Entries with tag ego .

Sowing Kernels of Truth

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. 

This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

 

During his great life, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a multitude of sermons and speeches, both prepared and spontaneous, to audiences as small as a few dozen and as large as a few hundred thousand. Words were his most influential instrument in the struggle for equal civil rights against the systematic segregation imposed by a country claiming “liberty and justice for all.” As he spoke, his words were both Biblical and prophetic, and he was never shy at projecting God’s truth in the face of evil.

Truth is held tightly by the Orthodox Church. Since Christ’s crucifixion and glorious resurrection, the Church has maintained the fullness of the truth of His message, which is, as it relates to human relationships, the genuine communication of love. Such is an innate intention of all the world’s major faiths and traditions. Some might argue this contradicts the claim of Orthodoxy or dilutes the richness and diversity of world religions. However, from the Orthodox perspective, this is completely compatible through the anthropological element of creation. In creating man in His image and likeness, God breathed life into dirt and we became more than just beings, we became temples of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth. Therefore, Truth dwells within all mankind, to the degree at which we allow it, and all people are capable of expounding “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

If every person possesses the kernel of truth and love, how then does man allow himself to turn against his fellow man? The Orthodox Church attributes the actions against love to the Fall of Adam and Eve, the moment when humanity thought itself better than to need an authentic relationship with God. With the Fall came the birth of sin, which distorts the treasures of love and truth into desire and injustice. Sin is a heavy veil that proceeds to blind the needs of those around us. Contemplating on the antithesis of love, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania offers the notion that it is not hate that severs relationships but rather the ego. Often interpreted as the opposite of love, hate is merely one of the many ramifications of when the ego within becomes too strong to tame. Jealousy, greed, and lust are also among the consequences. These negative traits are therefore unnatural to the human person in that they draw us away from attaining God’s likeness and keep us away from each other.

Dr. King and other civil rights leaders of his time were acutely aware that the fight for equality began countless generations before them, even before the discovery of the New World. For too long, the ego has sought to manipulate the hearts and minds of those with an advantageous position over another. The ego has infiltrated every society and institution in which man takes part, which is how the government of “one Nation under God, indivisible,” justified the indoctrination of divisibility. King recognized the ego’s puppeteering presence behind segregation, writing, “It not only harms one physically but injures one spiritually. It scars the soul and degrades the personality. It inflicts the segregated with a false sense of inferiority, while confirming the segregator in a false estimate of his own superiority.” The United States, challenged by cumulative egos of apprehensive or racist whites, could not accept the tremendous racial and economic divide to which it had grown accustom.

Thrust into the international spotlight during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, the endeavor for equality of all people catalyzed like never before. King led the crusade against the unjust power of one man over another with his championed combat method of dialogue and rhetoric. Instead of turning to the violent uses of force and defamation which evil invites, King opted for the purity of Christ’s message by “speaking the truth in love.”

Despite the obstacles of prison, physical assault, and death threats, Dr. King remained steadfast in his promotion of love. Like a gardener tending to his rosebuds, King patiently appealed to that kernel of truth within every person, nurturing its growth with every opportune speech, sermon, and interview. That truth, through the power of its natural purity, unravels ego’s veil, and invigorates the Spirit that dwells within. King sought a change in public policy by means of a change in the hearts of the public. He understood that beyond the unjust governmental regulations and discriminatory laws was a dark force obstructing the intrinsic compassion of the opposition: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The illumination of King’s words motivated love, ultimately changing the way racial segregation and inequality is viewed in our country.

April 4, 1968 was a day when darkness overcame one man’s heart so much so that he acted on the desire to take Dr. King’s life. King foreshadowed his death the night before while offering his final sermon in Memphis: “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” The shock of his assassination was not enough to stifle his message nor stir hate among his followers. His words were powerful, moving, and germinated the kernels of truth of even those strewn on rocks and among thorns. To this day and for generations more, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s God-inspired message lives on despite his untimely death, proving that indeed “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

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Andrew Calivas is the Coordinator of Ecumenical Programs for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations.

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Simply Ordinary - Sunday of All Saints


Confession: myrrh-streaming icons freak me out.

I know they shouldn’t, and I don’t want them to, but they do.

Yet I have many friends who see myrrh-streaming icons as evidence of God’s presence and power in the world. This encourages them, and I’m glad it does.

But for me, it’s actually a little discouraging.

When I hear the stories surrounding miraculous, extraordinary events in the lives of Christians, I can’t help but feel a little bit left out, as if there were no possible way that my own faith could generate such remarkable divine activity.

And then my thoughts spiral out of control…

I beat myself up for not being “holy enough” or for not “praying enough” to make God happy with me. I become convinced that because my icons don’t stream myrrh, I have failed to find favor with God. That’s when the despair kicks in:

My God, why have you forsaken me?

When I do this, however, I have fallen into one of the classic blunders of Christian living. I have begun to equate the extraordinary with evidence of God’s presence and power.

This impulse is pretty normal because we love the extraordinary. We love stories that involve crazy things happening. Of all the stories my dad (who is an emergency room doctor) can tell, I don’t want the one about a toddler sticking a crayon up his nose.

I want the story about the guy who thought he was a hamster.

I want the extraordinary.

And I’m not alone.  Even in the Church, we often focus on all the awesome things that God has done through the saints. These stories can actually distress rather than inspire me, as they remind me of my own unworthiness. 

Of course I’m not holy, I’ve never healed the sick or given sight to the blind.

This Sunday of All Saints, we will hear about some of the extraordinary things the saints have done, how they “shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fires, and escaped the edge of the sword” (Heb. 11:33-35).

If you’re anything like me, you read this and think: AWESOME. It’s hard not to be impressed by someone who shut the mouths of lions.

And then: DANG, I’ll never do that.

While our attention gravitates to these amazing deeds, Fr. John Behr suggests that, “far more emphasis…is given … to their sufferings: being tortured, mocked, scourged…of these, it is said, the world is not worthy. Suffering, after all, is the basic reality of our lives.”[1]

What makes the saints extraordinary is their response to the ordinary. 

As we all know, suffering sucks. But it’s ordinary, it’s common and dreary. It’s way more fun to focus on the extraordinary because the ordinary kind of bums us out.

Yet the path to the extraordinary is through the ordinary, as we embrace the lives we have been given.

The path to the Resurrection runs straight through the Cross.

We forget that saints don’t necessarily heal the sick or raise the dead. Some, like Saint Juliana of Lazarevo, don’t have any miracles or wonders attributed to them in their lives.  Because that’s not the point.

We honor the saints because they love God and neighbor, because they forgive those who hurt them, because they endured the banality of suffering with patience and joy. They do not seek to save themselves, but instead, run “with perseverance the race set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:1,2).

Do we endure our own cross for the sake of the joy ahead? Do we, like the saints, actually trust God’s promises and live now in the light of what is to come?

This Sunday, we, too, are called to join this “cloud of witnesses” and run the same race, “laying aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely” as we seek to follow Christ (Heb. 12:1).

And we all are weighed down by disordered love.

In the Gospel, Christ speaks some words that are hard to digest: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37,38).

Holiness is about union with Christ. It is about love for God and neighbor and the context in which we work out that love: our everyday relationships.

Do we, like the saints, forgive and love our friends (and even our enemies)? Or do we feel the need to vindicate ourselves when we feel slighted?

Do we trust that in the Cross of Christ all malice and hatred is overcome with forgiveness and love? Or do we just really like being right at all costs?

Do we sit with our brothers and sisters, humbly bearing their pain with them? Or do we seek to sit upon the throne of our ego and greatness?

While the extraordinary things that occur in the lives of the saints are awesome, it is in the mundane moments that we see where our hearts truly lie.

As St. Paul reminds us, our awesome moments are nothing if our hearts are empty: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1). 

We become saints by taking up the cross in our everyday lives. We become saints not because we shut lions’ mouths, not because our icons stream myrrh, but because we have learned how to lay down our ego, sacrifice our desires, and long for the things of God.

We become saints in our ordinary lives, in uniting ourselves to Christ in ways most others will never see.

In becoming saints, we experience something extraordinary indeed.

 

[1] John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014), p. 102, emphasis mine.

Photo Credit:

Annunciation: jimforest via Compfight cc

Lions: Living in HDR 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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