Christianity and Politics

FOR DECADES, the GOP has claimed to have the high moral ground, waving the Bible and painting itself the party of God. Their message in a nutshell:

WE are the party of Christianity and Judaism. WE are the “moral majority.”  All others not with us are to be feared and despised as immoral, evil, Godless baby-killers, not to be listened to, trusted, or heeded. WE are perfect, righteous, never in the wrong, and must take all power away from them; that is the only way America can be restored to its moral decency–decency which has been lost, all because of THEM.

Let’s look to the book so frequently cited to justify the GOP’s claim to moral superiority. In St. Paul’s second letter to the young church at Corinth, which in those early days was not getting it quite right and needed correction, Paul identifies seven “marks” or “signs” of true apostles of Christ. Let’s examine these seven qualities and see which party today most closely mirrors the ideals set forth by St. Paul, who himself met the risen Christ, personally, on the road to Damascus.

The first sign of a true apostle is the ability to endure discomfort gracefully. A rare but beautiful quality, true leaders embrace persecution, even “take pleasure” and “rejoice” when reproached, persecuted, and thrust into need for the sake of God or for others, St. Paul writes. For they know God lives within them. The lure of comfort is very powerful. That’s why Christ said it is difficult for the wealthy to get into heaven; it is rare for a rich person to part with his comforts. Mr. Romney, with his 7,000 square foot home and riches beyond comprehension, holds to his luxuries so tightly he cannot even bring himself to endure the discomfort of public scrutiny of his tax records. By contrast, Mr. Obama has faced public humiliation by the GOP,  disrespectful boo’ing and hissing and spreading of lies about him. He has been falsely accused of everything from forging his birth certificate to plotting to turn the U.S. into a communist state to being a Muslim.  His achievements have been met with criticism and disdain, credit withheld for anything done right. Yet he has remained, for the most part, gracious and humble, not returning the personal attacks, and, as best he could, laughing them off.

The second mark is humility — consciousness of one’s own “nothingness,” one’s frailty and vulnerability. Humility is attained through having endured, repeatedly, deprivation, exhaustion, danger and near death experiences, which strip away self, revealing that true strength comes from God. The most humble leader in the GOP in recent years is John McCain. Draft dodging, insulated rich folks like Mr. Romney have not tested their mettle in the way of suffering. War, of course, is not the only way to suffer and possibly find God. Mr. Romney was invited by Catholic nuns to come and serve the poor with them, so he could feel what it was like. He declined. Living in and near poverty, seeing, caring for those less fortunate, and suffering intense hatred of others, as Mr. Obama has all done, is another test of humility. To truly play the blues you have live the blues. Mr. Obama has been there, done that.  Mr. Romney, not so much.

The third sign is personal constancy, tenacity, patience, and perseverance, in the face of all kinds of difficulties. Mr. Romney is one of the least constant leaders to ascend the GOP ranks in recent history. His record is one of shifting positions to suit his needs — a series of 180 degree turns in core values, from supporting and then denying support for his own state health care system, to his turn from pro- to anti-choice. Mr. Obama by contrast has been consistent in his values of caring for others throughout his career, and any compromises he made, such as with the health care industry in drafting reform legislation, were done in promotion of those values.

The fourth sign of a true apostle is a spirit of non-materialism. They work without thought of pay or reward,  “very gladly spend and care,” become “spent up” for other people.  While Mr. Romney has been generous in his tithing, his career focus and the focus in the GOP on supporting corporations and tax policies that favor profit over the health and lives of people, acquisition of vast quantities of personal rather than public wealth, evading taxes by moving accounts offshore, and love of luxury, all clearly have a materialistic spirit. In making his tax records pubic, Mr. Obama has revealed no excessive pre-occupation with materialism, and often speaks of the best things in life being the love of his family — not his possessions. Democratic initiatives have always put people above profit.

The fifth sign is sacrifice. True Christians, St. Paul said, act like parents who sacrifice, who go without in order that they may “lay up for their children.” The GOP and Mr. Romney embrace and encourage their ranks to display stubborn unwillingness to sacrifice any tax dollars, even to take care of injured war veterans, hungry children, students, or to care for the elderly and disabled. Which is not surprising since they are avowed followers of the money-worshipping, anti-Christian Ayn Rand. Their hearts are clearly with their ample treasures. This is antithetical to God’s commandments. Mr. Obama and the Democrats, by contrast, support shared sacrifice of all.

The sixth mark of a true apostle is love.  Love is the bottom line in all things, St. Paul says. You can tithe, you can heal people, you do all of the above, but without the spirit of love, it means nothing. God loves a cheerful giver. God loves those who are compassionate and desire to alleviate the suffering of others. God loves those who hate sin, but who still love the sinner no matter what. The biggest display of love, of course, is the willingness to lay down one’s life.  Draft dodging aside, for the sake of love of money over people, the GOP and Mr. Romney display no love in their willingness to harm the economy, to take our country to the brink of financial ruin, and to cut vital services to the poor even if it will result in peoples’ additional misery and even death–all for the sake of defeating the president. Mr. Obama, by contrast, has prioritized in line with St. Paul, putting peoples’ lives and health first, then livelihoods, and then wealth. For this reason, health care was reformed in a way that would not only save money, but lives. And already, the fledgling Obamacare has done so.

The seventh sign of a true apostle is edification. He leads for the sake of building up his followers, particularly their moral character. Mr. Obama, as the quintessential role model of father and husband to young men of all colors, leads by example, demonstrating all of the foregoing qualities. Unlike a “hireling,” said St. Paul, a true father “does not own the sheep,” leaving them when his shift is up, to go party. He “neither flees nor abandons the flock” but cares for them and their development. Yet the hoards of Republicans erupted into cheers of approval when Clint Eastwood told them “you own America.” Mr. Eastwood followed up saying, we all own America, including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. But his clarifying statement was lost on the crowd, who cheered themselves silly as righteous “owners” seeking to maximize their profits.  I don’t think righteous means what they think it means.

The message repeated throughout the Bible: we are to strive to learn, act, and become like God, do as He did. We are to look upon ourselves as servants, serving others, as He did. We are not to act as owners, but as loving brothers and sisters, as He did. We are not to be owned, for we are His children, not His servants. Most important of all, we are to love each other, as He did.

By the standards of St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, one party has lost the moral high ground. Despite its sins, which He said we are not to judge, the party today that is acting, behaving, leading and standing most clearly in league with Christ God, according to St. Paul, is President Obama and the Democratic party.

The Kitchen Sink

Do not take for granted the kitchen sink
Bath water it once held to clean baby’s soapy feet
Repository of crumbs and water to wash
the plates off which we eat.

Although stained dirty with soap scum and coffee
and must be scrubbed for the white to shine anew
the kitchen sink is a luxury
our ancestors never knew.

Running water from a spiggot still remains a dream
for millions who trek after rising from their beds
a mile or more with 40 pounds of dirty water
sloshing and perched atop their dusty heads.

Pavement instead of mud we have.
Blankets and soft beds instead of stone we have.
Endless entertainment at button’s touch instead of painful toil we have.

Yet, what do we appreciate?
Our voices, our hands, our papers and ink?
Do we live in gratitude for this and more?
Or do we disdain and take for granted the dirty kitchen sink?

Would our ancestors approve our slothful despair
and ever-yearning lust for more? Our annoyance at not having enough?
Would they, schooled in the rich biography and teachings
and practiced in the worship and in true communion
with Him who gave His life for us,
shake their heads, wag their fingers, and cluck their tongues
at our childish tirades when we judge and cannot share with neighbors
at our sleeping in on Sundays
at our amassing of wealth
at our poisoning of drinking wells and swimming holes
at our irreverence and forgetfulness of THEIR graves
and our OWN souls?

Do they pray for us now?
How long has it been since we prayed for them?
How long has it been since we remembered with gratitude and humilty
the blessed souls on whose shoulders we all stand?

And what of our fear?

My daughter brought home from the fair last week
a tiny creature with sharp seeing eyes in a shell
and put it in a plastic box no bigger than a shoe.
Unable to turn round in its tiny prison
Unable to stretch and climb and dig and seek
It retreats in fear and sits sadly in a corner
depressed.
Instead of crawling happily on our hands
It pinches our fingers with fear when we draw near.
We’ve lost its trust by making it prisoner.

Yet what else can we teach but what we ourselves know?
We who have imprisoned ourselves in fear?

Each day we put on fear when we put on the news.
Each day we put on fear when we lock our doors.
Each day we put on fear when we judge our neighbors as different than us.
Each day we put on fear when we judge ourselves as not having enough.
Each day we put on fear when we arm ourselves with guns.
Each day we put on fear when we rely upon ourselves for our daily bread
instead of thanking Him.

Each day we lather our lawns with poison in fear of a little yellow flower.
Each day we lather our sinks with poison in fear of a few invisible lifeforms.
Each day we entrust corporations to pasteurize and lather with chemicals our food in fear of disease.
Each day our bodies choke with fat inflamed to protect us from the toxic poisonous chemicals we spread in fear and which we now breathe and wallow in.
Each day our bodies choke with fat inflamed to protect us from the dead and sterilized and non-digested fermenting slop in our guts which the corporations call food and with which we stuff ourselves insatiably.
Each day we hate ourselves for being fat.

Each day we trade bravery for comfort
wisdom for entertainment
freedom for security
gratitude for disdain
love for fear.

Our ancestors who trekked alone, thousands of miles over sea and land,
with little more than the clothes on their backs,
they put on faith instead of fear.
Our elders who walked miles in the snow and wind and rain to school each day, and
endured the droughts, and picked the fields, and faced the straw bosses, and accepted the draft and enemy gunfire–
they knew how, each day, to put on faith instead of fear.

It takes courage to shake off this cloak of fear, this false security, and replace it with His shroud.
To put on Christ.

All this I ponder this morning, washing dishes, at the kitchen sink.

Thoughts on the massacre in Colorado

I AM TRULY BLESSED to have many dear and beloved friends, many of whom favor expansion of gun-carrying rights. These friends suggest that the massacre in Colorado proves the need for right-to-carry laws, that if only there had been someone in that theater packing a gun, they could have taken down this crazy man and saved lives.

The underlying premise is that we need to be vigilant to dangers like this, “out there” in the world, and that we need to protect ourselves. And guided by this premise, this belief, we keep erecting insane systems of protection…airport “security”  with random strip searches, campus “security” with metal detectors, and now, expansion of gun laws, vigilante laws, and “concealed carry” — all designed for our “security.”

Yet — do we feel safer?  Are we actually any safer? And what is the consequence, the logical extension of this thinking?  Will we now have to endure metal detectors and be frisked when we go into a movie theater?

The traditional American ideal of justice, “innocent until proven guilty,” has been replaced. More and more the world assumes the guilt of all, and the results are bars. Bars to our freedom, to move, to speak, to associate.

Good Lord, and dear friends, is this legacy of a prison we are creating for our children, for our world, what You want for us, what we truly want?  And how is this happening, that we keep trading our freedom for insanity? How can we find true security, in a world which grows less secure by the minute?

As a person who strives to find truth, the bottom line in all things, I suggest examining this need for protection. I am reminded of a powerful lesson from A Course in Miracles. Well, they are all powerful, but this one speaks so clearly to this issue. It is called “In defenselessness my safety lies.”  Below I have copied the lesson in full for you to ponder.

Please note that this is lesson 153, about five months into a year-long Course. For more information, find a complete copy of ACIM at  http://acim-search.miraclevision.com/std-second-edition-and-supps/index.html.   I found its search engine not working so well but you can scroll down the hyper-linked Table of Contents on the left to find your way through. Click Workbook Part I for the numbered daily lessons. I’ve found the Workbook Lessons easier to grasp than the headier Text, which is recommended for group discussion. Visit also the Foundation for Inner Peace, the non-profit which holds the copyright to A Course in Miracleshttp://acim.org

Anyway, here it is. [Note the the emphasis on certain thoughts shown below is my own.]

Lesson 153  (beginning day 153)

In my defenselessness my safety lies.

You who feel threatened by this changing world, its twists of fortune and its bitter jests, its brief relationships and all the “gifts” it merely lends to take away again; attend this lesson well. The world provides no safety. It is rooted in attack, and all its “gifts” of seeming safety are illusory deceptions. It attacks, and then attacks again. No peace of mind is possible where danger threatens thus.

The world gives rise but to defensiveness. For threat brings anger, anger makes attack seem reasonable, honestly provoked, and righteous in the name of self-defense. Yet is defensiveness a double threat. For it attests to weakness, and sets up a system of defense that cannot work. Now are the weak still further undermined, for there is treachery without and still a greater treachery within. The mind is now confused, and knows not where to turn to find escape from its imaginings.

It is as if a circle held it fast, wherein another circle bound it and another one in that, until escape no longer can be hoped for nor obtained. Attack, defense; defense, attack, become the circles of the hours and the days that bind the mind in heavy bands of steel with iron overlaid, returning but to start again. There seems to be no break nor ending in the ever-tightening grip of the imprisonment upon the mind.

Defenses are the costliest of all the prices which the ego would exact. In them lies madness in a form so grim that hope of sanity seems but to be an idle dream, beyond the possible. The sense of threat the world encourages is so much deeper, and so far beyond the frenzy and intensity of which you can conceive, that you have no idea of all the devastation it has wrought.

You are its slave. You know not what you do, in fear of it. You do not understand how much you have been made to sacrifice, who feel its iron grip upon your heart. You do not realize what you have done to sabotage the holy peace of God by your defensiveness. For you behold the Son of God as but a victim to attack by fantasies, by dreams, and by illusions he has made; yet helpless in their presence, needful only of defense by still more fantasies, and dreams by which illusions of his safety comfort him.

Defenselessness is strength. It testifies to recognition of the Christ in you. Perhaps you will recall, the text maintains that choice is always made between Christ’s strength and your own weakness, seen apart from Him.

Defenselessness can never be attacked, because it recognizes strength so great attack is folly, or a silly game a tired child might play, when he becomes too sleepy to remember what he wants.

Defensiveness is weakness. It proclaims you have denied the Christ and come to fear His Father’s anger. What can save you now from your delusion of an angry god, whose fearful image you believe you see at work in all the evils of the world? What but illusions could defend you now, when it is but illusions that you fight?

We will not play such childish games today. For our true purpose is to save the world, and we would not exchange for foolishness the endless joy our function offers us. We would not let our happiness slip by because a fragment of a senseless dream happened to cross our minds, and we mistook the figures in it for the Son of God; its tiny instant for eternity.

We look past dreams today, and recognize that we need no defense because we are created unassailable, without all thought or wish or dream in which attack has any meaning. Now we cannot fear, for we have left all fearful thoughts behind. And in defenselessness we stand secure, serenely certain of our safety now, sure of salvation; sure we will fulfill our chosen purpose, as our ministry extends its holy blessing through the world.

Be still a moment, and in silence think how holy is your purpose, how secure you rest, untouchable within its light. God’s ministers have chosen that the truth be with them. Who is holier than they? Who could be surer that his happiness is fully guaranteed? And who could be more mightily protected? What defense could possibly be needed by the ones who are among the chosen ones of God, by His election and their own as well?

It is the function of God’s ministers to help their brothers choose as they have done. God has elected all, but few have come to realize His Will is but their own. And while you fail to teach what you have learned, salvation waits and darkness holds the world in grim imprisonment. Nor will you learn that light has come to you, and your escape has been accomplished. For you will not see the light, until you offer it to all your brothers. As they take it from your hands, so will you recognize it as your own.

Salvation can be thought of as a game that happy children play. It was designed by One Who loves His children, and Who would replace their fearful toys with joyous games, which teach them that the game of fear is gone. His game instructs in happiness because there is no loser. Everyone who plays must win, and in his winning is the gain to everyone ensured. The game of fear is gladly laid aside, when children come to see the benefits salvation brings.

You who have played that you are lost to hope, abandoned by your Father, left alone in terror in a fearful world made mad by sin and guilt; be happy now. That game is over. Now a quiet time has come, in which we put away the toys of guilt, and lock our quaint and childish thoughts of sin forever from the pure and holy minds of Heaven’s children and the Son of God.

We pause but for a moment more, to play our final, happy game upon this earth. And then we go to take our rightful place where truth abides and games are meaningless. So is the story ended. Let this day bring the last chapter closer to the world, that everyone may learn the tale he reads of terrifying destiny, defeat of all his hopes, his pitiful defense against a vengeance he can not escape, is but his own deluded fantasy. God’s ministers have come to waken him from the dark dreams this story has evoked in his confused, bewildered memory of this distorted tale. God’s Son can smile at last, on learning that it is not true.

Today we practice in a form we will maintain for quite a while. We will begin each day by giving our attention to the daily thought as long as possible. Five minutes now becomes the least we give to preparation for a day in which salvation is the only goal we have. Ten would be better; fifteen better still. And as distraction ceases to arise to turn us from our purpose, we will find that half an hour is too short a time to spend with God. Nor will we willingly give less at night, in gratitude and joy.

Each hour adds to our increasing peace, as we remember to be faithful to the Will we share with God. At times, perhaps, a minute, even less, will be the most that we can offer as the hour strikes. Sometimes we will forget. At other times the business of the world will close on us, and we will be unable to withdraw a little while, and turn our thoughts to God.

Yet when we can, we will observe our trust as ministers of God, in hourly remembrance of our mission and His Love. And we will quietly sit by and wait on Him and listen to His Voice, and learn what He would have us do the hour that is yet to come; while thanking Him for all the gifts He gave us in the one gone by.

In time, with practice, you will never cease to think of Him, and hear His loving Voice guiding your footsteps into quiet ways, where you will walk in true defenselessness. For you will know that Heaven goes with you. Nor would you keep your mind away from Him a moment, even though your time is spent in offering salvation to the world. Think you He will not make this possible, for you who chose to carry out His plan for the salvation of the world and yours?

Today our theme is our defenselessness. We clothe ourselves in it, as we prepare to meet the day. We rise up strong in Christ, and let our weakness disappear, as we remember that His strength abides in us. We will remind ourselves that He remains beside us through the day, and never leaves our weakness unsupported by His strength. We call upon His strength each time we feel the threat of our defenses undermine our certainty of purpose. We will pause a moment, as He tells us, “I am here.”

Your practicing will now begin to take the earnestness of love, to help you keep your mind from wandering from its intent. Be not afraid nor timid. There can be no doubt that you will reach your final goal. The ministers of God can never fail, because the love and strength and peace that shine from them to all their brothers come from Him. These are His gifts to you. Defenselessness is all you need to give Him in return. You lay aside but what was never real, to look on Christ and see His sinlessness.

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

I write as a political independent and former city leader in the Campaign For Change in 2008.  I campaigned night and day alongside hundreds of new friends, all inspired by your intelligence, wisdom, and heart.  We saw in your candidacy hope for reconciliation and rebuilding of our just and great nation. Sadly over these past 3+ years we have watched the opposition master techniques of obstruction and propaganda, with demonizing lies circulated on a scale that previous generations would have called seditious.

Recently you came out in favor of gay marriage. I was deeply disappointed about this news, not because I judge people for their sexual orientation. I was disappointed because in the bigger picture, this was a seriously polarizing choice.  We the people are all already a house divided. My heart just sank when this news came out, at what may come of this.

But then I thought of a way to reconciliation. I have a proposal I urge you to consider.

For hope of reconciliation and prevention of  a new civil war, we must do what Thomas Jefferson did after 6 colonies rejected his first draft of the Declaration of Independence.  To unite the colonies, to get consensus, he listened to the opposition and compromised on the key issue of the day: he deleted his flaming criticism of slavery. Today I urge you, Mr. President, to likewise compromise on the key issue of the day. You must, sir, honestly address the one issue that can reunite this country: Abortion.

Here is my proposal, for you and for all of us liberals. First we must look within, with true honesty, and see where we have missed the mark. We must admit the truth.

Think about it.  Our children. The future of our nation.  Unborn babies. Innocently growing in the womb. Killed. On its face it is time we admit that, yes, abortion is a sin. And that the millions of  innocent American lives taken since 1974 is an absolute and utter TRAGEDY. It is time that we liberals admit that.

At the same time, recognize and affirm the greatest gift God ever gave to mankind: free will. And that free will extends to women as well as to men.

While there is a new innocent life involved, there is also an existing life involved, and to deny one over the other is not right. There has to be a middle ground. Why must this issue continue to divide us? Why can we not recognized BOTH?

Affirm that God gave us all free will and that includes women, but  also stand up and say, firmly and with authority, that abortion, the taking of innocent life, is absolutely wrong. It is a sin, it is a national tragedy, and to keep abortion legal but extremely rare–BY CHOICE AND BY HELPING EACH OTHER.  Not by guilt. Not by control. Not by force. But by doing it God’s loving way.

Announce a Democratic Initiative For Life, consisting of the following:

  • Full 100% paid maternity and well child care to all pregnant women and new mothers for the first 4 years of a child’s life, with  education of unmarried single mothers a national priority. Pay for this initiative with taxes on the wealthiest Americans, with additional funding by donation. Replicate successful intervention programs like the one in Georgia that prevents teen pregnancy by taking loving care of  teen mothers during and after their first pregnancy, so that instead of spiraling deeper into poverty by having a second, third, fourth baby by the time they hit 20, which is what has been happening for decades, instead they receiving intervention and child care and financial support to help them finish their education, disengage in sexual behaviors, and focus on building heir lives responsibly going forward,  http://www.gcapp.org/    The initiative would also allocate funding to hire social workers tasked with streamlining the adoption process, to make adoption more affordable.  Create a space on federal tax returns to give all Americans the choice to earmark an amount or percentage additionally on their taxes, to finance the Initiative’s Value All Life Fund, that will cover these expenses, and also provide grants to teach children to respect their bodies and stay chaste.
  • Affirm and support churches and other NGOs reaching out to women to teach them how holy they are, how holy their bodies are, how God loves them,  how sin hurts them, and assisting women in crisis make the choice for life.
  • Establish the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative that has as its goal of inspiring absentee fathers to  coming forth and commit to lifelong fatherhood and support of their children, with a small cash incentive for each child and mother acknowledged. Tie this program to a WPA type program that creates jobs like outdoor maintenance, road work, infrastructure repair and child care, with preference given to the married father.  If they have children by more than one child, then it is time they stop their promiscuous behavior and settle down with one woman, while continuing to parent all of their children.  The goal: end single parenthood.
  • Propose an Trinity Amendment to the Constitution that  recognizes the rights of the unborn who are connected to their mothers on whom they depend for their lives, to be given every chance at life, that only human beings and not corporations are people, and affirming the Creator’s gift of free will to all mankind including women.  Affirm the government’s interest in protecting the rights of the TRINITY of the mother, father and child.
  • Finally .. Issue a Life Support Challenge  to surgeons the way Kennedy challenged scientists:  we transplant hearts and kidneys and other organs — let’s make it a national priority to find a way to transport a fetus to another woman’s body.

All of us, coming together to affirm the rights of  fathers, the mothers and children, will restore unity.

Keep abortion a safe and legal option, but make it an extremely rare, last option, by making the choice for life a GREAT option.  By all of us putting our shoulders to the grindstone by supporting financially and socially the choice for life, we can do more than end the abortion crisis: we can herald in a new era that values ALL life as sacred – BY CHOICE. This is, after all, what God wants, right? He wants us to CHOOSE Him; we are his children, not his slaves. Let us HELP each other CHOOSE Him.

In choosing not to outlaw abortion, explain that  you cannot fix one evil with another.  Given the nature of evil and mankind’s temptation to it, to empower the government, any government, to step in and make medical choices for anyone is also an evil. Your wife’s body and your daughter’s bodies does not belong to the state.  For too many centuries women’s bodies belonged to men, and we must affirm and acknowedge the gift and a privilege to live in a country where people are no longer considered anyone’s property.

Does religion evolve?

I belong to an email discussion group called RightMeetsLeft, and recently one of the exchanges discussed the “wall of separation” between church and state. More on that, later. But one comment from a gentleman that rang out to me referenced “the evolution of religion in America.”

Does religion evolve?

According to Merriam-Webster, religion is defined as
1: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
2: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to workship a god or group of gods
3 informal: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group [ie., the Packers in Wisconsin.]

To evolve is “to change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state.”

My question is, has religion in America evolved into a “better, more complex, or more advanced state?” Has it simply changed? Or, has it actually done the opposite — weakened, regressed, lapsed, decayed and degenerated?

Speaking from an Orthodox perspective, the church is a spiritual hospital, and its many “ceremonies and rules” are practices 1) given to us by God, not invented by men 2) tools to be used for spiritual and physical healing. As we respect God’s gift of free will, the use of these tools is utterly voluntary, and the results of their practice — movement towards God, healing, theosis — are directly proportional to the depth, sincerity and discipline of the application. Sort of like, going to the gym. What you put into it is what you get out.  For us, it’s a spiritual workout. Thus, because of this understanding of what Orthodoxy is, not from man, but a gift from God, proven to work and yield results, very little in the Orthodox church has changed in 2000 years, with regards to theology, worship, and ascetics. To change the Divine Liturgy would be like deciding to get rid of the weights and treadmills and instead show movies at the gym–and then still expect to get a good workout.  Doesn’t make any sense to us.

There is a joke:
Q:  How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  Change???
We’ll just light a candle.

So, from the Orthodox perspective, Orthodoxy is far more than a religion, a belief, or a system of beliefs. It is a practice, a way of life, that informs everything we do. A good example of someone in the news who is devoted Orthodox is Pittsburgh Steelers safety, Troy Polamalu. God bless him and his wife, Theodora.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/why-nfl-star-troy-polamalu-abstains-from-sex-40-days-at-a-time/
http://www.myocn.net/index.php/troy-polamalu-showcases-orthodoxy-for-americanshtml.html
http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2009/02/religion-and-the-super-bowl-tr.html

Last year during the playoffs, we had the pleasure of hosting our beloved Bishop THOMAS, who is from Pittsburgh and celebrates Liturgy regularly with Troy and Theodora. On the last day of his weekend-long visit, at lunch after Liturgy, someone on our council presented him with the gift of a Packer’s jersey and a cheesehead. He politely thanked us, appreciating the gift, but said, to roars of laughter, it would truly be sacrilegious and possibly dangerous for him to wear it or even show it to anyone back home.

Occupy movement will fail without paradigm shift

For years I have wondered how we can achieve the positive future envisioned by Gene Roddenberry. So many elements of that future have come true — from wireless phones to iPads and even some medical procedures — books and college courses on the “science” of Star Trek abound.  But  Roddenberry’s societal vision of the future, in which money and its problems have been eliminated, elude us.  His vision of peace, prosperity, intelligence, and sanity reigning on an Earth that has recovered its environmental health seems much further away. The idea of humankind rising to a place of honor, wisdom and leadership amongst other beings in the galaxy, and an overriding respect of all life as the “Prime Directive,” seems far away.  He painted the picture of that positive future so beautifully, so concretely, you can just taste it. How on earth can we get there?

Could the “Occupy” movement possibly bring us towards a more idyllic, Star-Trek-like future?

I believe it is definitely possible. However, I predict that the Occupy  movement will have little to no effect on the status quo without a major paradigm shift, internally, in a critical number of people, away from the addictive egocentricism that characterizes the modern post-industrial collective American psyche.  Yet, with the rise of social media,  the possibility for such a paradigm shift has never been more real.

For the Occupy movement to truly have an impact, what is needed is a radical redefinition of the concept of “bottom line.”  So long as individuals seek happiness and center their lives outside of themselves, OUT THERE in the world, around material wealth, money, and profit, the movement will have no power to reform. Until mass numbers of individuals wake up to the inherent insanity of identification with THINGS, and particularly with the incessant counting of pieces of paper, round shiny bits of metal, sparkly stones, numbers on a screen, or any other objects, as a way of determining identity and value — all the protests in the world will not make a bit of difference. In fact, I predict that we simply will trade one corrupt group for another. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” We are seeing that already in the Arab world, sadly.

Given the power imbalance that already exists today, the current Occupy movement at best may succeed at changing a few laws. They likely will lead to violence, revolution, and even regime change. But without internal, personal revelation on a mass scale, inward, the movement will fail to address the fundamental flaw that undergirds our entire global economic and psychological system: addictive egoic identification to form.

For genuine and lasting reform, we have to recognize the real bottom-line truth: we are all addicted to the erroneous belief that we are the sum of our bank accounts, our cars, our homes, our possessions, our material lives.  And that we need “stuff” to be happy.  None of that is actually true. We need to admit that so long as we’re driving or flying anywhere, burning fossil fuel, wearing clothing made in sweat shops or sneakers padded with rain forest rubber or synthetic plastic, eating food that’s been shipped from the other side of the world — we are  interconnected to Wall Street, and are fueling the problem. We are as addicted to the false belief as the billionaire execs themselves. The only way for reform to make a difference is to take a long hard look in the mirror, look inside, and admit our addiction.

Genuine and lasting reform is not going to happen on Wall Street, in Washington, in state capitols, or even on Main Street–without this healing from our personal addiction. There is only one place, one direction of change that will make a true difference in the world out there: it is what the Native Americans called the 7th direction — within, internally, at home. It is what the Christian mystics call “metanoia” — changing our minds, turning towards the light of God within. It is the true definition of repentance, the true message of the voice on the wind of the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist.

From executives to shareholders to individuals living and now unemployed on Main Street, regardless of class, color, religious affiliation, or creed–reform can occur only when a critical mass of humanity can genuinely free themselves from the illusory Matrix-like rat-race we’ve all agreed to believe exists. Reform can occur when we stop looking to dollar bills to define ourselves and see instead the spark of the divine within ourselves and our neighbors, and see these pieces of paper as simply tools that work when they flow freely where needed, not to be held and hoarded in fear.  That will be when the possibility of a Star-Trek-like future can occur. By genuinely turning to the Source of All, the Light that is the spark of creation, passed down from our ancestors that lives and shines within each one us — we invite Grace into our lives. It is that amazing Grace that sets us free — free of all fear.  Fear of loss, fear of lack, fear of anything.  Only then can the dream, the vision, that all of us dare hope, can be real. A future of genuine and lasting peace, true prosperity, without war or disease.

Just as Steve Jobs demonstrated with his brilliant Apple products, it is absolutely  possible for one person, with vision and dedication, to transform the world for the better.  I believe that if just 1% of the population can achieve genuine freedom from addictive egoic attachment, can achieve genuine metanoia, union with The Light within, they will affect a cascade paradigm shift in the other 99%.

How to do it??  As with kicking any addiction, the only way to succeed is to admit our addiction to egoic attachment to form, through a 12 Step Program. Call it Egoic Attachments Anonymous, or EAA.

  • Step 1.  We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
  • Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  • Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7.  Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 8.  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10.  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out
  • Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Has there ever been a civilization —  a successful civilization — that had no addictive egoic attachment to form?  Yes. I can think of two.  Both the early Christian Byzantine empire which thrived for nearly 1000 years, and the pre-colonial indigenous cultures of North America, which thrived on the continent for tens of thousands of years, possessed belief systems that 1) did not recognize or significantly downplayed the concept of personal property  2) had well-developed systems that bestowed social value and political power based on humility and selflessness 3) valued freedom and free will as a divine gift and right of all of creation, and 4) recognized the spiritual truth of our interconnectedness to each other, and to a benevolent and loving God who provides all we need.

As it says in the Bible, the way to discern good from evil is by its fruits. These civilizations yielded many fruits. In the case of the indigenous North Americans, they thrived on the continent for hundreds of generations without damaging the environment, without overpopulating, without destroying the natural balance which causes dis-ease, and without prolonged and damaging wars. Sporting a functional system of shared political power across 5 nations, some even inspired the work of founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and others in designing our Bill of Rights and bicameral triune system of government. The many diverse yet interconnected cultures which communicated and traded effectively from one end of the continent to the other, endured continuously longer than that of any European culture, or even the habitation of the British Isles — with very little war, with preservation and sharing of natural resources, with respect of the rights of women and children, and with very little disease.

As for the Byzantine empire, a tiny piece of it still exists to this day, operating on its own clock and calendar, cut off from the world, on a very very remote penninsula, which has belonged to the Theotokos, the Mother of God, since the day she set foot on it, nearly 2000 years ago.  Called Mt. Athos, it has been called a veritable “saint factory,” producing modern-day wonderworking saints with all the miraculous healing powers of Christ God Himself. Recently profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Mt. Athos remains a haven for the practice of pure indigenous Christianity, and is revitalizing monastacism and Christianity in other parts of the world, including in the United States. (See link below.)

Today, we are living in a dystopian world, an imaginary place where people lead increasingly dehumanized and often fearful lives. Gene Roddenberry painted a fabulous picture of an opposite possible future — a utopian world, in which the love of power has been replaced by the power of love–love of truth, all life, and good for all.  A Course In Miracles says there is only one problem and only one solution in all the world. The problem is the perception of separation from the Divine, from God, within.  The solution is to remove the blocks to the awareness of the spark of Divine within ourselves, of God’s eternal presence within us all and in the world. One can only hope that through the gift of social media, a critical mass of people inspired by the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring,  will turn within to seek the power to free themselves from the mass addiction, the mass delusion,  that they in any way derive their identity from things. It will be in this way, that we can call into our lives healing from this addiction,  that we can last at last find true freedom, and become the sentient, intelligent, wise race we have the potential to become. And which Roddenberry so clearly envisioned.

The paradigm shift is to move from our “bottom-line” mentality from looking at “things out there”  to looking at thing “inside” ourselves.  To succeed at true and lasting transformation to a better world, we need to occupy ourselves.

References/Resources for occupying ourselves:

Mt. Athos Special on CBS 60 Minutes, about the living remnant of the Christian Byzantine empire, unattached to material form
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, which explores the egoic attachment to form
A Course In Miracles including Workbook of 365 short daily lessons on removing the blocks to awareness of God’s presence
From I-Ville to You-Ville  a great childrens chapter book on keeping the ego small

Angels, demons and ghosts in the machine

Did you ever have the experience while working on your computer, of merging with its programs?

Years ago when I used to spend hours creating colorful images and animations, going timeless playing with the animated brushes and amazingly fun tools of DeluxePaint on an Amiga, there were times when the software would execute a command I was thinking, as I thought it. Before I could move my hand and mouse to pick a new brush, for example, the computer would select it. It was always amazing, and it happened many times, not just to me, but also to my artist husband as he painted on the Amiga. We both experienced the synchronization or merging of our minds with the software. In the years since the Amiga died, it has happened to me only once, when I was creating a complex layout with QuarkXpress on the Mac, that I was able to attain that creative flow state of mind and merge with the machine. I wonder – has it ever happened to you?

Our nerve cells, and the biggest collection of nerve cells, our brains, generate and are enveloped in dynamic electrical energy fields that vibrate at specific rates. The fields extend out from our bodies to merge with each other, and with our machines, which also possess electrical fields. In more than 20 years working with computers, besides this “merging” experience, I have also had the distinct feeling that there truly can be “ghosts” in the machine–and angels.

On many occasions I’ve been in a negative, distracted, agitated state of mind, and when I sit down at the computer to work, the machine crashes. Through experience I have learned that when such crashes happen, I need to close my eyes, take a deep breath to calm my thoughts and slow down my mind, to take charge of my energy, and to enter into a more positive state. And then, amazingly, the machine responds, functioning properly. I know individuals whose energy patterns routinely seem to cause computers or even other kinds of equipment to fail when they come into physical contact.

Similarly I have learned that if I am faced with a difficult, emotionally challenging experience with people, whether it is public speaking or meeting with a difficult individual, that if I close my eyes, focus on slowing my breath, and say a prayer beforehand, the outcome will be much easier and more successful. Years ago I used to practice affirmations, repeating a positive thought or idea to myself. That definitely helped, but I have found that taking a few deep breaths, centering my attention inward, and then acknowledging a higher power, asking for help and guidance–in essence, praying–is actually much more effective.

I have also had the experience of what I feels like an entirely independent “presence,” working through the machine.  For example,  I went through a period several years ago when I struggled with a negative mind state; for whatever reason, my ego was feeling threatened, my thoughts were replaying memories evoking very negative emotions of anger or fear. I felt defensive, hurt, victimized.  Usually this would be at night before going to bed. Compulsively, I would compose and send an email, to the relative or friend whom I love but who was the target of my current negative emotions. Then in the middle of the night I would wake up remorseful, even panicked, my conscience now bigger and stronger than my sleep-shrunken ego–over sending the communication, because I didn’t really mean to. I realized that I was to blame for my negative state of mind, and that my words would hurt the recipient, make things worse, not better. I felt sick inside that I had sent the communication.

In the morning when I logged in to my computer, I found that the email I sent had bounced; even though the address was correct, something had prevented it from being delivered. This happened to me several times in the early days of my computer use, and I have always been grateful to whatever force it was that saved me from myself.

Not that it happened every time; like many people today, I have suffered and caused suffering, by hitting “send” without compulsion, without editing, without stopping to calm myself, and review what I wrote from a more detached perspective.

As the internet has grown and people have become linked, in an addicted way, to their machines–to Facebook and to Twitter and to texting– I cannot help but think that unseen forces, for good, and for evil, are out there, in the machine, taking advantage of our mass addiction, and  influencing people as they can, much like my angel helped block my negative outburst.

By the way, I have noticed that these negative, ego-generated states of mind seem to occur most frequently at night, when tired. This would be a good reason to practice positive affirmations, meditate, or best yet, to pray, before going to bed.

Last night, I did not pray.  Just before bed I spent 15 or 20 minutes on Facebook, scanning the many posts and responding to a few.  Then I went to bed, and as I was drifting off to sleep, an image, like a suggestion, suddenly popped into my head: I saw an angry thought and a desire, in a way that was like an impulsive command, to set off a bomb in a public place.  It was absolutely freaky. And I felt it had come into my mind from outside, specifically from the internet, to which I had just “merged” my mind, just prior to bed.

So this morning, I woke up thinking about this experience, and about the teachings of Elder Thaddeus, who is the spiritual guide to our 4th graders this year at St. Nicholas. He tought how critical our thoughts are. That when we read and hear about these horrible stories in the media of random and insane human violence and destruction, that such behavior is very likely fact driven by the fallen one, taking advantage of the unconscious addiction to which we modern humans have given ourselves.  And an idea came to me for how to counter this negative, even demonic, presence and influence.

As so many today know, our thoughts are very powerful; our thoughts determine our lives. And prayer is a form of thought that has even more power, for it calls out to the Creator for divine assistance.*  Many of us practice positive thinking; many of us practice meditation, of slowing our thoughts to a more peaceful place; and many of us practice prayer, and belong to prayer groups. If we were to flood the internet, flood Facebook, with positive thoughts and prayers, perhaps we can raise the vibrational level to be in league with God, with the angelic forces, help them do their work, raise the vibration of the entire world.

It would be interesting to do a broad experiment, and invite to post their favorite positive thought or prayer online, every night before bed. Many do this, but perhaps if we did purposefully, together, we could wage peace.

Every thought expressed, every word spoken, is like a pebble dropped in a still pond. It ripples outword. Perhaps what we need is more silence. The water is churning chaotically and fiercely with so many words. Maybe we would be best served by being still, saying nothing, and letting the waters quiet down.