The Recent Convert

Recent converts to any religion, movement, or ideology bring a fervor and sense of urgency that people who might have been born in it, or a part of for a while, seem to lack.

They can also be annoying, off-putting, and downright dangerous to the religion, movement, or ideology. This is because recent converts often act like secret kings or queens out to be THE SAVIOR.

In the church I grew up attending, we have had several priests who are neither Greek, nor were they Greek Orthodox–which is fine. Some have been Irish, others Kenyan, and still others from various European countries. And that is fine! Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of Orthodox Christians who are not Greek. Our individual church might be “Greek Orthodox,” but there is Armenian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and so on.

The “Orthodox” is the important part, not the “Greek.” It’s no different than being an Irish Catholic versus a Roman Catholic or a Polish Catholic, and so on.

Anyway, more than once we have heard these young, non-Greek and recently-converted-to-Orthodoxy priests talk about how the convert is somehow superior to those who were born into the faith and grew up in it. It’s the standard litany of what you hear about recent arrivals to the U.S., or any other country good enough to let them in (more on this later):

  • “We haven’t forgotten the miracles of God’s gifts.”
  • “We know more about the Bible and tradition than you because we had to earn our way in.”
  • “We have more spiritual fervor because the faith was not just given to us. We had to actively find it and want it.”

(This especially pisses me off, as even those of us born into the Orthodox faith, or any other, have our own struggles and conversions).

  • “It’s up to us to renew the church, because you have failed.”

And to this, I humbly extend an upraised middle finger or two.

These are priests saying this!

At the church I currently attend, one of the priests (that’s right; the congregation is so big we have two priests and a deacon) is young, non-Greek, and a convert to Orthodoxy. But he is awesome. He doesn’t berate the friggin’ congregation, 99% of which is Greek and born into Orthodoxy. He does his job and lets his actions and his teaching reveal the depth of his spiritual fervor and devotion to Jesus Christ. He doesn’t feel the prideful need to trumpet his Christ Credentials (I kinda like that . . .) at the congregation’s expense.

In short, the guy is awesome and I’m glad he was assigned to our church.

Pride, man! Pride is a terrible look no matter who you are, priest or parishoner.

Now, more Greek stuff . . . and yes, this ties into immigration. Continue reading “The Recent Convert”

All About Greek Stuff

Getting praise for something you didn't do or have no control over seems hollow, and is both bewildering and annoying.

But enough about birthdays. I'm here to talk about ethnicity.

In case you couldn't tell from the picture at the top of this post, I am an American of 100% Greek descent. And while discussing our differences is a bit of a third-rail these days, Amatopia is all about exploring everything that life has to offer, sometimes with jokes. Sometimes the jokes are even funny.

So here we go. Your ethnicity is an unavoidable part of your life. To quote Mr. Frank Zappa–himself part Greek–you are what you is.

But your ethnicity is one of the many things about you that you have no control over. I didn't ask to be born tall, dark, and handsome. It just happened. Hell, I didn't even ask to be born. And I didn't ask to be born Greek.

Don't get me wrong: I love being Greek. And everyone should love what they are, or at the very least, not be ashamed of it.

This leads to my next point: Shame. It's a powerful tool that must be wielded carefully. In the right hands, it can inculcate beneficial beliefs and modes of behavior. In the wrong hands it can lead to mental and psychological anguish.

Take the concept of white guilt.

Where am I going with this? Am I going to get all racial here?

No. I have no patience for that stuff. But let me tell you something: there's a weird facet to being Greek:

My fellow Americans tend to react to it as though it's some kind of accomplishment to be admired, and that it's "cooler" than what they are.

It's bizarre! I'm like, "Oh, and what is your background? English? That's cool too! Polish? Rock on! Nigerian? More power to you!"

I don't see why being of a particular background is more worthy of praise than any other.

Some of it might have to do with the rarity of Greeks–there are only, what, a million of us in the U.S.? And we're relatively different from the other European groups that make up the country that I guess we're interesting? Maybe the history and cultural impact still holds sway in the national imagination?

I don't know. It's an interesting phenomenon.

But what I WOULD like to discuss are some aspects of being Greek in America. The two My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies have done a lot to highlight Greek culture in America, and thanks to Nia Vardalos, people know that Greeks have a sense of humor and laugh at ourselves. In fact, we tend to prefer laughing at ourselves over making fun of other groups of people.

And before her, we had John Stamos as Jesse Katsopolis on Full House, Telly Savalas on Kojak, and the movie Zorba the Greek, based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name.

So I am here to discuss with you, the non-Greek-American audience, some myths and misconceptions, as well as some of the more humorous parts, of being Greek in America. As you'll see, we're no different than anybody else.

We just have better food. Continue reading “All About Greek Stuff”

Eight Lessons on Human Nature from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War

We’ve got it all figured out, right? Humanity is smarter now than during any other time in history. It’s obvious.

Obviously garbage.

Nothing we do is any different than what has been done before, save for the technology. And even our gadgets are just modern spins on old ideas.

Not that there’s anything wrong with modernity. Far from it. In my opinion, by every metric, there has never been a better time to be alive. Things are great today, and I firmly believe that they will continue to get even better.

But we ignore the past at our own peril, as George Santayana warned 100 years ago.

George Santayana Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It

Recently, I wrote a guest post at one of my favorite sites, Neil White’s This Dad Does, about the classic works of literature and history that have helped me become a better man and a better father. Among the works was History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War

Here’s my brief overview of the History from Neil’s site and why I think it’s so important:

The Godfather of history, Thucydides, penned his chronicle of the twenty-year war between Athens and Sparta in a way that seems familiar to us now: Through interviews with those who fought and debated, the examination of primary sources, and from his own experience as a combatant on the Athenian side.

Where appropriate, Thucydides paraphrases important speeches, but his prose is so eloquent the original speakers likely wish they sounded so good!But historiographical methodology aside, what struck me about Thucydides’s account of the war were his observations into the motivations of the varying factions, the hubris and the miscalculations, and ultimately Athens’ fatal overreach and arrogance that lead them to undertake their ill-fated war against Sicily–in true Greek fashion, it is a fatal flaw that proves to be the Athenian undoing.

Action, adventure, political intrigue, and keen insights into human nature. You’ll never think the same way about war and politics.

Thucydides’ account of the war is filled with so many memorable vignettes and lessons about human nature that I’d like to delve deeper and share a few passages that resonated with me, and how this history book written millennia ago relates to the world today: Continue reading “Eight Lessons on Human Nature from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War