A Conversation with Mihai

Before we were going to talk together, I wanted to write down some thoughtful questions about their beliefs. Questions I wanted to know, questions I think others would like to know so I got my pen out and jotted them down. I wrote down questions like, “How do you explain the gospel of Jesus Christ?” “How do you authorize your worship? Bible? Creeds? or Tradition?” and “What is the biggest threat to your church today?” I had seven questions in all. I kissed Julie. Then I started walking down the apartment steps.

My friend Adrian scheduled this meeting for me after I told him I have been trying to talk to an Orthodox priest without success. He was the translator. Walking into the church was not the most welcoming. It was quite dark and candles were lit. The painting of the saints covering the walls seemed were dark, flat, black. There was a girl in the corner with her head on a shelf and her hand on an icon. She just stood there leaning.

Mihai, the priest dressed in his priestly garb, quickly approached us with a nice smile on his face. Adrian introduced me, we put some chairs in a circle and started the conversation. “Ask whatever questions you have.” “Okay,” I replied. “First, what is the gospel of Jesus Christ?” He looked at me for a moment. “I cannot explain it. It cannot be explained. Only God can explain it to you. Just read the gospels and epistles and it will be explained to you, if God wants to. Paul explains it very well in his epistles.” “Okay” I replied, “but you cannot give me your own summary?” “Ok, God is love. God is light. God want you to have peace and not be in turmoil.”

I then wanted to know how the Orthodox church saw protestants. “What do you think about protestants?” He replied, “they are in the dark about many things. They went to far when they left the Catholic church. Catholics are extreme in that they glorify Mary too much, as they think the Pope is infallible, as they don’t allow the Pope to get married.” “So do you think protestant or Catholics are saved?” “I do not judge, only God knows,” he replied. Then he told me a story. “You know, once a Orthodox priest and a drunken bus-driver died and went to Saint Peter. Peter let the bus-driver into heaven and sent the Orthodox priest to hell. And the Orthodox priest cried, “Why” and Saint Peter said, you preached too many sermons and people were just sleeping. But the drunken bus-driver lead 23 people to heaven when they prayed for their lives.”

“When I walk around town passing out fliers in search for an opportunity to present the gospel, some Orthodox believers call me a “pocăiți.” What does that mean?” Looking a little embarrassed, he explained slowly and carefully. “It means a person who repented. It can mean a good thing, like when someone turns to God. But people use it also for people who leave the Orthodox faith.”
The last question we talked about was the topic of studying the Bible. “This was one of the extremes of the protestant movement,” he said. “The Pope is looked to for truth for Catholics.” “The people are to study the Bible for their truth for the Protestants.” Then he brightened up; “the Orthodox stay right in the middle. We want the people to read the Bible, but the explanation should be left to the priest, who has studied it in college. Just like a patient goes to a doctor for medicine, Orthodox Christians go to the priest to hear the meaning of the text.”

Mihai had to leave the conversation for 20 minutes to bless some food for a walk-in believer. After he returned we concluded our discussion with the main threat of the Church. “What is the main threat for the church today?” “Peace,” he replied. No one has peace today and that is what everyone looks for. And because they don’t have peace, they aren’t able to live right. It’s like a tree which can’t bear fruit because the winds are pressing against it. The world needs peace. With that, I asked if we could talk next week about worship, baptism, singing, and icons. Lord-willing Adrian will visit Mihai again next week.

Running and Discipline

My wife recommended that I give a first person perspective of my 12-hour race. Allow me to first thank and praise Julie for writing every week. In tears she stresses herself out with learning Romanian, learning academic English, staying calm in another culture, and working with her husband. While blogging can be enjoyable, her persistence is laudable and so I praise her. Thank you Julie for writing every week so other can read about our journey together. Now, for my perspective of the 67 mile, 12 hour run.
Fitness is necessary but not sufficient. Two Saturdays ago I found myself 3 and a half hours into the 12 hour run discouraged and defeated. It was mile 32. Why? I thought I was ready. My training took me up to 42 miles, which is a longer run than most ultra training plans will include. If my body could run this 42-mile long-run, methought, then I could endure just another 6 hours. Then I thought of one issue. I only prepared for this run for a month. While many people train and anticipate this race for 6 months to a year, I only had a month do think about it.
My body was prepared but mentally I fell apart. Two hours into the race I felt great and I was ready for another 10 hours. But I soon realized most of endurance is mental. And soon after I realized this, I realized how much endurance I lacked. This was going to be the longest race of my life. But even beyond this, I had to be prepared to run in a circle, seeing the same thing every 5 minutes. And then I gained some experiential understanding. I gained a deeper understanding that training is more mental preparation than physical preparation. Reading statements like these in articles and books, I thought I knew of its truth. Yet having experienced it now, mental self-discipline is a necessary virtue of a runner, indeed.
Mental self-discipline, and I know of no other kind, is a worthy aspiration. Though self-discipline is what I lacked, my aspiration of it got me through the race. I stopped running and walked with Julie and was asking myself, “why am I running? Not wanting to stop, I told Julie I wanted to run to at least 44 miles. I ate and started running, thinking about the why question. Before I explain what motivates my running, I will say two things. First, many runners have vaguely answered this “why” questions. They give abstract answers, that make me feel uncomfortable. They’ll say things like, I feel “present,” or “I forget about time.” Though there is a certain peace that comes with running, it isn’t what gets me out of bed; I can get a peace from tying my shoe. To me, this reason just doesn’t justify running. I want to find a reason that has enough explanative power to justify the discomfort of running. Secondly, I want to give a few reasons why I do not think I run. First, I do not think I run because I enjoy runners “high.” I have felt euphoria on a run but it doesn’t justify it. Extrinsic motivation, if I can call it that, doesn’t do it for me. When people say, “I run marathons so I can eat whatever I want,” I laugh in confusion. I don’t run because it is healthy. This could be true but running such distances is not that healthy. Some studies have actually shown that distance-running can be harmful to your heart. Finally, I don’t think I am motivated to run because I am oozing with self-discipline. As a matter of feeling, this is want I want to talk about. I believe it is the aspiration which motivates my running.
I want to be disciplined. As I find in myself many inappropriate desires, I want to manage them well and not be controlled by them but by my mind. If I want to be disciplined, is it wrong to run 12 hours to this end? I have always desired this virtue, as I assume does. Thinking through this reason helped me finish the race. If I want discipline, then running in a circle is a good way to cultivate it; running is just my favored mean to this end because of other reasons, such as it being inspirational to others, a challenging pursuit, provides contentment, and it is also a gift from God. So ultimately, I think I run for discipline. It is a virtue which drives me to run when it is uncomfortable, whether I am tired in the morning, hot at high-noon, or lonely on a long-run. Identifying this reason, I thought, “this race is perfect for me.” Discipline awaited me.
Though the race was sort of a failure, it was sort of a success. I learned it takes much more than being fit to run in a circle. And I learned the that discipline is a virtue which justifies running.

Balance

Julie and I eat ice cream every night together. It is a routine that my single-self would have never permitted. At about 21:00 we get ready for bed and then I pull out our blender to make some ice cream, blending 340 grams of frozen bananas, 25 grams of peanuts, and some instant coffee. After blending it all together, we divide it into some coffee mugs and eat it together on our balcony, looking out out at the apartment buildings and the lights on the Orthodox Church. In the corner of my eye I see Julie grin, which makes me feel I am doing something right. My single-self would have never let me do this because it is “unproductive.”

My brother used to tell me “girls will slow you down.” Truth be told, he was actually advising me to start dating. My brother knew I was living too fast, trying to stay productive all the time. And he also knew I was odious, being impatient with the smallest of annoyances. As my brother Paul often does, he corrected me and then started laughing at me, actually he started laughing at this funny-truth and then at my annoyed reaction.

I need help going the speed limit; I do not balance well. When I eat donuts, I will eat four. When I work on cars, I’ll buy nine. When I eat healthily, I eat vegetables alone. Fruit has sugar. When I study, I don’t sleep. When I exercise, I run marathons. When I marry, I marry Julie, who is much the same way. As Julie and I have been together, we talk and laugh about our unbalanced tendency. So here are my thoughts on balance and its relevance to Julie’s and my marriage. Is living an unbalanced life good?

My initial thought is that unbalanced productivity is good. By “unbalanced productivity,” I mean accomplishing as much as possible. Paul, the apostle, says “make the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). So my thinking has been, and still is to some extent, I must do as many things as I can. Yes, Paul does not say anything about doing many things. To make the most use of our time can mean doing a few things but doing them well. And it seems that life is really only filled with but a few things. “Unbalanced productivity” can actually leave someone too busy for the “few things of life.” Being balanced is doing a few things well.

Relationships are the few things of life. This is what the Bible says as well as my emotions. In the Bible describes God creating man to have a relationship with him; this relationship is man’s greatest purpose. Also, God tells us the supreme virtue is love, the blood of a relationship. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Not only does this make sense but this is how I feel. As I sit on the balcony with Julie, eating ice cream, her smile impresses me with the feeling that I am doing something right. Our relationship is more important than the things I could be doing. Let me end with this proverb which is now hanging above my desk. “Un nume bun este mai de dorit decît o bogăţie mare şi a fi iubit preţuieşte mai mult decît argintul şi aurul. Prov. 22:1,” which means, “A good name is more desirable than great wealth and being loved is to be cherished more than silver and gold.”

On Blogging

I’m writing this post as we are flying over New York heading to London. Julie is sleeping beside me. I have been wanting to write a post for a while now but I am just now getting time to write it. I want to write a little bit about the reason for Julie’s and my blog. We hope it informs, enriches, and encourages you.

I’m trying to work on my relationships and blogging will help me in this. A modest goal we have for this blog is to keep family and friends informed. As I would characterize myself as an obliger, one who needs accountability, I need the blog to keep me accountable to write consistently for I hold myself accountable to the expectation of others. So let me begin your expectation. Julie and I plan to have a new blog every Tuesday (save today). This accountability will help me towards my bigger goal of continuing my relationship with friends and family. And as I see it, sharing in a relationship is the purpose of life.

A more ambitious goal of this blog is to add perspective. Adding perspective enriches lives and I have come to realize this recently. As a newlywed, I’m thankful for Julie’s added perspective for it surely enriches me. Right now I’m feeling a mixture of emotions. This mixture of emotions is due not only to the contrary emotions with me but also from seeing Julie’s emotions. Though I don’t enjoy goodbyes, I don’t dislike them as much as Julie does. Before this past week, I have seen Julie cry only twice, once after running a marathon and the another time during a stressful period in our relationship. But this week I have seen her cry more than a few times. Seeing her love and affection for family and friends has given me a new, and may I say a better perspective. For I don’t believe all perspectives are equal. As Julie has a more central perspective of family, I think it is a healthier one than my own and I’m thankful for this.

On perspectives, they aid understanding; they enrich us. The person who sees the whole elephant understands the trunk better than one who is blind to the rest of the elephant. It is true that my understanding of English was never so enriched than when I started learning a different language, Greek. My understanding of American culture has never been so enriched than when I moved to Romania. And my understanding of loving others has surely been enriched by seeing Julie love her family. As Julie blogs in order to narrate our journey, I hope to compliment her blogs by offering my perspective. I trust your understandings will be enriched as you read.

I hope our blog encourages you. I will work to write true things about life and write them from my own perspective and more so I will write them for a better perspective. I write not from a better perspective as much as I write for a better perspective. I have not attained perfection. As Julie and I love to eat and run and study about it, we hope our writings help you live healthfully. We also enjoy reading and studying various things, such as language learning, productivity, and marriage, and in these we encourage you to life fully. Lastly and most of all, I hope you are encouraged to take God seriously. At times we will write spiritually and theologically, as a botanist has her way of writing about flowers. This is a blog about our life; it is our flower. Please enjoy it and gain from it when you can. This is our hope. – Sam Peters