What is the Purpose of Government?

In an election year lots of people question government – big government, small government, government that doesn’t do enough, and government that overly controls everything.  New Testament scholar N.T. Wright offers a few words about government, especially in a fallen world where government officials can be as much a part of the problem as anything else.

God wants the world to be ordered, to keep evil in check, otherwise wickedness simply flourishes and naked power and aggression wins. But the rulers of the world are themselves answerable to God, not least at the point where they use their power to become just like the bullies they are supposed to be restraining…All this is based, of course, on a creational monotheism which, faced with evil in the world, declares that God will one day put it all to rights, and that we can see advance signs of that in systems of justice and government even when they are imperfect. This leaves no room for a dualism in which pagan rulers are thoroughly bad and can be ignored, or overthrown without thought for what will come next. Nor does it allow that kind of pantheism in which rulers are simply part of the fabric of the divinely ordered world, requiring unquestioning submission to their every whim.

The Jewish political belief we find in books like this was based on a strong theology of creation, fall and providence: the one God had in fact created all the world, including all rulers, and though they were often exceedingly wicked God was overruling their whims for his own strange and often hidden purposes, and would judge them in their turn…. The rulers are wicked and will be judged, especially when they persecute God’s people.  But God wants the world to be ruled, rather than to descend into anarchy and chaos, and his people must learn to live under pagan rule even though it means constant vigilance against compromise with paganism itself.                                                                       (N.T. Wright,  Paul)

The Value of a Human Life

St. Nikolai Velimirovic, survivor of the Nazi Dachau Camp, wrote the following comments on Luke 8:26-39, the Gergesene Demoniac:

“Let us not be in a hurry to condemn these Gergesene’s love for their swine before we consider the society of our day, and count up all our swine-loving fellow-townsfolk, who would, just like the Gergesenes, have more concern for their pigs than the lives of their neighbors.  Just think how few there are today, even among those who cross themselves and confess Christ with their tongues, who would not quickly make up their minds to kill two men if this would give them two thousand pigs.  Or think if there are many among you who would sacrifice two thousand pigs to save the lives of two madmen.  Let those who condemn the Gergesenes before first condemning themselves be filled with deep shame.  Were the Gergesenes to rise up today from their graves, and begin to count, they would arrive at a vast number of the like-minded in Christian Europe!  They at least begged Christ to leave them, while the peoples of Europe drive Him out.  And why?  In order to be left alone with their pigs and their masters, the demons.” 

A good question for all of us – would we sacrifice a fortune to save two crazy men?  Would we think it a good thing if we lost a fortune  and our jobs to help two dangerous and insane men?  What price do we put on a human soul?  We who advocate the sanctity of life – do we believe each human soul is worth so much that we would feel good if we lost our fortune and income but a human was saved?   Is it worth spending money to keep an inmate alive rather than executing them?   To give them a chance to repent?

Evangelism Not Marketing

Sermon notes from November 2002 – Luke 8:26-39    The Gerasene Demoniac

Did the people in today’S Gospel lesson fear demons, or did they actually fear power which they could not control?

Membership in the Body of Christ should be the principle source of one’s own identity.

We assemble here both as and to be with brothers and sisters in Christ, to learn from Christ what it means to treat others as brothers and sisters rather than as distant strangers, to practice the teachings of Jesus to love one another. Unfortunately, our thinking is sometimes so shaped by the consumer culture all around us that sometimes we come here and continue to see ourselves merely as consumers to see if there is anything we want, anything we can take away for ourselves. When we do that we forget that Christ called us here to be his disciples, to be brothers and sisters in Christ, to live in love with one another. We need to let our minds receive the grace of the Gospel, and let down our defensive posturing to set aside the question “What am I going to get out of this?” Here is a place where we can practice true love and look around and see those who like ourselves love Christ, who want to serve God, and we can look and see how can we help others attain the same goal that we have – to reach the Kingdom of God?

We come to church to learn the Christ taught discipline of loving one another. Our Society shapes our thinking so that usually we are focusing on getting something for ourselves. But here in the Church we can set aside personal profit as a motive for everything we do, and we actually can be freed from our selfish limitations and aspire to God, eternity and the true love which Christ offers us.

The Church really is not engaged in marketing. The Church exists for evangelism and for the salvation of the world. In today’s Gospel lesson, did Jesus do market research and see what the demon possessed man thought was his greatest desire? Did Jesus poll the local population and determine what the local reaction would be to his performing an exorcism? Did Jesus test the waters and see how healing someone would effect his popularity in the polls?

Marketers people might conclude from today’s Gospel, that Jesus’ ministry was neither wanted nor needed. The miracle which Jesus did today neither increased his popularity nor did it win him any converts from the masses.

The kingdom of God is not based upon popularity, on the polls, nor even on the declared wants and needs of the local population.

Indianapolis Town Hall Meeting October 29

There was a Town Hall meeting with Archbishop Job at St. John the Forerunner Church in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening.   I estimate about 60 people present and 7 priests.   I don’t think there was anything earth shattering, what follows are  a few notes (not minutes).  Basically the format was the Archbishop answering questions from the crowd  –

Regarding the upcoming ANAC, +Job does not feel any candidate will get the 2/3 vote vote on the first ballot at the ANAC.   So he believes the choice will fall upon the Synod of bishops.  He says canonically speaking it is the bishops who elect the metropolitan not the ANAC in any case.   He does not believe he will be chosen by the Synod as he feels the other bishops are not pleased with him.   +Job is totally opposed to +Hilarion of Vienna  being elected as he does not think a Russian bishop can help our bishops to work together.   It will introduce a new problem into the Synod not a solution.

+Job says the proposed statute change to elect a metropolitan by drawing names from a chalice rather than by voting even if adopted at this ANAC would not take effect this year.   +Job opposes this statute change.

+Job said that Metropolitan Herman did not resign for health reasons even though that has been suggested as the reason.  He said the scenario was the other bishops agreed he had to resign – +Dmitri as the senior bishop was given the task of conveying this message to Metropolitan  Herman and +Dmitri asked Herman to accept the decision of the other bishops.  Metropolitan Herman acquiesced. 

Job was asked if he thought stealing millions of dollars was grounds for deposing a bishop.  He said yes.  He was asked why then has Metropolitan Theodosius not been deposed.   +Job said he is already retired and no longer doing damage to the OCA, and he felt it was wrong to totally disgrace him over the money issue after 25 years of primacy in service to the church.    

+Job was adamant that he will retire in 2 years.   He does not want our Diocese to become obsessed with a vetting process for picking a new bishop.  He believes ultimately God will decide who the new bishop will be.

Though several dioceses have adopted resolutions calling for assessment and budget reductions for the OCA, the synod as a body has not discussed these looming issues.   

Regarding the reported loan to Metropolitan Herman at St. Tikhon’s, His Eminence said it is being investigated.  Though St. Tikhon’s Monastery is supposed to have a 5 member board of trustees made up of monks, apparently Metropolitan Herman some years ago reformed it as a Limited Liability Company with himself as president and his deacon as treasurer.   The Metropolitan then seemingly appointed himself the executor of the monastery and engaged in financial dealings in this capacity.  The investigation into these actions continues.

One  comment the Archbishop  made that seemed incredibly ironic to me.  When one lady asked him about the U.S. presidential election and if he had any words of wisdom about how to think about the election, he replied that he himself had not voted for many years – that years ago he became totally disillusioned with American politics and politicians and so he simply stopped voting or paying attention to the elections.   That comment raised my eyebrows because we have become totally disillusioned with our bishops, should we follow his example and quit giving them money, and not even pay any attention to them?  I wondered whether he realized what his comments sounded like to people who are totally disillusioned with and discouraged as a result of the failure of our church leaders.

Interestingly +Job feels that the bishops have changed so much and are now much more cognizant of the concerns of the membership.   And yet their most recent Pastoral Letter which has received a very  disdainful reception among many with I am familiar and which was rightfully picked apart on OCAnews.org  was approved by all the bishops who were very pleased with their efforts,  but who remain out of touch with the rank and file clergy and membership. 

From my eyes, part of the failure of our bishops has been their own passivity in the face of sin and evil.  They responded with timidity at the thought of having to disagree with their fellow bishops even when it came to speaking the truth or defending righteousness.    Their commitment seems  to have been to preserve and protect their bishoprics and nothing more.   Christ said the gates of hell shall not prevail against  His Church (Matthew 16:18), and our bishops seem to have taken this to mean that as long as they can’t see those gates, or talk about them, then the gates don’t exist and the bishops don’t have to worry about their presence.   Jesus of course didn’t say that the gates of hell won’t assault us, just that they will not prevail.   Our bishops chose to ignore the assault and even to cooperate with it.  Now they say they have learned their lesson, but then so have we learned ours.

Conciliarity and Consensus

I think the time comes for the OCA to embrace a new climate and culture in which it carries about its business.  That climate and culture if it is to produce an effective mission to Americans is going to have to include openness, transparency and accountability.  The methodology will include both conciliarity and consensus.

We also need to define our terms a bit.  Conciliarity refers to doing things in council.  The OCA is conciliar as we have a Synod, a Metropolitan Council, and an ANAC, diocesan councils and assemblies and parish councils and meetings.

But councils do not always produce ConsensusCouncils can produce consensus of polariziation – that depends on many factors.  Councils can use collaboration, compromise or coercion in their deliberations and decision making but the methods used as well as the decision reached determine whether consensus has been reached or whether a decision is imposed on others.  There certainly have been councils where a majority rule decision was made, but the council itself ends up split and ruptured beyond repair.  This is not consensus though it might be the conciliar process.

Even despotic rulers can use consensus.  My read of history suggest to me that the First Ecumenical Council in 325AD is a conciliar event in which the Emperor gave permission to the council to reach a consensus regarding belief.  Constantine didn’t interfere with what the consensus was (and perhaps didn’t care what it was), but once reached he promulgated it because he wanted the church to bring unity to his vast and diverse empire.   He used consensus to further his goals – “I don’t care what you agree upon, but agree!”

Consensus building can be a method and goal of a conciliar work. A hierarchical organization can work within a consensus building methodology.  Consensus building requires that all points of view are given serious consideration and treatment.  It is very hard work.  Consensus building values not only the decision reached but the community which must live by the decision.  Consensus building values the relationships between members, and thus it is a slow process as it works to get everybody on board before it takes off.  It doesn’t mean that there must be 100% agreement, but it does mean that those who are reluctant or who disagree are still willing to go along with the decision and not oppose it. 

Neither conciliarity nor working for consensus are opposed to the notions of hierarchy.   The OCA was and is a conciliar church.   It abandoned the notion of consensus in order to accomplish the goals of certain individuals’ agendas.  That was a  more efficient way to operate, and largely explains how the scandal could so sweep the church.  Very efficient means were found to reach decisions – a “divide and conquer” methodology, an Executive Committee, providing the various councils with pre-approved decisions rather than asking them to debate the issues or to work for consensus.  The result was a fair amount of dysfunction – demoralization, passive-aggressive behavior, non-ownership of the vision of the church, indifference, marginalization of various people, a loss of interest in the church by some of the more creative, energetic and intelligent members.

Consensus building requires discussion, debate, and a willingness to accept and deal with disagreement.  Consensus building requires a membership working for real community, not pseudo-community.  In pseudo-community members fear disagreement and dissent and debate because they are not bonded together by a common vision, common goals, commitment to one another.  It is only when members can acknowledge their own personal as well as their common brokenness that they can value others and be willing to serve others.  This is the climate in which consensus can be built. 

The recent joint meetings of the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops are efforts to use conciliarity to reach consensus.  Internets sites such as OCAnews.org which allow discussion and disagreement can also be helpful in consensus building as they allow disparate opinions to be expressed in the same format – it is at least the potential for an idea exchange.  The Town Hall meetings of the OCA in preparation for the ANAC are another forum for potential consensus building.   The final ingredient in any of these forums is of course the effort by someone, by a designated,  recognized, or charismatic or unofficial leadership to work toward developing an agreement among members – a willing consent to value and strengthen relationships as well as to work toward a common goal.

Time Change Good for Your Heart

A reminder to my parishioners that this weekend before you go to bed Saturday night, turn your clocks back one hour.  Our clocks “fall” back one hour on the first weekend of November – officially at 2am Sunday morning.

The good news is that reasearch shows turning the clock back one hour in the fall and gaining that one hour of sleep is good for the heart.  Some scientists do think it is the extra hour of sleep which his good for the heart, some priests think it is the fact that the extra hour gives parishioners the chance to get to church on time that is good for their hearts. 

Unfortunately the “spring forward” time change when we return to Daylight Savings Time is associated with an increase in the number of heart attacks.    For our election year this research might suggest:

1) All candidates are promising change, but as research shows, not all change is good for you.

2)  Don’t lose any sleep over the election.

October 1978

From my missionary journal – Kenya, 1978

October 30 –  “I read the Gospel of Matthew today (Matthew 16:24-28) about denying yourself and taking up the cross and losing your life for the sake of the Gospel.  It made me think about my own situation here – I feel frustrated and hopeless because it seems sure that we will gain no success here, but that is purely a feeling of human success.  I am nothing more than a common laborer for Christ – my job is to go and sow the seed, but there is no promise that I will reap the harvest.  My denying myself or losing myself also means I cannot boast about any work I do here in Kenya.  I have nothing to boast about but what the Lord does.  God will make the seeds I sow to grow.  I just need to do my work – to persevere and not expect any glory.

I guess this is the hardest part of being a Christian – the daily grind – carry your cross daily.  Only on occasion are you nailed to the cross or freed from the burden of carrying the cross.  Most of the time you just must trudge on.  Being nailed to the cross is a form of glory, as is being delivered from carrying the cross is a joy.  I live for days like yesterday when I had a chance to witness to Christ and in fact to somehow make Him present in the lives of the people.  It is a true sensation, but you don’t get to live like that always.  The effect may be great or total on the lives of these people and it just as surely changes one’s own life, but the power is also easily forgotten.  The children of Israel knew this.  So it’s the daily struggle which is so hard, even seeming impossible at times – no chance to witness to others about Christ – you’re alone with nothing to do.  How do you do nothing as a Christian?

These are the trying moments which defeat so many Christians.  You think Christianity will be a continuing series of spectacular events – a never ending brilliant fireworks display  – but most of the time there isn’t  even the smallest firecracker.  It’s just you, with the knowledge of Christ, knowing you have to carry on and no one else knows or cares but God and sometimes you even forget Him or wonder if He can be bothered with a self pitying idiot like yourself.

I know many people back home look at me as having a spectacular chance  to be a Christian – a missionary, a witness, a martyr with thousands of chances to sacrifice myself and to witness to Christ.  If only they knew how frequently dull my life here is – the loneliness, the daily grind, the boredom, waiting for a chance “to show” my Christianity – to witness to Christ.  The same dullness in their lives back home is here and everywhere.   The same is true of being a Christian anytime and any where.

A priest really does have a very special witness – he brings Christ sacramentally present to the people.  Even a bad priest does this.  But if he is a good priest – a good Christian – what power he possesses to witness to Christ and to make Christ present in the lives of others. And though the priest’s witness is unique, the power behind it is found in the scriptures, in the epistles and gospels.  I’m sure it is the same power that every Christian has through Chrismation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

October 31   “The rains have continued for several days and through the nights leaving everything in the house damp and outside everything is mud.  To add to the gloom the sun has disappeared far behind the heavily overcast skies and the rain.   (In the photo –  heavy rains caused people to take rufuge in the church buildings.  Note the motorcycles in the church – also brought into the church to protect them from the rain.  Other valuables including livestock also would be brought in for protection.  If the church had a steel rather than thatch roof, the din from the heavy downpours would be deafening.  And many roofs leaked so one could get wet even if under the shelter of the church roof).

Read Galatians 6:9-10 this morning:  ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.’    Seemed very appropriate for our work here because we are so near giving up hope.     Also read Psalm 37 which too is very appropriate to our fears that the politics here are moving the bishop to be against us. 

Some of our villagers and other visitors are hinting that Bishop Gathuna has turned against us.  While some visitors were here some men from the village came and told us that we should not be speaking with these visitors.  They told the visitors that the bishop has ordered that everyone is to come to them and to get permission to talk with us.  One priest warned us today that our position in this village is dangerous because the bishop has turned against us and this village is loyal to him.  I actually feel physically threatened for the first time since coming to Kenya – but not by enemies of Christ, but by people within the church – they very people I came to serve!”

Kenya – October 1978

From my Missionary Journal – Kenya, 1978

October 25 –   “The one word I have forgotten because I get immersed in the politics and problems here is JOY.   Joy is what Chirst has given us and this is what we can always live, teach, model and offer to this world.  It is such a simple thing and so omnipotent.  But strange how easily it is forgotten.  Bad news seems to pre-occupy us in a way that joyful news does not.  It seems easier to remember hurts and offenses we have experienced than gifts and mercy we have received.  The bad seems to over shadow the good.  People often can quickly enumerate all the wrongs people have done against them but really have to think for awhile to recall any good that has happened to them.  Strange that this one thing – joy – easily gets lost from sight and yet it is essential to our lives as Christians.”

October 27  –  “I walked to Muguga through the muddy roads to talk with the Finnish Sisters (Orthodox missionary nuns from Finland).  We talked a lot, and they tried to cheer me up with some Finnish humor and wisdom:  ‘Do not be alarmed by bad times, remember the situation has always been bad and getting worse.'”

October 28 –  “I walked to Nderi this evening to teach at the church.  Was struck by the incongruous coming together of different worlds.  I had to walk across the Sigona Golf Course where the greatest threat to this missionary to Africa was being  hit by a slicing golf ball on his way to an African village.   There is no electricity or running water in any of these villages, but the Europeans and Indians have a country club here.  I then saw a real crossing of cultures – one Kenyan Mama carrying a huge bundle of firewood on her back lack a pack mule walking to her village.  And she happened to be walking in the same direction as one white woman who was pulling her golf cart on the course.  Quite the contrast or progress?  Regret not having my camera with me.”

In the center of the above photo is a monkey – one of the few I saw in Kenya.  I lived in Central Kenya which is savanna not jungle and is one of the many diverse ecosystems in Africa.  Africa also has huge deserts besides its jungles and savannas.   The monkey was photographed in Western Kenya where the tree canopy is denser and the topography much more hilly.  The monkeys could be pesky as they would try to steal food from the humans.

Election Levity for CamPAIN Relief

A headline that has appeared in my Internet Explorer home page claims that Presidential Candidate John McCain’s aids are complaining that Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin is “going rogue” by getting off the carefully scripted stump speeches and inserting more of her own ideas into her talks.  What did they expect?  They picked her because she is a “maverick.”  She’s a soccer mom, not a stay at home mom!  She is used to yelling at her team to kick a little asphalt.  She is being true to form, and they are not happy with the turn of events.  Politics – go figure.   If they wanted someone who was going to support the status quo, it is strange that they picked someone who has shown a willingness to buck her own party at times – an image that John McCain touts about himself. 

I know of some dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans  who cannot imagine how or why people would ever vote for a candidate from the opposing party.  There actually is a good reason to have lots of candidates from the opposing party be in office – it gives your party someone to blame when things go badly.  So both Republicans and Democrats benefit from a two party system in which both parties are viable and strong – you can always blame the other party for what is wrong with the economy, foreign policy, domestic policy and your insurance policy.   Many dictatorships do offer one party democracies, and we know these as tyrannies.  Besides having someone to blame for what is wrong, true democracies have competing ideas which tends to improve the rationale and policies of all the political parties.