Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
With the presidential election coming up, the recession we are in, and the crash of the stock market this week, I’ve heard many people pondering the degree to which economic and political security affect their strength of faith. How will it affect us? Will attendance at services and private devotions drop off a bit because we would rather watch the news than turn to prayer? Will we ease back on tithing because our 401(k)s took a hit? Are our lives teetering near disaster? Or is it just our standard of living that is being threatened?
Walking down the street this morning, I overheard two people talking over the economic challenges our country faces right now. The one had apparently just made a disparaging comment about his finances when the other responded with conviction, “There’s never been a day in my life that I have lacked food, shelter or clothing. So until it comes to that, I’m glad I live in America.”
I have to admit, I was shocked at the patriotic tone of that statement. This is Santa Cruz County, remember? We’re supposed to be confusing our lusts with our needs and then blaming others for the fact they’re not indulged!
I was moved by those words of entrenched thankfulness. Suddenly my mind was filled with the many comments of gratitude and fundamental patriotism I’ve heard from brothers and sisters in our primarily Palestinian communities. Things like: “It’s a pleasure to be pulled over by a police officer in America because he is either protecting you or showing you what you did wrong, not taking your money or threatening your wife and children.” Or, “Everyone wants to come to America. You get a good job, your kids get a college education, when you’re sick you go to the doctor, when you are hungry you buy food. . . . I’ve never seen so many kinds of food in one place. Everyone wants to be here.”
Our political system has been reduced to the repetitious choosing of the lesser of evils: yes, I believe that is true and it needs to change. In addition, our society in many ways has basically forgotten what it means to be human persons, families, parents, children and friends. That needs to change as well. But to the Orthodox Christian, these are actually exciting opportunities to have a positive influence and promote spiritual (therefore social) health! We live in a country where change is not only possible but often invited, especially when we are in the position to offer time-tested, divinely inspired absolutes in a society addicted to flux and false harmonies. Let’s keep contributing our positive influence today and every day.
On a personal level, I believe the context of our daily struggle as Orthodox Christians living in America includes consistently too-high expectations for our standard of living, combined with our inherited Puritan work ethic twisted into a phobia of stillness. That’s a mouthful, but in general we are too soft and too active. We are captivated by the frantic and irrational idea that we deserve better with less effort. By contrast, peace and satisfaction (let alone salvation!) are found in: (1)realizing we don’t deserve anything (not that we are ‘bad’, but that everything good related to us is established and worked through us by Christ, and therefore it is to His credit, not ours; our credit is found only in saying ‘yes’ to Him daily); (2) giving thanks for everything we have, had, or may be given; and (3) sharing what we have (material possessions, time and energy) with others.
If this is our practice, how can happiness and security be threatened? And these precepts don’t rely on quantity. Whether we are sharing a mountain of gold or a handful of beans, the activity of and impact on the soul is the same, and that’s where life is found—in the healthy soul. When Nero was lighting his halls by burning live Christians for torches, the people of God were still giving thanks to God for what they received at His hands and had joy in their hearts from serving one another. Certainly we can have joy today, no? American life is not so hard that it obscures the path of salvation as it unfolds before us; if anything, it’s too easy.
In prayer, hope, and thankfulness for our nation,