Entries with tag christian gonzalez .

Yes, I Read *The Benedict Option*

Recently, one of my friends read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and strongly suggested that I do likewise. I was a bit hesitant, to be sure, feeling like I was about to be inundated with political lingo and reasons that the Religious Conservative Right was under siege from the Secular Liberal Left, and frankly - ain’t nobody got time for that.

I have enough problems. I thought. I don’t need to hear all the bad news about how the Church is under attack. And so I wrote it off.

Then I learned that many people I love and respect have been wrestling through Dreher’s work, and so I suddenly felt that perhaps it was time that I give it a go, and so I decided to follow suite, and bought The Benedict Option on Audible.

While a review of Dreher’s book is beyond the scope of this post, I can say that my time with The Benedict Option has awakened something within me: a longing for a truly Christian community. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself, a part of a group of people that are committed to living out the virtues and struggles of the Christian life together.

I think one of the biggest problems I face in my own Christian life is that of isolation. I frequently feel like my spirituality is something that I’m responsible for muscling through on my own, and so I despair. I feel lonely in my striving to follow Christ, and it becomes all too easy to let myself off the hook when it comes to the struggle that is inherent in learning to be a disciple of Christ, of learning to deny myself, take up the cross, and follow Him.

I know that the Church exists as a rampart of faith, a place where we can shore up courage as we learn to battle the passions together, but functionally, it doesn’t really seem like that. For me, it often feels more like a weekly gathering of like-minded people who take refuge in being kind-of-like one another. In part, this is due to the fact that so many of us live so far from our parishes that establishing any kind of day-in-day-out rhythm of life is simply impossible. So each Sunday we come together and return to our individual huts where we are responsible for holding on for another seven days. And frankly, this is simply getting tiring for me.

It’s not that I don’t believe. It’s just that I don’t have the strength to act like it on my own. And so, as I’m reading The Benedict Option, I find myself longing for a community of faith, a community that is dedicated to the teaching of Christ, committed to living out what it is to be a disciple of the Lord.

I don’t mean this as laziness on my part. It’s not that I don’t want to do it on my own. It’s just that I can’t. I get too weighed down by the demands of my daily life: waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, waking up again to the demands of a hungry toddler, needing to get ready for work, maintaining a caseload, feeling guilty about not making it to the gym more, and amidst all this, trying to be the perfect husband who helps out around the house as much as possible while having a keen financial plan that will allow us to make a down payment on a house in a year...well, it’s just a lot. Then when someone tells me that I have to say my prayers, spend an hour in silence, and prepare for confession...honestly, those just seem like more things on top of an already very long to-do list.

Again, it’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I simply don’t have the energy on my own.

But I have this imagination that if I were part of a community, a real community of Orthodox Christians where our kids played together after school and we gathered together for evening prayers or reader’s vespers on the regular, somehow this would make it all feel more manageable.

I’m just tired. I’m tired of believing on my own. I’m tired of feeling like I have to keep my head above water by my own effort. I understand that this is an essential component of being a disciple, but it cannot be the entirety of it. If the monks are a part of a community that is committed to prayer as a way of life and the central grounding point of their life together; why shouldn’t lay people in the world want the same thing?

And so, I think I’m going to make this my quest in the next year or so. I want to make an intentional effort to build a community of Christians committed to living out the Gospel. I don’t mean that I simply want more “church events.” I want the Church, the assembled body of believers to be the center of my life so that I may continue to strive to draw near to the Lord with the fear of God, in faith and in love.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, homebrewer, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Christ Comes First

Last week, we at Y2AM hosted the 2017 Youth and Camper Workers Conference in Austin, Texas. Well, to be honest, it was more like all my co-workers who pulled it off; I seriously had the chance simply to show up and participate. They poured tons of work into the conference, and it showed.

The theme of the conference was “The Seamless Garment of Christ.” Steve chose this theme because in practice, we often pursue what he calls an “ice cube tray model” of ministry. The idea is that we separate our ministries into individual segments of work: GOYA, Young Adults, Women, Men, etc. Usually these ice cubes are kept separate and don’t interact with each other much. Our idea at Y2AM, however, is that if we are going to function properly as the Body of Christ, then we need to understand that these ministries, while distinct, should never be separated.

Our keynote speaker, Fr. Stephen Freeman, the author of the excellent blog, Glory to God for All Things, started us off by perfectly introducing the topic. He suggested that everything in the Church – the icons, the sacraments, the music – existed for one purpose: Christ. They exist to unite us to Christ; for in Christ are all things complete and contained. He even capped this thought perfectly by saying, “When we speak of anything, we speak of everything, because we speak of the One Thing: Christ.”

As the conference progressed and various speakers contributed, I noticed that I heard the name of Jesus spoken more than I’ve ever heard Him spoken at any other Orthodox event I’ve ever attended. We love to speak of “Orthodoxy” or “the Faith” or even the “Ancient Faith,” but hearing each speaker offer a meditation of which Christ was the Center struck me as somehow sadly unusual.

But as I’ve thought more about this, I find that the reality is simple: our ministries can never be united unless they are united in Christ because they are actually His Ministry. There is one priesthood: Christ’s. There is one Church: Christ’s. And unless we keep Him at the forefront our meditation, at the forefront of our work, then we will never achieve the unity that we seek.

All of our ministry must be oriented toward Christ and His Kingdom; if we focus on anything else, then we are doomed from the start. His presence must infiltrate our entire lives. We must be His and His alone, seeing that all things are given to us by Him and that all things exist for Him and that all things are only fulfilled in Him.

Our ministries cannot oversimplify the Gospel, offering moralistic platitudes and feel-goodery with humanistic undertones. If we do this, if we pull our punches when it comes to Christ and water down the depth of the gospel, then we actually inoculate people against Christ, giving them just enough of the faith not to turn them off to Christ, but not enough to open the compelling reality of Life in Him. Christ simply becomes boring, something people “already know about,” rather than Someone people are invited to encounter and follow.

We boldly need to reclaim the scandal that is the Person of Jesus Christ, the God who became Man, who dwelt among us and ascended the Cross in the flesh, calling all people who wish to follow Him to take up their cross also and to follow Him to their own deaths.

Christian ministry must primarily be about Christ, and if it is not, then it is not Ministry. It is simply a philosophy that guides how we interact with others. Indeed, if we don’t have Christ as the Center of all our ministry, of all our preaching, of all our life, then we are only wasting our time.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Check out Fr. Stephen Freeman's Keynote address below:

 

Life Lessons from "This Is Us" - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

My wife and I are huge fans of NBC’s new show, This is Us. We love it so much, that we are even willing to admit that Mandy Moore isn’t annoying in this particular show. Seriously. She isn’t.

The show follows a family of five. Jack and Rebecca Pearson are the parents of three triplets, two biological (Kevin and Kate) and one adopted (Randall). This is Us does something unique with its storytelling, however, by splitting the narrative into two timelines. One focuses on the life of the family when the kids were children (usually when they are 8 years old), while the other focuses on the lives of kids as adults, after Jack has died and Rebecca has remarried.

Each episode is full of joy, pain, struggle, and reality as we follow these people’s lives and come to understand the unique issues that each faces. Almost every episode has made me cry at some point. Of course, it really isn’t too hard to make me cry, but still, I think it’s worth noting the emotional honesty of This is Us.

Even though Jack Pearson is dead in the timeline that follows the adult Pearson children, it is clear that he has made an indelible mark on his family. They love their father, and his family has been shaped by his optimism, his humor, and above all else, his utter dedication to them.

In the Thanksgiving episode, we learn that the Pearsons annually recreate their best Thanksgiving, which involved a 3.4 mile hike (to a convenience store), roasting hot dogs against an open furnace flame, and of course, a pilgrim’s hat. Behind each of these traditions is Jack’s unwavering faithfulness to his family, his devotion to ensuring that they are seen, loved, and cared for.

As a father myself now, watching this show resonates with me deeply. I look at how Jack has shaped his family’s life, and I can’t help but hope and pray that my children remember me as fondly as his remember him.

I hope that I leave a mark on my kids.

Jack’s mark, however, is not necessarily based in anything that he says. He doesn’t just have the right words at the right time for his kids, but rather, his impact is based on who he is. It is not so much the issue of Jack’s parenting, but rather it is the issue of Jack’s character.

I’ve talked with my wife a whole lot about how I want our girls to know and love the Lord, how I want them to feel brave and resilient, to have self-control and to be humble. We’ve discussed how we want them to stand up for goodness and truth but to be kind and merciful.

In watching This is Us, however, I increasingly realize that if I am to have any hope of my children learning these lessons from me, it has to be because I demonstrate them myself. You can’t share what you don’t have.

If I wish my children to know and love the Lord, then I must decide today that I am going to relentlessly pursue knowledge of and love for the Lord myself. If I want them to be tender, compassionate and merciful, then I need to demonstrate tenderness, compassion, and mercy in my dealings with them.

Above all else, This is Us has made me look at my own life and my own heart and realize how desperately I need to work on orienting myself toward Christ before I even dream of having an impact on my children. Both parenting and following the Lord are not just about saying the right words, but rather they must be about becoming the kind of person who has the right words instinctively, as a second nature.

St. Seraphim of Sarov is frequently quoted for saying, “Acquire the Spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved.” I guess “a thousand” must start in my own home, with my own wife and my own children. But even before them, it starts with me, with my own acquiring the Spirit of peace.

This Nativity fast has been trying (and not because of the food). I have continually been presented with opportunities to see myself clearly, to admit that I’m quickly frustrated and extremely defensive/offensive when people disagree with me. It sucks.

But if I’m going to teach my children to repent, it means I’m going to have to model repentance in my own life, it means that I’m going to have to see myself clearly, that I’m going to have to model self-understanding and then the humility it takes to admit that I was wrong.

This is Us has been a fantastic show. It has given me an image for the kind of husband and father I want to be. Jack Pearson isn’t without his faults, but he is committed to his family, and that’s a commitment he passes on to his family.

My hope and prayer is that I, too, can become a man of commitment, first to the Lord and then to my family. Instead of just talking to my kids about Jesus, I’ll be able to talk to them as someone who knows Him, trusting that His grace will fill my words and kindle the fire of love for Him in their own hearts too.

Photo credits: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first 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.

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For more on this idea, check out this episode of The Trench:

 
 

Finally, A Blog Post About Zelda - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

The other night, I found myself with a little bit of time that I normally don’t have. My wife had some stuff to do, and both kids were sleeping soundly, so I decided to play some video games. As a married father of two, I haven’t had time to do this in years, but I was so excited as the beginning credits of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword began.

I quickly hopped into the mode of being in on some sort of epic quest to leave the floating island of Skyloft in order to descend to the Surface to rescue Zelda and to begin establishing the Kingdom of Hyrule.

Dorky. I know.

But silly animations and annoying cinematic scenes aside, I was completely wrapped up in the story, and I was eager to make my way through the clouds and begin battling baddies with my trusty sword and less reliable wooden shield.

My wife has never really been into video games, but she caught a glimpse of my game-playing and very graciously asked me what I liked about this particular pastime.

I quickly explained to her that I primarily loved the story. It was epic. I was an English major in undergrad, largely because I love stories. I wasn’t the best English major in the world, but I always felt that if my imagination could be captured by something worth capturing it, then my heart might be changed.

Secondly, I explained, I loved that this story wasn’t something I merely observed (like a book or film), but that the story was something in which I participated. Indeed, this was the same reason I minored in Theater in undergrad. The stories I enacted had already been written, sure, but I was able to help bring them about.  

As I responded, it began to dawn on me that the very things I love about playing a game like Zelda are actually some of the very things that make being a Christian so incredible. We, too, are part of a story in which we are invited to participate.

God has written an incredible story, a story in which He is the author and the main character. His story has to do with the creation and redemption of the cosmos, inviting all human beings into a living and eternal relationship with Him in His Kingdom.

It is a story with great twists and turns, a Hero that dies, appearing defeated, and Who returns from the land of the dead having undone death itself! And while we may look at our own lives and see them headed for the grave, we know that because of God’s Story, death is not the end.

What’s more, we know that God’s Kingdom is coming. A Kingdom in which there is no more death, no more mourning, no more pain nor suffering. A Kingdom in which death has no say, but only life.

We know the end of the story, but we are called to participate in that story today.

We are on an epic quest toward the Kingdom of God, the story having already been written and completed in Christ. Knowing that Christ wins, we can bravely enter the dark world. We can go boldly into the unknown suffering of the poor, the need of our neighbors, trusting that God is at work to bring forth redemption.

Knowing that we cannot ultimately be defeated, we can risk our lives (after all, Resurrection is the promise in Christ) for other people, living for others as we battle the forces of death and Hell in our own contexts.

Of course, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that we can make the end of the story come about. Only God can bring forth the Kingdom in God’s own time. But we can incline ourselves toward the Kingdom, and we can commend one another and our whole life toward that end.

In God’s Kingdom, for example, there is no more mourning. Never.

As far as I can see, in this life, our experience of grief is something here to stay. But we can sit with people who despair. We can undo the bondage of the loneliness of mourning by offering our presence in the middle of someone’s deep sadness.

We may not be able to fix this problem for someone, but our presence in the midst of someone’s pain bears witness to our belief that a Kingdom is coming in which mourning will ultimately be powerless. By sharing in the suffering of another, our action says, “Hey, I’m not scared. Your suffering can’t defeat me, and that’s how I know it can’t defeat you. Let’s get through this. Together.”

We have been invited into an epic quest. I’ll admit that I think it would be super cool if our weapons were things like swords, mirror shields, and grappling hooks, but I suppose that the weaponry of love and service is pretty good, too. Especially for a Kingdom that is not of this world, but of the world to come.

Photo Credits:
Depositphotos
Resurrection Icon photo by Steve Christoforou

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first 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.

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Longing for the Right Thing - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
           - Ecclesiastes 3:11

Generally, I’m not a fan of Christian music. While many people who came to Orthodoxy out of evangelical Protestant backgrounds may listen to Christian music and dislike it because of the unpleasant taste it has left in their mouths, I dislike it for the simple reason that I have not found many Christian artists who are actually any good. One man alone, however, stands out for me as a talented musician and poetic lyricist: Josh Garrels.

His lyrics are at once challenging and hopeful. He frequently captures the deep longing that I experience as I look at the world around me and ask, “How long, O Lord?”

How long will people kill one another?

How long will people exploit each other?

How long will You wait to come and establish Your Kingdom?

These thoughts that tell us all is not right in the world find beautiful expression in Garrels’ song, “Farther Along.” He sings:

Tempted and tried, I wondered why

The good man dies, the bad man thrives,

And Jesus cries because He loves em’ both.

We’re all cast-aways in need of rope,

Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope.

In a house of mirrors full of smoke

Confusing illusions I’ve seen.

 

His lyrics are beset with grief, lament toward the world in which we live. It’s truly baffling even for the Psalmist who almost stumbles in his trust for God upon seeing the “prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2,3). Yet amidst this confusion, amidst the uncertainty that comes with following Christ, Garrels’ chorus roots us in eschatological confidence in Christ.

Farther along we’ll know all about it.

Farther along we’ll understand why.

So cheer up, my brothers. Live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand this all, by and by.

One day when the sky rolls back on us,

Some rejoice, and the others fuss

‘Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess:

The Son of God is forever blessed.

His is the Kingdom, and we’re the guests,

So put your voice up to the test.

Sing, “Lord, come soon!”

Listening to Garrels actually offers me some relief that I’m not the only person who finds himself waiting for things to get better in eternity. As the Ecclesiastes verse above states, we are made to hope for eternity.

We don’t want things to be like this forever, and somehow, deep inside us, we know they won’t be. We are made for holy longing. And as I listen to the words of Josh Garrels, I feel this longing activated. Even amidst his confidence that the Lord will come again and the Lord will win, Garrels admits that he finds himself “hardpressed on every side/between the Rock and a compromise/like the Truth and pack of lies fighting for my soul.”

Our God-given desire, holy longing given that we might desire Him who is the source of desire, can often be co-opted, led toward sin through the destructive thought pattern of despondency.

Despondency, Fr. Gabriel Bunge writes, is “marked above all by its contradictory character. Everything that is available is hateful to it; everything that is unavailable is desirable.”[1] This leads us to feel restless, distracted, bored. We may be tempted to escape our anger toward the present moment by throwing ourselves into acquiring all kinds of material possessions.

Deep down, what we are afraid of is emptiness. We are afraid that when everything is quiet, when everything is still, we will be confronted with the reality that everything is not okay, and so we do everything we can to run from this.

We throw ourselves into busyness to distract ourselves, filling our calendars with appointments and visits with friends so we never feel the sting of nothingness. We are yoked to our cell phones so that we don’t miss a text or a tweet because we can’t bear our own existential loneliness in the face of this absurd world. Busyness, in all its forms, keeps us from feeling the sharpness of the void we experience every time we hear about another bombing or riot.

We know that things aren’t alright. But perhaps the response to the destructive impulse toward despondency isn’t just busyness. Perhaps, rather, we must learn to be patient. We must learn to wait for God to fulfill His promise that one day the sky will roll back, and every knee will bow and tongue confess that Christ is Lord.

We have been made to long for Christ. Perhaps the difficult call of the Christian is to lean into this longing. To admit that we know things aren’t alright and that they won’t be until Jesus returns. But we have confidence that He is coming again, confidence that should lead us into the world to bear the suffering of those around us, emboldening us to be the light in a world beset by darkness.

We must live in the tension between that which is and that which is to come. So the next time we feel the twinge of longing that the evil one co-opts and causes us to be afraid, let’s instead hold fast to holy longing, looking to Christ and praying with the Spirit and the Church, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

[1] Gabriel Bunge, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel, Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Acedia (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012), p. 66.

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 first 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.

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Steven Christoforou
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