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.
Recently, a silly Reality TV program gave birth to an internet sensation via the videos of a wealthy and highly "nuanced" San Francisco man habitually deriding and belittling a midwestern woman of more humble and "simple" circumstances come to live with him in an absurdly conjured "wife swap." As can be seen in the videos, the man came off as shockingly rude, cruel, and obnoxious. Having seen some of the examples, it was difficult for me to believe that the man in the Reality TV program could actually be...well...umm...real; could anyone truly be that much of a jerk?
But regardless, one thing that really struck me as odd was the fact that the man was often seen parading as a billboard (on his T-shirts) for a variety of charitable and/or politically correct organizations and causes. His shirts would have seemed to suggest he was a man of conscience, were it not for the fact that they were all stained by the blood of the poor woman he verbally devoured over and over again. I saw a news article recently that told how the man's sudden infamy "forced" him to reseign his membership on the boards of a couple of charitable groups.
I find the whole affair fascinating because I think it reveals a profound truth about people in general, and myself in particular.
I consider occasions when I have a general perception that I am, for the most part, a good person, and I ask myself what precisely has led me to this belief? That I feel bad about genocide in Rwanda? Maybe that I gave a few bucks and threw a complimentary "Save Darfur" bumper sticker on my car? That I voted a particular way believing it will be for the greater good? That I supported a kid through World Vision? That I supported certain forms of legislation? That I don't consider abandoning my family for a life of frivolous freedom? I could make the list go on and on and on, but one thing I notice about all these reasonings: they all share one distinct thing in common: THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY EASY FOR ME. None of these acts are a challenge - in fact quite the opposite: the performace of these deeds resonates with me and the accomplishment of them make me feel rather self-righteous and therein is a very powerful motivator. Probably not unlike how the Reality TV show man felt about himself for all of his noble causes he supported and with which he worked. And whereas I'd like to think I would never treat someone I deemed less enlightened or less "good" than me in the manner he did, the REAL reality is that my ability and propensity to be a jerk is no more redeemed by my voting record or my free advertisement offer of causes upon my T-Shirts or bumpers than his.
There is nothing salvific in doing that which comes "naturally" (and yes, I use the term lightly) to me. Salvation, I think, is found in doing that with which we struggle greatly. I would suggest that going to war against the inclination to yell obscenities at the driver who just cut us off is perhaps far more the frontline of salvation than traveling to Sudan in order to rescue refugees. I say this without discounting the latter, but rather to emphasize the importance of the former. What salvation is there for me, in lobbying my representatives for the cause of liberating some persecuted group of people if afterwards I devour my neighbor? What salvation is there for me when I painlessly offer $25 a month for a kid's education in India if I cannot offer my everyday life to my own kids and their education? Am I devoting my life to the salvation of the world by participating in a sit-in at an abortion clinic, while I come home and selfishly abort the relationship between myself and my kids? What salvation is there in spending my extra money on a Prius to save the planet while I in essence power it with the disdain I feel for those unwilling to spend the extra cash? Do I really fulfill the Gospel commandments by voting to force the rich young rulers to give up their money while they none-the-less walk away from their Savior and we rejoice in the piety of "our" charity? Is there really love in my simply writing a check? Or is real love and sacrifice found in doing things I'd really rather NOT do? It seems to me that we have become a society ridden with causes, but with precious little concept of real self-sacrifice. In fact, we see such bright grandness in our causes that we fail to see that while we fight those battles, our souls rot in self-gratification for doing so.
There is an interior war to be waged. It benefits us little (in terms of eternity) to participate in political or social wars against such things as terrorism, tyranny, poverty, or disease if we are not first centered upon the war over which we have far more control and influence upon the outcome. I am reminded of the saintly hermit to be found in a remote cave of Mt. Athos who fights day and night for the renewal of the world without ever leaving his solitude. What do we learn from such an example? I sometimes wonder what our pursuit of "causes" would look like if we began with the inner Kingdom first.
In any event, whatever "goodness" that comes easily to me is of little consequence to the race I must run (as St. Paul called it). Perhaps some have more natural talent for the contest than others, but no athlete can hope to compete on natural talent alone. The man in the Reality TV series is like an athlete who perhaps has all the right gear and equipment (or perhaps merely thinks he does), but never really runs the race. Not unlike myself.
...s-p's comment reminds me of what my grandmother always advised...if you want to know what a person is really like just observe how they treat waiters. If they treat 'em like crap, then guess what, they'll probably get around to treating you like crap, too.