As You Watch…

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the world darken and twist. As you see the confusion and the breakdown. As you witness the walking dead around you and your heart breaks for what is happening.

Do something. Just that. Do something. it doesn’t have to be a big thing, every little bit counts, but it has something you do to make a difference. Roll up your sleeves, put your faith into action, and seek out whatever you see as wrong and broken and challenged and do something to make it better.

The world and the church are full of passive whiners and complainers, people who have a list of things to gripe about but not a single finger to lift to make things better. Enough of that. From now on anyone who complains about the way things are and does nothing to make it better is part of the problem and needs to be ignored by the people who are actually making a difference. What they say matters nothing until they have shown they are willing to take personal responsibility for making something better.

For followers of Christ this is especially important. We are not called to hide away from the world no matter how terrible that world is. We are called to be salt and light and God’s hands in a place that has made ill by human sin. We are called to proclaim the reality of our faith in word and deed and there are no exceptions, even for difficult days.

Make a decision. Are you in or you? There’s a lot at stake hear not the least of which may be your own soul.

Imagine There’s no Football…

or any other professional sport for that matter. What would happen?

The answer, in a nutshell is “Nothing.”

If all of the sudden the NFL, or any other league, just disappeared there may be some initial shock but then everyone would just adapt. The time you would’ve spent watching or attending sports events would be filled with something else, perhaps even something better.

The money you would have spent would either be saved or directed towards some other kind of activity. After all professional sports don’t “bring” money to a place they simply rearrange the existing money to themselves over and above other choices. If there was no NFL people would spend the money they used to use for the NFL somewhere else, say a local restaurant or other venue. People in Omaha, for example, don’t have a professional football team so what do they do instead of buying tickets? They either save or spend the money on something else in town and the benefits go, not to a billionaire owner of a sports franchise, but rather to a local business or other entity.

The time you would have spent would also be redirected towards something else as well, again something possibly better. People might go outside and take a walk, do something as a family or take a drive. They could even, gasp, talk to each other and build better relationships or just use the time as a way to rest from a busy week. You could even consider going to church! I know, I may be pushing it a bit but I had to throw that in there.

The point is this. There has never been a time in the history of this country when professional sports of any kind have been a necessity. They can provide moments of fun, drama, and community but so can a lot of things that don’t cost hundreds of dollars. I would venture to say that if your favorite franchise just packed up and went away that no one would die and in a little while people would simply adjust and do something else, perhaps something even better than eating 10 dollar plus hot dogs.

Quite frankly, they need you and you don’t actually need them. The world is full of other things to do and when you know that you come to realize you have more power than you thought.

We Live…

in a post truth culture. We can frame our positions and arguments for the Orthodox Faith by the strictest rules of logic and people will say “So what? That’s your truth.”

We live in a post authority culture so simply saying “This is what the Church has always taught” may have little or no weight with the larger society.

We live in a post knowledge culture and people may not even have the slightest idea of the words and terms we use or their context. How will we be able to speak of, for example, “Salvation” when the average person may have little understanding of what that word means, and especially how we mean it?

But people will, if they see what we believe demonstrated by the tangible outworking of our lives, at least have something solid to grab a hold of as they try to understand what we are saying in a world without truth, authority, or knowledge as they have been formerly understood.

In the end, therefore, perhaps one of the most profound and useful things we can do as Orthodox is to actually be, Orthodox.

 

I Hate My Country…

sometimes. We can be a very selfish people, self-centered, greedy, and given to violence. Often we seem like a culture with only goods and services and no soul, no heart, and nothing beyond the next gadget to buy. We can be promiscuous and vile, indulgent to our every whim as if it were the entire definition of our existence, and every feeling has become, for us, an ultimate truth to be defended at all costs.

I love my country…

because there is amazing beauty here, everything from the arctic to the tropical in one country. There is goodness here, as well, and if you understand that the movies, the TV, and the news aren’t documentaries so much as lurid attempts to get you to watch you’ll notice kindness, civility, charity, and friendliness in many places. We’re always among the most charitable nations on Earth and even though we could always do more we’re still moved by the poverty and tragedy of others. We forget them sometimes, but we really do have high ideals and there are very few countries that are as diverse of people, faith, and vision and yet have somehow still found a way to be together.

And because I love my country I recognize everything that’s wrong but still believe in what’s good and right and decent about us all. I enjoy traveling the world but this is home and I plan on fighting for the best of it, not with force or violence but by trying to be the best and most honorable person I can and by living my Faith to the greatest extent possible. I can’t control the past, but today, and the future, are surely something I can make better. And every time in the Liturgy when we pray for our nation, its leaders, the armed forces, every city and countryside and the faithful who dwell in them, I’ll mean it like I always have and perhaps even more.

There are moments…

black-and-white-pictures-phone-34252.jpgwhen I wonder if it’s too late. If the decline and fall has been too great. If the hate is too strong. If the sickness is too deep. If the case is terminal.

There are moments when I light a candle at church and just throw up a prayer for any and everything because I’m not sure what else to say other than “God you know and because you know you care and will handle things…”

There are moments when the world I knew as a child seems like a million years ago and the world I know now is a stranger to me, a place I inhabit like a permanent tourist seeing the sights but never really sleeping in my own bed.

Hearts have grown cold. Apathy is the cure for despair. And more often than I would like to admit, I’m tired. Yet I know there is Light somewhere and everything pure and holy may be deeply hidden but still visible to the discerning eye. So I keep praying, and looking.

Perhaps the only and best thing for me is to keep close to whatever Light I find and keep it lit as a gift to people yet born who will rediscover and rekindle it for themselves. If nothing happens in my lifespan it will at least be something to leave behind, a treasure infinitely more important than money.

Perhaps, too, in my journeys I will discover fellow travelers and for brief moments in time when our lives intertwine we can see what the future will one day be in the shared warmth of our holy flame.

Regardless, I have no intention of giving up. In a plan larger than my own I was brought into the world in this time and so everything, my purpose, my hope, and my reasons are all here. By God’s grace I plan to make the most of it and leave the rest up to heaven.

Perhaps that’s part of what they mean by the word “Faith.”

I was 17…

when I had my first encounter with death, not the movie or funeral home kind of death but the real thing as in a person without breath, without color, their mouth frozen open as they were when their soul left the body. That was my job in high school, a nursing assistant, and while others my age were figuring out how to ask someone to a date I was learning how to properly clean and present the dead while we waited for the funeral home.

In my early years in ministry death was there as well. The call in the night. The bedside vigil. Watching, praying, trying to think of something that would help as the person moved from this life to the next. Mostly peaceful, sometimes violent, always in the understanding that sometime profound had happened, perhaps the most profound thing of all.

The sad truth is that I don’t even remember all of them, the bodies I washed, the vigils I kept, the funerals I’ve done. The traumatic ones have stayed. Those I watched over who were close to me remain. Others, sadly, have been lost to time and only remain in God’s memory. Each has left their mark. The first was an older lady well into her dementia. The most violent was a man who died in front of me as he coughed up his lungs into a towel I was holding because it happened so suddenly we couldn’t even get him to bed. The saddest were the man who I watched die in the middle of DT’s in his middle 40’s and the old man I sat with in the Kansas nursing home who had suffered his whole life with both mental illness and the tragic stigma that it came with in those days. Lately, even though I work with Seniors and people who are dealing with sometimes chronic illness, I’ve largely been spared yet the memories remain because once you see death up close and for real everything changes.

Death is hardly ever like the old movies where a person sort of tips their head to one side, after a few last words, and then look like they go to sleep. Death is sometimes traumatic, violent, and bloody, where the life, by virtue of that trauma, is forcibly removed. Death from illness can be long and drawn out, sometimes taking years as the life slowly trickles out from the one who is sick. The body grows weaker and simply can no longer sustain itself. Sometimes death comes quickly with the first and last signs of its arrival only minutes apart. There are as many ways, and combinations of ways, for people to die as there are people and so even if the causes are identical the actual dying may never be.

Death strikes fear in us. Death is the ultimate threat. Yet death is not without its wisdom and the discerning can learn from it if they’re willing to spend the time contemplating it. As people get older, of course, they do this simply by looking in the mirror but one does not have to wait for the obvious signs of their mortality staring back at them to begin to get the larger picture.

You will die and so will I. Outside the intervention of God every single human being will die. It may be sooner, it may be later, but the fight for life will end and you will lose, at least in the short term. I remember seeing a tee shirt that said “Eat right, exercise, die anyways” and that shirt is 100 percent correct. A thought like that can make one morbid, obsessively introspective, and prone to despair because there is truth to it. Life really is short, often troubled, and eventually ends. Or it can set you free if take it just one step further and realize that since life really can be short, often troubled, and does end, there are so many things you think are important, things you’ve been told or tell yourself, that just simply, in the bigger picture, aren’t. As you come to realize this they lose their power over you, they lose the ability to compel and imprison you. It really is true, you can’t take it with you, so why get too upset if you don’t have it now and if you do have it why tie yourself to the chase of getting more instead of sharing? Death will take everything from you that doesn’t truly matter, that’s not eternal, but everything that matters is both good in this life and remains.

The Psalmist asked God to teach him to number his days so he could increase in wisdom. In Orthodoxy we talk about this as the contemplation of our own death not as a morbid thought rooted in brokenness and despair but rather as that which can, properly understood, be the wings we’ve always wanted to fly high and clear from the sad, broken, gravity of the world as it is. The wisest of people live life as if they are dying because, quite frankly, they are, but they do this not as simple thrill seekers trying to pack in as much “life” before the end but rather as souls who realize where, and in Whom, life in its fullness actually occurs and, that in finding that eternal “more” they find life here as well.