An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post I have been reading St. John Chrysostom's sermons on Luke 15 (Lazarus and the Rich Man). Saint John's words are scalding to say the least and in my mind are MUCH better than anything Ron Sider has done...which I suppose isn't surprising given that Ron lacks an official halo. But whereas Ron would have Christian charity alter our voting habits, Saint John says nothing about politics.
Now of course, Saint John - not living in a democratic society - would not have had the chance to do something we take for granted and call VOTING, but none-the-less his sermon is directed solely at the the individual Christian and says nothing about government responsibility for the poor.
I wrestle with this issue a lot. I am, I think, concerned about poverty and I believe we are obliged (as Christians) to help the poor and needy of the world. I also believe that as a Christian I am obliged to look at and repent of my material excesses and my luxuriant lifestyle. But, I am less convinced that forcing people to give to the poor is the fullfilment of Christian virtue either.
So I tried to do a bit of research (by which to mean I did a google search) to see if I could get a better idea of how charity worked in the time of St. John. Was it left soley in the hands of the Church, as if the Church were a branch of the government? Or did the government have programs? I did find that Byzantines developed a system for orphans, but was it funded with taxes or donations? Both? Did you know that the Byzantine Empire effectively invented the hospital (according to the Journal of Interdisciplinary History)? Alas, I found very little and shall have to examine the matter with a bit more seriousness.
Anyway, no matter how you look at it, Jesus' commands are directed to ME (and to YOU) and He certainly never FORCED people to obey his commands (recall the sad rich young ruler). If the US welfare system collapsed tomorrow, could Christians step up to the plate? Fiscally I KNOW we could, but would we be willing? Would it mean I'd have to sell my PS2, this computer, my driftboat? Would I have to drive a beater instead of the Lexus? (I don't drive a Lexus, but rich people on the way to eternal torment do...not me oh no...my Trooper will do just fine at keeping me on the road to heavenly heights!)
So much easier to point to the OTHER, you know the REAL rich people and expect them to sacrifice on behalf of the poor - no matter what their beliefs might be. And how do we define rich? Well...umm...let's see, how about anyone who makes 10% more than I do? Or drives a Lexus, Hummer, or a ridiculously expensive eco-hybrid-car. (There...that ought to nail most everyone but me.)
I'm thinking outloud here folks...not really making definitive conclusions and would very much like to entertain further discussion of the matter.
As a side, Saint John also verbally lashes (to put it mildly) those who refuse to give because they believe the recipient would waste or use the funds immorally. How often have we heard THAT argument from people these days?
Now I have conclusive proof that I am NOT a homophobe. Perhaps I should carry my score in my wallet with me! Of course....while taking the test...maybe I wasn't being honest? Maybe I was not letting my deep seated and unconscious hatred out?
Sigh...well I think I was pretty honest:
36 - Your score rates you as "non-homophobic."
It is nice to know (from PBS no less!) that one can still think homosexual behavior is a sin and NOT be labelled a homophobe. Test yourself HERE...props to Fr. John.
Hey, if you've been here for enough time, or you know me well in person then I have no need to maintain pretenses of holiness, exceptionally in-depth wisdom, lots of letters behind my name, or a spritiuality that afford me the ability to add to the philokalia. I am rather fond of myself and LOVE people to think highly of me, but I'm not so stupid to think that people cannot see through the facade that I think we humans "naturally" tend to try and put up. Surely I have pruposefully and likely not without a certain amount of "look at how humble I am" self-deceit, admitted to this sort of thing before.
Sometimes I worry about my faith being more a philosophical excercise than a real meeting with the living God. Perhaps Orthodoxy is helping me to see this, because this realization is exposing roots that began growing long before I even knew what Orthodoxy was. I think if Orthodoxy is slapping you around some, your not doing it right. Sigh...be careful...even those who get themselves downtrodden and depressed with "woe is unto me a miserable sinner" need a good slapping around. We all do.
For me: How fun it is to argue, like a good sport, it is a joy to back an opponent into an intellectual corner and slay them. And while I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with such sport, for really how different is it from slaying your opponents in a marathon or on a tennis court? But what if the intellectual battle becomes nothing more than sport...inadvertantly? It's like being chased by a mountain lion and calling it the 100 meter dash, laughing and having fun are we?
Love is the difference. Love is the key component of the Christian argument, often lacking in my apologetics. What if I could weep for unrepentant sinners, as opposed to simply going off into an argumentative tirade? (For that matter, what if I could weep a bit for my own sins of which I claim to be repentant?)
We have such a wonderful faith...so different than all other faiths (despite what Huston Smith erroneously believes - oh dear am I being argumentative?) in that God joined us. He became us. And perfectly related to this is what a monk once told me about Christian holiness: It can be summed up with the simple notion that we let our "I" encompass "we".
Once in a while (O how I wish it were more often) I get a very deep sense of love and devotion for my children that overwhelms me...I get teary eyed and often find myself lamenting for my failings as a father and in due course try and muster the courage to be a better parent. But that intense love is an amazing thing...because I begin to really touch the "otherness" of my children and that sense of "otherness" fades...or perhaps it is the "I" which fades. My "I" is, in that moment, teetering on the brink of becoming "we".
I want to grab hold of that love...not to possess it, but to be possessed by it (or should I say Him?), for I believe it is THAT love that God Himself says He is. Can you imagine feeling that same love for perfect strangers? Yes, it is that love that sent Christ to Earth...and it is in the Spirit of that love that holiness ought to be upheld.
In other words, tears would come well before arguments. We Christians tend to err on the side of one of two extremes I fear: either we play up the love to such an extent that God no longer really cares what we do, or we dumb down the love to an extent that God ONLY cares what you do. Extremes...but beware their subtleties for they may be found in the details.
This is lunchtime rambling, so forgive me if it is incoherent or particularly messy in its presentation. I just feel like I have been too much interesting in winning debates about a variety of things, and not enough interested in changing myself into the image of God.
Back from the world where there is not internet...
...and yet live to tell about it. I've been camping at the mouth of the Columbia River with a host of others and I believe it was a good time had by all - despite the blatant lack of fishing. And continuing the new found tradition of running into other Orthodox folks while camping, I ran into a Fr. Nicholas of (if memory serves) Holy Apostles OCA mission in Portland Oregon. How unusual it seemed to see the white bearded cassock wearing man strolling down the sidewalk from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. World's collide...I suppose it ought not to seem wierd, but then again we aren't exactly in Serbia and you don't see Orthdoox priests around every corner.
Anyway, time is short today, so let me share a little something from my camping reading selection of St. John Chrysostom ("On wealth and poverty" - centered upon his sermon in regards to Luke 15) which I found to be somewhat encouraging. Here he is lauding his audience for so attentively listening to his scalding sermon the previous sunday (I assume), and for the fact that they "approved the patience of the poor man and abhorred the cruelty and inhumanity of the rich man." St. John then goes on to say:
These are no small indications of a virtuous disposition. For even if we do not seek virtue, but at least praise it, we shall perhaps be able to attain it; and even if we do not avoid evil, but at least censure it, we shall perhaps be able to escape it.
Encouraging words...and yet challenging words, for I've no wish to spend the rest of my life having them be so utterly and blatanly applicable to me.
Lay down Your sweet and weary head Night is falling You have come to journey's end Sleep now And dream of the ones who came before They are calling From across a distant shore Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face? Soon you will see All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms You're only sleeping
What can you see On the horizon? Why do the white gulls call? Across the sea A pale moon rises The ships have come to carry you home And all will turn To silver-glass A light on the water All souls pass
Hope fades Until the world of night Through shadows' falling Out of memory and time Don't say We have come now to the end White shores are calling You and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms Just sleeping
What can you see On the horizon? Why do the white gulls call? Across the sea A pale moon rises The ships have come to carry you home And all will turn To silver-glass A light on the water Grey ships pass Into the West
Music by Howard Shore Lyrics by Fran Walsh, Annie Lennox Performed by Annie Lennox
Restfull...mournfull...hopefull. Just sleeping...yes.
I really don't know how many non-Orthodox still read my blog, I suspect many have long since given up on me...I know for a fact some have. Took Orthodoxy for an internet test drive and found it wanting. Not surprising, particularly if I was a paramount source of information or an example of Orthodox Christians...Lord have mercy on us all if that were the case. Need I remind people how miserable a sinner I am?
As such, my explanations, my rants, my points, my acne should all be taken as mine alone...the Orthodox Church is so much bigger than me, so much bigger than one particular Parish, so much bigger than Mt. Athos, so much bigger than any Patriarch, so much bigger than any doctrine etc etc etc...
So instead of keeping my trap shut (as I likely should) I'll continue keep on spouting off...who knows I make get lucky and say something profound...if nothign else someone will at least correct my grammar.
A wonderful emergent church friend asked me about closed communion via an email recently. It is a common question because I think it is one of the most profound indicators of our differences...for one it is offensive and for the other it is inconcievable to NOT have closed communion. Anyway, here is the gist of my reply (with some corrections - for in rereading I noticed massive typos):
Sacramental theology was a tough one to get my head around...but once I had committed to stop reading the newest authors and their opinions of Christianity and instead get back to the oldest stuff I could find, it became clear VERY quickly that the ancient Church was sacramental and that they absolutely believed that Communion was MUCH more than a mere memorial service. St. Justin Martyr wrote in essence that no one was allowed to take communion unless they believed the things which they taught...furthermore from the most anceint of times, unbaptized/chrsimated persons weren't even allowed to attend (curiously enough you will sometimes hear a remnant of this in Orthodox liturgies when the deacon cries "Catechumens depart" or "The doors the doors"...for it was at this time that only those in the Church could remain.)
So while this has evolved out of the service and everyone can witness communion, not everyone can take it. The priest is charged with distributing the gifts and knowing (as St. Paul warns us) that it can hurt or even kill people ("not discerning the Body and Blood" a verse that NEVER made sense to me until Orthodoxy), the priest will usually not commune people who he doesn't know or is to some extent unsure of where they are. When one becomes Orthodox, there are a host of statements that they are publically asked to affirm and in so doing we can say with relative confidence that they "believe the things we teach." (paramount of which is that Communion is indeed the partaking of the Body and Blood...something I cannot explain anymore than I can explain the Trinity or the Incarnation.)
Furthermore, communion is an expression of community in which we seek to fulfill Jesus' prayer that we be one as He and His Father is One. The Trinity is the ultimate expression of community and when we gather at the Chalice we recognize (or at least we ought to) that we cannot partake together if we are holding something between us...unity is critical, both theological and otherwise...and Holy Communion is the LAST place that the Orthodox will do a good spirited ecumenical photo-op. It is too sacred, too Holy, too much hinged on unity and community to allow it to express what is essentially a facade.
Yes, it seems exclusionistic and self-righteous, I know...but it requires an understanding of our eccelsiology (and we must recall that the Church is a mystical statement of faith to us...not just a mere gathering of semi-like minded individuals) For you see, most evangelicals outright reject our eccelsiology, and our sacraments, and our hierarchy, and our icons, and our understanding of the Saints...what are we saying in opening the Chalice to all? That these things really aren't important? That we ought to take a reductionist view of the faith and say that all things are expendable except....frankly we Orthodox would not know where to begin such a list.
So I guess I am saying that it is a two-way street. Our understanding of the sacrament and the fact that we are divided, prohibits us from inviting all. On the other hand, for the most part, evangelical understanding of communion is radically different, such that it really doesn't matter if someone partakes and doesn't believe the things that that particular church teaches. In the evangelical mind, there is a lowest common denominator that unites them all...but Orthodoxy takes a much more wholistic understanding of theology, preferring not to do fractions and math. After all, fractions suck, we all know that.
I hope this makes some sense. It is a sad thing - our lack of communion, but devout Orthodox Christians soon learn that just because you don't like or enjoy something doesn't mean that we should consider letting it slide. Personal tastes (like mine for MEAT!!!), to a large extent, often take a back seat.
Yesterday after going to Liturgy for the Feast of the Dormition at St. Spiridon's we stopped at the Grocery Store in order to get some meat for a little BBQ celebration. My wife went into the store while myself and the vanload of kids sat semi-patiently waiting.
I suddenly noticed thick black smoke rising up on the other side of some trees in front of us and the sound of sirens soon made it clear that something serious was happening. As multiple convoys of fire engines sped past the store parking lot my kids were begging that we go and see what was happening.
We watched as the smoke plume continued, until my wife arrived and we went home. I had no idea that as we sat there watching in the comfort of our air conditioned van that two little boys (four and six years old) were dying in that fire. I feel pretty bad not for a moment letting the signs of smoke and sirens clue me in to the potential for suffering...maybe it says something about me?
We are so oblivious sometimes...so caught up with our minuscule little problems that we take to be so horrific. Working in a environment where most everyday I meet people who are battling for their lives with cancer - sometimes even little kids - gives me an all too brief reality check. Most of us have so very much to be thankfull for and I think we sin in not seeing past our own stupid eyelids.
Anyway, may the boys' memory be eternal and the family find peace.
In keeping with the Southern theme...Spike Lee has apparently "got on the bus" of a film called "CSA." It is a faux documentary of the United States as it exists today IF the South had won the war.
Now, I have only seen the trailer and I understand it is only intended as satire, but as an amatuer Civil War history buff I have to say: "What a load of malarky!" First it nurses the myth that the war was primarily about slavery. Furthermore it purports that the south could have actually conquered and subjegated the North. And then it also ignores the fact that slavery was well on its way out and could not have possibly survived into the 21st century: I doubt ANY historians would have given the institution another another 50 years of life in North America...regardless of which way the Civil War went. Arguably it was slavery that prevented the South from garnering european support - which would have been the ONLY way they could have hoped to win a prolonged conflict. And toward the end of the war, there was talk in the South about freeing the slaves...the VAST majority of the southern soldiers did NOT own slaves and fewer still would offer that they were fighting to keep slavery.
Okay, so make your commentary about today's society...but if you are going to package it within an alternative history, could you at least make it remotely believable?
Personally, I support "states rats." Bless your heart!
Home is Eastern Slovakia and Eastern Kentucky...what a mix: "Christ is in the Midst of all y'all!" I think perhaps I shall stop having rants and instead "pitch" a "hissie" or "coniption" fit. Anyone know where the nearest Orthodox church is to Pike County, Kentucky?
What do you get when you mix Slavs and Southerners? Well...me...I guess. An Orthodox layperson who prefers Bourbon over Vodka. AND, you get someone, who though removed, from his southern roots can still giggle at this (from Mom):
Only a Southerner knows the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption fit, and that you don't "HAVE" them, you "PITCH" them.
Only a Southerner knows how many fish, collard greens, turnip greens, peas, beans, etc., make up "a mess."
Only a Southerner can show or point out to you the general direction of "yonder."
Only a Southerner knows exactly how long "directly" is - as in: "Going to town, be back directly."
Even Southern babies know that "Gimme some sugar" is not a request for the white, granular sweet substance that sits in a pretty little bowl in the middle of the table.
All Southerners know exactly when "by and by" is. They might not use the term, but they know the concept well.
Only a Southerner knows instinctively that the best gesture of solace for a neighbor who's got trouble is a plate of hot fried chicken and a big bowl of cold potato salad. If the neighbor's trouble is a real crisis, they also know to add a large banana puddin!
Only Southerners grow up knowing the difference between "right near" and "a right far piece." They also know that "just down the road" can be 1 mile or 20.
Only a Southerner, both knows and understands, the difference between a redneck, a good ol' boy, and po' white trash.
No true Southerner would ever assume that the car with the flashing turn signal is actually going to make a turn.
A Southerner knows that "fixin" can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adverb.
Only Southerners make friends while standing in lines. We don't do "queues," we do "lines"; and when we're "in line," we talk to everybody!
Put 100 Southerners in a room and half of them will discover they're related, even if only by marriage.
In the South, 'y'all' is singular....'all y'all" is plural.
Southerners know grits come from corn and how to eat them.
Every Southerner knows tomatoes with eggs, bacon, grits, and coffee are perfectly wonderful; that red eye gravy is also a breakfast food; and that fried green tomatoes are not a breakfast food.
When you hear someone say, "Well, I caught myself lookin'," you know you are in the presence of a genuine Southerner!
Only true Southerners say "sweet tea" and "sweet milk." Sweet tea indicates the need for sugar and lots of it -- we do not like our tea unsweetened. "Sweet milk" means you don't want buttermilk.
And a true Southerner knows you don't scream obscenities at little old ladies who drive 30 MPH on the freeway. You just say,"Bless her heart" and go your own way.
To those of you who are still a little embarrassed by your Southerness: Take two tent revivals and a dose of sausage gravy and call me in the morning. Bless your heart!
And to those of you who are still having a hard time understanding all this Southern stuff, bless your hearts, I hear they are fixin' to have classes on Southernness as a second language!
And for those that are not from the South but have lived here for a long time, all y'all need a sign to hang on y'alls front porch that reads "I ain't from the South, but I got here as fast as I could."
Fr. Joseph introduced me to THIS website which hopes to get you to "support our petition to the EU Parliament that Turkey should not be admitted as a member of the European Community until it restores Hagia Sophia to its original purpose as a church and not a museum."
I would be truly amazed if it were to happen, but hey, what the heck! If every other persecuted minorty can seek reparations that border on the absurd, why not Christians? I signed it with the message: "After all it is the politically correct thing to do!"
So, down with the minarets I guess? But you know, if Patriarch Bartholomew takes over don't you think the Hagia Sophia might be a bit large for services there with his hundred or so parishoners? (okay, so I really don't know how many would regularly attend, but for certain the Patriarch has far more of his flock well outside of Constantinople Istanbul than inside. Plenty of room for the kids to explore I bet!
An by the way, how far back ought we to go in regards to the need for reparations? You understand of course that if you go back far enough (and it probably isn't all that far), every ethnic group ought to be apologizing and making reparations to every other ethnic group. Send the Celts back down into Galacia and displace the Slavs and move them back....etc etc etc....eventually we all end up hanging out in Africa and frankly I'm not fond of heat.
But, let's throw caution to the wind and join the fray and demand restoration of what is rightly ours to begin with. Sign the petition. C'mon....everyone's doing it!
As we left the Nave of the Church after liturgy, my son saw the object of his desire sitting atop the coat rack. That which was once only a portion of a green checkered tablecloth, had since become this young man's cape. Having donned it, he would become all manner of super heros, depending on what the perilous situation required.
He asked me to get it down for him, and I didn't bother to ask how it had gotten there to begin with and neither did I question him as he put the cape around his neck while we strolled downstairs for the vittles. Really, the boy had no concept of what he looked like, he had no notion he ought to have a cooler red silk cape like superman, or maybe something black with an awesome collar-line like Batman...his checkered green tablecloth served his purpose just fine, thanks. And I was touched by his lack of self-awareness...and furthermore I felt sad knowing that growing up seems to necessarily mean the loss of this "innocence." Many a painful memory do I have of other kids letting me know that my "checkered green tablecloth cape" was lame. A POX UPON THEM ALL! LET ALL WHO ADORE THE CHECKERED GREEN TABLECLOTH CAPE UNITE AGAINST THE TYRANNY....oh sorry, got a little excited there.
Having kids almost daily brings some revelation as to what Jesus probably meant when he said that we must become like little children. Thus far, all of my kids remain generally oblivious to the "needs" of looking cool or wearing the right brands or listening to the cool music etc etc etc. They just want to be happy...and there is spontaneous and easy to find joy in them that you just don't see in adults outside of certain facilities. If gives me pause to wonder: as the culture around us teaches us what our needs are, we sure seem to lose touch that childlike joy don't we?
We watch the scale and look in the mirrors, we worry that someone will notice the stain on our shirt, we worry about the appearance of our yard, the drawing on the walls, the lack of the proper brand name on _________, the missing surround sound system and high definition TV, the need to be seen as philosophical advanced and lofty....and on and on and on it goes, you know what I mean: all those things interlaced with the "lust, the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life."
You've heard the parental joke that if you buy a toddler a $50 brand name toy that after they open it they are likely to discard the toy and find a tremendous amount of amusement with the empty box. Well it's true, it happens...and I wonder if we aren't making a TERRIBLE mistake by correcting said toddler's "erroneous" perception.
At present my kids are making mud in the backyard...joy and laughter abound...and the brand name toys are laying discarded in the playroom. Mud, hmmmmm....God's brand toys.
Nicho, you wear that cape as long as you can my boy...though perhaps hard to see now, there is salvation therein.
Prayers offered for the seven crew members of the stranded Russian sub....Saint Nicholas, help of mariners, pray unto God for them!
Prayers also for the safe return of Discovery and her crew.
As we approach the anniversary, I offer this insightful article for any history buffs and for any who have opinions about "Why Truman dropped the bomb." (I have swayed both directions: justified, unjustified...but the newly made available information documented by this historian has pretty much put an end to my criticisms of the decision.)
If I see another giant catfish picture I am going to be physically ill. Those aren't REAL fish! THESE are REAL fish.
While I didn't realize that Orthodox Jews have to walk to Synagogue on Sabbath, certainly many of us Orthodox are familiar with House-hunting, Religiously.
Last, but certainly not least: A blessed feastday to all! May we all have our eyes opened.
Concordant with the discussion of Pacifism and so called "just wars" in the former post, I thought I might relay a question I am still trying to answer. I am hoping that as I continue to read that Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich will touch on it in his account of St. Lazar's mystical experiences while awaiting his beheading at the hands of the invading Turks.
I'll give you a synopsis of the story and then my question: Tsar Lazar is facing an overwhelming Turkish invasion force, contrary to popular revisionist opinion, being under the Turkish yoke wasn't a trip to Romper Room (in fact after the battle Beyazid I offered a humiliating truce in which Lazar's widowed wife was made to give up her daughter to him as a "wife") and so they prepared to defend themselves. Just before the battle, and Angel delivered a message to Tsar Lazar which asked: "Which do you choose: an earthly kingdom, or the heavenly Kingdom. If you choose an earthly kingdom, you may ride out now with your army and destroy the Turks, but if you choose the heavenly Kingdom you must build a Church and afterwards you and your army will be crushed."
Citing the truth that the heavenly Kingdom is eternal and an earthly kingdom only temporal, Tsar Lazar built the Church and then went out to the battle and was indeed defeated, captured, and beheaded.
So, my question: If you chose the heavenly Kingdom and you are promised defeat for doing so, why fight at all? Why not surrender and beg for a peaceful dhimmitude as opposed to having so many end up dead on the fields of Kosovo?
Part Two "Christianity ain't no opiate...it's physical therapy without painkillers"
Our curruption (mine and yours) began in the Fall. God may have been the author of Adam and Eve's genetic basepairs, but we are all their progeny, and let's face it: things have gone downhill since then. So, we cannot argue that because we were born a certain way that we must assume that God wants us to be that way.
I could see that both of the people present had never heard a Christian approach the issue this way. In fact, my granting that people can be genetically gay yielded highly notable facial expressions of surprise.
Now, what about people being hurt? Is physical suffering of some sort the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong? Well from their perspective this is generally assumed. Ok, fine. Much ado has been made lately about the many problems associated with the "epidemic" of obesity, not the least of which has been the enormous cost of healthcare in treating ailments associated (both directly and indirectly) with obesity. (no one seems to care much about people possibly being genetically obese, do they?) Yes, obesity is a safe whipping boy these days...but let me go out on a limb and whip something more dangerous: promiscuity, sex before marriage, homosexual behavior, and adultery are just a few things that ALSO put a huge financial burden on the world. Homosexual behavior is inherently a risk, as also is promiscuity, sex before marriage, and adultery.
Consider what I do for a living (primarily STD research), consider the HIV epidemic, consider that about 1/5 of the people in the US have Herpes 2 and among African Americans in the US it is 1/4! And while people laud the benefits of "safe sex", I am still getting plenty of research dollars and study volunteers. (I'll not even go into the whole safe sex thing, except to say that there are only two kinds of safe sex: abstinence - which isn't really sex at all - and sex which takes place within the confines of two married people who have never had sex with anyone but each other and never will.) Isn't it funny that if people adhered to the Christian ideal of sexual relations that I would be making your lunches at Subway?
So, if in health class at the public school we can teach kids to avoid obesity why can't we try and teach them to avoid sex before marriage? Why can't we teach them that the homosexual act has with it certain risks that are not found in heterosexual act?
Man, I really didn't wish to go into this at such length, but the fact is there are much higher risks in sexual behavior outside of the context of the Christian ideal.
But holiness is more than avoiding physcial risk...there are spiritual risks as well. Once while standing above my grandparents' grave, my "beloved Atheist" said to me that they wished they could share my faith such that they too could be comforted in the face of death. It gave me pause to consider that while we do gain comfort in the Resurrection of Christ, the pop notion that religion is a crutch or an opiate could not be further from the truth. Sadly it is a truth that we too often forget in many Christian circles - and in my own day to day personal life.
Christianity is also a burden, a responsibility, a painfull therapy that forces us to strive, to work, and to overcome...to overcome ourselves, frankly. Gee that sounds a little depressing, but it is important that we understand that there is a convenience in NOT adhereing to a religion, right? Everytime someone came face to face with Jesus, they found themselves challenged on some level...often they would not accept the challenege (e.g. the rich man who walked away).
And so I think we need to do a gut check and see whether or not Jesus, through our Chruch experience, is challenging us. You see physical therapy sucks...I hate it and I often avoid it. Too often this is true in my Christian life as well. But if I am comfortable, if I am exhorted to do nothing but feel good about myself, and if I am "being accepted for who I am" then something is terribly wrong.
Christianity, or rather Christ Himself, is not intended to being a miracle cure for happiness (I think), rather HE is therapy for holiness and HE will cut to your deepest being and challenge you to change. HE will often challenge you to cut away that which is dearest to you (and for each of us that may be something different), and HE will almost certainly call on you to lay down all that you believe defines you as a person (even perhaps your sexuality - ask a monastic) and then begin the process of redefining yourself in HIM.
All of us have a multitude of issues that we must wrestle with...and we all are called to do the best we can. But we are never called to give up, we are never called to say "close enough" and we are never called to capitulate for the sake of convenience.
Christ wasn't just talking to the rich man when He said "Sell all that you have, give it to the poor, then come and follow me" , He was/is also talking to us. It needn't be about money, it can be a host of things that we must struggle to let go of...even perhaps our "sexual identity." I think in today's culture all of us have facets of our perceived "sexual identity" that we need to let go of...I know I do.
Some are worse than others...some have a bigger burdens to bear than others...its not fair! I suppose so...but I cannot say for sure. Who can quantitate such things? Who can measure such things? God,of course, and He is the judge...not me and not you. But if we want to be healed we are going to have to go through the therapy and while I am in therapy I really don't have time to be worrying so much about other people's need for therapy...but if you ask if I think a particular person needs therapy I will say "Yes, we all do...join us?"
I'm not sure my answers were satisfactory...how could they be when the foundation hasn't been poured yet?
I found this lecture on the Antiochian.org website. I've not listened to it yet, but intend to...it is from Dr. Kyriacos Markides whose book "Mountain of Silence" is a fantastic introduction to Orthodox spirituality.
Other lectures from the same workshop may be found HERE.
Naturally my "beloved Atheist" and I had some time while in Ohio to discuss those issues which we so frequently find ourselves discussing. In a strange turn of events he said in essence the following: "I guess I can understand your take on Abortion - because in your mind a life is being taken. But you lose me on the whole gay issue...since we know this is a genetic inclination and after all: who is getting hurt?" Someone else overhearing the conversation chimed in: "Yeah, God made them that way, who are we to say it is wrong?"
As is my custom I began by once again emphasizing that our discussing the Church's teachings on sexual sins is akin to a disordered discussion of a house building project: beginning with window design before we can agree on the foundation of the home. Furthermore I clarified that I am decidedly not a gay-basher, I do not HATE gay people, I do not support those who actively seek to discriminate against them. Further-furthermore, I do not think the government can marry ANYONE and thus I take a relatively passive approach to the whole gay marriage issue. God marries people, not the "power vested in anyone by the state" (the stupidest and most blasphemous line ever uttered regularly in a church). But, with all of these precautions clearly stated, I proceeded anyway.
First, I will grant for the sake of argument that a homosexual inclination is genetic. However, this then leads me to ask: So what? For you see, I believe that one of the things that make us human is that we are certainly NOT the sum of our genes. The fact that we expect our teenage boys NOT to commit date rape is a reasonably good indication that we all pretty much believe this - in fact ponder this a little while and I bet you can envision a host of other examples as well. Also, I reject that the genes we are born with is the direct result of God's design for if we assume this then we must also assume that God is directly responsible for Down Syndrome and any other number of genetic/birth "defects." (Make special note of the term "defect"...it implies a moral judgement does it not? And you would never tell a child with Down Syndrome that they are "defective" would you?) Is God responsible for the frightening increase in genetic defects that took place in recent decades in the vicinity of a place called Chernobyl...or were there perhaps other issues at work? You see environment DOES play a HUGE role in our genetic makeup, and many scientists believe that we have just begun to understand the complexities of this...in fact what is Darwinism except the affirmation of this? And what sort of environment do we live in according to the Christian understanding of the Fall of Humankind? Yes, one in which we are born screwed up to begin with. Has anyone ever NOT had to teach and teach and teach and discipline their child in order for them to learn to share? Are we not born selfish? Did God make us this way?
This leads me to my next point: there is as much evidence to suggest a genetic link to homosexuality as there is to link genetics to a tendency toward violent behavior. What do we make of this? There is no such thing as being born with a clean slate. As Icons of God, we are all born with our faces smudged, the glory hidden under blankets of distortion originating from innumerable centuries of procreating in the sin-ridden equivalent of an environmental sesspool.
One of the interesting things from my trip to Ohio was discovering how many Orthodox Christians I actually have in my family! I knew my Great Aunt Margaret and her parents, my Great Grandparents were/are apart of a Carpatho-Russian Parish, but numerous others were also either in the Carpatho-Russian or the OCA jurisdictions. (Seems, I was the lone Antiochian!)
I got to sit down with my Great Uncle Pete and relive his experiences in France during WWII, something that I never had the opportunity to do with either of my Grandfathers. I wish that my children (if they were older) would get to spend some time hearing his stories. Tom Brokaw called Uncle Pete's generation the "greatest" and I would not ever debate that. Compared to his generation, most of us are the biggest most self-absorbed wusses ever to walk the earth. Lazy and just begging to be served and entertained.
Anyway...I really feel a pull toward learning and understanding more about my family on this side. While Providence is certainly behind my becoming Orthodox, what do I make of the fact that, in a sense, I should have been Orthodox all along? Or that my nearest undiluted heritage adhered to some form of Eastern Christianity? Is it wrong for me to really want to engage that heritage more? To perhaps assimilate some of their customs that were lost to me? Little things (perhaps silly) like calling grandparents Baba and Dzedo? Things which my more immediate ancestors thought unimportant, to me seem more important now...I'm not sure why though...I mean, what does Baba and Dzedo mean except Grandma and Grandpa? But there are other things as well, certain traditions especially around Pascha and Christmas that originate from a culture that was nourished for centuries with the Orthodox Faith.
I suppose, there is a part of me that would view such things as being "fake"...because I was not raised with such little everyday customs and practices. And while I might grant the lingual titles as being silly (and yet, part of me says: gee it would be cool to bring that back!), some of the other practices - even the recipes - I DO want to see reborn in my family. Afterall, I did not grown up with Icons on my wall or receiving a blessing from my father before bed either.
No sooner had I arrived home - just about anyway - I was whisked away with most of the family "on the next block" to go camping at Ohanapecosh in the Mt. Rainier National Park, for what turned out to be a beautiful weekend. (A very goiod thing, because the mountain really does make its own weather and I have had some real ugly drenchers in the park before). As coincidence (or not) would have it, an Orthodox family was also there, whose daughters my daughter knew from the monastic summer camp. We met them - appropriately enough - at the "Grove of the Patriarchs: and would later have a brief chance to talk some (it's hard work to camp with four small kids!) Anyway we got to share some of our journey to the Church with them and an inquiring friend of theirs who recognized me from Paradosis here.
It always sets me on edge a little when I hear about inquirers reading Paradosis, and while this particular one is blessed with a close Orthodox friend, I sometimes worry about my rambling and ranting here and what negative impact I may have on those who are inquiring by Google. If that's you, please stop and go find a real parish and real people.
Overall it was great trip, certainly better than other trips when the kids were even younger. With one instance in which I thought I'd lost Nicholas (which sent me into fits recalling a particular 4th of July Parade - he'd actually gone to the bathroom by himself!) as an exception, it was otherwise a very enjoyable time. It might have even have restored my faith in the possibility of camping being fun with little kids - as opposed to a condemnation to hard labor.