Loving Unseemly Characters - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I’ve long been a fan of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting for Guffman are some of the funniest movies I have ever seen. For fans of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family, Guest’s movies are probably right up your alley. The other day, I revisited his 2000 release, Best in Show, and I was amazed that I had forgotten just how enjoyable it was.

Guest and his crew tell the stories of a handful of participants in the Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia. The characters are very colorful and extremely eccentric. They are so zany and so full of strange quirks, it would be easy to look down on these characters or to treat them as fodder for mockery. But that’s not what Guest and his cast do.

In each of Guest’s movies, he presents a unique set of persons, but he never does so in a way that tears down the characters, but rather, his cast tells the stories of these persons with great compassion. Today, that’s what I’m interested in.

I acted from the time I was a kid all the way through college. Being in plays was always fun, but more than being an enjoyable hobby for me, it was deeply formative on the way I understand relationships with people.

During one play, I was given a role that I hated. It wasn’t like the character was a bad person or anything like that; he was just boring. There didn’t seem to be too much to him. He seemed flat and uninteresting, and I couldn’t wait for the play to be done. After one rehearsal, my director asked me to stick around because he had something to say to me. As everyone was filtering out of the theater, he put his arm around my shoulder and simply said, “You know...You can’t really love him if you’re too busy judging him.”

And I was. I was judging him. I was judging him for being boring.

Guest and his cast are confronted by the stories of people that would be easy to dismiss as bizarre, as somehow over the top. The ensemble could easily tell these stories as slapstick, as caricatures. But they don’t. They listen to the stories of their characters, and the present them tenderly, gently, and with great love.

Art – television, film, music – is great because it allows us a safe space to “try on” different behaviors. It allows us to practice embracing the mysterious. It allows us to practice facing death. And it even allows us to practice loving people we might find to be otherwise bizarre, people with whom we might not readily associate or find “lovable.”

In the last episode of The Trench, I asked a question: what kind of mother has the Church been? And today, I’m wondering something similar.

Have we been a community that makes real room for people, in all their weirdness? Are we a community that tenderly handles persons that we might consider otherwise undesirable?

I think there is a great lesson we as a spiritual community could learn from actors: We can’t really love people, if we’re too busy judging them.

When actors play a role, their work is to tell a story with integrity, to advocate for their character fully and without irony. It is an act of love, and because an actor is that character’s only chance of having her story told truthfully, it is an act that demands the most sincere of attention.

What if we were more like this all the time? What if when people told us their stories, we really attended to them? What if we really listened to others with kind and open ears, rather than with ears that already think they know what the other will say?

I understand how difficult this is. I’ve been surrounded by my fair share of dullards. But we must remember: even the dullard is the icon of Christ.

This is why C.S. Lewis writes, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may be one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare" (Weight of Glory, 45).

We are all possible splendors, and we are all possible nightmares. But if we are going to walk toward the Light of Christ, we have to do it together, and we have to do it in love, and we can’t love each other, if we’re too busy judging each other.

Photo Credit: 

Boys: Depositphotos

Girls: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.


The Summer When I Fell in Love With My Faith

I met Jesus at a lake on July 1, 2013.


It was my first day as a staff member at Camp Saint Paul, the Direct Archdiocesan District summer camp in Litchfield, Connecticut.


I can’t succinctly explain it, but if you have been to summer camp or know anyone that has, then you will understand the presence of Christ that is there. If I was asked what the most life-changing experience of my life has been, I would say summer camp, hands down, because that is where I have learned so many lessons about my faith. As I prepare to go back for a fourth summer, I absolutely cannot stop thinking about how camp has shaped my life.


First and foremost, my faith had shrunk down to almost nothing before I attended camp for the first time, and it was bolstered completely within a few days at camp. After a few days interacting with Christ-centered individuals and trying to learn everything that I could about Orthodoxy, something shifted inside me, and I wanted to experience my faith so much more.


Working with children, and other Orthodox young adults, has taught me so much about life. My patience is ever-expanding, and I feel like I can relate to way more people than I ever would have known how to in the past. I can work with others, even those who are different from me, more readily, and I owe that to camp. I wouldn’t have as strong of a relationship with my grandparents or really anyone in my life if those relationships weren’t the Christ-centered ones that I learned how to create at camp.


And while I have had some of my most amazing experiences at camp, I have also had some experiences that haven’t been so great. But that’s probably one of the best parts. I’ve been upset, frustrated, tired...you name it. Over time, I’ve been humbled as I have come to realize Christ’s presence in these experiences. He was shaping me through them. Life really has mirrored camp for me in this way--that in my difficult times, I find that Christ is present and shaping me.


Since I met Jesus that fateful summer, I haven’t let Him out of my life. Most of the things that I’ve done since then I can say without a doubt I would not have had the opportunity to do if I had not attended summer camp, including having the job that I do right now, as just one of many examples. For things like this, I will forever be grateful to my camp experience.


Without camp, I would have not had an experience that allowed me to want to meet Christ and serve Him. That’s why my advice is, if you want to serve the Church in any capacity, spend your summer at camp with Him and others who love Him. As I watch former staff go on to take internships and jobs, I encourage them wholeheartedly to come back to camp. Doing so shows a desire to better oneself, to connect with Christ, and a responsibility to your health and well-being well beyond what you can find at an internship. But the only way that any of this will happen is if you deny yourself and let Christ in completely.


That’s why I am so excited that I was given the opportunity to go back to camp for a week this summer. I know that not everyone can do this, and so I won’t take it for granted. Even going for a weekend, or a liturgy if you can, is exceptionally helpful (to the camp, and to yourself).


I’ll always remember that I met Jesus at that lake, but I’ll also remember that now that we know each other, we can only strengthen our bond, and I can experience Him more fully, as He is present in all places and filling all things. That’s how I plan to take summer camp with me for the rest of my life.


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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.



Harry Potter and the Fear of Death - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

That Harry Potter has been a controversial piece of pop culture has never been something I really understand. Sure, it has magic and spells, but the beyond the witchcraft is a beautifully woven narrative that explores a plethora of topics: good and evil, friendship and love, life and death.

As my heart breaks over our world, considering how uncertain our lives are and how unpredictable things will be in the future, I can’t help but keep coming back to a very stark and simple reality: we are all going to die. It’s scary, and it’s morbid, but it’s true.

It is this deeply sobering truth that fuels my belief that we need stories like Harry Potter to help us have images of what it looks like to die well. Indeed, if this is the only thing in life of which we can be certain, then this the only real issue worth contemplating. How are we going to die?

In Deathly Hallows, we hear a story about three brothers who use magic to cross a deadly river. Down the road, they encounter Death, who is upset about being cheated out of these three brothers, so he offers them each a prize. I’ll spare you the details of the story, and instead let you either read it yourself (Chapter 19 in Deathly Hallows) or watch it here.

The first brother chooses power in order to continue to fight against death. Though he thinks he will always win in a duel, he still ends up dying, and quite gruesomely at that.

The second brother thinks he can beat death by living forever. He tries to resurrect the love of his youth, but unable to attain what he loves, he despairs and kills himself.

And while the third brother does hide from death, he ends up dying willingly, parting with the cloak and walking away with death. This third brother made peace with the fact that he could not hide from death forever. He understood that at a certain point, one has to give one’s life away.

This story presents us with a few ways to approach our own deaths. We can either try to resist our own mortality and approach deaths kicking and screaming, or we can understand that we are going to die and then willingly use our deaths bravely.

Now, I don’t mean some kind of glorified suicide, like we should kill ourselves to prove some kind of point. But rather, we should use our deaths to understand what our lives are for: others.

Again, Harry Potter helps us see this.

As he is approaching his own voluntary death, sacrificing himself to save the lives of his friends, Harry is faced with a choice. He pulls out the Golden Snitch, finding inside it the Resurrection Stone. He could keep it and trust that its magic would raise him from the dead. But he doesn’t. He drops it and chooses death with all its finality, truly offering himself for the sake of those he loves. After all, having an “undo” button such as the Resurrection Stone doesn’t make it much of a sacrifice.

But why would he do this? Why drop the Resurrection Stone? Why willingly give his life?

Love. Love is why he gives his life.

Before dropping the stone, he is surrounded by people he loves. His parents. His Godfather. His friends. Each of these people died for love. They died to protect those they cared about, and they did so courageously, with no hope of coming back. But it was this sacrifice of theirs, this voluntary giving of themselves that bore witness to some greater cause than their individual lives. Voldemort must be defeated.

In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, people are so afraid of being killed by Voldemort that they cannot even speak his name (“You-Know-Who”). But Harry demonstrates his fearlessness over death at Voldemort’s hand in the only way possible: by dying at Voldemort’s hand in the name of love.

It is only love that defeats fear. It is only love that is stronger than death.

So Harry presents us with a choice, as does Jesus Christ: how will we live? How will we spend our lives preparing to die for others?

I don’t pretend to have any of the answers as to how we do this. But we can spend our lives lusting after power, seeking to destroy our enemies; we can try to build up kingdoms on earth to pretend that death will never come for us; or we can make peace with the reality ahead of all of us and pray that we, too, will be brave enough to give our lives for others as did Harry, and as did Christ before him.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.


Check out the story of "The Three Brothers" here:

For more on fearlessness in Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Pretty much all that you need to know in order to know Maria Pappas is this: I am a possessive human being. I’ve realized this on countless occasions. I recently heard this: “everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” And although that is intense, I think it expresses me well. Once something is mine, I expect it to be mine indefinitely. This goes for a lot of things: friends, clothes (consider this a warning to my sisters), and food. Especially food.


On a serious note, I attended Fordham’s graduation again this year, and it was a supremely odd sensation to be there as an alumna. As I watched this year’s graduating seniors receiving their diplomas, I realized (again) that this place that I had considered mine was very officially not mine. As I watched some of my close friends walk across the stage, I knew that they would soon walk out of my life: to graduate school, to volunteer programs, to jobs. It was the same thing that happened last year happening all over again.


But I feel like this has been happening a lot lately, not only at graduation. It happens a lot in life. My friends make new friends, friends date and get married, my old relationships turn into new ones, and even people whose lives only touched mine for a brief moment in time, like my youth group kids, leave my care. I know it’s unjustifiable, but I can’t help but think, “hey, weren’t those things mine?”


And on the other hand, claiming that something is yours has a lot to do with being needed. Thinking that this person, or this thing, would not exist without me. Would not exist if I had not shaped it into everything that it is. For example, maybe I’ve helped a friend make a big decision in his or her life, maybe I’ve imparted knowledge in an ex-boyfriend about what he wants or does not want. The scary part is that once the thing is shaped by you, it can more easily move into other hands. It’s more prepared. So the only way to assure that someone or something will remain yours forever is to never give it your all, never help it grow and establish itself and fly the coup. Keep it in your clutches forever. Which just sounds so terrible, doesn’t it?


To an extent, some things were once mine. But not completely. I think that’s the part that my mind has trouble wrapping itself around. That’s because everyone and everything belongs to someone greater. You guessed it: God. And in His Providence, He allowed me to be a little part of their story. But they were shaped by things before me which allowed them to be mine for a short time, and they will continue to be shaped by things after me. So the question becomes for me: if those things can make them better, then why not let them go?


So I guess that nothing is ever truly yours. Even the things that are to come for me, God-willing: a husband, a house, children, though seemingly and ideally more permanent, will not be mine. They will be mine to nurture and love as much as I can before I slowly let them go.


God is the ultimate example of this. Because He loves us, He is willing to let us go, to make our own decisions, to choose our own paths. Accepting that those decisions and paths may or may not lead back to Him. He loves us without question and does not abandon us, but He never clutches like we can tend to do, even though we are His. And this is really the way we should strive to love, without possessiveness and without fear. To do so would be to love like God, which is a beautiful and amazing thing.


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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved. 



Three Things in Common Between the Twelve Steps & Orthodoxy

In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, we looked at all of the Twelves Steps and how they parallel with Orthodox Christian teaching. It’s my hope that many of you saw how much the Steps resemble the ancient practices of the Orthodox Church. Now that we have looked at the specific workings of each of the Steps, let’s take one final look at three principles we can all take away from this reflection.

1. Watchfulness & Vigilance

The experience of those working the Twelve Steps has shown that addiction involves what is referred to as an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. An important component in recovery, then, is keeping watch over one’s thoughts that tend towards an obsession on one’s addiction.

Similarly, in Orthodox Christian practice, watchfulness is vital to the spiritual life. Instead of accepting and participating in our destructive thoughts, we can choose to let them pass. Some compare guarding our thoughts to watching a train go by without feeling we have to jump on, or watching a bird fly by without letting it roost on our head. Temptations seem to come out of nowhere sometimes. But we have a choice to either latch on to them or to let them pass by.

Keeping watch over our thoughts helps us to put this into practice. Watchfulness requires vigilance and self-awareness. This teaches us that the spiritual life is an active (not a passive) process.

2. “One day at a time”

One of the most commonly heard expressions by those working the Steps is “one day at a time.” This expresses not only a desire to live in the moment, but also a reminder to let go of the past and to stop worrying about tomorrow. Addictions take years to develop, and recovery must be given time as well. In moments of temptation, the thought of never having one’s drug can feel unbearable. “One day at a time” takes the focus off of “I can never have ___ again” and reorients the person back to the much more manageable present moment.

This same lesson is given by Christ when He said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). It’s so easy to beat ourselves up over our past failures or to despair over our ability to carry our crosses tomorrow. But we can only repent today; we can only encounter Christ today. So, we each have a choice to make. I can be anxious about whether or not I can do this or that, or I can live one day at a time and ask for God’s help.

3. “Abandon yourself to God”

This phrase, “abandon yourself to God,” from the book Alcoholics Anonymous is an important concept for those working the Twelve Steps. The active practicing of the Twelve Steps directs the addict to abandon himself to God in his daily life. This begins with the concept of surrender and is built up through regular prayer. The Serenity Prayer reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Repeated throughout the day, this prayer is a reminder to turn to God in order to accept life on life’s terms: to accept reality instead of trying to escape it.

Instead of focusing on the addiction or the sin in our lives, this principle of abandoning ourselves to the will of God reminds us that God can do what we cannot. Abandoning ourselves to God is an active work. It reminds us that knowledge of the Steps or knowledge of Orthodox teachings does not suffice. We have to put that knowledge to work by turning to God in all that we do. 


There is much that could still be said on the common ground shared by the Twelve Steps and Orthodox Christian practice. Jesus Christ often elevated the lives of known sinners and non-Jews as examples to emulate because of the quality of their personal repentance and dependence on God. Similarly, we can all find courage, strength, and hope from reflecting on the experience of recovering addicts today. Their healing and recovery reminds us to practice watchfulness, to live one day at a time, and to abandon ourselves to the care of God as paths to our own healing.

How do you practice watchfulness in your daily life? Do you struggle to live one day at a time? Have you abandoned yourself to the care of God today?


Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos


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