Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dateline: International Society of Theortical Psychology, Conference, York University, Toronto

Thanks to my very kind wife Mary who lent me her notebook computer, I am able to check email and update my blog while I'm here in Toronto at the ISTP 2007 Conference meeting at York University.

I usually enjoy attending academic conferences. As I have gotten older, however, I find I prefer interdisciplinary conferences like the one I am attending more than single discipline events in either religious studies or psychology. In large part it is because my own thinking tends to be interdisciplinary and synthetic (of course when I was a boy this resulted in my being told to pay attention and learn to finish this before I did that).

But I digress . . . (something familiar to all who know me. See.)

As an undergraduate I was told that an academic discipline offers us a framework within which to see both the world around us and ourselves. All disciplines have their own strengths and weakness to be sure, but if we commit ourselves to a discipline it will shape our thought and our view of reality. For me the hard part was learning that I had to accept the discipline of an academic field of inquiry (in my case first psychology, then theology) before I could not only see the world through it, but go beyond it to make the various connections that enrich life.

We are none of us born in a vacuum. Rather we live within a web of relationships. These relationships are not only in the here and now, but reach backwards into our personal and shared history. They also reach forward into the as yet to be revealed future. A human being then is a nexus--point at which human history, the history of others and our own personal history converge. To out the same thing differently: I am not my own, I own a debt of gratitude to those who came before me and made my life possible. And I owe a debt, in justice, to those who will come after me and our vulnerable to the decisions, for good and ill, that I make.

To live between gratitude and justice is then a common human experience. And it is also I think the challenge that I am called to live as an Orthodox Christian. I did not create the faith--it comes to me from outside of me as God's gift pasted down from generation to generation by faithful (and at times not so faithful) Orthodox Christians. And what they did for me, I must do for those who come after me--I must pass on the faith.

But stepping back for a moment I realize that gratitude and justice--or if one prefers grace and law--are not opposed to one another. Rather they interpenetrate.

Without a spirit of gratitude for those who have gone before me, I have no faith to past on in justice. But if I fail to pass on the faith or fail to pass it on accurately, I not only fail to fulfill the demands of justice to those who cannot protect themselves from my dereliction, I also show a decided lack of gratitude for the sacrifices of my ancestors according to the faith.

And now back to my conference (where I am chairing a session and presenting a paper in about an hour)...

Having learned my academic disciplines of psychology and theology, I now work to establish connections between them both. In doing so I need to be careful least I sin against gratitude and justice in what I do. We forget sometimes that our lives as Orthodox Christians are simply an ordinary human lived in Christ. We are not exempt from the struggles and failures of the human family. Our task is very much like doing interdisciplinary (or now the NEW word, TRANSDISCIPLINARY) in academia--how can I bring about communion not only in the human family, but in my own life with all the different challenges and demands that it brings?

This challenge is the challenge of living a virtuous life. The virtuous person is not the one who does this or that good thing at the expense of other, equally, lesser or greater, good things. No, the virtuous person is the one who can find the point of balance among ALL the good things in his or her life. As I pointed out above, I can be just without being grateful--I cannot practice one virtue at the expense of others. Again, I must find balance in my life.

And this point of balance, precarious though it might be, is where happiness is found, is where communion is found, and no where else.

While, it is time to re-read my paper for the last time before I present. I finished it last night about 11.30 and only got it printed off this morning.

Pray for me, for my fellow presenter (an Muslim man presenting on the different forms of anger in Islam--I am looking forward to his talk with great joy) and for my listeners who, sadly,will have to listen to me.

In Christ our True God Who heals all our wounds and makes up that which is lacking in us,

+Fr Gregory

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