Entries with tag compassion .

Being a Compassionate Presence

It only takes a cursory glance at the news or at our social media feeds to realize there’s a lot going on in our world these days. And it’s affecting our friends, our family, and us, too. It’s hard enough to hold on to God for our own spiritual health, let alone to know how to respond to others.

 

Is there something we can do to help with all of this negativity? Is prayer enough? This balancing act can be difficult when so many voices are shouting all around us. It can be tempting to jump into the internet debates and get riled up in the world’s passions.

 

It can be tempting to forget that we as Christians are called not to reflect the ways of this world, but to reflect Christ. Instead of getting involved in the negative banter, how can we instead be instruments of peace, reconciliation, and compassion?

 

1. Listen first

 

How often do we actually listen when others talk to us? I have a horrible memory when it comes to learning names. I have to visualize their name (visual learner problems) before I can commit their name to memory. But the other problem is that I’m usually so focused on what I’ll say next that I don’t listen fully when they tell me their name. I need to listen first.

 

When it comes to divisive issues, it’s even harder to listen. We want to close our ears or speak louder to drown out their opinion. Or we listen only enough to find something to attack, criticize, or shoot down.

 

We listen enough to win, to be right.

 

If we hope to reflect Christ in this world, we must first listen. It will take patience, it will take work, but it is necessary if we want to actually respect the person before us (whether behind a screen or not).

 

2. Questions over answers

 

A characteristic of Orthodox spirituality that I’ve grown to appreciate is the preference of giving questions instead of answers. Usually, behind someone’s opinion is a host of assumptions that are informing their current stance and could potentially prevent them from receiving the answer the Church might give. Likewise, in our society of debate and attacks, we see a lot of calls to action and demands, we see name-calling and assumptions being made.

 

So after we have listened to the complaints and concerns of those around us, we need to ask more questions to get a clearer picture of how the person is forming their opinion. Why do they feel scared? What is behind their fear? What about their opponent causes them so much anger and passion? What personal experiences have led them to their current stance or worldview? Have they made friends with a person that holds the opposing view?

 

Sometimes we just need to be asked questions to bring us back to earth. We just need a new perspective. Sometimes our assumptions and passions puff us up so much we need a bit of a deflation to see the reality of our own prejudices.

 

3. Unity over division

 

The devil is the one who divides; the Holy Spirit is the One who unites. The Holy Spirit strengthens us and inspires us to seek union over division, to help heal the wounds of division rather than reopening them. We are called to be sons of God by bringing peace into a world of enemies.

 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). The Christian is one who brings people together, who helps divided “sides” unite without expecting everyone to be the same, who speaks love into a world of black and white. “Love your enemies, and do good...and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

 

The world’s factions don’t need us to join their sides, though of course, we are certainly allowed our opinions; they need us to bring the presence of the Lord into their midst and to speak truth that defies their limitations. We should remember that we will never have perfect answers to suffering and, on our own, cannot heal other people completely because Christ is the answer. He bears the burdens of our brokenness alone, but by being connected to Him and desiring to share His love with our broken world, He strengthens us to bear one another’s burdens through the Church.

 

We can and should be agents of unity and understanding because God has already united us to Him. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

 

*****

 

Jesus has already given us so much; it’s time we give back to Him by giving of our compassion, our listening ears, a discerning spirit, and a spirit of unity over division.

 

Whether we are tempted to argue about politics or we struggle loving our family members we disagree with, we have work to do if we want to be a compassionate presence in a world in so much need of compassion. While it’s easier to join a side of an international, national, or even parish debate, it’s much harder to take the Christian action by listening and then speaking truth in love, instead.

 

When was the last time you posted something online in anger? Do you follow people on social media you disagree with? Do you pray for others before arguing with them? How can you bring peace into your corner of the world today?

 

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 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, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Gifts of Christmas Remind of Philoptochos Giving

 

The Divine Love that is at the core of our Christmas celebrations is reflected throughout the year by the women of the Philoptochos. The philanthropic spirit of the Holiday season reminded me of some remarkable women who were honored last summer at one of the most inspiring events I experienced in Nashville. .  

 

Inspired by the theme “All Generations Accomplishing Philanthropic Endeavors,” members and friends of the Philoptochos Society gathered at the Clergy-Laity Congress for the Agape Award breakfast.

Established in 2008, the award “affords us the opportunity to honor and recognize nine outstanding” Philoptochos women “who embody the true spirit of Philanthropia..and have inspired their Chapter members,” according to the program.

National Philoptochos President Maria Logus.

Jeannie Ranglas, Agape Awards Co-Chair served as emcee and invited Metropolitan Methodios of New England to offer the invocation.

The guests were thrilled at the stirring rendition of the song “I Dreamed a Dream“ from the musical Les Miserables performed by Miss America, Greek-American Betty (Baciliky) Cantrell.

When Archbishop Demetrios followed Cantrell at the podium, he wondered “Following such a voice I don’t know what to do,” evoking appreciative laughter.

Inspired by the spirit of the award and nature of the gift - a beautiful icon created by the nuns of the Monastery of Aghia Paraskevi in Washington, TX – the Archbishop declared “This is a celebration of love and beauty, of Church and art” and offered a moving mediation on Beauty, which he said “is a central phenomenon in the Church.”

He cited the church’s architecture, its music - developed to a sophisticated level by Byzantine civilization and the complement of wonderful secular offerings like Cantrell’s - and its icons which “express high artistic value,” accenting the point by noting the icon the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought for $44 million.

The high art which hints at the even higher spiritual beauty was then blended by the Archbishop with agapetic love. “We do not only produce love in the Church; we produce beauty – it is part of our mission.” In the Church, he said, “we are disconnected from the ugliness of sin, and any ugliness,” and then said “The Church is a non-stop factory of love.”

The beautiful love produced in the Church is unlike objects on the art market. “It is free. It is given freely…the only competition is in how to give and do more,” for humanity he said, before concluding with a quote from the sublime First Epistle of St. John:

“Let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God…for God is love...God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him…Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

When speaking of the lifetime of philanthropic love of the recipients, the Archbishop said “We are so thankful to God for them – so proud. We are filled with hope when we see this kind of activity,” and marveled at the enthusiasm with which they undertook work he said was sacrificial and sometimes painful.

The honorees, escorted to the stage by representatives of their metropolis’ Philoptochos, included, Chistina Vasilakos from St. Basil of Troy, NY; Ismine Arges from St. Demetrios of Hammond, IN; Catherine Bibilos from Annunciation of Woburn, MA; Eleni Kyriazis from Annunciation Cathedral of Houston, TX, Catherine Stuman from Dormition of the Theotokos of Greensboro, NC; Tessie Lekas from St. Paul of North Royalton, OH; Elaine Sotiropulos from St. George of Fresno, CA; Maria Antonakas from St. Demetrios of Parkville, MD; and Nia Cortese from Holy Trinity of Carmel, IN.

Cortese was unable to attend due to health reasons and has the prayers of all present.  In her behalf, her friend Diana Dine accepted the award.

Ranglas and event Co-Chair Martha Stefanidakis of Houston’s Cathedral of the Annunciation alternated reading the honorees’ biographies.

National Philoptochos President Maria Logus congratulated the honorees and the friends, family members and Philoptochos sisters who supported their endeavors before offering her own meditation on agape, the word “used by early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity,” and which she noted Philoptochos members “are committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and each other.”

The Archbishop expressed his appreciation for Logus’ remarks and for the work of the event’s co-chairs and organizers. 

Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams, and the Cross of Christ - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I know every word to Taylor Swift’s album 1989. It’s sad, but true. My one-year-old daughter hates being in her car seat (a veritable prison for an adept crawler), but for some reason unbeknownst and begrudged by everyone else in our family, 1989 soothes her. Needless to say: we’ve heard a lot of Taylor Swift’s chipper music.

That’s why when I first saw that Ryan Adams had covered 1989, I laughed at the clear irony. Anyone who has heard Adams can understand that his melancholic music hardly shares anything in common with Swift’s upbeat tunes. But when I listened, I realized that underneath her cheery veneer is buried a deeply hurt girl whose life is replete with longing and broken relationships. Adams’ take on 1989 revealed Swift’s music for what it is.

As (bad) luck would have it, when I was writing this, I stumbled across Jamie Smith’s interpretation of this reality here. I will leave the liturgical reflections to him, but my experience with Adams and Swift left me realizing that while I was listening to her, I hadn’t really heard her.

Even though Taylor Swift has been pumping through my car’s speakers for the last 7 months, and while I could sing along with every song, I got lost in the major keys and general feel of her music. So I missed her. I missed the sadness, the heartbreak, the loneliness.

There’s something about hearing Ryan Adams sing “Shake It Off” that makes it finally appear in all its lyrical potency. As he sings, “I’m dancing on my own, I’ll make the moves up as I go, and that’s what they don’t know...that’s what they don’t know…” one can finally see that Swift’s resolve to shake off the haters is more of a pep talk than an embodied reality.

Surely we all know how it is to work up the courage to bounce back after disgrace. It takes lots of self-talk, lots of vulnerability in the face of others who are waiting for another failure. This led me to wonder: if I were Taylor Swift’s friend, would I have caught on to the truth stirring in her heart, striving to rise again? Or would I have bought the lie that she already believed that “it’s gonna be alright?”

Indeed, this causes me to wonder how often my own friends use smiles to stifle the screams welling up inside. While I may hear them saying that everything is okay, am I really listening to hear the deeper truth of their hearts? Perhaps I want their responses to be more in line with Taylor’s 1989 than Adams’.

In the Church, perhaps we run into the same problem. Perhaps we actually even prefer the Taylor Swift version of people’s lives. And perhaps we like this version because it doesn’t demand all that much from us. Listening to Swift, we might think that her pain is a cleaned up product that we can dance to, but Adams demands that we sink into the pit, that we hear the sorrow for what it is. Perhaps we don’t actually want to hear people share the Adams version of their lives.

What would it be like if the people in our communities felt that they could tell the truth of their lives? What would our parishes be like if we actually all heard each other? What if the Church was more like a community of people who could open the sadness? The hurt? The longing?

If we truly believe in a God who draws near to us in the Cross, then we need not be afraid of the darkness that bites at the heels of us all. We can, instead, enter it fearlessly, knowing that it is through the Cross that joy enters the world, bringing Resurrection to all.

So the next time we are tempted to overlook someone's pain by taking "I'm fine" at face value, let’s lower the volume on the Taylor Swift we hear, and try to tune into their inner Ryan Adams. We may be delightfully surprised to find that as we share in one another's loneliness, we suddenly have company inside the pit. As darkness flees from the light, so, too, does loneliness flee from connection with others.

Then, and only then, can we fully appreciate the transformation of the musical tenor of Adams into the upbeat rhythm of Swift, a rhythm we can all dance to, for it is the rhythm of the broken heart that we all share.

 

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.

Photo Credits:

Sad Girl: Depositphotos

Sad Guy: Depositphotos

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For more:

Check out Ryan Adams' cover of T-Swfit's "Blank Space":

Check out Ryan Adams' cover of T-Swizzle's "Shake It Off":

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