Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uniform for Church?

I teach at a private school where the students are required to wear uniforms.  On Monday and Wednesday through Friday, young men may wear khaki pants (or shorts, weather providing) and a green polo shirt or anything else as long as it has the name of the school.  Young women may wear khakis, but are more encouraged to wear plaid skirts with a polo shirt or anything else with the name of the school. On Tuesdays, all students wear their formal uniforms which, for guys, are gray pants, button down white shirt and tie with a navy blazer.  Ladies are required to wear skirts, a white shirt with a navy blazer, and knee high socks.   Most of our school population observe these rules consistently. 

However, on certain days of the year, there are out-of-uniform days.  This may extend to only the kids in one particular grade as a reward or to the entire school prior to the winter holiday during their final exams or during homecoming week.  Every time there is an out-of-uniform day, there is an obvious decline in learning and in discipline in general.

My wife teaches at a public school; I did so as well.  We have both pondered the effects if a uniform policy were instituted at a public school like at the one she teaches.  I suggest that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  The two in particular "pros" are 1) teachers would not have to be forced into awkward positions to reprimand students for not dressing according to the established guidelines (I can attest that as a guy teacher trying to tell a young lady that the spaghetti strap strings are inappropriate or that her shirt is cut too low that too much of her cleavage is exposed or that her shorts are too short, such is really awkward and some women will even go so far as to suggest that you're some sort of pervert for even noticing) and 2) students will not be able to "bully" anyone who doesn't wear the "right" clothes.  Will that also lead to increased student learning?  I don't know, but I think that it should be tried before it is written off as ineffective.

Let's apply this standard to church and what we should wear.  Does God care?  I would like to think that our coming to church and worshiping and praying are more important to him than our choice of attire, but we have to remember that what goes on at church is a communal activity.  Throughout St. Paul's epistles, he exhorts his readers to not be stumbling blocks (Greek skandalon) to others  by keeping the  fasts or not, for example.  Should a uniform policy be adopted by any church as a way to prevent others from stumbling during church?

In a sense the church already has such a policy.  Priests are vested particularly to reflect their office before God as are deacons as are the taper bearers as are the chanters and readers.  Why for them and not for the laity?  The uniforms are signs of the work that the persons wearing them are doing.  What is the job of the laity?  Like everyone else, it is to pray.  Should they not be marked out in a way to indicate that?   I know that an Orthodox Christian would balk if he saw his priest during the Divine Liturgy in anything besides his vestments. 

There are many arguments which I will not rehash here as to why more formal attire should  not necessarily be expected of parishioners.  I would just say that if we take such care to choose our clothing for concerts, parties, receptions, business meetings, lounging around the house, working in the yard, etc., why would we not put the same thought into what we wear in the House of the Lord?  Would more praying be accomplished if all men wore at least khakis and a polo shirt and women wore dresses?  Would there be more reverence and less talking from the parishioners if men wore suits and women wore nice hats?  I don't believe there is any way to measure this.  Anything that may change may well have to be measured against the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

As Orthodox Christians we are taught that everything in the Church is more than a mental activity. Our prayer life is more than a mental activity.  That's why we kiss icons, we cense the Church, we taste of the Body and Blood of Christ, we bow, we prostrate, we make the sign of the Cross.  Our Church's praxis is not one of Gnostic dualism, but where the body and soul come together in worship of God.  Shouldn't that also include the manner of our dress that is humble, not gaudy, and shows respect rather than receive attention?  And if we chose our clothes in such a manner would that not also translate to how we approach God in prayer while in His holy place?

I only have questions, no answers.  I seriously doubt my parish or any other parish for that matter would willingly let me do a study on that, as they should.  But if we emphasize comfort too much, how long before people start showing up in sweatpants or bathrobes with slippers on?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Giving them the funeral they want

In our modern culture, weddings are tailor made for every couple, for every time of year, for every destination, for every kind of circumstance, etc.  Weddings can be big or small; fancy or informal; catered or pot-lock; private or public; for love or for show, etc.  In fact, pretty much everything exists in this way.  Our way of life has become living Burger King's mantra:  Have it your way.  Except for maybe your funeral.

I came across this article the other day from America:  The National Catholic Review.  The article is written, as you might expect, from a Catholic perspective. The author is a nun who laments that fewer and fewer Catholic funeral masses (i.e. Requiems) are being given for funerals.  Some of this has to do with the fact that the Catholic Church in America is losing members.  Some of this has to do with the fact that the services provided for by Funeral Homes are more convenient, less restrictive and more inviting of giving eulogies than what is currently allowed for in Masses for the Dead.  Some of this also has to do with a sense of shame.  Why have a funeral in a church when only a few people will show up?  But, another reason, and one that is really quite disturbing is that the children, who are often left to plan these sort of things, often plan the funerals as if they were the ones who were deceased and more for their benefit.

Anyone who has been to a traditional Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead or Requiem knows that it is not centered around the person's life.  The homily given by the priest might touch on that, but it is not a personal affair.  The Mass is celebrated to reaffirm that the great mercy of God has triumphed over the evil of the Devil and made powerless death.  All will rise to receive judgment and many will enter into the abodes of the blessed.  But the Mass also stresses why all of this needed to happen, namely the sin of humanity.  Quite frankly, in our culture, sin has been replaced by a hierarchy of choices, some of which are better than others, but, ultimately, to be evaluated by the person himself.  For a lot of younger people burying their parents, this is precisely what they do not want to hear so they plan something more palatable for themselves and give themselves a sneak preview of what kind of funeral they want when their time comes.

I think that a dead person's wishes should be honored and respected.  If they want a traditional Catholic mass, they should get it and the children should not override those desires.  If the deceased wants his ashes scattered with a small ceremony, fine.  I agree with the author that the Requiem Mass is the way to go and that it is absolutely imperative that the funeral should be planned along with making any will or testament.  To force any kind of ceremony because the child has a problem with what the parents believed is disrespectful and does not honor the parent.  Here's an example.

The current head of the Episcopal Church in the USA is Katherine Jefferts-Schori.  To  call her a liberal is the understatement of the year.  She has undermined the Episcopal teaching on about every subject so much that numerous Episcopalians have either split off and formed their own dioceses or left the Episcopal Church altogether.  Jefferts-Schori has also decided that the limited resources of the Episcopal Church are best spent by suing breakaway dioceses, defrocking clergy who uphold traditional orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church, and confiscating property. 

Her mother converted to Orthodoxy later in life and died in the Church.  Jefferts-Schori planned an Episcopal memorial service with her even though her mother had made it clear to her priest that she wanted an Orthodox funeral.  Not only was this desire not granted by Ms. Jefferts-Schori, but the priest of her mother was also barred from attending and not even allowed to offer Orthodox prayers at the ceremony. This is nothing but pettiness, but since it is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church here in America, it's par for the course.

The daughter should be ashamed.  But it's not just children of dead parents who have behaved poorly in this matter, but also parents when they unfortunately must prepare funerals for deceased children.  This example strikes very close to home.

Ten years ago, my best friend and a young woman whom I cared for dearly, tragically died by killing herself.  It was very hard for me to go to the visitation and to the funeral, too.  My friend was an agnostic if not an atheist (I don't think she knew for sure).  Her parents were very committed evangelical Christians.  It was no secret that the parents and she were at odds over the religious issue.  The funeral that was planned for her was one that would normally be given to an Evangelical Christian with Christian praise hymns and readings that I know she wouldn't have approved of.  I talked about this afterwards with other friends of hers and we agreed that the service we saw was not what she would have wanted.  I don't intend to be rude in saying this, but, in a way, I wondered if that was the parents getting in the last word in the religion argument.  I believe the parents should have honored her wishes, whatever they were.

I know that when I die, I want to depart from this earth according to the Byzantine Rite. I want the whole thing chanted in Greek, no women chanters in the most glorious Byzantine melodies.  That's what I want. I've been to enough Orthodox funerals to know that when we sing this Rite, we are praying reverently that the person's soul be saved by our merciful God. I don't want it any other way.

Should we force Orthodox funerals on those who have fallen away simply because that's what the living want?  Should we force small chapel services at the funeral home with lots of eulogies because that, again, is what the living want?  I say no.  Give them the funeral they want and respect their wishes.  If no wishes are left behind, then those who are planning the funeral shouldn't interpret that as a sign to do whatever they want because they want it.  To the living, plan your funeral now so it can be honored.