Wednesday, 30 July 2008

What I want this blog to be about [Despre ce vreau să fie blogul acesta]

Over half a year ago, this blog was primarily meant (and, as long as the Lord wants, it will remain so) to describe how life in the UK is, through the eyes of an an unworthy son of the Romanian Orthodox Church, who had been given the chance to spend some time in the UK as a Chevening Fellow.

Everything – from cars and traffic, beautiful landscapes, girls with cute smiles, shopping and prices, strange things to be aware of, good and bad examples, to the horror of secularism, and the oases of Orthodox spirituality – was and still remains an issue worth writing about. How long I will be able to keep writing here or when I could come back to the UK – these are aspects of little importance for now.

This MunteanUK is a pretty weird passion of mine, written both as a regular travel blog, and as some kind of unofficial journalistic project. Beyond this descriptive character of my blog, there’s something else that began to matter more and more to me.

Little by little, taking British realities as a pretext, and without setting out any ‘propagandistic’ goal, I began to use this blog for bearing witness to what I’ve become, to the Truth I believe in, and Whom (because He is a Person – Jesus Christ– , not a concept, an ideal, a universal law, a principle, an impersonal force or power etc!) I want to follow, without preaching anything to anyone.

I couldn’t tell which is the actual purpose of stubbornly keeping this blog, apart from the Utopian dream of earning a living as a blogger :-), something that will probably never happen, as long as I’m writing about so many unpopular things (our souls, God, the meaninglessness of life how most of my contemporaries know it, responsibility over our destiny, sins, tough questions like the one in the picture which illustrates this post, and so forth).

I’m trying my best to earn, in spite of my sinfulness and worthlessness, an Orthodox outlook on each and every aspect of life (more about this – here), and what I experienced in the UK offers a tremendous opportunity for reflection.

I AM HAPPY, therefore I don’t need to preach anything to anyone. Only unhappy people need to prove something to others or justify their beliefs, only unsecure people keep accusing me that, by simply stating my absolute belief (which makes me seem so intolerant, so uncomfortable to the relativist world we live in!) I am ‘restraining their freedom.’ I doubt this is really the case.

Everybody gives away their freedom by their own free choice. Faith, love, salvation, happiness, a meaningful or meaningless life, a good day or a bad day – are all a matter of free choice. Life is what anyone choses to make of it, and so is – exclusively during our short life span! – our Maker Himself.

Our choices are obvious, as He has let Himself entirely in our hands throughout our lives, to do what ever we want to Him: 1) to crucify Him all over again, to banish Him from our every thought and our hearts that were designed to long for Him or 2) to love Him, to call Him, and let ourselves taken care of.

The right answer is entirely up to each of us, but what we answer is irrelevant to His unquestionable existence. The answer counts for each of us, and yes – call me intolerant all of you politically correct humanists! – our eternal fate depends on this answer. This is no conversion by threat (as I am not trying to convince anyone of anything!), this is the truth!

Far be it from me the thought that I am doing everything right, that I am behaving perfecly humbly and patiently, and that I don’t have countless things to take the blame for! But I will always affirm that, no matter what is wrong with me as a sinful human being, no matter how many and how bad my mistakes would be, the truth of what I believe in is beyond any doubt!

What I claim here is not just something personal convincing me of the truth of what I believe in after having experienced The Lord firsthand!), but millions of Saints who prove the same things, along with countless people (that I keep meeting) who have turned away from their religiously indifferent (and meaningless!) lives to the happiness of being with Christ.

I myself could go to hell, I am not claiming that ‘I’m already saved’, nor sinless, but it’s just sheer hypocrisy of anyone to use as a scapegoat any of my real or imaginary faults to stay away from the Lord. It’s simply their own choice, which I’m not imposing on any free human being.

Anyone can ask the secular people I’m living among or those that I am gladly working with, and see that, in spite of being relatively weird (as any Orthodox is looked down upon), I’m always trying not to preach anything to anyone. I just want to do things my way (that is His way – a path walked upon by millions of His followers), and let others do things their ways.

I simply don’t want to have anything to do with more and more of these other ways; I don’t have the time or energy for just hanging around, killing my time or having fun. I am taking everything seriously, and this makes me happy.

In the meantime, how many of you, those who simply don’t want to believe (as there is no ‘I can’t’ in matters of faith!) could you say that you are at least partially happy?! You may be feeling good every now and then, but those experiences can’t have anything to do with true happiness...

How many of those whose main purpose in life is a hedonistic one (to ‘enjoy themselves’) are really happy, as long as I so often find the ‘life sucks’ attitude on their blogs or though their personal lamentations? I bet most of them have grown tired of the predictability, and shallowness of their lives.

Undoubtedly, life without God sucks, but so many people would prefer any false explanation for why their lives are so miserable rather than this only true one!

My feelings towards these people embracing other ways have not changed (on the contrary, living in Christ has opened my heart more to love everybody as they are), yet I am honestly living too much of a full life to be able to offer any time to their ways.

Oh, what a boring life (mine) that would be,” many skeptics would decree, hidden between a cloud of cigarette smoke or sipping from a beer bottle, just after having lamented about their being fed-up with their own robotic lives. Sorry to disagree with you all ‘living’ like this – I actually live my life to the fullest, precisely after getting to know Who is He that brought me to life, and I AM REALLY HAPPY.

This is the real happiness that I can only wish to anyone. But it’s the kind of happiness that anyone can take for themselves, by their free choice. If they want to. If they don’t want to, it’s not as though I (who am happy to be with Him, irrespective of darker or brighter times I am going through) or the Lord would lose anything.

I’m not planning my life further away than the next 20 minutes (although this is due to change soon :-), I am not making lists of ‘people to see,’ neither of ‘people not to see.’ I’m just taking everything as it comes, and it’s great to do so, since my life honestly keeps being an action movie.

I don't need films to get away, I don't need games to play, I don’t need any kind of drugs to sedate myself, I don’t need anything from outside of myself, in order to feel good with myself, as long as I know Him, Who can fulfill every wish.

I don’t want to be anywhere else than where He leads me to, and He did take me to some wondeful places (see a list of them here), thus anyplace is alright for me, as He is omnipresent. Therefore, this is my blog: a testimony that I give about the way God has changed my life (for quite some time now), using the UK realities as a background.

What does this have to to with the UK? Well, in the secular UK, these changes in my inner self became even more profound, and my choices have become crystal clear: first and foremost I chose to be with our Lord Jesus Christ (Who can only be experienced through living by His words; other than that, He remains unapproachable by the reason and logic of a proud secular mind!).

I will never be ‘the same old myself again’ (if anyone misses me, since I... don’t miss myself :-), and I don’t miss any ‘good old times’. All I want is never to be without Him. Whatever actually happens with my life, may His will be done!

And the great advantage of being happy with Him is knowing that His wish (even when manifested under the form of an apparently absurd event occuring in our lives) is for my own good.

I was sure of this even in the most dreadful experiences I’ve been put through, whilst I can only feel sorry (but never despise them!) for those who live without Him: even when they (imagine that) have it all, by just not giving credit to Him, by just refusing to admit His existence, they are making themselves unhappy by their own choice.

[For all the posts on this blog go to/Pentru toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]

Sunday, 27 July 2008

[EN] Hail to competing sites / [RO] Salutări siteurilor concurente (3)

[EN] A dear friend from the blogosphere drew my attention to this little story that those who like my “This alcohol, a Brit’s…” series will surely like. Yes, this how narrow-minded some of our contemporaries are, but I wouldn’t go as far as to claim this is only a typically British feature; stupidity has no nationality :-( [RO] Un prieten drag din blogosferă mi-a atras atenţia către această povestioară care le va plăcea sigur celor cărora le place serialul meu „Alcoolul ăsta, cel mai...”. Da, aşa de înguşti la minte sunt unii dintre contemporanii noştri, dar nu aş merge până într-acolo, încât să pretind că aceasta este numai o trăsătură tipic britanică; prostia nu are naţionalitate :-(

[EN] Nevertheless, this guy honestly describes a feature of British civilisation – the extreme formalism. Although the blogger seems a bit too harsh for my (generally tolerant and benevolent) approach to people I meet everywhere I may roam in this world, I’m afraid that his story is 100% true. [RO] Cu toate acestea, tipul acesta descrie o trăsătură a civilizaţiei britanice – formalismul extrem. Deşi bloggerul pare un pic prea aspru pentru abordarea mea (în general tolerantă şi binevoitoare) faţă de oamenii pe care îi întâlnesc pe oriunde aş umbla prin lume, mă tem că povestea lui este 100% adevărată.

I don’t know if the owner of this site will keep on sharing impressions from the UK, but I found some other interesting ideas on his online diary. For instance, his view of modern women bears striking resemblaces to my perspective, extensively detalied throughout my series “Women in the UK.” [RO] Nu ştiu dacă proprietarul siteului va continua să-şi împărtăşească impresiile din UK, dar am găsit şi alte idei interesante pe jurnalul lui online. De pildă, opinia lui despre femeile moderne are asemănări uimitoare cu perspectiva mea, detaliată pe larg de-a lungul serialului meu „Femeile în UK”.

[For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to/ Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Chestii d-astea, numai la britanici (15) [Things like these, only at the Brits]

Multe chestii care să-ţi pară neobişnuite găseşti în UK, fie de-a dreptul şocante (vezi aici sau aici), demne de toată lauda (aici, aici sau aici), enervante (aici) sau doar ciudăţele (aici). De data asta, iată încă una dintre cele din urmă şi doar întâmplător (sau poate nu există întâmplare?!) dovada fotografiată provine din Glasgow. Oricum, plin de ciudăţenii oraşul acesta şi neapărat unul de (re)vizitat în opinia mea!

Nu ştiu care ar fi amploarea acestui fenomen (nu măsurabilă ochiometric – căci recunosc mereu că experienţele mele împărtăşite aici s-ar putea să nu aibă relevanţă statistică!), dar am observat că în multe locuri, din East Sussex până în Scoţia, ialele sunt montate invers de cum le punem pe Continent. Adică vâri cheia cu dinţişorii în sus, nu în jos, cum trebuie să faci cel mai adesea în restul Europei.

N-am de unde să ştiu nici ce semnificaţie poate avea acest nou fapt divers semnalat de mine. Mie doar mi s-a părut o altă ciudăţenie demnă de menţionat – de comentat şi găsit posibile explicaţii, poate vor binevoi cititorii mei (parcă tot mai puţini în aceste zile de vară :-(

[Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la/For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to: Contents/Cuprins]

Monday, 21 July 2008

An atheist reborn in the Orthodox Church (6) [Un ateu renăscut în Biserica Ortodoxă]

Something many unbelievers will hardly ever understand from outside the only One Church of our Lord Jesus Christ is how matter is sanctified by His Resurrection… how any little particular grain of dirt can have a a spiritual meaning, as it can remind us of the Lord Himself, the Theotokos or His Saints. Because “being created by God, the Logos, matter is, in its innermost core, God-longing and Christ-longing” (more about the Orthodox view upon matter: here and here).

There’s a great mystery in this, unapproachable by our contemporaries enslaved by consumerism, where everything can be bought for ‘the right price,’ then ‘consumed,’ and, ultimately, thrown away. Those poor people who are senselessly fighting their own nature, replacing ‘being themselves’ with ‘having for themselves’ (as many vain things as possible that we will all lose the day we die!) cannot understand the pricelessness of sanctified matter in Orthodoxy.

They, who buy and sell all the possible crap, would deem fetishism, foolishness, and definitely as something irrational my friend Dionysios’ love for bits of nothing.

But these nothings (in the eyes of these seculars that have blinded themselves with their pride!) are bits of matter that has been sanctified by a touch of grace, by the Holy Ghost Himself, and the Saints that the Lord keeps chosing to work miracles through.

In his ordinary house in Peacehaven (East Sussex), Dionysios gathered little drops of this great mystery of Orthodoxy, of how sanctified matter can work upon one’s soul. And I might have not witnessed visible ‘miracles’ (why should we believe that all miracles should be visible, whilst our soul is invisible?!) after sharing to people little Filaktas of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos that my friend gave me, but I saw what he told me I would see.

I saw people joyfully receiving these tokens of St. Dionysios. Some knew of this saint, some didn’t, but no one told me I was crazy – exactly as my friend had said to me that no one would do so.

My friend has got cloth that covered St. Dionysios’ relics or St. Edward’s bones; he cherishes nuts from the very nut tree where his beloved Saint stopped to eat a few; he has wax used to seal the Holy Grave in Jerusalem before the Holy Light (Holy Fire) miraculously appears every year; he grows olive trees from Nazareth and Zakynthos, while a sweet smell of incense can be felt all over his house…

At times, and according to no logical rule (but the Lord knows each of our souls, to whom to reveal His greatness through His Saints!), some people can inspire the divine smell of St. Dionysios…

In a room like a little church, the timelessness and sanctity of Orthodoxy is at home in a generally secular East Sussex (a county with an interesting approach to religion, albeit purely secular).

Almost every object has a spiritual meaning or it reminds my friend of a beautiful Holy Place where he has once been to. Dionysios surely hasn’t had what today’s world would consider a ‘happy life,’ and all the treasures he gathered in his house are surely nothing that today’s robbers should seek after – however, he has found all the richness of Orthodoxy, that can give meaning to any grain of dirt.

Dionysios from Peacehaven was dead, and he’s now alive, he surely had a pointless existence for many years, but now he’s holding on to the only meaning of our existence – being with Jesus Christ, and hoping to earn a place near Him forevermore.

He may not have much to live for now as well (some would judge!), but the way he lives for the little treasures he gathered, and for sharing them with the world gives him a most meaningful life. My friend Dionysios may be a ‘nobody’ to this world’s standards (no wealth, no career, no ambition, no grand goal or achievement – all of which this shallow world requires of a man), yet he is a meaningful man whom I feel blessed to call my friend.

Since I am so unable to keep up the rhythm of my vivid correspondence with my English friend (along with many others), I am thanking him here for having shared with me some of his treasures. Glory to the Lord for the day he approached me (January 20th, 2008) with his amazing story.

It’s always refreshing to know that the Lord does change the lives of people, their view of the world and everything within their inner selves exactly like He did almost 2,000 years ago! I myself am an example, Dionysios is another, this blog has kept mentioning at least a few others, and I thank the Lord that, throughout 2008, He has made me live me among this different (but so real!) kind of people who have discovered Him, the Truth.

It’s none of our merit, there’s nothing to boast ourselves with, it’s all God’s work and priceless gift to us, but I am saying it over and over again (to my secular friends, and to anyone who might come across this blog): unless we weren't giving that 0.00001% of free will from our part, the Lord couldn’t give His 99.99999% share in order to change our lives.

There’s no predestination, it’s just a ‘take it or leave it’ kind offer that our Lord makes to us until our very last breath: he who wants to know Him, can surely do so…

[For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to/ Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]

Thursday, 17 July 2008

[EN] Worth trying in the UK / [RO] Merită încercat în UK (5)

[EN] Tourists waste money on meals, drinks, dubious souvenirs, photo albums that they soon forget about etc, yet a city tour in a bus is one of the few things that, in my view, are worth every penny. [RO] Turiştii irosesc bani pe mâncare, băutură, suveniruri dubioase albume foto de care uită repede etc, dar un tur al oraşului într-un autobuz este unul dintre puţinele lucruri care, în opinia mea, merită fiecare bănuţ.

[EN] Don’t throw away money on travel books for which there is rarely time to read, just travel! [RO] Nu aruncaţi bani pe ghiduri de călătorie pentru care nu este timp de citit, doar călătoriţi!

[EN] An adult ticket (adult, senior student, with 24-hour availability) seems to cost more in southern UK (£ 8.50-10.50 in Oxford, and £ 20-22 in London)...[RO] Biletul pentru un adult (adult, pensionar sau student, cu valabilitate 24 ore) pare să coste mai mult în sudul UK (£ 8.50-10.50 în Oxford, £ 20-22 în Londra)

[EN] ...and less in the rest of the country – £ 8-9 in Edinburgh, £ 7-9 Glasgow, £ 6-8 in Cardiff, £ 6-7 in Manchester, or even £ 5-6 in Liverpool. [RO] ...şi mai puţin în restul ţării – £ 8-9 în Edinburgh, £ 7-9 în Glasgow, £ 6-8 în Cardiff, £ 6-7 în Manchester sau chiar £ 5-6 în Liverpool.

[EN] Prices vary from one service provider from another, but one of the firms present in most UK cities is this one – and, as former customer, I fully recommend their services. [RO] Preţurile variază de la un furnizor de servicii la altul, dar una dintre firmele prezente în cele mai multe oraşe din UK este aceasta – şi ca, fost muşteriu, recomand deplin serviciile lor.

[EN] Other firm seen almost everywhere is this, and, recommendable as well are: this (Edinburgh) and this (London). [RO] Altă firmă văzută aproape peste tot este aceasta şi, recomandabile de asemenea sunt: aceasta (Edinburgh) şi aceasta (Londra).

[EN] And what can you get for the price you pay? [RO] Şi ce poţi primi pentru preţul pe care îl plăteşti?

[EN] Well, first it’s the superbe view, then some interesting facts and little stories, either through earphones (cheap Chinese ones that one can take away) or directly from a guide, who can usually answer to any question, not just a series of prerecorded ones. [RO] Ei bine, mai întâi priveliştea superbă, apoi câteva fapte interesante şi istorioare, fie prin căşti (ieftinisme chinezeşti pe care le poţi lua cu tine) sau direct de la un ghid, care de obicei răspunde la orice întrebare, nu doar o serie cu unele preînregistrate.

[EN] What one should be aware of:
+ how easy it is to lose one’s balance on the upper deck of such a bus;
+ anything deriving from the above caution: eating is certainly not advisable, taking beautiful pictures is dificult during the cruise (then, when the bus is stopped, you always get something in front of the thing you’d shoot!), kissing – maybe it works;
+ of the British rain;
+ that smoking is forbidden (and how great thing I find this to be!!! :-);
+ of the branches of the trees which can take caps away, and, occasionaly, even leave little wounds on one’s head…

[RO] De ce ar trebui să ai grijă:
+ ce uşor este să-ţi pierzi echilibrul la etajul superior al unui asemenea autobuz;
+ tot ce derivă din precauţia de mai sus: mâncatul sigur nu este recomandat, a face poze frumoase este destul difficil din mers (apoi, când autobuzul este oprit, sigur nimereşti ceva în faţa obiectivului pe care l-ai poza!), sărutul – poate merge;
+ la ploaia britanică;
+ că fumatul este interzis (şi ce treabă grozavă mi se pare aceasta!!! :-);
+ la crengile care pot smulge şepci şi, ocazional, chiar să lase mici răni la cap...

[For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to/Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]

Monday, 14 July 2008

Studentul nostru, stăpânul nostru (7) [Our student, our master]

Ori că eşti analfabet într-ale computerului (teoretic aproape imposibil, căci, chiar dacă la University of Sussex vin studenţi din colţuri îndepărtate din Africa, Asia sau Caraibe, n-or avea bieţii aceia multe, dar internet şi PC-uri sigur au!), ori că eşti mai mult decât alfabetizat (şi, prin natura profesiei, ajungi să petreci şi până la 15-16 ore din 24 în faţa unui monitor), când începi studiul aici trebuie să treci printr-un IT induction course. Adică, să te pui la punct cu toate facilităţile informatice oferite.

Şi chiar că sunt multe pe care trebuie să le ştii: cum îţi schimbi parola şi la ce servicii îţi dă ea acces, cum foloseşti propriul sistem de e-mail (Mulberry, o ciudăţenie open source), cum şi unde intri online, unde găseşti un computer doar să-ţi faci temele pe el, cum şi de unde să printezi, câţi bani ai în contul pentru printat şi cum îl reîncarci. Başca, despre accesarea online a serviciilor bibliotecii se face un curs separat…

Acest IT induction course intră iniţial în taxa de studii, dar dacă nu-l urmezi, vei fi obligat să-l urmezi contra cost. Nu contează nicio diferenţă de rasă, statut, avere, gen, dizabilitate, aberaţii sexuale practicate (corect politic este să spui orientare sexuală, dar eu sunt politic incorect, nu se vede asta?), însă tot mai mult şi mai mult Big Brother nu acceptă analfabetismul IT… sigur ştie el de ce, nu-i aşa?

Întreg sistemul aservit studentului (oare?!) te face să te simţi ca un stâpân (de aici numele serialului acesta), pe când, în realitate este o subtilă formă de sclavie, pentru că nu poţi opta să-i dai un profesor o lucrare scrisă cu stiloul. Doar facultatea ţi-a pus toate mijloacele tehnice la dispoziţie, încât să devii tu însuţi un soi de componentă tehnică a unei economii prospere… oare de-asta să însemne o facultate umanistă?

În fine, ideea de bază este că aici poţi fi student doar cu o foaie şi pix, toate celelalte de care ai nevoie (dacă eşti Chevening Fellow ţi se dă şi laptop!) fiindu-ţi oferite. Şi pentru că mai ai şi 100MB de documente, stocabili pe serverele instituţiei, nici măcar un memory stick nu-ţi trebuie decât la absolvire. Evident, bani să ai – între £ 3,000 şi £ 10,000 ca student străin (a se vedea taxele pentru 2009).

Aparent, totul este făcut pe aici să gândeşti liber, să n-ai niciun fel de griji, doar-doar vei sta cu burta pe carte, convins că, având o facultate în UK, intri de pe prima treaptă într-un sistem meritocratic. Şi chiar şi pe această mică treaptă eşti în cu totul altă lume decât conaţionalii tăi care nu ajung să facă o facultate – vezi aici sau aici despre sărăcia din Glasgow.

Totuşi, sistemul este perfect amoral, iar dintr-o facultate britanică poţi ieşi o eficientă rotiţă a unei eficiente maşinării economice, dar nu ştiu cât de om ieşi dintr-o astfel de facultate umanistă, unde la fel de libere şi accesibile precum facilităţile oferite de noile tehnologii informatice sunt şi alcoolul, promiscuitatea, avorturile, dezmăţul de orice fel.

Orice aptitudini profesionale ai dobândi, toate sunt menite ca să munceşti, să aduni bani, pe care să-i cheltui pe distracţie, căci hedonismul este suprema valoare seculară a lumii de azi, iar partying-ul este expresia reprezentativă a unei vieţi bune, reuşite, de succes, în care te simţi bine... dar nu ştii cine eşti, de fapt.

Te crezi stăpân, dar tot Big Brother ţi-e adevăratul stapân nemilos, pe lângă care sistemul sclavagist (abolit în UK în 1833) sau exploatările patronilor haini din cărţile lui Charles Dickens rămân doar poveşti – sclavie ca în lumea liberă de azi nu a mai fost niciodată!

[Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la/For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to: Contents/Cuprins]

Monday, 7 July 2008

UK’s motor vanity fair (4) [Bâlciul deşertăciunilor cu motor din UK]

Just trivial to some, interesting to a few, indifferent to most of my readers – this is how I perceive the reaction of my readership to this series. However, I will go on with it, at least to prove that I’ve really been to the UK :-) for quite some time, and that I am also able to observe (every now and then, for someone with his head in the clouds like me :-) some aspects of this passing world, no matter how much I try to keep my heart lifted into the only real world.

I thought this ‘motor folly’ that so many people of today suffer from is a good topic of debate, but until I get relevant comments on this issue (I only received one e-mail making scarce references to my series), I can only move on in the usual way – to post as many pictures as I can, and write as few words as I can, so that I won’t write too many stupid things…

So, here are other cars that the Brits seem to love – Alfa Romeo spyders. UK motorists are fussy, and have always been spoilt by manufacturers, consequently Alfa Romeo had to come up with limited editions for the UK market like many of its competitors. Again, the price range seems affordable (from £ 25,500 to £ 31,000) but are these ‘motor idols’ really worth it?!

[For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to/Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]