Music Television, Ghost Towns, and Change

A news story relates that the Greek Church has rejected a bid to alter the traditional dress of Orthodox priests in Greece. I cannot resist making note of the sad humor I see in Yahoo’s decision to file this story under “Oddly Enough.” Indeed, how strange it is in our world today to hold on to your traditions and NOT change. This will no doubt ignite one of my diatribes, which you might prefer to ignore. And here it is…

I often hear the criticism against the Orthodox Church (which is inherent in the placement of this story) that She is outdated, unwilling to change or adapt, and ultimately irrelevant because of these facts. Interesting that from my humble perspective these “criticisms” are actually praises and supremely attracted me to the Church to begin with.

Along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Mountains in California there is a very well preserved ghost town called Bodie which was, like many ghost towns, a community built around mining. At its peak it reached a population of 10,000 people and had over 60 saloons and dance halls in the late 19th century. Bodie was a HAPPENING kinda place…back then. I recall a dialogue which takes place in the movie Tombstone in which the Tombstone’s sheriff is singing the praises of the bustling new city and predicting that they would someday surpass the likes of San Francisco. But alas, we understand today the humor in such na├»ve optimism.

Whereas San Francisco has many solid foundations for financial sustenance, Tombstone and Bodie did not. When you look at the location of Bodie, you cannot help but ask: “What the hell were these people thinking living here?!” Well, people scrambled in droves to the old ghost towns in search of gold…bright shiny metal. Like fish in a pond gathering around a bright shiny lure that is first tossed into the water. In time, the gold goes away and the town dies…the people move on in search of the newest bright shiny metal promise. Many dot-com’ers have learned their own modern ghost town lesson, but look closer for I believe there are other lessons to be learned.

I’ve heard it said that MTV (and perhaps TV/Media in general) is producing in us a greatly reduced attention span and I really don’t doubt it. It seems we are a culture that is, with decisively yet often without apparent purpose, ever changing, ever seeking, and never satisfied. The young and new are glorified while the old are discarded, whether it be ideas, traditions, rituals, or people. To us, the mandatory respect and honor granted to the elderly in other cultures is deemed laughable by us enlightened westerners…oh how much we could learn from Confucius! But even in the eastern world we are exporting our western ideals…God help them, and forgive us.

And now we tell the church that she must change in order to better communicate to our ever-changing culture. And to some extent there is truth here…but, at what point are we seeking an end without realizing the means and ultimately what the end will really be. We think that the way to convert people is to become a “culture pleasing” institution (or whatever you wish to call it) and yet I wonder if this is true. A recent survey found that the most successful “Christian” denomination in terms of convert growth is actually the Mormons! Perhaps we should model their evangelism methods…except that I’m not sure I remember how to ride a bike.

The Episcopal Church is an example of a group striving to become a culture-pleasing institution and I have watched it, from the inside, become nearly so. Good ole ECUSA retired Bishop Spong actually said that the “Church must change or die.” The changes begin innocently enough with outward praxis, but as cultural whims demand more, they end with a radical change in inward belief. (From the Orthodox perspective, the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather organically interconnected.) As the process continues in the ECUSA, they are slowly but surely marching their way right out of the Christian religion and into something altogether different….but at least its shiny and new.

Remember, the ghost towns died because of change – inspired by the desire for possessing the new, the bright, and the shiny. Alas, the new becomes old, the bright becomes dim, and the shiny becomes dull – the search goes on. Meanwhile in the old foundational cities, life goes on.

The Orthodox Church, like a great museum charged with protecting the world’s greatest works of art, sees a continuous need to redesign or redecorate the buildings, the rooms, or the procedures as dangerous. Increasing the potential to literally lose or damage works of art. Unbelievable as it may sound, it happens all the time. Even recently I read of a confirmed work of Da Vinci being found collecting dust in some obscure corner of a museum…how could this happen? How could they lose something of such profound value?

To us Orthodox, our virtually unchanging praxis protects our beliefs like a diligent security guard in a prized museum. Our praxis also communicates and manifests the faith as passed down from our fathers and we see it as remembering the ancient landmarks of our fathers (see above). While we marvel at how a potentially priceless Da Vinci can be laid aside and forgotten, we must remembering how the Resurrection is being forgotten in some “christian” denominations today.

You may call the Orthodox Church “out of date,” “irrelevant to our culture,” or “stubbornly unwilling to change.” But do not call her forgetful. She remembers…and she protects. We need her more than many of you might think.

End of diatribe…please forgive me if I gave offense.


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