Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Greek Festival and Gulley

This weekend I experienced a rather odd juxtaposition of two things one wouldn’t normally experience in tandem, namely the Dayton Greek Festival and Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley. The first I experienced by walking right across the street from my physical home, and the other I experienced by driving 15 minutes south of town to my spiritual home.

The Greek Festival, which occurs each year the weekend after Labor Day, is something I’ve attended annually for over a decade, even before I gained such convenient parking for it, having fallen into the tradition of going with the same friends each year. There’s plenty to experience at the festival—cute Greek boys (especially the one there Friday lunchtime at the Never on Sundae booth), music, shopping (in particular for icons that a friend of mine collects), dancing, thick Greek coffee in small cups, crowds, noise—but it’s the food that’s the main draw.

It used to be that I’d go only once each year, but now that I live so close I eat Greek all weekend. Friday for lunch I had a gyro and cheese and spinach pies and a chocolate-coated baklava for dessert. For dinner I shared a bottle of retsina and had pastitsio and Greek salad, followed by Greek coffee and a couple baklavas. The festival doesn’t open each day until 11 a.m., but, knowing that, I’d planned ahead and had
A sweet, if not healthy, Greek Festival breakfast
baklavas and chocolate pinwheels for breakfast both Saturday and Sunday. Today for lunch I had a chicken gyro (not as good as the lamb gyros—be sure to ask for extra sauce on the side—but tasty) and another spinach pie, followed by some honey puffs. I definitely got my Greek on, as one of the t-shirts available for purchase said.

On Saturday, apart from breakfast, I took a break from Greek and ate Italian, not in the way you might have thought (no, not at the Italian festival) but at a spaghetti dinner held at my church as part of “An Evening with Philip Gulley.” Gulley was at Cross Creek as the guest speaker for the most recent of our weekend intensives, occasional times where we invite “professional thinkers” (as Gulley refers to himself and as my pastor introduced him but applicable also to other guests we’ve had previously) to give us amateur thinkers something more to think about.

You might be thinking I’d have done better to stick with the Greeks (and perhaps another bottle of retsina) than to go to a church dinner to hear a preacher talk, but Gulley, whom my pastor also introduced as an Indiana Quaker version of Garrison Keillor, was entertaining. Gulley has a dry self-deprecating sense of humor, a quiet, folksy manner that drew out quite a bit of laughter from those in attendance.

Like Keillor, Gulley draws upon his experiences growing up and living in small town America, but, unlike Keillor, Gulley’s purpose is not just to entertain but also to share his understanding of his faith, and, as Gulley shared on Saturday evening, although he is Christian he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to experience the Divine. Gulley believes there have been and are multiple “God bearers,” and he spent his time Saturday explaining how we might recognize them. (Hint: the more loudly one proclaims that one is a God bearer, the less likely it is that one is.)

As part of his explanation of the concept of God bearers, Gulley, who says he likes to avoid theological language for the most part and to speak instead in language more people can understand, did bring up and explain a theological term, Theotokos, a Greek term for Mary, the mother of Jesus, a term that means (you guessed it) “God bearer.” I mention Gulley’s mentioning of Theotokos not so much because the term itself was central to his message but because I happened to hear that same specific Greek word again not more than 24 hours later.


Just as one helping of Greek food wasn’t enough for me this weekend, neither was one helping of Gulley sufficient, and I went back to Cross Creek again this morning to hear Gulley preach during our morning worship. Gulley was again entertaining, telling funny stories from his life experiences, not just to elicit laughter but to explain his faith. Gulley told a funny story from his Catholic childhood about being caught by his priest sledding down the hill of the Methodist church in his small town; rather than progressing in his faith by associating with non-Catholics, the priest thought Gulley should instead remain on the unchanging flat lawn of the Roman Catholic Church.

The problem is, as Gulley went on to explain, faith is not unchanging. Gulley illustrated this with another story, about a photo that his parents still display, a photo taken in 1958 of their family, before Gulley and his younger siblings were born. The photo which Gulley’s parents are still so fond of is valuable because it shows their family at a point in time, but it’s not an accurate depiction of their family over all time.

Alongside that story about a cherished family photo Gulley talked also about the Nicene Creed, again straying briefly away from folksy stories and into theological explanation, but again I mention his mentioning of a theological reference because this too I would hear mentioned again very shortly thereafter. Gulley talked about the 1685-year-old creed not because it is worthless and to be discarded but because, like the photo Gulley’s parents still like so much, the Nicene Creed is a snapshot of Christian faith at a particular point in time, not an unchanging depiction of Christian faith forever and ever.

So after my two helpings of Gulley, I went with another friend back to the Greek Festival for some more Greek food, and after eating, we went inside the Annunciation church to hear a brief explanation of the building and the Greek Orthodox faith, and here’s where the odd juxtaposition of Gulley and the Greek Festival took place. Sitting in the interior of the church with all its beautiful
The only Theotokos?
icons, I heard mentioned two things I’d just heard Gulley mention—Theotokos and the Nicene Creed.

For the Greek Orthodox there is only one Theotokos, and they venerate her with a large icon at the back of their sanctuary, and the Nicene Creed, available on laminated cards stored in the backs of their pews, they brought up as an example of the unchanging and eternal nature of their faith. Quite a contrast to how Gulley made mention of these two theological things.

I point out this juxtaposition not as an attack on the Greek Orthodox faith (this statement echoes one I just saw made today on another blog by someone claiming, as it happens, not to be making “a personal attack on Pastor Philip Gulley”). It’s just that as enjoyable as I find the food at the annual Greek Festival, I’m afraid I don’t find what they serve inside their sanctuary to be as nourishing. Ironically, considering Gulley’s story of childhood sledding, it seems that those who go up the hill to the Annunciation Church value most the unchangingness of their faith while we who worship on the flat lawn in the church building that is Cross Creek cherish that God is Still Speaking.

I guess a lesson to be learnt from this odd juxtaposition is that just as there are multiple festivals with different kinds of food, there are also different Theotokoi bearing the Divine to us in different ways, even if some of us would prefer to go all our lives to the same festival.

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Good Friday Greek Orthodox-style
(Click to embiggen)

Dayton skyline at night
(Click to embiggen)
The new CareSource all alit
CareSource’s building all alit
(behind some others)

Tonight I heard singing and chanting outside that I couldn’t understand. It was Greek to me, and when I went to look for its source, wouldn’t you know, it was! Tonight the church across from my apartment celebrated Orthodox Good Friday, and part of their service was this candlelit procession around their building. Fun!

While I was out I got a decent shot of Dayton’s skyline at night. Healthcare must be really profitable because not only could CareSource afford to build a brand new building downtown but they can also afford to keep all the lights inside fully blazing along with fancy colored trim lighting along the roof.

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