Monday, January 14, 2013

There and Back Again, or What I Did (and ate) Over Christmas Break

I apologize for being absent.  Since last I was cognizant (sometime before Christmas), I have visited with family in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, eaten waaayyy too much holiday food (want another cookie?  Sure!  Want some more egg nog?  Oh, why not!  Another piece of Cousin Amy Lou's Chocolate Pie?  Yes please!  etc., etc.).

An unexpected highlight was to visit the small but happy, friendly and active Orthodox community in Bluffton, SC.  It turned out to be a family affair when my daughter decided she wanted to come, thereby motivating her husband to come, too, neither of whom had been to an Orthodox Church before.  My wife, who ordinarily is Presbyterian, saw an opportunity for family time and decided to come along as well.  So the four of us traipsed into uncharted territory and found the little church meeting in a Roman Catholic chapel.  Usually, the priest in charge makes a several hour drive from Columbia, the state capitol.  But for some reason on this morning, he overslept, meaning the local parish leaders were setting up to have a much-briefer-than-the-usual-Divine-Liturgy 'Reader Service'.  This turned out to be perfect for my family, as it was a gentle introduction to a way of worship that can be disorienting for those outside the tradition.  When the leader found out that I was a reader at my church in Kenya, he asked if I might chant the epistle.  So I did my best, falling into the 'free-style' chanting that happens when I'm not quite sure what I am doing.  Nobody snickered, so I guess it went ok.  Most gratifying was the fact that my son-in-law, a life-long Southern Baptist, was so taken with chanting at church that he spent the rest of the day putting conversation to music.  Sort of like Les Miz in the Low Country.  In fact I think he's still singing away back at home in northern Virginia, though I think he 'tones' it down a bit when he's at work.  The short Reader Service was good.  But the most impressive introduction to Orthodoxy for my family was the coffee hour and the accompanying spread.  Since we Orthodox fast prior to taking communion, we get rather hungry.  And someone at this little church had gotten the marvelous idea that hunger should be met with good food.  And it was really wonderful to meet Orthodox Christians in South Carolina of all places.  Anyway, I ate way too much, which seems to be the theme of my brief American travels and of this post.

We did make it back to Kenya, where I have been busy teaching an intensive Masters-level history course on the history of monasticism.  I am also developing a course on Research Methodology for new masters students.  And I am teaching Systematic Theology III (the Holy Spirit, the church, and the end times) and Church History from the Reformation till the present (which as you can tell is a course developed by Protestants for Protestants as if the history of the Western Church is the history of the Church...), both for unsuspecting undergraduates.  And finally, I've been helping a North American student complete his requirements by teaching him his last course which happens to be the History of the Eastern Church.  I was going to say, 'And they pay me to do this!' but actually they don't...  We spent an hour today talking about the first four ecumenical councils (can you name them?  Can you name all seven? Can you tell why they were called?).  In my spare time I've been working on developing PhD programs in Church History and Systematic Theology for the university.  Unfortunately, whilst busy at work I've also managed to discover that one of the tiny little shops across the road from our campus in the  semi-slum of Kabuku sells Cadbury chocolate bars.  This is most unfortunate, as I need hardly any prompting to get up from my chair, walk across campus, out the gate, down the road and into said shop, procure above mentioned chocolate, and then eat it as soon as I get back to my office.  It isn't Cousin Amy Lou's Chocolate Pie, but it will do in a pinch.


So there we are, or rather, here I am, experiencing the immense privilege of doing what I love to do with people I love and respect and enjoy in a place that is endlessly fascinating complete with circumstances that try me to my very core daily.  I'll work on being more faithful in recording my thoughts and observations.  It's not that there's not enough to write about.