

It should be said from the start that this year has definitely not gone the way that I expected that it would at the start of the year. At New Years Day 2007, I was part way towards starting the monastic life, was entering my first year since 1990 when I had not been in formal education and had a full-time job doing real office work...largely a pattern that one could feasibly throw ten years at and wonder where the decade had gone. I had played a key role in rejuvenating the parish bookstore, was leader of the altar boys and was a chanter with some potential.

But obviously, at a very fundamental level, there was something that I was very unhappy about, and my life wasn't going in the direction that it should have gone.

By the end of January, I reverted my previous life decision and had to figure out exactly how to live, and to get comfortable in the skin that I'm in. That's not an easy thing to do when you think that you do that all the time. The final defeat of my previous life (prime decision, life, lifestyle and all) came about when I prayed for a new workplace, was told about a position in the city I wanted, got a haircut and shaved my beard, was offered the position and accepted it at Easter.

I moved cities to take my new job, deciding also to change which parish I considered to be my principle place of worship (which was under a different jurisdiction) and was asked to begin theological studies. As part of my job, I delivered sermons and began a Bible study group. I was asked to chant at my new parish.

I finished my contract of employment there and moved back to Brisbane, sharing a place with a roommate. I was asked to continue going to the parish that I changed to this year.

So, at the last day of 2007, what are my dreams for next year? Well, I'm not totally sure on a complete list, but...
1. Continue theological studies. My long-term goal for this is something on a Masters level, but that's for the future.
2. Improve spiritual life. I know, not the standard thing to put on a blog, but a lot of things suffered for various reasons this year, and they really need fixing.
3. Start and finish the qualification for teaching, have a teaching position lined up for next year.

In some ways, I'd like a longer list. I know that this is a small list of big things, but I'm sure that some other things will come up through the year, particularly as a result of the above. I'm also aware that there will be a number of busy periods, and I want to be ready for them when they come.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Last Post of the Year Probably!

So, Christmas is considered over (it's not, by the way - the twelve days of Christmas are between Christmas and Theophany). My DVD was exchanged for three DVDs - 'Answered by Fire', about the East Timorese vote in 1999, particularly the UN mission (UNIFET, I believe it was called); The Human Mind, which is absolutely fascinating to me (apparently, most stressful situation is a party!); and the aforementioned DVD on the history of the English language, also fascinating.

Took my electric bike (now called Watermelon) out for a spin today. It handles well - on flats, it's very good, and it seems to hold speed up hills as long as you pedal as well. Down hills, to be honest, totally scares me (too fast, not enough control, and not used to being on a bike at all), so I suspect I'll be holding the brake a lot for any downhill runs.

Fixed up the issues I was having with the chanter's stand (specifically, with an apology - I won't get into that online, but looking back there were some parts that were cynically humourous). I think it's for the best that what happened, did - it's made very plain that me chanting there is explicitly a choice that I can walk away from, with an introspective blog entry the only tangible care factor. It kinda saddened me that the exact same day that I was welcomed back with open arms, another person was basically driven away. Even though I do have the ability to stay or not, I spent a lot of time in that church working to make things better, and it's a shame to see that aside from some contacts made, it has made near-enough-to-no difference.
I know, it sounds like I'm dramatising, but it's probably the case in a lot of massive organisations - it is very difficult to change things, particularly when the majority of presumed members aren't involved at all and a vocal portion assume that they speak with their authority. And, with fairness, they're probably right to some extent, but at some point there are right actions and wrong actions.
(I'm trying to
not criticise the organisation because I don't see myself as part of it - just trying to note my own involvement and, for future reference, note where I made mistakes)

Had Yum Cha yesterday - it was delicious. After that, I got Watermelon the bike to my place.

Today was the Divine Liturgy - an unusual occurance, because this year was both the Sunday after Nativity, which has it's own variants, and the Sunday before Theophany, also with it's own variants - and it's not like they can be integrated at all, because it's an either/or thing. Fortunately, liturgic geeks better than myself have already sorted it out - Sunday after Nativity gets priority...which is odd, because Theophany was historically the bigger feast, but there is a decent case, because Christmas has a fast-free period, whereas Theophany is the resumption of fasting.
It's all about God, though, so it's all good.
There were a lot of visitors today - enough to replace the parisioners who went on holidays, which was wonderful - one family of about five was local, another was from Sydney, and just came up for Christmas and New Years to the Gold Coast, so it was lovely to see them all.
Next week is the Great Blessing of the Waters, so I'm looking forward to that...not sure yet what I need to learn for it (in terms of chanting), but also looking forward to finding that out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christ is Born; Merry Christmas!

It has to be said - I greatly scored with respect to Christmas presents.
But, more on that.

To celebrate the feast of the Nativity, I went to two services - on the eve was matins and Divine Liturgy at the local Antiochian church (not the one that I normally go to), which was fantastic - due to no one having a printer, we chanted matins from a laptop screen. I'm fairly sure it was the first time in this fair city, not sure about the rest of the world. In reality, alt-tabbing and scrolling down is very analogous to page-turning; I'm not entirely convinced on the superiority of laptop over books. That being said, it was doubtless partly due to the fact that the stand was designed for books - were there to be something designed for a laptop (or even if we had a touchscreen), it would doubtless be infinitely superior. The next morning I went to a Divine Liturgy in the English language. No great story to be told, aside from the giant communion line on each side of the church. Oh, except for my not realising that buses don't run on Christmas day (trains do, and this was the first time that I'd lived somewhere where buses are easily the most convenient means of transport), and so having to walk the 50mins from my place to church (normally it's 35, but that includes waiting for the bus and far less walking whilst on the bus). Not ideal, but it did mean that I craved a glass of water more than a side of steak!

I finally got the electric bike that I was waiting for - now I need a helmet to ride it (pesky road rules :P), which I was expecting (and there were some problems, so I was quite excited to get it); but I didn't expect some of the other presents. I put the word out for the extended family to just go for chocolates, because I don't have any space (which is almost literally true) - the threat was that if they got me anything other than chocolates, they'd also have to buy me the space to put it in.

But, my parents went all out - I got a microwave, which is very good, mainly because I already had one. The problem - and the reason that I'm glad - is that the microwave I had would sometimes literally (as in audibly) start with a bang. The general consensus was that this was Not A Good State of Affairs, and so my parents bought me a, slightly smaller, replacement. Good Thing. They also bought me a printer, considering that I was starting uni - also a very good thing, which will go next to my roommate's fax machine (both going on the the 'to be plugged in when needed' section of the bookshelf). I also got a DVD, which (because I already have it) will be exchanged for a documentary on the history of the English language, which I'm fairly sure will be fascinating.

Other scores of the day included mosquito repellant, two brands of chocolates and a very generous (obviously undisclosed) amount of money. Later that day, we had a discussion on how to receive gifts (long story), deciding that it was definitely a learned skill.

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Weekend

One of the more difficult things that I have in my week is my weekend being easily the busiest part of my week (which is remarkably similar to my uni days). Of course, I used to complain bitterly about it then, but now...I'll still complain, because it's actually, in a way, worse.

The parish that (excuse the awkward expression) I consider to be my home parish is actually in another city - specifically, the city that I worked in for most of this year. It's an English-language parish (without any fighting about it) and my sponsoring parish for the St Stephen's course that I'm doing.

However, all that does not change the rather unfortunate fact that it is in another city, and start services at 8am. That's right, 8am on a Sunday morning. Now, taking into consideration my complete lack of car or private transport, and that means me waking up at 5am to leave my place at 5:50 to walk to the train station and catch the 6:32 to get to the destination station at 7:35 and hope that there's a taxi in the taxi rank (so far, so good) to get me there by 7:55am.

It's not easy.
Of course, the fact that I like the parish, there's no English-language parish in Brisbane (and nothing on a Sunday morning) and that I can still get there in time means that I'm okay with it. And if that was the only service that I attended on the weekend, I'd probably be okay. It's not - I go to the Liturgy celebrated in English on Saturday nights, after which we go out for coffee that inevitably takes until 9:30 and often enough until 10:30. Sadly, I've had the case where I could only get about two hours sleep between getting home at 11 and "waking up" at 5am.

All that said, the fact that I'm actually appreciated and thanked is kinda nice and, to some extent, near-unique. I don't do it for the acclamation, of course - if I did, I wouldn't go to a 25 parisioner parish! - but because it helps people pray. I can do services at home, but if I know that I'm helping other people pray, I'm that much happier and that much more willing to go through whatever it takes to keep helping.

On another note...
George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, wrote his Christmas message with an important point - religion is unfairly blamed for recent conflicts. If a person wants to say that religion in used as an excuse to fight wars, and that people are often ordered to take on a conqueror's religion, I will back them all the way (and there is ample support for that); but wars are rarely fought over religion. Wars are usually about power - like politics, but with physical knives.
I would post Christmas messages from Orthodox sources, but typically, we aren't quite that organised. It seems that both Greek and Antiochian Orthodox archdiocesan websites are in a transition to new and improved websites. Maybe they'll be done by Easter.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Five days without a post

Five days without a post deserves a new post...

This was the week when I finally got the [expletive]s with a particular chanter's stand - or, more correctly, one particular person on it. Particularly irritating is that it was immediately after basically being the chanter, or one of the chanters (depending on the day and on who showed), that kept that particular chanter's stand going for a week. And then, straight after he got most of his voice back (and it wasn't even fully back), I'm...well, it won't behoove to go into the full details, but 'valued' was not an appropriate adjective.
So, that's it. I'm not going to sacrifice my sanity for nothing any longer. If I'm needed in the future, then fine, but until then, I just don't care enough; my sole, singular source of power was the fact that I chose to be there, and could - repercussion-free - choose to not be there. And now, I am doing so.
It's infuriating, not just for myself, but for others, because it's not like I've been especially vilified.

Anyway. Even if special action isn't taken, the sands of time will move inexorably on and resolve the situation. Of course, waiting until both parties are dead is more of an Arabic response, but I think it'll work here, too.

Other things that have happened include my Grandmother's 80th birthday. We celebrated it in early December, because the date of her birth is the 21st, and always gets swallowed up in Christmas celebrations. However, this year (the 80th, after all) we thought that she deserved a special celebration.

I'm preparing to write my St Stephen's essays...they're going to be coming in January, to the best of my knowledge, and I'm looking forward to writing 9 essays in a month...!

Monday, December 17, 2007

House Blessing and Fridge Quotes

Had the apartment blessed today. Really nice service, especially the prayers. Normally this service (particularly the sprinkling-holy-water-everywhere part) is done with basil, but there was none of that today - mainly because there was no basil, and no plant-life nearby. Instead of that, a single cupped hand sufficed - which got water everywhere just the same.

Had to do a major cleanup of the apartment to make it happen, though. By major, I mean 'rearranged most of the apartment in three hours'. Now, I know that three hours to rearrange 80% of my place sounds really good, but it's not like it's because I'm good at cleaning - that's how small the apartment is. Sadly, if one comes home and leaves a shirt on the floor, the place becomes messy - and considering that my toleration for mess is really high, you understand how small the place is. On the positive, at least it's clean.

In my last house, I had a fridge, upon which I would write all the cool quotes that I had heard. Sadly, my new place has a bar fridge with a matt surface, which means that I'd be writing at my own peril (and paying for each mark, no doubt!), but I'm hoping to resurrect the tradition with the microwave.

However, that's all background - I'm now transferring the quotes from my old fridge onto my blog. They used to be on my facebook profile, but it's just too long to keep there any longer; so, I give you...

[Warning - some of these quotes may be PG]

"No wonder [he] likes you, he's probably never seen anything so entertaining!" - Lizzy
On submitting assignments: "You could submit a cereal box if you wanted, you'll just fail, that's all!" - DP
On selecting cheese at Subway: "Can I have the least orange cheese?" - Watson
"My car has been there so long, you can see it on Google Earth!" - Watson
On cooking with the windows open: "Great. My house smells like a rissole." - Y.T.
On giving pearls to swine [i.e. teaching philosophy to jocks]: "They'd sniff it and inhale it through their eyeball!" - Macca
On Anglican Vergers: "There's nothing about being a verger that says you have to be a virgin. It's New and Improved!" - Emster
"I don't objectify women." / "Oh, really!" / "Well...not verbally..." - Y.T. and Emster
"Do U believe in love at first sight? 'Cause I can go past again..." - Mel
"Of course it's a fake smile, I'm talking to my fake friend!" - Mel

There are other quotes (that was just from one side of my fridge), but I can't find the exact words for them...I'm sure they're hiding somewhere!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Term 'Housecooling'

Just before this term gets overused:

A few weeks ago, I had a party based around the idea of leaving my house. As an ironic pun on the term 'housewarming', I called it a 'housecooling'.

Today I heard of someone having a housecooling party. Now, I'm cool with this, but I just want to make sure that you heard it here first.

Psalmist Skills Shortage

(and yes, alliteration is awesome :) )

My routine this week has been wake up at sunrise, go to church, chant at the Greek-language Matins and Divine Liturgy under the head chanter of the main Greek Orthodox church in the city, then go away and do whatever.

Today didn't quite go to the same plan - yesterday, at around 2, I just finished reading a section of a liturgical theology textbook (Wybrew, if you're interested) and rolled over to get some sleep. So, 11 hours later, I woke up. Tried to get back to sleep, but that didn't work, so I watched a movie (Austin Powers 1) and then went to church, and found out that the head chanter had basically lost his voice. He'd already called another chanter who doesn't usually come to weekday services, and between us we got by.

It does suggest exactly how critical it is for a parish to have more than one chanter. In Brisbane, there are five Byzantine-typicon (as opposed to Slavonic-typicon) parishes - three Greek, one Antiochian and one Romanian. Granted, the latter two don't have weekday services, but the three Greek parishes do - one doesn't have full chanters (not sure if they have weekday services?), one has two full chanters, but only one on weekdays; and the central one has, well, probably about three that could be considered full chanters*.

(* - by full chanters, I mean 'can do matins on any given day by themselves')

Now, that wouldn't be so bad if there was an effective training program, but there isn't - there's a single teacher, who knows his stuff (and backwards), but no one's coming through 'the ranks' (whatever they are) anywhere near fast enough to pick up if one of those chanters falls off the perch (mixed metaphor intended) - there's probably about three that may be able to do it at a pinch, and two of those are not going to be staying at the Greek parishes where they might be needed (and probably won't be staying chanters for ever, either).

In short, we have what can only be called a skills shortage, and something's going to have to give...

Arrogance and Ignorance

Had a chat with someone the other day who put forward a good analogy for people. In this view, there are two axes (i.e. plural of axis) - ignorance and arrogance.

No arrogance, no ignorance: a wise person.
Arrogance, no ignorance: well, is a pain, but at least the arrogance is somewhat justified.
No arrogance, ignorance: can cause a compassionate person
Arrogance, ignorance: the worst combination - a fool who is unwilling to be corrected.

We talked about it in the context of a particular group of people fitting the last category, but it would not illumine to go into which group or to whom I was conversing - if anything, it would probably engender the second category ^_^

Sleep rocks!

Had an awesome sleep - slept for about 11 hours. Unfortunately, this occured in the early afternoon, so I've had to get up and do some stuff so that I'll go back to sleep and not screw up my sleeping pattern too much.

Had a whole bunch of dreams. One brought up something that, when I woke up (and I must have had this as the last dream), I thought made sense - why is it that most animals, on entering a church, are said to have defiled the church? This is one thing that I totally don't get, along with why fish is out during fast periods but non-boned seafood (e.g. calamari) is fine (and, now that we're on the topic, why certain foods are chosen as fasting or not).
Can McDonald's be excluded from the fasting rules, based on it not actually being food? Ahh...if only such technicalities were actually plausibly done...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's not all the same...

Almost got to the beach today, but it was too overcast. Having some very quiet days. I'm sure that the thrill of these will wear off, but I've had so long with having to do a lot each day that I'm quite contented.


Had a chat with someone today - one of those religious types ;) - about, well, a lot of things, but one thing particularly stuck - he mentioned that he greatly enjoyed hearing about other denominations and their different perspectives on various religious issues, on the basis that it's the 'same Jesus'.

If a person (in my mind an Orthodox person, but it could probably be said for any denomination that believed in the truth of their denomination) comes into contact with many Pentecostals, they'll find this said with some frequency. And there is some justification for it - after all, God sent His only-begotten Son (note the singulars) who was incarnate at a specific time in history; in a sense, yes, there is only one Jesus.

Of course, this is not the point that anyone is trying to make. If we take the assumptions that Jesus is both God and man, and that this hasn't happened at any time in history, before or since, then it is a fairly logical conclusion that this would take some getting used to. If we haven't seen a lion before, at least we can say 'well, that's kinda a big cat with a massive mane'; with Jesus, we don't really have the same luxury, because we can say 'well, He's God, and He's also human' or 'He's immortal, and He died for us' and all we do is present contradictions. It shouldn't be surprising that humans don't understand God - it's more of a tautology.

Trying to understand God as much as possible is kinda what the Church has been trying to do for 2000 years, and between holiness and intelligence (both gifts of God), we've mapped out a bit and we've left a lot as a mystery. But, one thing that was a huge contention was Christology. Of course, most Christians accept the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which maps out Christology fairly well, but - as I pointed out in the referenced conversation - there's actually a different pneumatology (i.e. about the Holy Spirit - pneuma meaning spirit) between the Orthodox and most of the rest of the Church, because of the change in the Nicene Creed by the Western Church, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father.

Which brings me to another commonly-used axiom - it's all the same God. This one is mainly used by mainline Protestants and secularists, and without wanting to be nasty, it's a copout because of a lack of desire to evangelise, or a failure to see massive differences. The most obvious in current events is between Christianity and Islam - Triune God, with the Son human, crucified and resurrected, against a monad God with a prophet - but Buddhism comes in (having no deity as such) along with Hinduism (which has a debatable number of deities) and Judaism (monad God with the expectation of a messiah), and we can see that none of the world religions have the same God as the Christians, because Christianity is the only religion where God became human. The closest to 'it's all the same God', we must say, is between Judaism and Islam, and we just have to go to Israel or Palestine to see how close they are.

Perhaps at some point I'll blog about how, if there's one God, it doesn't make sense that He should put many ways to him - but this post is big enough :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CITM and Logos Spermatikos

Just finished listening to a couple of podcasts from Christ in the Mountains - the third one had a secondary slot with a pop-sounding love song, followed by a brief look at St Justin Martyr's concept of the 'logos spermatikos' - literally, seed of the word' - the upshot of the concept being that the whole world had been prepared for Christ. The Hebrews most obviously, of course, but in St Justin's experience (being a philosopher himself) he also saw the Greek philosophers as pointing to Christ (St Paul's sermon in Acts on the Unknown God comes to mind). Fr Andrew S. Damick continues that we should be able to see the seed of the word - i.e., Christ - in everything. A love song can remind us of the Prodigal Son, for instance.

We don't have to listen to Christian music to hear God: because He created the world, this influences us; because He created the people around us, they will influence us towards Him (willingly or otherwise); because God created us, created our yearning for something greater than ourselves, we can see this yearning - or other aspects of God - in popular culture, poetry, even modern pop songs. I know, gasp and shock that we may find God in those songs (particularly with what some of them are saying), but they are driven by needs and wants that, while perhaps expressed badly or used wrongly, are still God-given.

I'm back!

I'm back!

It feels kinda weird to be blogging again, I have to say...but here I am, nonetheless :)