The True Power of the Individual

Being a loner is ultimately self-destructive. Excessive Individualism results in a society of atomized kings who can’t get together for the greater good on any issue. Worse, they can’t band together to defeat common threats.

Individuality needs to be tempered with teamwork. This might explain why I find basketball such a fascinating sport. Maybe this simile is a bit of a stretch, but you get my point.

But there is one supreme way the individual can affect everything, the individual’s true power. And that is not by controlling other people, but yourself.

Remember: Positivity spreads just as much as negativity. It’s just not as much of an immediate head-rush.

Negativity is like a drug, or a sugar rush–you feel good right away, the crash is quick, and you need another hit. Positivity is like a healthy diet–it takes consistent effort over time to start working, but the benefits will be immense and self-perpetuating.

So much negativity. So much complaining. In fact, a recent post was essentially a rant about some things that drive me crazy. And while those are good and fun and all, they’re really not constructive.

I’d rather write about positive stuff, things that might help people see the world and their life in a different, better way.

Forget just writing about positive stuff–I just want to think about positive stuff and live positive stuff. Continue reading “The True Power of the Individual”

My Conversion Story

People have asked me for my “Easter conversion story” before, and since today is Holy Wednesday*, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about this.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe you’ll find it interesting. Or inspiring. Or crazy. I’m sure some “rational skeptic” will tell me it’s a “chemical phenomena akin to insanity that shouldn’t be viewed as proving anything other than the delusion-holder’s personal subjective experience,” and so on.

(Boy, wait until I tell the story about when I had an honest-to-God prophetic vision . . .)

Whatever. All I know is what I’ve experienced and you can take it or leave it. The important starting point for this particular story is that, from the ages of about fifteen to seventeen, I was an atheist.

Or thought I was. Things changed on Good Friday when I was 17.

Let’s back up a little bit though. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Both of my parents are 100% Greek with either parents or grandparents from the old country. On my mother’s side, my grandfather is a priest, and so was his father. There were more in the family, but I don’t know how far back it goes.

My experiences with the church were generally positive. I rather enjoyed seeing my pappou up there doing the service and giving communion, and we always went out to breakfast afterwards. Orthodoxy focus a lot on the mystical, the afterlife, the resurrection, and the love of Christ . . . as well as the wages of sin. This didn’t bother me, nor was it prohibitively frightening. In fact, it made sense: Disobeying your own parents and ignoring tradition and common sense lead to big trouble. Why wouldn’t ignoring your heavenly Father lead to the same?

And the fact that there was a Creator didn’t bother me at all either. Everything has to come from something, I thought. And even to this day, “Everything spontaneously came into being in perfect order for no reason and with no cause whatsoever” remains an unsatisfying leap of faith to make.

No, what first got me as I got older was the idea of the Resurrection.

I remember on my way to church with the family when I was 14. It might have been Easter; I can’t remember. What I do remember is expressing skepticism that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead. “I get all the other stuff,” I said, “but how do we know he didn’t just die?”

My family didn’t quite know how to answer. Continue reading “My Conversion Story”

Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis

“An explanation of what happens to you when you die” is sort of the lazy man’s answer to the question of “What is the purpose of religion?” This is true, but it is only a part of it.

The question of what happens after death has enthralled, and indeed scared the hell out, of human beings since we first became aware, unique to all other creatures, that we will, in fact, die at some point, and that this death is inevitable.

This is what author and theologian Nikolaos P. Vassilidis attempts to shed some light on in The Mystery of Death, at least from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Published in Greek in 1993 and later translated by Father Peter A. Chamberas, Vassilidis, a member of the Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians has taken Scripture and the teachings of the Holy Fathers and compiled them in a lengthy tomb big on what Scripture and logical analysis tells us and light on speculation.

It’s heavy reading, as you can imagine.

Religion, most religions at least, deal with more than just what happens when you die. But questions surrounding the end of life are obviously incredibly important, questions such as:

  • Why do human beings know they will die?
  • Why do we die?
  • Why are we here if we’re destined to die?
  • And of course, what happens next?

Vassiliadis relies heavily on the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Symeon, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Nikodemos, and other luminaries of the pre-Schism Church, as well as more recent Orthodox scholars like Georges Florovsky and Justin Popovic. It’s a well-researched book that offered a lot of eye-opening revelations about what death is, why we die, sin and repentance, and what comes after.

It’s tough to do a typical review of this book other than to say I highly recommend it to any Christian, Orthodox or not (although Catholics will probably have an easier time with it than most other denominations). So as with my discussion of Moses Maimonides’s The Guide for the Perplexed, I think it’d be more useful to go over a few of the more interesting points Vassiliadis makes:

Continue reading “Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis”

Fun with Mental Illness

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One of the most-read posts I’ve written on this blog is called “The Pros and Cons of Suicide.” Every day, it tends to be my most-read article.

This makes me sad, because it means that so many people are looking up information about the pros and cons of suicide on the Internet, implying that they think there are actually pros to killing yourself.

I titled to be deliberately provocative and tongue-in-cheek, because there’s nothing good about killing yourself, or depression in general. And that post’s denouement was also a little acidic, basically stating that it’s good to keep yourself alive just to piss off the people who wish you’d kill yourself:

It’s admitting defeat. And here’s the biggest one, at least for me. While I would say that I love God more than anything, sometimes I hate the devil more than I love the Lord. I’m convinced a lot of this spiritual sickness, this acedia in the world, is the result of the devil. And killing yourself is just saying to the world, “You win. I give up.”

So don’t be a statistic.

Isn’t this horrible? I’m basically telling the Internet here that a large part of the reason I am still alive is out of spite.

But if that’s all you’ve got, then run with it.

No matter who you are, no matter your beliefs, do not let yourself be defeated by the world. If your continued existence is nothing more than a walking middle finger to a world that wants you gone, so be it.

So live for spite if you must. I do many days, but you don’t have to be miserable about it. Life is pretty simple: be good to each other, help the next generation on there one way trip through life, and try to laugh and have fun.

My overarching message, then and now, is this: Don’t ever kill yourself, there’s always a way out, and God loves you, even if you don’t believe in Him.

You can cue the corny violins all you want, but I firmly believe this and stand by that statement. And I’m speaking as someone who’s struggled with this for much of my life as, I’m sure, have millions of other Americans. Over six-million, in fact. Life expectancy is down in this country, and opioid use is up. Forty million Americans are purported to have anxiety disorders. Forty million!

There’s a huge wave of despair going on in this country, a wave that many lay at the feet of modern life, atomization, automation of formerly physical or low-skill labor, and a growing urban/rural divide, among other things.

depression

But there’s also this weird thing we do where we almost romanticize mental illness or other difficulties, linking things like depressionbi-polar disorderautisim, or Asperger’s with creativity. And everyone loves creativity! Who doesn’t want to be creative? And so we end up with the popular idea that medicating or otherwise treating certain mental illnesses kills creativity, even though the data suggests that the opposite is true.

Trust me: I’ve been through this. It’s terrible! There’s nothing creative whatsoever about lying in bed, refusing to wake up because you wish you were never born. The creative juices don’t get flowing when you pray to God that a tractor-trailer would just absolutely cream you on your drive back from work, or thinking, “What if I just revved my car up to 120 miles per hour and crashed into that tree over there?” Depression doesn’t make one want to be creative, or do much of anything except die.

Yes, depression and other feelings caused by depression and its friends can give good grist for the creative mill, as it is quite cathartic to get those feelings out somehow, whether it be by putting pen to paper, fingers to keys, paint to canvas, or whatever you choose to do. But it’s even more cathartic to not want to kill yourself, or wish you had never been born every second of the day. And remember that plenty of fantastic art has been made by people who aren’t struggling with one form of mental illness or another.

There is nothing fun or mystical about suicidal thoughts. I don’t care what the popular myths about Beethoven and Van Gogh or Kurt Cobain are. Talk to someone. Get help. Get your life back. Continue reading “Fun with Mental Illness”

Recapturing the Awe

Lent is here. It’s a big deal to the faithful, the biggest deal of all.

Fasting. Prayer. I don’t think I need to get into what Lent is. How about we chat about what Lent isn’t?

Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake.The purpose of fasting for 40 days (Eastern tradition) or giving something up for 40 days (Western) isn’t to make you miserable. It’s to provide focus and clarity.

The Resurrection is the central tenet of Christianity. If it were false, if it never happened, all would be, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in vain:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

–1 Corinthians 15:12-18

So yes, Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection, is a big deal. Millions, like St. Paul himself, have died for it. This is why the Lenten period is so important. Continue reading “Recapturing the Awe”

Life Matters: Merry Christmas!

Everyone: Merry Christmas!

Even if Christianity isn’t your thing, have a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family.

Christmas and New Year’s are about new beginnings. As my priest said last night, we are all born with a hole in our heart. On Christmas we celebrate the coming of the one who can fill that hole.

I was feeling cranky for various reasons the last few days, a bit out of sort. But you know what? It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. Life matters.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Just like Easter, this season is brimming with the joy of life…

…God Almighty coming to Earth, carried by a young virgin who will come to be known as the Panagia–All Holy–and the Theotokos–God-bearer.

Christmas is as much about her, the bearer of life, bringing God into the world for us and for our salvation.

I dunno…it’s beautiful, at least to me. Is it getting dusty in here? Where’s my handkerchief…

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Ask a Christian, Part III

Man and God - The Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo

I’ve been taking all matters God with a really great group of guys online lately, and it got me in the mood to discuss and, hopefully, explain a few more questions and misconceptions I’ve gotten and been seeing about the faith. And so here we are with the third edition of Ask A Christian.

Hopefully you find this interesting, and even if you still think the faith wacky, well, at least you’ll be better informed.

Let me say first that a lot of these focus on the Bible, which is a difficult book for anyone, devout or otherwise. It’s a collection of several books written by people centuries apart, so misunderstandings about among the faithful and the not. So keep this in mind as we delve into some of these.

“Why do you feel guilt about everything and impose unearned guilt on everyone? That’s sadistic and cruel!”

Well then, it’s a good thing that this isn’t what we believe. Everyone isn’t “guilty.”

See, Christians, at least the Orthodox denomination, don’t believe in “original guilt.” Original sin–the disobedience to God and the fall of man–happened. Christ then redeemed mankind.

The distinction is that man’s nature is fallen. All of us live with the consequences of the fall of man, sure–old age, sickness, death, the darker sides of human nature in all of its manifestations– we are not guilty.

“You always cry ‘out of context!’ when confronted with verses you don’t like. What a disingenuous cop-out!”

Then stop flinging verses at us that you don’t understand yourselves.

This is a multi-layered issue, and could be a post itself. I’ll try to provide a condensed version:

  1. The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. It is a collection of different books written at different times by different people for different reasons. There is Gospel, prophecy, history, myth, poetry, wisdom, letters…so context is required for everything. Which leads into point 2.
  2. Not all Christians believe “sola scriptura,” the idea held by many Protestant denominations that the Bible is perfect and a closed book and that all we need to know, and in order to interpret it, is in there. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, among other, denominations reject this. Even the Bible doesn’t indicate that scripture alone is the final word, which seems to invalidate the idea of sola scriptura, but I digress. I know I’ve opened a can of worms here, but like I said, this is condensed. So there is also tradition and practice, including that by the Apostles themselves. You know, those people who followed Jesus himself.
  3. The Bible, all of it, needs to be read many ways: literally, figuratively, scripturally, and so on. I’ve already written about how not all churches take the creation story literally, and 12th century Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides explained in his Guide for the Perplexed that everyone knew, for example, that the Book of Job is a metaphor. So it’s far more layered than naysayers like to admit.

When those who are trying to disprove Christianity toss random verses around, they’re engaging in sola scriptura-type interpretation without knowing what they’re citing actually means. It’s like tossing out the middle of a random sentence without knowing the rest of the words surrounding it, or what the excerpt actually is trying to convey.

And if you’re upset that there seems to be “an answer for everything,” that’s what thousands of years of serious study and tradition will do. Or it could be that the book is true… Continue reading “Ask a Christian, Part III”