...are the ones that make the biggest difference


The creation of man

Having become more than a little bored with anatomy and microbiology readings and with Great Lent and Holy Pascha upon us, I decided to undertake some readings in the Church Fathers, specifically Ss. Chrysostom and Athanasius.

I briefly scanned Chrysostom's On the Priesthood but was forced to put it aside - not for any defect in the writing, but because of certain realizations I had when reading even the small sections I made it through. I hope to expand more on this in the future when I am able to take the work up again, but basically I came to understand that in all likelihood I was fired from my youth pastor position because God was sparing me the judgment that was my due for not taking my pastoral duties seriously enough. There were aspects of that position I was quite good at, others where I needed some work or mentoring, but the reality is that I did not the charge of those young souls with the depth and gravity such resonsibility warranted.

This theme of "being spared" actually came up in a book by Fr (or was he a bishop?) Anthony Bloom on prayer. I don't want to get to in-depth with that right now, but in discussing those times when we fell cut off from God in prayer it may be because God is sparing us his presence because of the damage it could do to us at that time. If we are in sin or unrepentant, or if our attention is elsewhere, then the presence of God could be to our judgement and condemnation instead of our salvation. This theme also came up in "Mary: The Untrodden Portal", wherein the author argues that the curse of death was not a punishment for Adam and Eve's trangression; rather, removing them from the Garden was God's way of keeping sin, and the resulting separation from God, eternal. Had they eaten of the Tree of Life, their rebellion would have been made permanent with no chance of redemption.

St Athanasius also discusses creation in his "Incarnation of the Word", again in the context of being spared. But his is a point I found quite startling:

For transgression of the commandment was turning them back to their natural state, so that just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also, as might be expected, they might look for corruption into nothing in the course of time. For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God, who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. Incarnation, 4:4-5

You see, I had always assumed that man had been created "on high", so to speak, that we were made at an elevated level. Adam's human perfection (as opposed to the true perfection of God) was an inherent part of his being - put there by God no doubt, but still something integral to who and what he was. But Athanasius says otherwise; man was created out of corruptible and impermanent matter and is, therefore, by nature corruptible and impermanent. It is only man's knowledge of God and participation in God's life that pulls man up out of nothingness and impermanence into being. When Adam turned to rebellion, he turned away from being and "looked for corruption into nothing...." Man, then, was not created at an elevation from which we fell. Rather, Adam was made at the bottom of this metaphoric mountain and raised to the top by communion with God. At the top of that mountain, he rebelled and fell back to the bottom.

Our "elevation" was, and still is, always external to us. This lays to rest any notion of man's inherent goodness or ability to raise himself up to God's level, to earn heaven. How can the imperfect, corruptible nature of man makes itself perfect and incorruptible? How can the flawed make itself into the unflawed? How can the product make itself into the source? This vision, of man being raised up and falling down, of our being actually existing outside of us, has profound implications. And it is helping me to see the contours of the seamless Orthodox theology - more on that later.


As hard as it was...

As hard as it was getting used to working the 3rd shift, I've found switching back to days to be even more of a challenge. I've been so tired in the evenings, I've barely wanted to get up to go to bed. Part of it is, I think, the (much) faster pace of days; on nights there was usually plenty of downtime but on days the only time I get to sit is when I take my lunch break. The rest is resetting the old internal clock, and the last couple of nights have been better. Hopefully by next week I'll have fully adjusted.


Ascending the peak of compassion

I'm not sure what it is, but lately I have had a hard time finding love and compassion for the people I take care of at work. The other day, the wife commented that I don't talk about any of the patients like I used to, people I had developed special bonds with over and above the normal patient-caregiver relationship. Part of this is that until recently our patient census has been down and part is just a personality thing - I haven't really 'clicked' with any of them. But the largest part, the biggest culprit is, I know, this difficulty with compassion.

Some people are easy to take care; they are kind, grateful, in genuine need and complain very little, or at least no more than one would expect of someone in their condition. We have a woman who was involved in a serious car accident which broke her neck. She has some gross motor skills in her arms but is otherwise paralyzed. And she is incredibly needy. She rings her call light about once an hour, if not more, needing to be adjusted, to have a sip of water, have a pillow fluffed or to have a wrinkle pulled out of her sheet. But she is abundantly grateful for these acts and certainly can't do them for herself. Though, admittedly, her constant need can be frustrating at times when there are many other things going on, for the most part, I have no difficulty helping her. It is easy because I am being thanked and because the need is clear and unambiguous. But on the other end of the spectrum we have another woman (I'm not trying to be sexist here, these are just the best polar examples we have right now) who is almost the exact opposite. She was in respiratory failure when she came to us, but was weened from the vent within a couple of weeks and is now with us just to finish up some physical therapy and to make progress on a pressure ulcer on her lower back. She is racist and has called black employees various slurs. Though she can walk and eat and do pretty much everything on her own, she is constantly asking for help on even the smallest tasks. She is crass, manipulative, ungrateful for even large acts of assistance and worst of all (in my book) is a complainer and a whiner. Not only am I unable to find the least bit of compassion for this woman, I actively dislike her. There are perhaps several reasons from my past why this particular personality type bothers me so much, but even without those triggers she is not a likeable person. I dread going into her room when she rings her call light, I hate having to listen to her complaints and serving her is a constant battle against frustration.

And I am cut to the quick by what this reveals about me, the failure of love this represents. If the goal of the Christian life is to be Christ-like then surely I am not. If I am unable to get past my pettiness, to overcome the temptation of frustration and anger and to look on these people as the very image of God, as souls Christ suffered and died for in order to redeem them, what illusion of my own goodness can I possibly maintain? What lies can I tell myself about making these failures up elsewhere or with other patients? There are no excuses, no qualifiers, no mitigating factors - I have failed. But I must not stop there and I will not let that be the end of my story. I see, perhaps more clearly than ever, the great distance I have yet to traverse and I am but taking the first small steps.


Protecting our freedom

From CSMonitor, comes this piece about massive data-mining program that may be being developed by our government to detect and analyze information patterns that may be terrorism related. Leaving aside the potential problems with this system (the cost, the technical difficulty, the possible abuse of power and increased government intrusion into our lives) and its benefits (stopping another deadly terrorist attack), I found this quote from a software developer interesting, not the least which because it reflects an oft-repeated sentiment:

Starlight [a precursor to this new data-mining program] has already helped foil some terror plots, says Jim Thomas, one of its developers and director of the government's new National Visualization Analytics Center in Richland, Wash. He can't elaborate because the cases are classified, he adds. But "there's no question that the technology we've invented here at the lab has been used to protect our freedoms - and that's pretty cool." (emphasis mine)

Exactly how has this program, assuming it has indeed contributed to foiling a terrorist plot, protected our freedoms? Really, how does any counterterrorism program protect our freedom? Terrorists are not, and can never be, an occupying army that could overthrow the US government and establish an Islamic theocracy. While they may have the potential ability to kill our leaders, damage our infrastructure and cause other severe problems, our way of life and our system of government could survive even a hugely devastating attack. Terrorists are not a direct threat to our freedom in that they cannot take it away and they will never take over this country.

So how are terrorists a threat to our freedom? They are a threat to our freedom because of us. I think we are now, as a nation, incredibly weak emotionally and spiritually. I don't believe we are a nation that could sustain itself in the wake of some new atrocity. The panic that would have followed a Beslan in the US would have destroyed us - our economy would have stalled as parents stayed home to take care of kids they would no longer send to school, millions of people would have demanded billions of dollars in increased spending to stand cops and soldiers shoulder-to-shoulder in a ring around every school in the country. Terrorists are a threat to our freedom because of us and the fear that we would undoubtedly let rule in the aftermath of some significant attack. We are no longer a nation that can face hardship with a grim determination, no longer a people that can handle adversity in our own lives. We may come to relearn these "skills", but immediately following a new and deadlier strike, we would likely be our own worst enemy. We would willingly curtail our own freedoms and increase the power and reach of government. So in essence, we are fighting terrorism in an effort to fight our own weakness. Terrorists scare us not just because of what they will do, but what we will do as well.


The Littlefights word cloud

I've been tagged...

Clifton has tagged me, so here goes...

4 jobs you have had in your life:

Auto claims adjuster
Youth pastor
Counterterrorism analyst
Nurse's aide

4 movies you could watch over and over:

Almost any Bill Murray movie
In America
Garden State
The Big Lebowski

4 places you have lived:

Tempe, AZ
Seoul, South Korea
Anchorage, AK
Doboj, Bosnia

4 TV shows you love to watch:

Simpsons re-runs
Seinfeld re-runs
Grey's Anatomy
The Office

4 places you have been on vacation:

The Great Lakes
New York, New York
Various points in Mexico

4 websites you visit daily:

The Christian Science Monitor
Minor Clergy

4 of your favorite foods:

Bureks (a Bosnian dish)
Most of my wife's cooking repertoire

4 places you would rather be right now:

At my own graduation ceremony at the completion of the nursing program
Sarajevo - the Old City, specifically
In the house my wife and I bought and sold last year
Anywhere with my old group of friends if things could be like they were for one night

4 bloggers you are tagging:

Minor Clergy

Okay, I'm only doing three - several people I would have tagged have already been tagged.


On Saturday during my microbiology class, part of the lecture focused on the history and development of microbiology. The teacher began this part of the lecture by asking, "what did people think caused disease in 'pre-scientific' times?" Vapors, curses, evil spirits, punishment for sin - all manner of things were thought to cause disease before we discovered the world of microbes. My teacher, who started as a biology instructor and later became an administrator at a neighboring Lutheran high school, apparently believes that it was the Roman Catholic Church that kept humanity in the dark about the true nature of sickness. She went on a 5-minute rant about the Catholic Church's keeping the Bible from the masses, keeping people illiterate and ignorant, opposing the progress of science and scientists and just being a bad group of folks all around. Then, and at this point I almost burst out laughing, she said, "And that's what Martin Luther came along to oppose." She then went on a 5-minute panegyric in praise of Luther's theological, and apparently, scientific acumen. She all but attributed the discovery of microbes to him. I've heard that for many Lutherans Luther's writings and teachings are just a step below the Bible, but I think this is the first time I've ever heard anyone trying to attribute the advent of microbiology to him. Thanks goodness for Luther, the Reformer and the True Discoverer of the Germ Theory of Disease!


The 'ethnic' problem

A couple of weeks ago in the inquirer's class after church, a woman and her 20-something daughter were introduced to the class by Father M. with the announcement that they would be joining our class next week. We didn't see them the next week, but the mom came last Sunday. She spoke with a thick slavic accent and explained that she was from Yugoslavia and had been Orthodox her whole life, but that since coming to America her daughter had grown up knowing little about the Church. The mother agreed to come to the classes with her daughter so the young woman would feel more comfortable, presumably. Unfortunately, her daughter was ill that day. Unfortunate that she wasn't there to learn about the priesthood and ordination, which was the actual topic of that day's class, and most unfortunate that she wasn't there to hear the teacher's rebuttal to her mother's obviously ethnicized understanding of what it means to be Orthodox.

She raised the first question about "how can be there an American Orthodox church?" right in the middle of a discussion on the priesthood of all believers - I didn't quite grasp the connection, but it was clearly bothering her. St Nick's was originally a Macedonian congregation and many of the older members of the congregation are Macedonian immigrants (a fact that occassionaly causes some tension with our thoroughly American convert priest; they want the old way and still look at it as "their church" to the exclusion of outsiders), but the younger folks are all either converts or were born into other national churches. These latter people all, obviously, view the Orthodox Church as 'the Church', regardless of whatever ethnic flavor its local expression may present. And St Nick's is now a part of OCA. But this posed no small stumbling block to this woman; how can the Liturgy be in English? how can a priest be a convert with German heritage? how can the Church be American at all? She seemed to think that whatever changes the transition from an ethnic to an American congregation might cause almost completely invalidated its Orthodox credentials. Comparisons to the Serbian churches in Chicago were frequent, which still use Church Slavonic and follow the Old Calendar. That St Nick's follows the "American" calendar also bothered her - she asked if they were actually Catholic because they celebrate Christmas in December.

The teacher for that day gamely tried to answer her questions while steering the conversation back to the appropriate subject, but failed in the latter regard. The ethnic problem became the main focus of the class, and frankly, it was the first time I'd ever encountered it first hand. I've heard of it, of course, but this was the first time I'd ever heard someone say directly that they doubted it was possible for there to be an American Orthodox Church, that one had to at least worship in an ethnic congregation (if not actually be that ethnicity) in order to really be Orthodox. I was flummoxed. This represents such a huge disparity in understanding as to what the Church really is that its almost as wide as the divide between Orthodox and Protestants over issues of authority. How do you get someone to see that the Church of Christ could never be limited by language and nationality? How do you get them to understand that the non-Orthodox world is in need of salvation and redemption, that it needs precisely what Orthodoxy has to offer? I can hardly wait for next Sunday's class.