Thursday, December 18, 2014

Words Matter

With the recent public outcry and racial tensions in America lately over a few (in my opinion) overly publicized legal cases, I have decided to say a few words on the subject, because words matter. Language is a very important element in any society as it defines how members of said society “agree to interact” along personal, social and business transactions. In fact, within the history of the Church, many deep theological arguments were waged over nuances in language. Some arguments, such as the “nature” or “natures” of Christ, resulted in centuries-long schisms with the Christian Church. I use this simply for the sake of example since this post is NOT about theology, but sociology.

In the recent racial outcry expressed in numerous protests and riots throughout America, it has become obvious to me that we are experiencing a language barrier that is so great, only the grace of God and genuine Christian love will ever guide us through the muddy rivers of racial tensions in America. One such barrier I have noticed is the term, “white privilege” currently being bantered about. Reactions to a post by a close friend of mine have been violent and plain old ugly. Using the tensions surrounding Ferguson and New York City as a framework, the author attempted to point out how many of our Churches experience a “tone” that might not be welcoming to members outside our “natural” circle of members.

The author’s points about our Churches are quite accurate, even as I have experienced them in 21 years of lay and ordained ministry. Many of our Churches are NOT welcoming, and anyone suggesting otherwise is just not making an honest assessment. But that alone shouldn’t be enough to create such violent reactions. I figured there had to be more to the picture, so I did a little reading on the term “white privilege” and realized we indeed had a language issue.

“White privilege” is what I would call a politically “hot” term, in that it is used in most cases to express a level of guilt and shame against white members of the ruling class. What the term attempts to convey is the reality that predominately white society has functioned, many times subconsciously , to favor white people and some might consider “white culture” if there really is such a thing in 2014. To deny this reality of any society, whether it is white America or Asian China, would simply be dishonest at best and ignorant at worst. I will state here that I am NOT referring to intentional favoritism and policies though that is undeniably part of our history as well. That would be for another blog post especially since the term “white privilege” also makes that distinction.

As Orthodox Christians I believe a better word to convey the same reality might be, “humility” since it is neither politically “hot” nor racially descriptive. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, humility is objectively acknowledging our current reality, and accepting that God desires more for us and from us. It is also a term that looks inward rather than outward, and calls EACH of us to repentance no matter what our starting point is. Humility, used from this point of view would convey the realty that our American society, being predominately white has certain subconscious realities that give white members of our society an advantage. But that is only our starting point. It also conveys that white members of our society, if they are acting with Christian love, would not desire for non-white members of our society to be overlooked, and therefore reach out to non-white neighbors etc to bridge the gap.

But humility doesn’t stop there, because it also conveys to non-white members of our society that many of these subconscious advantages are neither intentional nor historically reversible. We cannot rewrite history but we should study it and learn from it. If we learn anything from history, it might be that racial tensions are painful. To simply allow the pendulum to “swing the other way” to give non-white members of our society their fair share of advantage, is only to expect the pendulum to eventually return, leaving pain in its wake in perpetuity. Just as white members of society, if they are acting with Christian love, would reach out to non-white members, similarly non-white members of our society, if they are acting with Christian love, also would not want to cause pain and suffering.

The point of Christian humility is that as Christians each of us understands our sinfulness and we each desire to repent and grow closer to God where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galations 3.28)

If we really want to make improvements in American race relations, a good starting point would be to stop using terms that “in themselves” enrage either side. It also means that both sides, desiring to be on the same side, must acknowledge the reality of the every side. We live in a the greatest society on the face of the Earth, which depends wholly on ever member of society acknowledging the value of the other, no matter which race, economic class, or gender he or she may  be. That is nothing more than humility.

I must also admit that one of the most difficult virtues of Christian love is to allow for free will. God doesn’t take away our free will at any time, even allowing us to deny and hate Him. Neither can we, nor should we even try to, take away anyone else free will. That means, some will choose hate and racism. Humility allows for that too, since our love for God and each other acknowledges that some will reject love, and there really is nothing we can do to change it, but love them. If we see it in ourselves, we have been given the chance to repent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Christmas IS and ISN'T About

Christmas isn’t about gathering family together, although many families do gather at Christmas...
Christmas isn’t about giving and receiving gifts, although many give and receive gifts at Christmas...
Christmas isn’t about decorating, although many decorate with lights and ribbons at Christmas...
Christmas isn’t about enjoying a banquet, although many will enjoy a great banquet at Christmas...

Christmas IS about celebrating, IN CHURCH, with Divine Liturgy, the coming in the flesh of the eternal Word of God for our salvation. As Orthodox Christians we PREPARE for the celebration with prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and Holy Confession. As Orthodox Christians we honor God’s Nativity by living a holy life, free from the passions of wealth-building and power-grabbing.

What about those “others things” we do during Christmas?

We gather as family at Christmas to worship God IN CHURCH. We give and receive gifts at Christmas to remember the Magi’s offering to God. We decorate our homes at Christmas to welcome the King into our lives. We enjoy a banquet to celebrate our new life in Christ.

Have a blessed Christmas

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ritual...we all have one!

Henry David Thoreau lived in the woods to discover what he already knew to be true, human beings live through ritual. Whether it is driving the exact same route through town to Church every Sunday, or flipping light switches is a particular order when we open our business on Monday morning, each of us has a ritual we follow.  Most of us have several rituals that are unique to certain events in our life such as work rituals, family rituals, vacation rituals, and it seems EVERYONE has morning rituals. Have you ever thought about your morning ritual?

I’m sure you have some sort of morning ritual, but does it include morning prayers? One common mistake I have noticed in many “morning rituals” is the lack of a dedicated Morning Prayer component. Many people desire to pray in the morning, something taught through the centuries as being central of a Christian life, but they can’t find the time to squeeze it in to their morning ritual, simply because it isn’t PART of their morning ritual.

In the Didache (Teaching of the Holy Apostles to the Nations) we were taught:
Neither pray as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Yours is the power and the glory for ever. Thrice in the day thus pray.
This basic ritual of prayer, what we Orthodox Christians call a “Prayer Rule”, might be just the thing you need to successfully include morning prayers into your morning ritual.

As we are quickly approaching the Feast of Christmas, and as we have been invited by the Church to increase our daily prayer to God, this is the perfect opportunity for you to rethink your morning ritual to include morning prayers. Give your spiritual father a call and ask him to establish a “Prayer Rule” for you to include in your DAILY morning ritual.

Then....go home and, following the advice of your spiritual father, begin following your new morning ritual. It will take a few weeks for the new ritual to take root in your life, but once established it will feel as if you’ve always “done it that way” and you’ll be living a new life in Christ.