Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Groupings

I have been remiss in my postings, but I am determined not to feel bad about such things.

Today was the Greek Festival in Houston. The Greek Orthodox church which holds it is called "The Church of the Annunciation." A friend asked me what that meant. Being a relatively active Christian (I go to Quaker Meeting on Sundays), knowing something of the Orthodox faith (my sister is a nun), and having been an English major, I thought I should know. So I hazarded a guess.

I have a tendency to want to know things that I don't. You will be happy to hear that before I spoke, I said that I was guessing. The hypothesis: the Orthodox faith has a thing about the Judas incident. They also have a thing about Easter. "Annunciation" sounds like the root is the same as "Announce." Annunciation must mean something to do with announcing the return of Christ.

It was only my training in English which led me correctly in this guess. According to wikipedia, "The Annunciation is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ, the son of God." So, an announcement, certainly, but not the one I was thinking of.

So, obviously, my religious training is far less extensive than my academic training. Why does this bother me? Certainly, I do not envy those who have been taught from a young age that there is one correct religious path. I value my ability to think critically, which is a function of my academic training. But my friends who had religious education as a child have a cultural identity manifested by a common body of knowledge. And most of them can think quite freely. Perhaps, if we are going to think critically about our world, it does not matter what we are taught. Perhaps the tendency to question is as genetic as haircolor.

That does not ring true.

I am Christian, in that I believe in charity, peace, goodwill, kindness; I believe that people tend towards laziness from time to time and that life takes work; I find Quaker Meeting helpful. I believe that God exists and can speak to us. I went to Episcopalian church when I was a kid. But I don't know things like 'Annunciation' or how many gospels there are. I often miss biblical references. So, while I identify with the values, I do not have the context or knowledge which would make me feel like I am a part of a culture.

Lucky for me, I know how to study.

This brings me back to the thought that it was my academic training which led me correctly in my interpretation of Annunciation, for it is also my academic training which has taught me to study. This ability to study and think is what will admit me to the world of common knowledge which underpins cultural identification with a religion.

I can only conclude that if one type of training had to be sacrificed, I am glad it was not academic. Still, we miss something when we do not have a cultural identity that goes beyond geography. I think as people we seek groups who share our values, and I think teaching a value system to children can, therefore, be protective. A sense of shared values, common culture, a sense of a whole is comforting in both good and bad times. It isn't just the religion; it's the food you eat at religious gatherings, the dances you dance together when people get married, the greetings and habits of speech which you all know, the mannerisms of polite behavior you hold in common, the things everyone knows to do when someone gets married or passes away.

I don't have a lot of those things. Many of the people at the Greek Festival did. When my friend asked me about the Annunciation, he had an expectation that I was part of group that knew that. I wasn't. But I can be. By study.

I was thinking much of this as I walked back from the festival. crossing the street, I ran into a friend. Well, he ran into me. Literally. In going for a run, my friend ran into me. It made me feel, again, like I live here. I live here. In this silly place where leaves don't change color in the fall, even when there is definitely a nip in the air at night. So I do have a group; there are people here who see me on the street and call out my name, which I really, really like. I live here.

Later, I am going dancing with my friends. In the morning, I am going to meeting. I have groups, I have people I identify with, with whom I share values, with whom I live my life. So I do not mean to imply that by having little religious training I am left inconsolably bereft -- merely that I would like to have that type of an understanding of a group. I also do not mean to imply that knowing things about the Bible and the history which surrounds it defines religious experience or faith; I know very little but get very much out of Meeting. But I am sure I will want to write more on that tomorrow.


  1. Hi Morgan,

    I have some suggestions about where to start with the New Testament if you're interested.

    There are four gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. The first three of those are collectively referred to as the synoptic gospels and all closely parallel one another. In fact, Matthew and Luke are thought to have based their accounts on Mark's. Because of this, I'd suggest you start with John and one of the three synoptics to give you as broad a reading as quickly as possible.

    Acts basically follows the apostles after the resurrection of Christ and his ascension into Heaven. If you're looking for cultural references, acts is a good book to read. It has many fun things like the Pentecost, and, if I'm remembering correctly, Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. Fun stuff.

    Of the epistles, Romans is probably the most iconic. It was one of the earliest written books of the new testament, and lays out much of the theology in about as straight forward a way as you're likely to find.

    The Revelation to Saint John is weird (not the same Saint John who wrote the Gospel according to John, in case you were wondering). It is also one of the richest veins of common references in the New Testament, from the Rapture to the horsemen of the apocalypse to souls being judged before the thrown of God.

    -Ken McCallum

  2. Wow, Ken, thanks! The only one of those books that I'd read all the way through was Romans. Thank you!!