No One Can Do the Work For You

People want to be told what to do. This is a fact, despite our protestations to the contrary. Many of us crave leadership, reassurance, a direction.

But when when we get this, we resent the fact that we still have to do the work to get where we want to be.

Otherwise, we resent that we’re being led by the nose and micromanaged.

We’re a fickle species, aren’t we? Especially when it comes to the King of All Topics to Be Avoided: religion.

Me, I’m not a very good listener.

I had an interesting conversation the other night with two co-workers, one who is a Catholic and the other who had actually studied and trained to be a Catholic priest, but ended up not taking his vows.

The discussion was far-ranging, covering things like the nature of belief, why rituals and rites are important, where morality comes from, and the vital role played by tradition and study versus personal interpretations of Scripture.

But what I started thinking about after this conversation really got my mind abuzz.

One attack used by opponents of religion (though their ire strangely always seems focused only on Christianity…) is the idea that, if God were real, why would He allow any suffering on Earth? “Show us a sign, losers!” they demand, as though God is a puppet to dispense blessings, or a slot-machine that just the right prayer worded just the right way can force to give a winning spin.

Such a deity would be a puppet master, treating humanity the way that lots of pagan gods, from the Greeks to the Norse to the Egyptians did.

He would be telling us what to do…and make us do it.

Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, of Jesus and John, Peter and Mary and Paul lets us figure things out on our own. He may give leadership and guidance, but instead of fastening us with a leash, He opens the door and let’s us make our own ways through the wilds of the world.

Why is that?
I think a lot about how our interactions with others mirror God’s interactions with his creation. Even the Deists viewed him as a “Watchmaker,” so to speak, setting the machine in motion and hiding behind the scenes.

Think of God as a Father: The way He relates to us, his “children,” if you will, is a model of how we should relate to our own children as parents. Particularly the example of Jesus (“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”)

A good parent isn’t one who coddles their children. This ensures that the child will grow up to be a fearful and risk-averse adult, always appealing to authority for help, unable to make anything resembling an adult decision.

But what about being a teacher? It sounds kind of similar, doesn’t it?

Continue reading “No One Can Do the Work For You”

Ask a Christian, Part II

I had a classmate in school. She was part European and part Arab, and spent time growing up in both parts of the world. 

She was an atheist, and explained that the sectarian violence she saw while living in Lebanon had convinced her that there was nothing good whatsoever about religion.

During one section of our studies taught by a futurist–one of the most fascinating people I had ever met, actually–we were tying to gameplan how things may look 500, 100, and even 50 years from now.

I was in a group with this particular classmate, who predicted that in 50 years, religion wouldn’t matter, and would indeed vanish entirely from the face of the Earth.

“Fifty years?” I said, and I’m paraphrasing here so bear with me. “There are a few billion people who might disagree with that!”

In fact, I further propounded that, no matter how “modern” we get, religion probably won’t ever entirely go away.

Anyway, we had an interesting, very civil group discussion. But one thing this classmate said to me those years ago still resonates.

“You’re Orthodox, aren’t you? I’ve been to a few churches. That’s really…heavy.” She said the word “heavy” as if she felt the weight just speaking it.

I had no good answer then, and indeed didn’t know if I had to answer, since she didn’t seem to be saying it as an insult. Now, though, I realize what my answer to such a charge is:

Of course it’s “heavy.” Why wouldn’t it be?

How couldn’t matters of the soul, of eternity, of the literal meaning of life, not be heavy, regardless of what faith you belong?

This, perhaps, is what most non-Christians don’t get about us. Maybe we’re just wired a different way, but if you want to understand why we’re preoccupied with these sort of things, it’s because eternity is a very, very long time.

We also aren’t satisfied with the explanation that everything just happened and continues to happen for no reason whatsoever, nor with the certianty that humanity will ever know, and indeed might know now, everything about everything, ever. This seems…arrogant to us. 

So to help with this and a few other things, I’m back with another edition of Ask a Christian to maybe explain some of this heavy stuff we’re so preoccupied with, as well as a few other common misconceptions.  Continue reading “Ask a Christian, Part II”

What Should We Listen To “From the Mouths of Babes”?

Today is Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover. It marks the beginning of Holy Week, Jesus’ final ministry, the Last Supper, His passion, crucifixion, and Resurrection. 

It also kicks off the season of “Muslims bombing churches in the Middle East,” but I digress. 

Maybe I should write about this instead of my intended topic–after all, we’re suddenly beating the war drums over Syria because the President was supposedly swayed by his daughter’s heartbreak over the latest gas attack. What about this? This, also, has been going on for years. Is it the type of weapon deployed that makes the difference here?

Yeah, I’m heated. 

But this does tie into what I wanted to write about in a way. 

According to Matthew, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people spread palms and their garments on the ground as though he were their king, the children in the Temple cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David!”

Indignant, the chief priests and scribes asked Christ if He heard, and to which He responded,

“[H]ave you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, you have brought perfect praise’?”

This has entered the culture as the saying, “From the mouth of babes,” denoting that children have some kind of wisdom to offer. 

So what gives? What does this mean? When do we listen to children? Even adult ones? Continue reading “What Should We Listen To “From the Mouths of Babes”?”

Eat A Rock

There’s something floating around the zeitgeist holding that failure is not the end of all things, but the beginning. 

“Fail forward.”

“Have a system.”

“Keep grinding.”

“Failure makes you stronger.”

It’s an idea that’s gaining a lot of traction, it’s proponents now looking like geniuses (Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Scott Adams come to mind).

My high school music teacher–the best teacher I ever had–used to say something to us before every performance: “Eat a rock.”

As in, go out and do something bold. Impossible. Dumb, even. But also glorious. And in order to eat a rock–and here’s the important part–you can’t give up or let up, not even for a second. Because if you do, you’ll never finish. 

It’s a silly metaphor, and it conjures up all sorts of interesting visual imagery, but it’s stuck with me all the same ever since. 

Eat a rock. 

I had a big failure recently. Like, a massive one. But something strange happened when I got the news. I wasn’t angry, or worried, or filled with self-pity. I felt–and this is where it gets weird–empty. Numb. 

Though this is the kind of thing that would make most wail and gnash their teeth, it didn’t move the needle for me one way or the other. It was just a thing, another thing in life that needs to be dealt with. 

Maybe I’ve been internalizing these messages. Maybe saturating myself in the world of self-improvement, systems-thinking, philosophy, and brotherhood so much these past two years is actually rubbing off on me. 

In truth, things will get worse before they get better. Life will get more difficult. But once the numbness wore off, felt oddly exhilarated. I went into my room, hit the knees in prayer, and when I got up, I felt a sense of resolve. 

I have a responsibility and a duty. To my family and to myself. 

There are things, like my thoughts and my health, that I can control. 

And nothing, not even failure, lasts forever.  Continue reading “Eat A Rock”

Fasting From What?

Based on my calculations, we’re about halfway through Lent. And every year certain aspects of Lent get easier, while others prove more difficult. 

Take fasting. No, please, take it. It’s an inconvenience and kind of a drag. But that’s the point. 

When we were kids, at least in the Greek Orthodox tradition, it meant going meatless more often, and sometimes everything-less, especially during Holy Week. We don’t do the “give something up for 40 days” as our Catholic brethren do, but I understand the idea behind abstaining from certain foods and certain things. It’s a great way to introduce children into the concept of fasting. 

So fasting from what? What’s more challenging than not eating the things that you love?

A lot. Three points;

  1. Christianity is one of the only faiths I can think of that has no dietary restrictions. Nothing God made is unclean. Have at it. 
  2. Related to point one, Christians don’t go to heaven or hell based in a checklist of ritualistic behaviors. What you eat, what you say, and how many times a day you pray aren’t the final arbiters of your place in eternity. It’s much more personal and far less mechanical. In other words, it takes hard work, far harder than adhering to a checklist. 
  3. How sad a state we are in when fasting becomes such a deal breaker for many! Americans are surrounded by food. We are drowning in it. Is it really that hard to put the fork down for 40 measly days?

But the food let has become easier for me. Age and maturity will do that to you. And it’s good because a little physical discomfort can sharpen your mind for the things you are truly supposed to abstain from. 

Sinfulness. Your flaws. Things you do that you know you shouldn’t do but that you do anyway. 

These are the things Christ was crucified to help us overcome. 

Okay, if you’re not a Christian, or even religious, I am aware of how silly his may sound. But roll with me here.  Continue reading “Fasting From What?”

“What’cha thinkin’?”

“What’cha thinkin’?”

I hate this question. But I do not hate the people who ask it.

I know why people ask it: They want to start up a conversation. As someone who enjoys talking, I cannot fault them for this even a little bit.

But it’s a loaded question, similar to asking someone “How are you doing?” What they want really isn’t the question; they don’t care. “How are you doing?” has become conflated with “Hello!” And “What’cha thinkin’?” is more like “Let’s talk about something here; the silence is killing me!” Continue reading ““What’cha thinkin’?””