Kingless Kingdoms and Disappointing Desires - Thirteenth Sunday of Matthew

You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.
- St. Augustine of Hippo

The first time I remember consciously feeling desire for truth, beauty, and goodness, the inheritance of Gods Kingdom, was when I was a young boy and my mom read me C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. Whenever my mom would come across the main character’s name, Shasta, she would replace it with my own. So instead of hearing about a horse and his boy, the story became about a horse and this boy.

By inserting me into the story, even if only nominally, my mother instilled in me a sense that I was, in fact, a citizen of Narnia. My heart had been shaped within the wardrobe, so to speak, and my desire had been activated. And it never really faded. Even as I watched the movies as an adult, I wept as the children walked out of the moth-ball-filled furniture and stepped onto the beautiful snowscape of Aslan’s realm.

In some sense, I felt like I was finally home.

But I wasn’t. Because Narnia isn’t real.

It’s a fictional place described in an artistic narrative that masterfully relates an experience of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s Kingdom. Even though it is fictional, there’s a truth to it that touched something in my heart. The Chronicles of Narnia gave me a taste of eternity. Those books were hors d’oeuvres, which whet my appetite for the joy of communing eternally with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Himself.

Because my heart doesn’t long for a lion; it longs for Christ.

Unfortunately, though an appetizer is meant to prepare us for the main course, we can easily fill up on it. Similarly, I find that I often gorge on experiences, and satisfy myself with immediate gratification rather than something deeper and longer-lasting, chasing desires that are incapable of truly fulfilling my deepest longings.

And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Last week, we learned of a young man who came to Christ desiring eternal life. I suggested that perhaps he wanted Christ not for Christs sake, but for his own sake - he wanted Christ for what Christ could offer him: the stuff that had become the object of his desire.

The reading ends with the young man leaving Christ with his head down, having been asked to do something he believes to be impossible. This refusal of Christ’s invitation is as tame as it is disappointing. This week, however, we hear a more dramatic parable about a householder who leaves a group of murderous tenants to watch over his vineyard.

When the householder wants to collect the fruits of the season, he sends his servants to the house to do so. The tenants then kill the servants to claim the wealth as their own, and so the householder sends his own son to collect, assuring himself saying, “They will respect my son" (Matt. 21:37)

Upon seeing the son, however, the tenants say, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance" (Matt. 21:38). So they kill him.

All because they want the inheritance.

Unlike the young man from last week, the tenants dont want the heir for the sake of his wealth. They dont want the heir they dont want Christ at all.

And they were ready to kill him.

Often, my spiritual life is dedicated to desiring an inheritance, to wanting something from God, rather than wanting God Himself. Like the young man last week, my idea of God’s goodness is largely dependent on what I believe He can give me. But this week gives me pause and makes me wonder even more deeply: am I one of the tenants?

Do I also try to kill God? Do I wish to not only use Him but to also do away with Him, to have His good things without Him altogether?

Now, I don’t think that many of us would label ourselves idolaters, but I wonder how many of us seek Gods good things apart from God? In some sense, don’t we all want goodness, truth, and beauty? Arent we all looking for peace? For security? For fulfillment? Aren’t we all looking to become “inheritors of the kingdom?”

Where does God figure in these desires?

The scriptures tell us that God has set “eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecc. 3:11), giving us an internal compass to navigate us toward the only One who is capable of fulfilling that desire for eternity. Unfortunately, our hearts attach to temporal things, and we look to give those things eternal significance. And so we may, accidentally or not, find that we want eternity without the Eternal One.

We want the good life apart from the Good One.

And isn’t that essentially what idolatry is all about?

We try to take the inheritance of the peace, security, and joy of God’s Kingdom without allowing ourselves to be encountered by the living Christ.

We avoid Christ many ways. We numb our pain with addictions. We set up kingdoms for ourselves with large bank accounts. We seek fulfillment with exciting purchases that promise to complete our lives. But none of these things will satisfy. Because they aren’t eternal.

To quote C.S. Lewis:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.[1]

And yet how easy it is to desire those earthly things, to want the kingdom without the King, to want the inheritance, but not the heir. We all have, to some degree or another, replaced Christ with a god of our own making. But to do this, to cleave our hearts to something that stands opposed to Christ is to set ourselves up for a tiring, restless life.

We are looking for eternal meaning in something that will fade.

We are dooming ourselves to a lifetime of disappointment.

This Sunday we are called to reconsider the heir. We may look elsewhere from time to time, seeking to find our fulfillment in things that will ultimately never fulfill. But this week the Church invites us to reconsider the stone that the builders refused and make Him the cornerstone of our lives, because only He can give us what we most deeply long for: Himself.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), p. 137, emphasis mine.

Photo Credit:

Appetizers: glenn mcdonald via Compfight cc

Vineyard: Kevin Patrick Robbins via Compfight cc

Pantocrator: phool 4 XC via Compfight cc

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.

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For more:

For more on how stewards ought to act, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

The Problem of Evil

The first class I took in college was called “Philosophy of Religion.”  

 

I was a freshman at the University of Utah, I had no idea what I wanted to study, so when I chose this class my thought process was simple: I like philosophy, I like religion, I’ll probably like this.

 

I don’t remember a lot of details about the course (the professor brought his dog once), but I know it helped shape the way I interact with my Faith today.

 

It was my first glimpse into the problems that I would face as an Orthodox Christian in the real world, dealing with real doubts and struggles.

 

Early in the syllabus we covered the “Problem of Evil.”  The argument is pretty straightforward:

 
  1. God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful.

  2. Such a God would want to prevent evil.

  3. Evil exists.

  4. Therefore God does not exist.  

 

It was the first time in my life I had to really think about the fact that evil exists, and how that impacts my belief in God.  

 

We could talk for days about the problem of evil (maybe one day we will) but right now I’d like to be self-indulgent and talk about what the presentation of that problem meant for me.  

 

It meant I had to seriously start thinking about things I never had to consider before.

 

It meant that I had to face the fact that my relationship with Christ and the Church was changing.  

 

The days of coloring pictures and memorizing Bible facts in Sunday School were over. Now I was going to have to start figuring out how my Faith fits into my daily life.  How (or whether) my Faith would shape my interactions with the world around me.   

 

How (or whether) I was going to actually live Orthodoxy day to day.

 

And what that meant.

 

This realization, that I needed to struggle and wrestle with my Faith and its place in my life, is a huge one. And it’s something we all have to acknowledge sooner or later.

 

How do I respond to the evil and suffering I see in the world?  Is it a proof for God’s non-existence, or a reason to turn to Him with even more humility and trust?  

 

Does the existence of evil say more about us, and our need for repentance, than it does about whether God exists or not?

 

At that point, as a brand new college freshman, I wasn’t sure what this struggle would look like.  I’m not entirely sure now, but I do know that asking those hard questions are an important part of my development as a person and my relationship with God.  Especially because the problems of our society are constantly being beaten over my head.

 

Hi, social media.

 

We as humans like to think of things as either black and white.  We tend to force religion into this binary, too, so we talk about the sacred and the secular, and how the two are completely separate and incompatible.  

 

And how we need to choose one or the other.

 

The more I’ve thought about these questions, the more I reject the premise.  

 

Studying the problem of evil forced me to accept reality; there are bad things happening in the world.  But rather than shake my fist at God and ask “why don’t you fix this,” I came to the conclusion that He has given me everything I need to figure out how to deal with that on my own.  Maybe the most important of these things are:

 

Confession and repentance.  

 

There’s a great story about G.K. Chesteron: a magazine invited authors to respond to a simple question: “What is wrong with the world?”  There were a variety of detailed, eloquent and thoughtful responses.  But Chesterton’s was simple.

 

What is wrong with the world?  Chesterton replied: “I am.”

 

The problem of evil tries to identify what’s wrong with religion by pointing out what’s wrong with the world: the world is full of suffering, which doesn’t fit with our idea of God.  

 

But asking that question completely takes us out of the picture.  I am part of the world, and that means I am part of the problem.

 

As I’ve learned more about Orthodox Christianity, and grown in my faith, I’ve realized that any exploration of the world’s problems has to start with me.

 

And that’s the difference between the simple Faith of my childhood and the mature Faith I’m working towards today.  

 

It’s easy to point a finger a God and blame Him for hunger in the world.  It’s even easier to walk by a hungry person and not pause to help.  

 

It’s easy to point a finger at God and blame Him for violence in the world.  It’s even easier to ignore the anger in my heart, and the cruel words I use.  

 

What good does it do to blame God for the problems we ignore?  For the problems we have created.  

 

For the problems that I am a part of.

 

I can’t pretend to have solved the problem of evil.  It’s still a challenge: faith would be much easier in a world full of sunshine and rainbows.

 

But I also can’t pretend to be a passive observer of the world’s problems.  If all I do is point out the existence of pain and suffering and evil, then I’m part of the problem.  

 

God gave me the mind I’m using to recognize this philosophical problem.  He also gave me eyes to see the faces of suffering, a heart to break for them.

 

And hands to help them.

 

I walked into my philosophy of religion class thinking it was going to be sophisticated and mature.  But now I realize how immature it was to see both God and neighbor as ideas in a proof rather than real and personal beings; to see me as an observer of the world rather than a part of it.

 

Philosophically, I’m not sure I’m any closer to solving the problem of evil.  But I have realized that a mature faith is a lived faith.  That good and evil are much deeper than any logical proof can capture.

 

And that real Orthodoxy is lived Orthodoxy.



 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.

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Disordered Loves, Misdirected Lives, Next 12 Exits - Twelfth Sunday of Matthew

Where you invest your love, you invest your life. - Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons

You can tell a lot about a person by identifying what they love. And you can identify what they love by listening to what they talk about.

Does someone spend a lot of time talking about money? Entertainment? CrossFit? Chances are you’ve stumbled upon what they love.

What we love not only determines our preferred conversation topics, it also shapes the way we inhabit the world. It directs our energies and efforts toward achieving the so-called “good life” according to what we believe gives life ultimate significance.

This is because, as human beings, our vision of the “good life” doesn’t simply come from our heads, the result of what we think. Rather, it comes primarily from our hearts, because we are directed by (and towards) what we love.

As James K.A. Smith puts in in Desiring the Kingdom,:

Its not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; its what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion. To be human is to be the kind of creature who is oriented by this kind of primal, ultimate love - even if we never really reflect on it.[1]

That last part is where we often get into trouble: we dont reflect. We feel our way into and around the world, chasing after visions of what we imagine “the good life” to be. Yet we often don’t realize how our (disordered) loves (mis)direct our lives.

How our disordered loves can misdirect our life in Christ.

This Sunday, we see a young man come to Jesus. We read that he has great wealth and many possessions. And this isn’t so bad…except that the Gospel tells us that he loves them. He loves his stuff too much.

This love shapes the way he lives and affects how and why he approaches Christ.

When he comes to Christ, he says, “Good teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” For this man, the eternal life Christ offers is just one more possession that he desires.

It’s just more stuff he can have.

The good he desires is wealth, not Christ, and the Lord’s incisive question, “Why do you call Me ‘good?’” should cause the man to pause. Christ further challenges the man’s heart when he continues that eternal life is not something that is owned, but rather is something to be entered into. Eternal life is a world to inhabit, not a good to possess.

When Christ finally tells the man to sell everything and give it all to the poor, he cant deal with it. The “good life” Christ offers is not the life the young man actually wants and loves.

And so he leaves dejected. Defeated.

The young man was not only attached to his stuff; he had been formed by it. Perhaps his vision of eternity was simply never-ending enjoyment of all that stuff, a materialistic view of salvation that we all can slip into. His belongings had come so close to his heart that they actually merged with it, making it impossible for him to both have his stuff and cleave his heart to Christ. He couldn’t imagine life (much less, eternal life) without that wealth. 

Because of his love of wealth, his worship of possessions, this young man had no capacity to worship the true “Good One.”

In this reading, Christ makes it clear that following Him comes at a great cost. We cannot serve two masters, He tells us in the Gospels, for we will always love one, and hate the other. For Christ, following Him is all about what (or Who) we love.

So what do we love?

It’s very tempting simply to say, “The Lord! I love the Lord!” After all, I believe Christ is Lord. And I think that His Kingdom is coming. But what fruit has that love borne in my life?

If it’s true that our loves shape and orient our lives, then perhaps the best way to determine what I love is to examine how I live.

Sure, I go to Church on Sundays, and I read a lot of books about Jesus and the Church, but do I sit with Him in silence? Do I read His words in the Scriptures to hear about His savings works, and what He has in store for me? Do I really care about what He says, or would I just rather keep Him and His teachings at a safe distance, treating Him and them as good ideas.

Because that’s what I love. Ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love the Lord but sometimes I wonder if my love for Him is similar to my love for a good book. Do I love Him because He makes me think, because He satisfies a need and makes me feel good? Or do I love Him even when He confronts me in my disordered loves, asking me to leave them behind and to follow Him?

Like the young man in the Gospel reading, I call the Lord good. But do I say so because I think He is good on His terms, or because I think Hes good on my terms?

The Lord is always calling us to detach from inordinate loves in order to cling to Love Himself, because, while it’s true that what we love shapes what we do, it is equally true that what we do shapes what we love. He wants us to know Him, and He wants to know us. And as we come to know Him in prayer, in the Scriptures, and in His Church, what we love will change.

We will love Him for Who He is, not what we would have Him be.

So this week I’m going to do some hard work. Instead of reading about Christ, I’m going to listen to Him. Instead of talking about Him like an idea, I’m going to receive Him as the Word of God. Instead of obsessing over a lesser vision of the “good life,” I will meditate on His vision of eternal life in the Kingdom. Because as I come to know Him in this way, I’ll find that there really is no better one than the Good One, and He’s the Love worth pursuing for the rest of my life.

 

[1] James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), p. 51, emphasis mine.

Photo Credit:

CrossFit Meme: DIYLOL

Money: NickNguyen via Compfight cc

Jesus: MichaelHDJ via Compfight cc

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.

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For more:

For more on deepening our love for Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on relating with God, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For an enjoyable (and possibly inspirational) musical experience, check out "Awake My Soul" by Mumford and Sons:

Pray For The Assist

I don’t always ask for help when I need it.  

 

It’s not that I don’t know that I need it, or that there aren’t people willing to offer me assistance.  But sometimes I forget that I can’t do everything alone, and I don’t always remember just how much help is available to me if I simply ask.  

 

Earlier this year I lost my favorite piece of jewelry.  

 

I had just moved back home and my sisters gifted me a tiny gold cross for my birthday.  One morning, when it wasn’t where I left it, I assumed someone borrowed it without telling me (you know how sisters can be).  

 

A few days later, after tearing apart the house and interrogating my sisters, it was still nowhere to be found.  I was frustrated, annoyed with myself for being careless, and I knew that continuing to look for it in the same places over and over wasn’t going to work.  At a loss, and with a sense of urgency that was a touch dramatic for a missing thing, I knew that my only option left was to ask for a different kind of help.  

 

Since I had already recruited my dad and sisters days ago, I was left with the only other option I could think of: prayer.   

 

I turned to St. Phanourius.  

 

We don’t know much about St. Phanourius, except for what we can see about his life in an icon that was discovered hundreds of years ago, but he is known for helping people find what they’re looking for.  Being the forgetful person I am, I pray to him a lot.

 

I’ve had an affinity for him as long as I can remember, especially because I have always been able to physically see the help he provides for me.  Whenever I turn to him, I am aware of his active participation in my life.  It’s fascinating and hard to explain.  Seeing results every now and again is a good reminder that help is coming, even if I can’t always see it.

 

(Like what happened with the cross I lost.)

 

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

 

Asking for help isn’t my favorite thing to do.  I like to think of myself as a capable, independent, young woman, one who can normally solve her own problems.  For me, admitting defeat is often just as difficult as asking for help.  Both feel like shots to the ego.  It’s admitting that you’re not as self-reliant as you may have thought.

 

It’s admitting to yourself and to others that you can’t do this alone.  

 

This process of admitting weakness and turning to others is never easy because it requires a lot of humility.

 

And humility is hard.

 

Even though I know that the fear of asking, of humility, of feeling inadequate is eclipsed by the payoff, I still hesitate.  In the moment, I’d rather be able to depend upon myself.  But to offer and receive help is a big part of who we are as part of the Church.  Christ, the Church, my spiritual father, my local priest, and the saints are all here to help me.  We are all working toward the same goal, and being able to work together and help one another is part of the beauty of our Faith.  

 

We’re not simply individuals, detached and self-reliant.  We’re persons, who depend on each other and find ourselves in our relationships with each other.  And that connection always includes humbly realizing that, alone, we aren’t fully ourselves.  

 

That we need others in more ways than we can count.  

 

Though I still often fall into the myth of self-reliant individuality, I’m working to make sure that happens less, especially in my spiritual life.  It helps that I don’t need to pretend to never need help in the Church, that there is always help that is available to me, as long as I’m willing to ask for it.  I am being constantly prayed for, just as I’m (trying to) constantly pray for others.  

 

Even something small, like asking for help to find my cross, is a reminder that I don’t have to do this all alone.   

 

I found my cross the day after I prayed to St. Phanourius.  It was inside a boot I hadn’t worn in a year.  Never under his own power, always under God’s power (because the saints don’t do it alone, either), he has consistently helped me find whatever I am looking for.

 

Whether it’s a tiny piece of jewelry or something even harder to find.

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

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For more:

For more on how we help each other, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

SEO Design Lessons from the Pros

Search engine optimization is often an easy concept for Web professionals to wrap their digital heads around, but the implementation and the actual upkeep, however, is another story.

Across disciplines - design, development, marketing - those responsible for the acquisition and retention, analysis and optimization, and infrastructure and reliability (Website Magazine calls this the "Digital Trinity") of a digital enterprise are all in great part responsible for taking the necessary steps to maximize a website's visibility on the search engine result pages (SERPs).

This means that regardless of a person's role with an organization, he or she must too be well versed on what it takes to top the SERPs and elicit the valuable calls, clicks and conversions delivered from there. Designers and developers are no exception. In fact, it is often they who set the foundation for the likeliness of a top ranking. To help designers and developers in their quest to position their companies atop the SERPs, Website Magazine has enlisted the help of their peers to present SEO design tips from the pros.

See the full article at: http://www.websitemagazine.com/content/blogs/posts/archive/2015/07/30/seo-design-tips-from-the-pros.aspx

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