“Here I Am, Send Me!”

treejesse1The prophetic reading for Thursday of the second week of Great Lent (Isaiah 6:1-12) represents a significant shift in focus from those that came before. Earlier readings focused on God calling the Chosen People—and through them us—to repentance. We are to cease to evil and learn to do good, to do in love the works of justice and mercy, we are called to forgive and in so do lay waste to the idols in our lives. God calls us to be both productive and prayerful as we await the coming of the Last and Great Judgment. In very short order, the Prophet Isaiah takes us from a life of sin and despair to what we can rightly call a life of active faith, hope and love.

And then in today’s reading we go through this whole process again. This time, however, we do with Israel but with God’s prophet Isaiah. What was yesterday communal—our sin, our transformation—is today personal—my sin, my transformation and, most importantly, my evangelical commission.

…I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8).

And immediately after his commission is accepted the Prophet hears that his preaching will fail:

And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed” (vv. 9-10)

Everything that we’ve heard, everything for which we have prepared, will be—humanly speaking at least—fruitless. Continue reading

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From Solitude Comes Love, From Greed, Isolation

Another post a day late! Sorry.

+FrG

treejesse1The closing verses of the reading for Monday of the second week of the Great Fast serve as the opening verse for today’s reading (Isaiah 5:7-16) and return us to the theme of justice—not vengeance—but of right relationship as key to our spiritual lives:

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help (v. 7).

God has blessed His People but they have strayed from His will for them. They have rebelled against Him and have turned on each other; oppression in place of justice, panic and fear instead of righteousness. Though we are made for love and so for each other, we live in a fallen world and so love can sometimes be misunderstood and our need for others deformed and even exploited. Continue reading

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Losing our religion?

Source GazetteXtra.

Michael Gerson,a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group, observes that:

According to Pew, 74 percent of the nones grew up in a religious tradition of some sort. Yet while conversion has increased the ranks of the nones, retention is not particularly good. Protestantism, for example, loses about 20 percent of those raised Protestants. Of those raised unaffiliated, 40 percent fall away from the nonfaith and rebel toward religion, making for a new generation of awkward Thanksgivings.

While I might fiddle with the numbers a bit, this certainly has been my experience in the Orthodox Church. The Church is also suffering from the “declining trust in religious institutions since the 1990s.” This isn’t limited to religion but

…has been accompanied by declining trust in most institutions (with the notable exception of the military). Confidence in government and big business has simultaneously fallen—and the public standing of both is lower than that of the church. Americans may be less affiliated with religious organizations because they have grown generally more individualistic and skeptical of authority.

If I were to hazard a guess, it’s because whatever it is they do, Christians typically don’t invite young people (or anyone else for that matter) to become friends of Jesus AND His disciples. Like the larger culture, the Orthodox Church seem to be raising the next generation of “nones” precisely because we have failed to foster friendship, much less discipleship, among in our own parishes.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

h/t: Mirror of Justice

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To Justice and Mercy Add Love

treejesse1Today’s reading from Isaiah (1:19-2:3) begins with the final verses of the reading from yesterday:

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (vv. 19-20).

The text then goes on to contrast this call to willing obedience to Israel’s current situation:

How the faithful city has become a harlot!
It was full of justice;
Righteousness lodged in it,
But now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
Your wine mixed with water.
Your princes are rebellious,
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves bribes,
And follows after rewards.
They do not defend the fatherless,
Nor does the cause of the widow come before them
(vv. 21-23).

Though outwardly faithful, Israel has become inwardly corrupt and this makes the corruption is the worse. It isn’t simply that injustice is done but that it is done under the appearance of justice. But justice in a substantive sense is absent. Continue reading

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A Mixed Blessing is Still A Blessing

Nothing has shaped the modern world more powerfully than capitalism, destroying as it has millennia-old patterns of economic, social, and political life. Over the centuries it has destroyed feudalism and monarchism with their emphasis on bloodlines and birth. It has created an independent class of businesspeople who owe little to the state and who are now the dominant force in every advanced society in the world. It has made made change and dynamism – rather than order and tradition – the governing philosophy of the modern age. Capitalism created a new world, utterly different from the one that had existed for millennia.

Fareed Zakaria (2003), The Future of Freedom, pp. 45-46

h/t: Cafe Hayek.

Like the Enlightenment, capitalism (or maybe better, the free market) has been a mixed blessing for the Church. Together with the loss of the social structures of “feudalism and monarchism” that Zakaria mentions, there has also been a more general loss of deference to hierarchy and tradition. The Church can no longer assume (much less presume) that even its own faithful will accept as true traditional Christian teach or see traditional Christian practice and moral prescription as wholesome and in the service of human flourishing. The independence of businesspeople to pursue profit as they see fit and of consumers to judge the relative value of different products and services has now become a cultural norm in all areas of life including religion.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Both I think. Yes, the Church has lost some the status and authority that it once in the culture and in people’s lives. But this loss of power also allows the Church corporately and Christians personally to more close imitate the poverty of Jesus Christ. This poverty was not primarily material but personal. In becoming man, the Son of God embraced a poverty of status, authority and power that–paradoxically–made His ministry all that more credible and effective. Or this at least is how St Paul understood the matter:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:5-11).

The cultural changes that Zakaria mentions are a challenge to the Church and to individual Christians no question about it. But if we look beyond the momentary discomfort they bring we can see that they also represent an opportunity for the Church to be purified and strengthened. Just as in our own spiritual life there are times of purification that teach us to depend more fully on God and less on the gifts He’s given us, so too for the Church. While the loss of cultural status is hard and is costly it brings with it the opportunity for Christians to strengthen our personal and corporate commitment to live as disciples of Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

 

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Work and the Meaningful Life-part 2

In my last post (here), I talked about the search for a meaningful life. The argument I made is that together with marriage and family life, work is the natural context for meaning. Unfortunately many clergy frequently undervalue or dismiss work as valuable for the spiritual life and so many laypeople experience a schism between what they do Monday through Friday at work and what happens in the family or on Sunday in church. In this post I want to look at business and the meaningful life.

Recently there was an interesting essay by Greg Forster in which he looks at business as meaningful, and meaning making, institution. In his post (Business as Culture Making: Starbucks Comes Together) he observes that

…in modern society, we are developing the expectation that “normal” institutions don’t stand for moral values or a cultural agenda. If an institution does represent such values, it is abnormal in some way – not necessarily wrong, just an exception to the rules – and one that must be kept sequestered from the normal, ordinary process of business.

He goes on to say when we think like this we denigrate the human and Christian vocations to work. As a result,

People take a job because it pays the bills, not because they’re making the world a better place by doing their work. That’s exactly the cultural signal that’s destroying the working class by dehumanizing work as an activity.

“Dehumanizing” is I think the exact right word and it captures (at least in part) the struggles of not only the middle age men but of many of the people I speak to—women and men,  those in midlife, the elderly and the young. All of us are seeking a meaningful life. And for the vast majority of us a life of meaning, if we are to have it at all, is something that happens after work. Meaning is for the weekend and vacation not Monday through Friday.

There is in all this, as Forster puts it, a

…seamless connection between a dehumanizing view of work and the militant secularization that threatens to destroy religious liberty. The most basic reason why businesses like Chick-Fil-A should be free to affirm marriage and Hobby Lobby should be free not to pay for employees’ contraceptives is because economic work is human action, and all human action is moral and cultural. Therefore businesses are moral and cultural institutions whether we like it or not.

Precisely because “business is and must be culture making” we need to make sure that businesses are “free to be culture makers rather than try to force them to conform to an impossible model of moral and cultural neutrality. ” As a practical matter this means “you can’t make the businesses’ moral/cultural identity hostage to any one employee who objects to something.” It also means that the Church, and especially the clergy, need to appreciate the human and theological value of not just work but of the social institutions that make work possible–the many small, medium and large businesses, publicly traded and privately held, that provide employment for

All that said it is also true that often “businesses don’t currently do a good job of stewarding their cultural role.” While some of this has to do with the moral failing of business owners, to repeat as I said above, a large share of this has to do with the failure of the Christian community to take seriously and value the goodness work and the vocation of business.

…to a large extent companies are bad at this because we have forced them to try to deny what they are. We’ve spent more than half a century trying to teach businesses to pretend they’re not moral and cultural. We’ve ruthlessly driven out every practice and principle that used to provide some structure and direction for this aspect of corporate life. Of course they do a lousy job of it!

Forster is right. We all, clergy and laity, Christian or not, “have a lot of relearning ahead of us” if we hope to see businesses fulfill their role as cultural stewards and as institutions within which men and women can find and create meaningful lives. If Forster is right “that Christian business leaders are going to be the key players in figuring out how to re-humanize companies” then it is incumbent upon the Christian community as whole and the clergy in particular, to re-evaluate our own attitudes toward work and to the businesses and business owners who help create the jobs that make work possible.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Work and the Meaningful Life-part 1

 

Frequently I talk to men who envy me for being an Orthodox priest ). While many of those I speak with are Christian of one sort or another, it isn’t uncommon for me to have the same type of conversation with those who aren’t religious believers.  In part I think the conversations comes about because demographics. As I’ve reached middle age and my social circle, both inside and outside the Church, has also “aged.” But I think at its core these conversations are motivated by a felt lack of substantive meaning in the lives of those with whom I am speaking. Continue reading

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