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.
One cannot remain unaffected by the poverty here, but fear not my friends, this post is not going to be another sermon about how we do not appreciate how good things are for us in America - true though it may be. For every right there is a left and for every light there is a darkness and for every something there is a nothing. I've blogged before about how people in poverty are predisposed toward certain sins, while people mired in affluence are predisposed toward a different set of sins. Is one better than another?
Christ taught that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. And He informs us of this truth right after we are witness to a rich young man turning away from Him for the sake of his wealth. Of course we may take comfort in the fact that our Lord reminds us that with God, however, all things are possible...and yet clearly something is going on here that is directly connected to wealth.
Are the poor without sin? Of course not. Are their sins in some way mediated by their impoverished situation? I would tend to think not. And yet, we do have a seemingly innate sense of "justice" that tends to offer more grace to a hungry thief than a fat one. If we steal from the rich to feed our family or to distribute it to the poor, is it LESS of a violation of the 8th commandment?
I should pause before I get myself into too much trouble in turning the reality of sin into something that is easily quantifiable or even one that is limited to the violation of rules and associated consequences seemingly imposed arbitrarily, even if logically. The issue, I think, isn't so much about the quantifiable things that we do, as much as it is about the unquantifiable essence of what we are and what we are becoming - which of course will naturally spill over into our words and actions like an overfilled dike which sometimes yields completely, giving way to all manner of ugliness.
We justifiably weep for the horrors we may see in Africa: poverty, war, and disease abound. Violence and suffering which we, in our ivory towers back home cannot imagine, are familiar "friends" to the majority of Africans. And yet, as I've noted before faith, hope, and love are far more publicly expressed here than home. Smiles come far more readily, for reasons I've long pondered and it may be as simple as having nothing forces one to find joy in the simplest of things. Consider the lilies... My how we worry.
Yes, weep for Africa and please do whatever you can to help...this messages stands without qualification and without reserve.
However...friends...while we watch and mourn for Africa in her bloody, violent, and painful struggle with a monstrous devouring beast, somewhere in some inaccessible place that is hard to see on our own bodies, an insidious parasite is feeding on us. It is quiet, unassuming, and stealthy beyond all measure...it even whispers in our ears without us knowing: "You are okay...you need not worry...all is provided for you" In its subtlety many have denied it exists, many forget that it exists, and many of those that yet remain deny it is a serious problem. Some in a fit of insanity - I assume - have even come to embrace and befriend it.
Because we cannot see its ill effects readily, the beast of affluence is killing us. Whereas the monster poverty is very easily seen and its affects well known and undeniable. So who is in greater danger? The man who is engaged in the struggle with the beast and knows it...or the man watching who is trying to help and fails to see the second more hungry beast stalking him? For you see, it is easier to see the evil of a child wasting away through starvation,or being blown up, than it is to perceive a child's soul wasting away through mucking about in the miry clay of plenty.
Isn't it time we wept for our affluence as we weep for Africa's poverty? Not because of social justice or any other temporal issues...but because we are both having our souls crushed by these beasts. And let me reiterate...do what you can for poverty...seriously...but do not forget the impoverishment of affluence. We are dying too though we do not see it in the headlines.
I wonder if the rich man's sin could be conceived of as not only love for money, but also as an inability to conceive of genuine need and how supremely dangerous that fact is to the soul. And so, the rich man's burden is not only the profound poverty around him, but also the soul destroying potential of self-sufficiency.
Thank you for these thoughts. My own experience in Uganda has left me pondering these things for many years, yet not good at articulating them. Our affluence chokes us, separates us from one another. I’ll never forget arriving back in Portland late that summer, so glad to see my family again (and an airport without machine guns). Yet as we pulled away from PDX, I sat in the back seat of the car crying, thinking, “I don’t think I can live here again.” The conversation in the car was about stopping at several big-box stores on the way to the house. Like the traffic, the conversation moved so fast, so loudly, never stopping to speak of the things that had been the staple of my time with people that summer. We are so poor in the things of the soul. When the church sings the first Beatitude, I cannot help but think of these things. God bless you. Bring us some Africa when you come home. - James