Orthodox Small Groups (And also a running update)

Tomorrow will be the 2nd weekly meeting of a small fellowship group I’ve been trying to get started at my church. I was encouraged that a few folks came on the first night and am hopeful for at least the same number or perhaps more tomorrow.

I’m keeping it extremely casual and freeform for the moment just sort of talking about whatever folks want to talk about. The main goal is just for more frequent fellowship and getting to know each other better, and I think that is something that we accomplished last week.

It’s strange to me that small groups like this seem to be uncommon in the Orthodox world, as virutally every church I was ever a part of in the Protestant world had such things. It’s not surprising that these sorts of groups might would look a bit different in Orthodoxy, but the total lack does seem strange. But I’m glad to be trying it out in our community, and initial feelings are that I think it’s going to be a success. We’ll see where we are in a few more weeks, and months.

As for running, I went ahead today and signed up for a 5K event, the first one I’ve been signed up for in a good while. It’ll be on April 14th, so, just a couple weeks away.

I decided I’d sign up because I have started to be able to hit the full 5K on my runs without having to resort to walking a few times now, so I figure in another couple of weeks I should be able to count on making that happen. So far, so good there. Once it’s complete I’ll either pick a 2nd 5K, or a 10K, or maybe both, as the next step. I also will likely be getting myself to go back to Soldierfit instead of simply donating my money to them as I have been for awhile now… 😉 I wanted to start running first and then start fitting that in as well, and I’m close to having the running habit down well enough that I can expand my efforts.

Successful 5Ks and Dumb Talking Points

After returning home today from a conference in DC, I let the dogs out (yes, it was me who did that) and then immediately got ready to go for a run as it was already well passed the time I normally get home from work. It needed to happen today, as I’ve got church tomorrow evening and fitting in a run would be extraordinarily difficult (note that I don’t do morning runs – maybe one day, for now, getting out of bed when I need to for work is triumphant enough).

My last run on Sunday afternoon had been a bit of a bummer for me. Following the run where I’d felt like I maybe could have hit 5K without any breaks if I’d pushed myself really, really hard, I went into it with hopes that maybe it would be the one. Alas, it was not. Pretty early into the run I started to feel like I just had no energy in my legs, and I was walking somewhere around the 1.4 mile mark. I continued to try to jog when I could, but there was a lot of walking in the remainder of the 5K. So, it was a bit disheartening.

Today, on the other hand, was the total opposite. I started off my jog and it was feeling pretty good – well, it was also feeling pretty cold as the temperature has dropped quite a bit since Sunday. During my 2nd lap around the lake where I’ve been doing my runs, I decided to just take a peek at my fitbit to make sure it was tracking everything OK and then try to not look at it at all until I was basically done. I was just over a mile in at that point. I kept going, and, well, I completed the distance without having to walk at all. Add to that, it’s the first run since I’ve started again where I was feeling really good and sort of in the zone when I reached the end of the run.

There were a few things that were different today than on Sunday. As I’d mentioned, the temperature, it was much cooler today. I did it later in the day, and I’d definitely had more to eat prior to the run than I had on Sunday. As the amount of rest my legs had prior to each run wasn’t really meaningfully different, I don’t think that had anything to do with it, and so really I surmise that probably the issue on Sunday was a lack of food resulting in feeling like I had no energy. So, I’ll try to avoid that moving forward. Next, once I’m able to get several of these jogs done in a row with no walking (this could be a fluke and my next run I’ll have to walk again after all), I’ll start to actively try to increase my speed to bring my time down under 30 minutes – it was 33:51 today.

Anyway, the conference I was at in DC was related to Information Security, particularly as it applies to government. It was worthwhile and informative, and a nice change of pace from the daily drudgery of my job, but I was surprised how partisan they came off when they were talking about infosec as it relates to the upcoming elections. The phrase “Democracy is on the ballot” was uttered from the stage, which earned an internal groan and a hard eye roll from me. That phrase is nothing but a DNC talking point to try to scare their base into voting so that Biden will win. I can’t say if anyone SERIOUSLY believes that if Trump wins the election that he will refuse to ever leave office again, but I know that’s the message the DNC pushes, and it’s the message most of the corporate press pushes, and it’s the only possible meaning of that asinine talking point.

If someone does seriously believe that, they’ve not possibly considered the facts on the table. Donald Trump was elected in 2016. He ran again in 2020, and it was determined that he lost. Whether anyone thinks anything sketchy happened or not is immaterial on this point. Donald Trump has said and I believe continues to say that it was unfair and he shouldn’t have lost, but the important bit is this: Donald Trump left office and Joe Biden is the sitting President. In the only way that actually matters, Donald Trump conceded the election, and there is no reason to believe he would not leave office again at the end of a 2nd term. To believe otherwise is to engage in fantasy.

TLDR: Whichever candidate wins, American Democracy will continue.

Ok, 5K celebration and venting about a statement that annoyed me over.

Tiny Smartphones

One of the things that was interesting at the men’s retreat was that it sort of self-selected for a group of people that are interested in sort of… minimalist cell phone choice. Just in those who I interacted with where the subject happened to come up, there were are least 2 guys who were rocking flip phones, a few using the Lite Phone, and, I think at least one other similar phone. You don’t come across those very often just day to day (or at least I don’t).

I had tried a flip phone awhile back and I couldn’t do it – could be I chose poorly, but it was just way to hard to find information in old texts – plus not being able to use certain loyalty apps etc was a bit of a bummer (though I’d have dealt with that ok if not for the text thing).

I replaced that with a phone from Unihertz called the Jelly Star (if you google that, you can see what it is). I really love the phone – it’s awkward to talk on apart from using speakerphone or a headset because of the fact that it is so small, but honestly I send messages via typing way more than I actually use it as a phone. The typing is a bit awkward too, it’s a very small keyboard on the screen and so using the swipe feature is imperative. It’s not TOO annoying most of the time. And, it’s super easy to carry around, play music on, etc. Every now and again it does get super slow and need a reboot, but I’ve been using it long enough now to know I’m sticking with it till it stops working – and then I’ll probably get a newer version of it, or else something similar.

Another great thing about it – the reactions that you get from people when they see it. For instance, at Sheetz yesterday morning I held it out to the guy so he could scan the QR code in my loyalty app, and it just sort of broke his brain – he didn’t know what to do and jsut ask “what is that?” It’s funny to me to see that reaction. You also just get comments like “oh wow that’s a really small phone” – some sort of comment happens most of the time. But there’s nothing better than those moments when someone can’t even comprehend what they’re looking at.

It’s interesting that the way people think of phone has changed so much though, because back in the 00’s, pre-iPhone, small phones were where it was at, everybody wanted the smallest phone they could get. It didn’t confuse them why your phone would be so small, they’d just see if and love it. Now everything is basically an iPhone and relatively the same size and shape, etc. Anything that isn’t that is just kind of weird.

Anyway, I highly recommend it. If you get yourself one of these minimalist phones, you’ll break that terrible mindless phone usage habit you probably have, and as a bonus when strangers see your weird phone you can see their reactions to it. I find it entertaining, anyway.

Solo Running (Actually, Jogging (Ackchyually, Jogging+Walking))

I’m trying to get back into running again. Last year wasn’t particularly great for me in regard to fitness. I let some stuff sort of throw me off course and I started this year in not the greatest place physically. So, I’m trying to get that going and reign in the eating which I have a tendency to let get a little out of control. Lent will also help with that, as, it gives me an additional reason to reduce food intake.

Back in 2011, I decided I was going to run a marathon. I had never done particularly long distance running before – I had taken up running around campus when I was at college, but at most those might have been 5k runs. It was right after Easter when I decided to do it, late April. And so I started with Couch-to-5K and between then and December built up to running the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon. I don’t really look or feel like a person who completed a marathon now, and I mean hey, it was 13 years ago at this point, but I’m really typing out this story to remind myself that I did it, and I went from a person who had never run more than 5k at a time to someone that completed a Marathon in 4:18:58 in about 8 months.

I’m older now than I was then, and so maybe it will be harder, and maybe it will take more than 8 months, but I can get there again. I want to get there again. And then I want to stick with it. That’s the problem I seem to face with the whole diet and fitness thing, maintaining it long term. Some of that just has to do with getting discouraged by other matters in life – I definitely am a person who turns to food as a panacea. But I don’t want to get to in depth in regard to that here.

But for now, this is where I am at: Working my way toward being able to run 5K without stopping. So far I’ve done 4 runs this year. This was the first week where I did 2 in the same week (the last couple weeks the travel to retreats resulted in me not doing any other runs on those weeks), and tomorrow I will do a 3rd run for the week. Then that will be the goal for the next little while, 3 runs a week. Now, as you may surmise from the title of this post, I say the word run, but a real runner would probably use the word “jog” to describe what I do. I also for the last several years have had a rule that I will never do less than 5K when I go for a “run”. Now, if it’s been awhile since I’ve done any running (and this time was probably the longest I’ve gone without since I began to prep for that marathon) then I may not be able to actually run all of the 5K. And that’s fine, I can’t make myself be physically capable of doing something that I’m not at this precise moment. But, I run/jog what I can, and I walk the rest. I’ve thus far been improving with each subsequent run, and I look forward to the first time I’m able to do the whole thing without slowing down – it’s going to feel like a big accomplishment.

Once I get there, I’m going to think about setting a timetable on making a marathon happen again. I’ll sign up for a couple 5K’s, a 10K, a half-marathon… but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is what I want to do. One of the things I want to do this year. So, here’s hoping I can remain inspired… or dedicated enough to persevere if inspiration fades. Prayers that this may be the case are appreciated.

Orthodox Men’s Retreats

Here we are again to reflect on a retreat for neither the first or the last time. Though, it is the first time I’m reflecting specifically on an Orthodox Christian Men’s retreat. I feel like this was a thing that I needed to experience but didn’t really even realize that I needed to experience it until after it happened.

First I must say I am very thankful to two different Michaels that I was able to attend at all – I met Michael Mason through the singles retreat the week before, and he let me know about a ticket that was available through Michael Baclig, who was heading up the retreat. I quickly made the decision that I would try to attend and was able to get off work and make necessary arrangements. My decision to go was also influenced by the fact that Fr. Stephen De Young was on the schedule, and so I am thankful that he was going as well, because I might not have been able to convince myself I wanted to make a 10 hour drive otherwise. I’ve been listening to Lord of Spirits from the beginning, and while I’d met Fr Andrew several times, I’d never seen Fr. Stephen prior, so it seemed like a good opportunity. I’m glad for that because while I wasn’t familiar with the other speakers, I was very grateful to be introduced to them.

I found the talks all to be very valuable, and it really connected in with some of my goals for the immediate future. Recently I’ve been really trying to think of ways to build community in my parish, and between the talks and conversations with other attendees, I got so many ideas for this. I really appreciated Fr Stephen’s analogy to how one goes to sleep: “lay down and pretend like you’re asleep until you’re actually asleep”. That solidified in my head what I plan to do for the small group I’ll be leading starting next week. I’ve got a few people that are lined up to attend, but I’ve told all of them: hey, I’m going to be there no matter what. If no one else shows up, I’ll sit there alone and read a book for an hour, but if even a single other person shows up we’re going to have some fellowship and conversation.

For my personal life, in the realm of what I’m willing to share publicly, thinking about the types of work that we do and the relative fulfillment from them further confirmed for me that I really need to focus on creative endeavors this year. My job is fine, but I don’t really find it fulfilling – the most that there is that I can point to and say “I did that” is something like “well, there are fewer vulnerabilities on these computers than there were when I scanned them last time” or “hey, it’s been another week with no ransomware attack!” It’s time that I got disciplined about my desire for storytelling and actually completed a writing project. That’s part of the reason I’ve committed to the reading goals I did for the year – If I’m immersed in reading, it will help in writing.

If I have any criticism of the event, it is only that it was perhaps too structured. There was always something that you should be doing. I don’t think it should be loosened up too much, but a little more breathing room throughout the day would have been nice. It was a great event though, I was so glad that I went.

Orthodox Singles Retreats

It’s now the second day after the first ever Ancient Faith Orthodox Christian Singles retreat, and I thought perhaps I’d turn to my poor, neglected blog to do some reflection on what transpired there from my own perspective. So here it comes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (There’s no ugly… well, except perhaps for myself).

Overall it was a really good experience. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a lot of people. Everyone was very friendly. I met some people that I really hope will become long term friends and not just people that exist on my Facebook timeline. Only time can tell that, really. Also I got some contact info from a few of the ladies that maybe/hopefully could lead to something down the road – no sparks flew right off the bat for me, but as I get to know them better I hope to at least develop a friendship and I’m open/hopeful for one of those friendships to develop into something more.

Going into this retreat I was very cognizant of trying to manage my expectations, and to keep them as low as possible. Of course, hope springs eternal, and keeping the idea that maybe this will be the time that everything I’ve wanted for years suddenly comes to fruition completely out of mind and subdued is something that is nigh impossible. That said, I successfully negotiated myself down to “if I leave this with a greater sense of Orthodox community, it will have been a success.” I do think that is achieved. Since coming home, I have been in touch with a few folks from the retreat, and it is my hope that it continues. In a certain sense, it is too early to call, as this may be a short-lived post-retreat reality and a month or two from now I’ll be completely out of contact with all of those people, but it is my hope and prayer that is not the case.

Aside from that, I was surprised at the spiritual renewal I experienced as part of the retreat. I feel like something clicked in me and I have an understanding I didn’t possess before. It’s something that would be difficult to put into words, because it is all based on things I had heard a million times before, and I don’t think the intellectual understanding has really changed – it feels more like a change in my spirit. I’ve struggled a very long time with periods of despondency, and it has caused other setbacks and strife in my life. Despondency breeds despondency. It’s part of the reason why as much as I looked forward to this retreat I dreaded an outcome that was negative and substantially less than what I had an expectation for. It’s why I tried so hard to mitigate my expectations beforehand. I didn’t want to leave the retreat, and come home, and feel the dread of despondency.

That fear was very real for me, as my previous experience at the Antiochian Village had ended that way. I enjoyed my time at Adult Camp in 2022 (for the most part), but the reality is that when I came home I felt miserable and was immersed in feelings of despair. I hadn’t found anything close to what I was looking for. Even the small handful of people I initially had a small amount of communication with quickly fell off the map. I had a real spiritual struggle, and while I felt like in some ways I worked my way through some inner turmoil, by and large it felt like a spiritual regression in the weeks and months following. None of this is the fault of anyone at Antiochian Village, it was all part of my personal struggles, and some interactions with some of the campers there – or at least my perception of those interactions.

So far, the aftermath in my personal life of these two events is markedly different, and I hope that it remains so. As this will be posted to Facebook, many of the retreat attendees will have access to read it, though, who knows whether or not they will. My general assumption is that no one reads any of these, ever. When I write here, it is for myself, though of course I don’t write anything I’m not comfortable with being public knowledge. If any of you do find your way here, please feel free to share your own experience, whether in the Facebook comments or the comments here on this WordPress blog.

I hope that others experienced the same sort of change that I did, and left with a sense of peace and hope rather than despair.