A Thought for Your Consideration…

A thought for your consideration from Mark Shea

Consider, in a *single year* 1998, the Dept of Justice listed 103,600 cases of sexual abuse in public schools. From 1950 to 2003, there were 10,667 reported cases of clergy sexual abuse. That’s 10 times as much in one year as there were in 53 years in the Church…

Now the article was about special laws directed only to the Catholic Church but it does give one some sense of perspective.There is never a good excuse for clergy sexually abusing the faithful but the bottom line is that your children and loved ones are very much safer from sexual predators in church then they are at school.

Sad, though, that we even have to play this kind of numbers game.

And now to Holy Week…

Holy Week is a few short hours away and the most glorious night of the world awaits.

For a week the hearts of the faithful and even of some of the faithless will be touched by the drama as it unfolds. We will walk in sign and symbol, liturgy and sacrament, with Jesus towards the cross and empty tomb; a global event, a movement of the hearts of people expressed in rituals that cross the centuries expressed in a chorus of human languages. And yet each one who observes this week is touched in their own unique way. The sights, the smells, the words, and the swirl of events express both the way this Jesus has touched the world and the souls of those who encounter him.

Into this sacred intensity the faithful now begin to draw in body and soul, heart and intellect. For a small moment we who can appreciate it see time in some sense suspended and the long ago made present. We are here but not here, there but present in the world we know. In a profound way the upper room, the garden, the betrayal, and the suffering reach out from their place in history and join our brief moments.

In the end there is Pascha, late into the evening, moving towards the dawn. We stand in sacred vigil and share in holy light. All that has come before is part of us now and the future is as well.
Because in the hope of that glorious night we see ourselves one day freed from death and everything becomes different, holy, and new.

Judo holiness…

To be Christian is to struggle with the reality of sin, the knowledge that somewhere deep inside of us there is a profound disconnect between the way we ought to be and the way we are that manifests itself as a kind of murder against ourselves, each other, the structures we live in, and the very creation itself.

I am no master at dealing with sin, my life is more a testimony to surviving it through grace over and above vanquishing it, but there is a little wisdom acquired in pain that may be worth sharing.

They say we must wrestle against sin but in truth it may be more like judo. Let me explain. Part of the genius of judo and other martial arts is the ability to turn the force of an opponent against them. The force of an opponent’s actions, when properly handled, can actually magnify the strength and impact of the person defending against it.

Temptation and sin are often effective because they touch something inside of us, a place where we are vulnerable and needy, and therefore it has impact and can induce us to actions that would even repulse us were all things the way they should be. These needy and vulnerable spots are unique to us reflecting our life experiences, our psychology, and perhaps even our genetics to some extent. Regardless, they exist and Satan, through trial and error, is aware of them like any good enemy knows a combatant’s weak spots.

But there lies the potential solution and its about a simple question people don’t often ask. Why is this temptation, this sin so powerful for me? What does it reveal about me and where I need to grow and change and work to eliminate its strength? Why is it that say, bank robbery has very little power over me as a temptation but lust is strong? Why do I find myself doing almost anything to get approval but could care little for doing someone personal harm?

This may sound like a radical thing but perhaps we should, with good help, not just drown out our temptations and sins but listen to what they reveal about us and then in coming to that knowledge use it to correct the part of us that makes us vulnerable to its charm.

Some studies, for example, show that for the most part men do not commit adultery purely for the sake of sex but rather because there is a lack of intimacy or depth in their marriage. A man seriously tempted towards this sin has two choices. Either he gives in or for a brief moment he asks “Why do I feel like I want to do this?” If he probes just a little, especially with Godly counsel, these underlying vulnerabilities and needs will quickly surface and if he wishes he can address them and fix the real problem without devastating himself or his family. The temptation reveals a place in his life where grace and healing need to be and thus lays the basis for its own mangement and eventual demise.

Now there is no quick fix in any of this. Our wounds are often deep and our vulnerabilities complex but somewhere between rashly acting out or killing ourselves with guilt over the dark and weak spots in our lives that are so vulnerable to attack there is a place where we can learn to hear what they say to us and by grace take steps to shore up the levee and weather the storm.

Politics and the person…

I admit to a certain amount of fatigue at the behavior of some of our politicians and the way they conduct the important business of state. And increasingly I believe I’m not alone.

There seems to be too few genuine practioners of statecraft and way too many selfish, ambitious, shallow, and deviant personalities in the realms of power. Perhaps they reflect who we’ve become. Perhaps they are the emanations of the perpetual adolescence of the 60’s brought to the halls of power. Perhaps power drives even the best of us to a certain madness.

Regardless, can anyone really say they are passionate about the affairs of state in a good and wholesome way, a way empowered by nobility of cause and desire for the common good? When is the last time anyone in public office inspired our highest ideals rather than catered to our basest fears?

All we have are sound bites, inflammatory words designed not to better the body politic but rather inflame our basic and dark passions. There is no sense of nation, only of power. There is no call to higher things, only the desire to rule others and enrich personal fortunes. Politics has become the end, not the means, the goal, not the process, and common sense and the general welfare have become the victims of it all.

This crisis in our politics is often portrayed by the partisans as a crisis of ideology. Elect us, they say, and all will be better because we have better ideas, a better plan, better goals. The true nature of the crisis, though, is personal and moral and spiritual.

No structure of government can rise above the quality of the character of the people within it. Good civil order can only come from people who are capable of transcending themselves, their times, and their baser instincts for the sake of the common good.Lacking that they will poison whatever institutions they inhabit and their brokenness will infect the culture as well.

I believe this is why St. Paul asks us to pray for the civil authorities and why we who are Orthodox still do every time we celebrate our Liturgy. Everything flows from the heart and unless the heart is committed to perpetual change towards the good all else is futile. Everything flows from the building not of better forms and structures but from the construction, by the grace of God, of a better person.

This is the unique role and calling of the Church. We are called not so much to be a political entity as we are called to enable the betterment of the human person who then touches everything in their lives, including politics, with the grace they have been given.

There is no argument for quietude in this, we must profess and be what our faith tells us to be. But without transformed lives making a real difference in the real world all we have are claims, ideas, propositions, and in one way we are no better than any interest group already competing for a snout at the public trough.

A changed heart remains the greatest political force of all. Perhaps its time to think about that again.

The Home Stretch…

We’re in the home stretch of Lent now, the final weeks before the last push of Holy Week and the dawn of Pascha.

A certain amount of the novelty and energy of the season has worn off and the askesis of the time becomes more like work. At the same time a certain sense of peace and purpose emerges. It doesn’t take long, some experts says 21 days, to establish a habit and its amazing how a person can adjust to new ways of eating and carrying on with life in a short time.

Perhaps that is one of the wisdoms of Lent, the understanding that we can and do adjust and we’re not doomed to continue to live as the world demands. In a few short dedicated weeks we can start to be something different, to see the world differently, and to live differently and our system actually reacts quite nicely.

In fact some people have a certain kind of let down after Pascha when the fasting is done and life returns to its old paces. The sense of closeness with God can disappear and the peaceful flow that comes with a life directed towards the things of the spirit and the good of others fades away. The hope is that Lent gives us a sample of what can be and that having once tasted this goodness we would continue on.

I try to imagine such a world, a world where the pace of things was set by the richness of faith. Not some rigind theocratic thing where the call to prayer goes out and all are commanded to obey but rather a world where people choose to reorient their existence towards the presence of God. A world where the taste of joy and holiness that come with a good Lent flow in and through all that is like a melody of unearthly beauty. A world where the Cherubic Hymn describes, in one way or another, all of life.

Realistically this will not be our lot, even in our own lives, until Christ returns but such a hope helps us through as we come into the home stretch of Lent, and always.

100 years from now…

100 years from today the idea that marriage and sexuality are whatever we want to make of them will be viewed like we see eight track tapes now. Time, nature, disease, and social trauma will have taken their toll and the wisdom of history we so easily dispose of will return with a clarity enhanced by pain.

Nature cannot be denied. Nature cannot be legislated away. We are biological creatures built of the same raw material of the Earth and subject to its laws, the rules established by the One who brought it into existence. Gravity will not go away no matter how hard we wish and neither will the standard of one man and one woman for one lifetime. Everything different will be less because such an arrangement is tied into the very fabric of existence.

Sadly we don’t believe that much anymore and we are paying a terrible price. Forgetting any moral or religious arguments the simple cost of our illusions regarding marriage and sexuality in money, social disruption, and medical necessities is staggering and grows. We are both profoundly involved in sexuality and venereally diseased. We know thousands of possible “intimacies” but often feel alone and used. We can find dozens of ways to climax but rarely know true love.

We are who we are, human beings created by God as male and female designed to complement and fulfill each other in a lifelong union of body, soul, life, faith, hope, and spirit. 100 years from now anything less will still be less and anything different will still bring chaos, pain, dysfunction, and death. Sadly it might take 100 years to relearn what people 1000 years ago already understood.

Whining about McDonalds in Lent…

Abdur Rahman may be on trial for his life.

Some 16 years ago he converted from Islam to Christianity and now he stands charged with a crime in Afghanistan. The penalty for his conversion, if he refuses to recant and a court finds that he is sane, could be death.

And we whine because we can’t eat hamburgers in Lent.

On to Fargo…

This weekend means a run to Fargo, North Dakota and service at All Saint’s Mission.

Fargo isn’t anything like the movie “Fargo” which is actually set in Minnesota. Over 150,000 people live in Fargo and the surrounding towns that straddle the Red River on its journey north to Hudson’s Bay. There’s a symphony orchestra there, a domed football stadium, and no one walks around town with a piece of grass in thier mouth. There is a beautiful wildness to the open prairie unfolding to her west but Fargo has long ago ceased to be a cow town.

There are Orthodox Christians there, immigrants and thier children, converts who who have joined with them, and cradle Orthodox who by the sheer movement that is part and parcel of modern life have found thier way to the Dakotas. For over a decade they wandered, as missions often do, from place to place setting up and taking down and living the nomadic life of a community waiting for a home. Visiting Priests and Deacons would drop by from time to time bringing precious gifts, holy things for the holy, while the people watched and waited and hoped as they do to this day.

To be Orthodox in Fargo requires a certain amount of will that one cannot always find where things are more convenient. The normal things that hold a community together are not always there and the challenges of creating something new and real where it did not exist before are profound. Some churches wallow in excess, All Saint’s Mission is lean. Some Orthodox complain of the number of services in Lent. All Saint’s may have two or three and while bells will ring all over the world on Pascha, All Saint’s may be dark and still on that holy night.

So Friday night means the journey begins. We travel away from the congested city, out on to the open farmland, and then on to the edge of the Dakotas. Vespers, confessions, Matins, Divine Liturgy, and then home. How can a person do everything that needs to be done, bring every gift that needs to be shared, give all the things deserved, and meet all the needs that need to be met in one weekend? It can’t be done. But they are worth the attempt.

A Faith that Works…

The evidence is in but you won’t hear about it because the conclusions would call for an admission of error and change and quite frankly there’s no money to be made in it.

Christianity is good for you. I’m not talking just about the life to come, but right here, right now, lower your cholesterol kind of good for you.

Think about it for a minute. Following the Christian way of life calls us to an existence of moderation, of care for our body, of purpose beyond the rat race, of community, of peace, of sharing, of family, of living in easy cohabitation with the natural world, almost everything that is counter to our hyper-competitive, consume all you can, sleep with whoever you want, be famous at all costs culture that goes through our lives like a chipper shredder.

Basically every scientific study out there dealing with human wellness affirm what the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Christian faith have been saying all along. And yet our delusions won’t
let us see it. We are convinced that if we push just a little farther we’ll reach that promised whatever that all of our pushing so far has not revealed. Why is it that no one will stop for a just a second and take a look at the body count? Where is the voice shouting “My God, we’re killing ourselves, and our children, and our future, and for what?” A new car? A better office? Our hope of that elusive spectacular orgasm?

Some day the pain will be too much to bear. The body count will be high enough to pierce our daydreams and the sickness will not be be able to be masked by our medicines. And then, maybe, just maybe, we will listen to the still small voice of God in the words of Jesus “Come unto me all you who have heavy labor and I will give you rest.”

God make that day soon.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy…

Our small Parish of St. Elias in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, celebrated the Sunday of Orthodoxy yesterday and as the weather was warm for this time of year and the ground dry we we left our temple and made procession outside holding our icons, led by our cross, the smell of incense in the air and the ancient song “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal…” on our lips.

In months of firsts since by the grace of God or the madness of the Church or some combination I was made Priest this was the first procession. Of course I have been in others, you can’t be Orthodox without processing around something sometime, but this was the first as Priest and there was a holiness to it that escaped words as we circled the little church building in the rough part of LaCrosse.

The grass was gray as winter still held a grip and the wind swirled down the valley and over the river but there was a sense of being removed from all that and drawn in to something ancient and beyond us. All over the world in small wooden churches like ours or grand cathedrals people were holding icons, led by the cross, smelling the incense, and singing the timeless songs. And as we walked we told the world that by the grace of God we still believe,
still remember, still hope, and still call the world to heaven.

There is a formal Sunday of Orthodoxy with its liturgies and rituals reminding us of the official pronouncements of a long ago Council restoring the veneration of icons to the faithful but in truth the triumph of Orthodoxy is also written in the hearts of all those who through the ages have kept the faith alive often under grievous circumstances.

Our small procession lasted just a few minutes but in those passing moments all of what had gone before, all of what we faced in these times, and all of what we long for in the Kingdom of God became present. So, too, did the memory of all those who have gone before us, the tall shoulders on which we stand.

And as they pray for us we walk on through Lent and towards resurrection sustained by what has been given to us, the faith that established the universe.

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