I should tip my hat to whoever coined this charming moniker. “Konvertsky” -- say it out loud, and it is usually charged with a less-than-civil condescension (as is certainly the case with the best known promulgator of this term). Or, it is said with a tired irony -- which is the usual result of its reflexive use.
I have little to say about the condescension. Perhaps we converts deserve it. We are guilty, after all, of some bad manners here and there. Perhaps it is inevitable. Historically, a culture almost always reacts to “difference” (or “the other”) with at least a soupçon of disorder.
So “condescension” -- like scandals -- will come and go in this age, as there will be wars and rumors of wars. This things must be, but woe to the warmonger, the scandalizer and condescender indeed.
I will deal more ethically with the reflexive irony. How go the konvertsky -- that famous (or infamous) influx of unlikely American Anglicans and distraught establishment Protestants, and even more unlikely mishmash of “free church” Evangelicals and Charismatics -- that immigrated into that patently odd jurisdictional ambiguity of the American Orthodox Church?
I hope that the majority of those who have left their own heterodox “Ur” and entered the Orthodox nave of Canaan have stayed. I hope that they and their families have continued along the eternal path of becoming, and have tasted the first fruits of theosis. I hope they have learned of the Church’s tradition and “theoria,” and have become wise in responding to the foolhardiness of this contemporaneity. I hope they have become adept at fighting the passions, and fending off the feints and wiles of the loathsome powers.
I hope so.
I do not know of any studies that can answer the whither or whether question -- that is, are they hither or yon?
There are, as you might expect, anecdotes, as far as data is concerned. I am aware of several narratives of ex-protestants who tell stories of disillusionment after five to ten years in Orthodoxy. The first apprehensions of beauty have worn off, and the frustration of relationships and disappointments have set in.
Other, more extreme, narratives include the exposure to egregious ecclesiastical misbehaviors. Some converts have seen Bad Things -- and some of these converts have had Bad Things done to them. Some of them have seen persons in the Church not only ape the patterns of the world (“world” in its negative, not John 3.16, sense) -- but have seen churchmen actually surpass the world in worldly behavior. Some converts have seen the Church replicate the marketplace DNA, having given religious preference to the term “entrepreneur” and have adopted the management-by-objective procedure and newspeak of corporate America.
And, it must be said, some converts are themselves guilty of bringing this “strange fire” into the holy of holies.
That is one trajectory -- converts coming in, enthusiastic at first, but finding that they have entered a cultural experience where the mores differ from their protestant familiarities. Looking back at my own behavior as a neophyte -- more than twenty years ago -- I wince at some of my actions that could have come off only as brash. I did not hesitate to afflict others with my positions. I was an early expert on The Rudder. I announced to one and all the correct rubrics for fasting, for the appropriate moments to cross oneself, the proper method of using a prayer rope: all this within a year of my chrismation.
Then comes the inevitable confrontation with the complexities of individual psychologies and corporate sociologies. People often revealed that they needed friendship more than expert correction. The particular histories of parish and diocese and families and individuals came to make platitudes a lot harder to make. Moral pronouncements -- which had to be made -- became more expensive. “Positions” became less important than “witnesses.”
As a convert to Orthodoxy, I met human nature and found it hard.
Orthodoxy does not permit shying away from nature. Ever. And that goes with either nature -- human or divine.
Some of us converts, consequently, are depressed about this.
That, as I have said, is one trajectory. Presently, I will follow it to its end with a helpful suggestion.
But there is another trajectory that I must consider -- and I’d really rather not … it’s just that reality has this unavoidable aspect that necessitates the mention of a certain fellow convert of mine. He came into Orthodoxy at about the same time as I did, though became much, much more famous. I eventually entered the priesthood: he did not. He and I both took our former protestantism to task, but our styles differed in whacking contrast. I did not do to my parents what he did.
And I also remained wholly in agreement with the Church’s dogmatic severities.
It seems that this particular case reveals, in poignant relief, the schema of some of my konvertsky peers: they were already on a trajectory of -- shall we say -- renunciation. Perhaps it was a renunciation of their patronage because of lingering madnesses from “family of origin” issues. Perhaps it was a pilgrim’s regress from old pedestrian certainties -- the fundamentalist notions that one is too sophisticated now to be associated with.
Perhaps it was simply the expansiveness one always feels when he emerges from a more restrictive system and pops out into a more liberal system of indictions.
Here is the dirty secret of a lot of ex-fundy converts: the Orthodox Church allows you to play cards, go to movies and dance with girls (and have a beer or two and buy raffle tickets). One never got to do this kind of thing in Greenville.
While most “cradle Orthodox” sometimes feel their church tradition restrictive (i.e., no sex outside heterosexual marriage, and a lot of fasting and long services), no ex-fundy convert would ever feel this way. Their emergence into Orthodoxy is an experience of beauty, expansiveness, awe at the sonorous profundities of Tradition … but -- and it must be said -- also a lot of expanded adolescent freedom.
You must credit me with at least a proskomede crumb of courage here, because I just let out a closely guarded fraternal secret.
And along with those other adolescent freedoms, there is also the freedom to become politically liberal. Such a thing is not possible in Christian fundamentalism: it is more than possible in the mainline protestant tradition, where the liberalism of universal enfranchisement and economic justice is joined, corruptly, to the rejection of Holy Tradition.
But the old fashioned political liberalism is very possible in Orthodoxy. There is -- as I have brought to your attention many times heretofore in these phosphorescent pages -- much patristic precedent for cursing usury, totalitarianism, the ownership of slaves, the lack of regard for the powerless and the marginalized, the dominance of the entertainment cultus, the beating of wives and children, and the stinking up of the environment.
I will be friends with those who hold to the conservatism of Orthodox dogma, whether they drift toward the platform of either wings, left or right. But I cannot keep table with those who refuse to raise their glass to the Nicene Creed.
It is one thing to be liberal or even socialist: it is quite another to disavow the Creed and Tradition.
And this disavowal is simply the logical direction, the next sweep of the curve, of the trajectory of renunciation.
I have no suggestions for this sort of konvertsky other than what they know already:
But now, back to the first class of konvertsky: they who are depressed.
I will speak to you now in the old argot.
Jesus still loves you. Jesus still died for you. His Body, the fellowship, should still be marked by love and compassion, forbearance and joy.
You have lost nothing by becoming and remaining Orthodox. You have gone from the plane, two-dimensionality of truth into the third dimension, and the fourth. And later, beyond.
You take Communion differently now, and Chrismation is a one-way seal. You never experienced those things before -- but the other part of deification is a providentially-ordered sequence of burden-bearing and grace-sharing. The disappointments from other people are such that God has elected you to bear that particular burden, and to bear His Grace to those particular people.
Yes, they hurt your feelings, but in our hurt feelings is His strength made manifest, and through our hurt feelings do we find the sufficiency of His Grace.
It’s high time, my beloved konvertsky, that you read the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Things are harder now, but they are more beautiful. There is peace, but it is a Peace that is infinite, and is so high and large that it passes all understanding. And sometimes, it is completely missed at the levels of surface experience. The Holy Trinity cannot be approached through the simplicities of relational or process theology.
You cannot go back, because that kind of “home” is the sort where “you can never go home again.”
As the late Fr. Peter Gilquist once told me, “There is room at the Three-Bar Cross for you.” Yes indeed. “In My Father’s house there are many mansions.”
Stay where there is room. Do not check out.
In closing, I will leave that argot and return to the usual tone.
I suggest that we konvertsky take any and all condescension as penance to help with our humiliation and repentance. These are, the Fathers assure us, rather good things.
I suggest that we also listen to the Hesychastic Fathers, in particular, in the business of displacing our passions with the practices of correspondent virtues.
We former Anglicans (or wannabe Anglicans) should allow for the possibility that Orthodoxy might be more pietistic than we thought. And we should get along better with ex-free-church converts.
We ex-fundies should accept the fact that the order of the Church is older than we are, and Orthodoxy is not ripe for revisionism and innovation. Much as we disliked the constant re-self-invention process of the evangelical experience, we still harbor many innovationistic urges. Come on, admit it.
We conservatives should be open to the possibility that theological conservatism does not necessarily demand political conservatism. And that political conservatism is not the same as being rightwing.
We who are more liberal in our political tastes should quit the illiberal use of the word “fundy” as an ad hominem attack. And we should remain faithful to Tradition, and not go the way of mainline protestantism.
We konvertsky should renounce our judgmentalism. Yes. We do that. We put on a babushka and think everyone should do that. We grow a beard and think everything should do that. We practice xerophagy for two whole days and think everyone should do that.
We take attendance. We review, with upturned noses, raffle practices and count donuts at socials.
Come now, let us reason. No one is going to die or even go to hell if you quit, all at once, your investigation and evaluation of other people.
I’m afraid that some of our depression is due to judgmentalism. The kind that Jesus didn’t like. Just as there is a cost to the renunciation of dogma, so there is a cost to judgmentalism. Much of our angst -- more than we'd care to admit -- is due to passion that we have failed to fight.
Jesus is going to be born soon, in a cave at Bethlehem.
The Star, solncu pravdy, is gleaming, the Sun of Truth. Look for it again. Be wise.
Stop thinking of going back to Ur. You are konvertsky, and that is a good thing.
Let us be quiet, like James did, and be happy in the magic light. Content. At rest. We don't need to protest anymore.
Stay in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.