Meditation from 24 October 2008

When doing weekday Matins, I include the daily prescribed scripture readings.  Today’s readings are Philippians 1:27-2:4 and Luke 10:1-15.  I was reading from the Revised English Bible (REB), and their translations of a few lines really stood out in my mind.

“Whatever happens, let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Philippians 1:27).

As the economic crisis becomes increasingly worrisome, and as the presidential campaign grinds on and causes increasing stress and distress, especially in those who fear their candidate will not win, we should keep St. Paul’s words in mind:  whatever happens, let us conduct ourselves as Christians – filled with faith, hope, love, joy, humility, peace, wisdom, mercy, and truth.  The economy and the president cannot make you give up your faith in and love for God – only you can make yourself gift it up.  It is far more constructive to pray than to fret.

“…for you have been granted the privilege not only of believing in Christ but also suffering for him.”  (Philippians 1:29)

It is disquieting and discomforting to believers to remember that Christ warned we may have to suffer for Him.  We like the privilege of believing in Him, but do we believe so strongly as to be willing to suffer for Him AND to see the suffering as a privilege rather than something to be avoided?   This is not the American prosperity gospel, but it is the Gospel of Christ.

“After this the Lord appointed a further seventy-two and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place he himself intended to visit.” (Luke 10:1)

This is another challenging verse for those of us who want to follow Christ – He sends his chosen disciples AHEAD of Him!  (see my blog:  Christ: The Rock Who Follows Us)   Following Jesus does not always mean walking behind Him; sometimes following Christ means following His direction and commands and it means going ahead of Him!    As disciples we are at times to be evangelist/heralds announcing the Christ, or preparing the way for people to be receptive to the Gospel.   At other times we follow Christ into places and show people how to live the Gospel which Christ proclaims and incarnates.   Following Christ thus sometimes means to go ahead of Him into a place that He has not yet gone but plans to visit.   This is apostolic ministry, the work of His disciples, evangelism.   It is part of the work of bringing Orthodoxy to America.

“When you go into a house, let your first words be, ‘Peace to this house.’  If there is a man of peace there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.”  (Luke 10:5-6)

This is Christ’s instructions to those He is sending ahead of Himself – to those places he intends to visit for the first time.  Our first words as disciples-become-apostles is “Peace!”   As heralds of the Kingdom, our first words to those who do not yet know Christ is to wish them “Peace”, not to condemn them, chastise them, criticize them, argue with them or judge them.  We are to bless them as our first duty.  So before going in to talk to unbelievers or the non-Orthodox “loaded for bear”, the first thing on our mind should be wishing them peace, not what arguments we are going to use to try to change their minds.  The wish for peace should be foremost on our minds, not the wish to convert.  We are after all bringing them the Gospel of peace not the bad news of enmity, dividing walls and spiritual apartheid

“A man of peace” – a wonderful image.  A man of peace will recognize our blessing and accept us.   And we are to stay with such a man of peace because there we too as visitors and heralds experience the Kingdom of God from our hosts!

Meanderings from my Missionary Journal, Kenya, 1978

The meanderings of a missionary from my journal:

14 Oct 1978 –  “I walked to Nderi village to give a talk in the church.  I arrived at the church, but no one was there.   I waited in the church to see if some would show up.  I realized how barren the building really was  – no icons, no altar table, nothing on the walls – totally empty.  While I sat in that barren building I wondered if God feels like this sometimes – alone without His people.   Maybe God too sits in these empty church buildings and wonders about where His people are.”   (Just a note about the journal entry – villagers eventually did show up.   I was slow learning about village life – there was no electricity in the village, no clocks.  I would arrange to come to a village and tell them I would be there at 2pm.  But I had a hard time remembering that 2pm meant “whenever I show up.”  I would keep looking at my watch and thinking the people are always “late.”   The truth was they would only come to the church after I showed up and word got around that I was there.   They always came in a timely fashion once they knew I was there – dropped whatever they were doing to show up at the church). 

20 October 1978  –  “Learned a Kikuyu proverb today – ‘I can’t help you until you help yourself.’   The spirit of Harambee which one hears about in every village in Kenya.”

In the photo below there actually is a leopard in that tree over my head.  If you look toward the top, you see the tree branches, follow the left branch until it branches again, and there sits the leopard.

21 October 1978 –  “I wonder about the nature of the Church – I used to believe in there being one visible Church, but now I don’t know even if that is what God wants.  Of course if we were all to follow Christ’s teachings – love, unity, faith, peace, serving others, etc, – there would be no problem with one church, but man seems so divisive, so quarrelsome, proud and greedy that I don’t know how we can ever be one church.  This must sadden Christ – I’m thinking about Ephesians 5 and Christ presenting Himself with the spotless bride – the Church!    The Church here in Kenya is so divided, and really hardly any idea of “the Church” exists in people’s lives.”

23 October 1978 –  “I finished reading Graham Greene’s THE POWER AND THE GLORY.  i thought it was an excellent book.  The priest somehow was disappointing because he never gave up his drinking and yet in the end he wins for Christ the little child atheist, Luis.  It made me think about people who are tempted away from Christ all because of just one bad witness.  And yet, we should not be too quick to judge, for even this whiskey priest, who is totally worthless wins one soul for Christ.”

24 October 1978 –  On this day we met for the first time a group of priests who represented yet another faction within the badly divided church.  “There was a very strange thing that happened while we were talking to these priests.  Jack was talking and said, ‘when we were called by Christ…’  The statement just seemed to stick in the air as if it had no place to go – Christ had no place there, and we were not called by Him to be doing such work as listening to the multitudinous sins of the Bishop.  I really was wondering what I was doing in that room and there in Kenya.  It seems that I have forgotten my call to preach the Good News, love, unity, faith and have entangled myself in a completely secular political fight.  I really wondered how these priests could relate to a statement like ‘when Christ called me.’   Christ seems so distant from these discussions – maybe he doesn’t want us here, or maybe we are invading Satan’s stronghold and Christ is coming in power.” 

25 October 1978 –  “Standing in church alone today, I asked Christ, ‘What should I do now?’    Christ replied, ‘Do you really want me to tell you?’   I knew the answer was ‘no’  and could only laugh at myself for asking a question that I did not want (especially Him!) to answer.   If He told me what to do, and I didn’t do it, or I tried but failed, then what?   Not knowing what to do at least gives me some excuse not to do it.  But I am not prepared to have Christ tell me what to do, as then there would be no excuse as the word would come directly from Him.   In the Church, we don’t really want to ask Christ what to do BECAUSE He might tell us!  And chances are we wouldn’t want to do it.  We prefer to stumble in the dark and to curse the darkness.  That is safer than being told by Him exactly what to do and then not wanting to do it.”

A Silver Lining for the U.S. Financial Crisis?

Amid all the difficulties and hardship we are about to undergo, I see one silver lining.  This crisis has -dramatically , vengefully-forced the United States to confront the bad habits it has developed over the past few decades. … Since the 1980’s, Americans have consumed more than they produced-and they have made up the difference by borrowing. … We put it on a credit card, took out a massive mortgage and financed our fantasies.”  (Fareed Zakaria, There is a Silver LiningNewsweek, 20 October 2008)

On several occasions over the past years I have found the comments of NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria to be engaging, thought provoking and worth considering.   His recent comments on the economic crisis make sense to me.

He is critical of the way we Americans as individuals have excessively borrowed money to ‘finance our fantasies.’  And he notes that governments at every level in America have been even worse at over spending and over borrowing.  The national debt has exceeded $10,200,000,000,000.00 (10.2 Trillion).    The government continues to offer incentives for Americans to consume even more – to go further into debt, while trying to stimulate the economy by offering further tax cuts and bailouts which will increase the national debt.   Somehow the belief continues that we can over spend and over borrow our way into prosperity.

Zakaria says debt itself is not a bad thing and is “the heart of modern capitalism.”  It is the irresponsible use of debt which is the problem, and “hiding mountains of debt in complex instruments” leads to irresponsible behavior. 

Our own parish council of St. Paul Church thought it would be a good witness to parishioners especially to our young couples to show a responsible use of debt.  We built a brand new building by first raising 80% of the needed funds and then paid off our mortgage this past July only  7 years into the mortgage.   As St. Paul the Apostle said, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”  (Romans 13:8).

Zakaria’s solutions include the government offering incentives for Americans to save money, offering stimulus packages which invest in our country’s infrastructure and energy projects rather than encouraging even further consumption and borrowing, and especially controlling government spending so that the government’s expenditures do not outstrip its revenues.

Among the contributing factors to the crisis: 1) politicians who never want to give voters difficult or painful news and who used borrowing to soften or hide ever pain by pushing it into the future while simultaneously avoiding taxes; 2) the Fed’s decisions to cut interest rates as a solution to every problem and in so doing keeping the money flowing which ultimately tempted brokers to ignore common sense;  and, 3)  the fact that borrowing can often mask serious problems as those who used more leverage and risk for years proved.  As Zakaria says it, “The United States-and other overleveraged societies-have now gotten the wake-up call from hell.”

For Zakaria the careless, extravagant, profligate, undisciplined and uncontrolled spending and borrowing spilled over into the U.S’s attitudes towards just about everything.   He writes:

“Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has operated in the world with no constraints or checks on its power.  This has not been good for its foreign policy.  It has made Washington arrogant, lazy and careless.  Its decision making has resembled General Motors’ business strategy in the 1970s and 1980s, a process driven largely by a vast array of internal factors but little sense of urgency or awareness of outside pressures. We didn’t have to make strategic choices; we could have it all. We could make blunders, anger the world, rupture alliances, waste resources, wage war incompetently-it didn’t matter. We had more than enough room for error-lots of error.”

Zakaria however is hopeful that America can learn from its mistakes.  The silver lining in the economic meltdown according to Zakaria is it might wake up Americans to the need for discipline and self control in all aspects of our lives, and to living in reality rather than in an unsustainable fantasy. 

“It’s a fundamental American belief that competition is good-in business, athletics and life. Checks and balances are James Madison’s crucial mechanisms, exposing and countering abuse and arrogance and forcing discipline on people. This discipline will be painful for a country that has gotten used to having it all. But it will make us much stronger in the long run.”

It is a conservatism that makes sense to me.