What Year was That?

1957 Beetle 2
My VW was just like this one

Who can remember their sixteenth birthday? I barely do, probably wouldn’t except for the fact that on that March day or within a couple of days of it, I took my drivers test to get my license. I’m pretty sure it was as close to the day as I could have made it. I took it, on a cold, snowy March day, probably in my 1957 Volkswagen beetle, with all of 36 hp and sheet metal similar to what they made tanks out of. In Michigan, you had to go to the nearest police station, for me the one on Conner and Gratiot, and bring paperwork, I think proof of having taken the training, a car, and in my case, my mother, who never drove a day in her life. I’m not sure how we got down there to the station since I don’t remember my father being there; he was probably working because it was around 3 or so in the afternoon.

We went through the formalities inside the station and some big, gruff cop was the poor schmuck assigned to administer the test. I wasn’t at all sure I’d make the grade, especially because I wasn’t at all sure how I’d get him in the car. Thinking about it though, I realize my mother was probably left behind to wait in the station while we went out for our drive and the old VW was actually pretty roomy and easy to get into, as far as the front seats were concerned. Anyway, despite what I remember to be nearly blizzard conditions, we went out for our ride and 20 minutes or so later, I was a newly licensed driver in the great state of Michigan. I remember being a little nervous for the test but not overly so, I was sure I was a pretty good driver. Now, looking back on it, I’m quite sure the fact that I took it in my trusty ’57 V dub, already a vehicle with much experience, painted a funny beige color, was a major contributing factor. Had I taken it in, say a new Ford Falcon Sprint, the one with the 260 cu. in V8 and straight line acceleration out the wazoo, I’d have been very tempted to show off and, therefore, failed the test. No question about it, those 36 hp saved my bacon.

What else do I remember about that day? Truth be told, very little. It was early in 1963, several months before President Kennedy was shot and before Pope John XXIII died. The Cuban Missile crisis was five months in the past and although that event made me realize that very soon I’d probably either be drafted or have to join the service, and that that might mean actually seeing combat, that fear was passed by March of ’63. Life was pretty good.

I don’t remember what songs were popular early in 1963, probably Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys and He’s So Fine by the Chiffons, the big news is that the Beatles were still nearly a year away from their first hit record in the US. I had just started high school and was probably attending the East Side Design and Engineering School after high school classes in order to really get into the mysteries of mechanical drawing and design. I was just beginning to give some thought to what kind of career I might get into, the odds were high I’d end up a tool and die maker, just like my father. Learning as much about mechanical design and drawing would help me land an apprenticeship if things worked out that way.

It was a very different time, comparing then to now. I didn’t become a tool and die maker, thank God, and I haven’t owned a VW beetle in 30 years or more, but I owe that car a debt of gratitude. The thing was about as uncool as any car could possibly be, and most of my friends in high school spent a good deal of time laughing at me whenever I drove it, but of all the things that happened to me in March of 1963, it’s that car that sticks out in my mind. Who woulda thunk it?

(Note — I try to write about 800 to 1,000 words per day and sometimes I like to use the WordPress Daily Prompt to help me get going.  This is something I wrote today in response to a prompt a couple of days ago.  I may post these exercises of mine from time to time, just to vary the content of the blog.)


Polite Company

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other night I was looking for a writing prompt to get the old creative juices flowing and came across one about discussing religion and politics in polite company, especially with strangers, and whether or not raising such topics was a good idea. I wrote down some stray ideas but didn’t come to any satisfactory conclusions, except that discussing politics with anyone these days is never a good idea. I thought I was done with the topic but it keeps coming back to me, so this is a further working out of some these thoughts on the matter. I still don’t think I’ve come to any satisfactory answers, but perhaps someone might come across this and be able to fill in the blanks.

The reason I don’t like discussing politics with anyone, not even strangers is because minds are made up, or rather, opinions are set in stone. There isn’t any longer any common background among people in the country that grounds the discussion in some core set of principles. Unlike the situation that prevailed in the U.S. until the end of the 1940s, the common Christian culture wasn’t openly called into question. It was assumed that prayers to the Christian God would be prayed in schools and before the opening of Congress. After that, not so much. And there’s nothing to replace it in the way of supporting moral, virtuous behavior among the people. Nor is there any educational background in classic philosophy and theology to provide a basis for discussion. In other words, one persons idea, however ill informed or poorly thought out is considered to have the same authority as Plato or Aquinas, or anyone else for that matter. Intellectual anarchy prevails and in that kind of situation, there’s no point in having a political discussion. There’s no changing of anyone’s mind.

Religion on the other hand, presents a slightly different picture. I think one result of what’s happened as a result of the every worsening political and cultural situation is there is some underlying hunger for Truth and some level of sub-conscious recognition that that Truth must be found in the spiritual realm. The ever growing interest in eastern religions, meditation, yoga, etc is certainly an indication of it. But I’ve seen some personal signs of it too when I bring up my journey eastward.

Every once in a while, in the past, I’ve tried to bring up the subject of faith when talking to friends. I’ve done this both as a Presbyterian and even more as a Catholic. In most cases, the atmosphere grows chilly and my discussion partner quickly finds some way or other to change the subject. It’s obvious they just don’t want to talk about it. But, in the four or five times I’ve mentioned growing interest in Orthodoxy, the reaction’s been different — people have actually been a little bit willing to let the discussion go on. My wife has had the same experience; in one case even getting a chance for a second discussion and having the person even ask some questions. Now, I’m no John the Baptist, I don’t go crying out in the wilderness, so this is an unusual and unexpected experience, to be sure.

Why the difference?

There’s a few reasons I can think of. First, curiosity. Orthodoxy is strange, quite unfamiliar to most people. I think it’s perceived as being exotic, not something you read or hear about every day. It’s natural that, if you bring up a novel topic for discussion, people get interested. When that topic is something within the spiritual realm, their interested in piqued even more, and their open to going a little deeper.

Second, both Protestant and Catholic Christianity carry a lot of baggage. Both imply a certain level of judgement against the sinner. The common conception is that, if one becomes a Protestant or Catholic, from that point on life as we know it stops. The future holds nothing but a diet of bread and water and contemplates never being able to laugh or do anything fun again. A Christian is a dull, sad, person. Orthodoxy carries none of that baggage; nobody knows anything about it.

I’m inclined to think that this represents a real opportunity for Orthodoxy, but when I consider that, I see it’s putting too much of a marketing spin to the thing. What it does represent is an opportunity for some to find an easy way into Christian faith. If there is the real spiritual hunger out there, and if both Protestant and Catholic Christianity, might not Orthodoxy provide a new way into the Church?


Well, concerning politics, I never discuss it with strangers and try to limit discussions even with friends. I hate talking about it. About religion, I’ve been really surprised how relatively easy it’s been to discuss religion when the topic is Orthodoxy but I’m not at all sure where it leads.


The question that has me stumped is, what exactly might this openness to Eastern Christianity really mean, both for me and for Orthodoxy? I know Orthodoxy isn’t in the business of just growing numbers, it’s much more about individual repentance, and so what does this mean? Should I even think about it as some sort of opportunity for me or for the Church? I don’t know, do you?

Who’s a Wimp?

Abba PoemanThere’s a Catholic blog titled Diary of a Wimpy Catholic and I’ve often wished I’d thought of that title because I was a really wimpy Catholic. Oh, I managed pretty much to stick with eating fish on Fridays during Lent and tried to do that on most of the rest of the Fridays of the year, with less success. But, truth be told, I usually took full advantage of the excusal from the fasting rules in Catholic tradition provided for those who are over a certain age, which I certainly am. I still suffer from having grown up being a Presbyterian, part of a church that actively frowns on such things as fasting and abstinence, or anything else that smacks of trying to earn your salvation through a works mentality. Yet, here I am thinking about becoming Orthodox, of joining a Church that encourages fasting for nearly 6 months out of the year. What am I thinking?

When I first read what the Orthodox idea of fasting is, my first reaction was, “C’mon man!! You gotta be kidding!” Nobody does that kind of thing anymore, do they? I mean, Carthusians might, but everybody knows they’re a little off. How could any Church expect people to go with what amounts to being even more vegan than the vegans? Do people really do that? This could be a deal breaker.

But, apparently, they do. One way I know this is that, after doing a web search on fasting, I found a number of cookbooks full of recipes suitable for use during the fasts. That would indicate somebody’s doing it. Also, there are several sites offering guidance for when, why and how to fast, another indication that there’s an audience for such things. I was getting worried, could I really do this?

Then, I began to think about it and about where I am in my spiritual journey. One thing these strict fasting rules show is that to be Orthodox is to take your faith seriously. In order for people to deny themselves like this, they either have to be nuts, or see something in their Church that I haven’t seen before. They see that this faith of theirs is worth some self-discipline and self-sacrifice. That’s something I’ve been searching for, and for a long time, but haven’t found; finding that kind of thing, something worth dying for, was what inspired us to look into the Catholic Church in the first place. But the Roman Church makes it quite easy to avoid such things, especially to those, like me, who tend to a certain lack of self discipline. It struck me how truly unique this kind of faith is today. There must be something to any faith that can inspire their followers like that.

It’s easy to read the typical rationale behind fasting and why it’s a good thing to do. You know the usual explanations; it leads one to true spiritual growth and union with God. It’s necessary to live the Christian life, is done in commemoration of Jesus’ betrayal on Wednesdays and his Crucifixion on Fridays, and helps us to learn to control things in our lives that we don’t often try to control. Those are all true and helpful to remember. But for me, the thing that makes me want to at least try to follow these rules is the example of living out their faith, the willingness to sacrifice their own pleasures and comfort, that is most impressive. For them, it’s real and I want a part of that. That’s all I need to know.

So, I may be a wimp and may fail in my attempts to fast like a real Orthodox, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Oh, one more thing, this blog will not be named, Diary of a Wimpy Orthodox, not if I can help it.