Entries with tag the ladder .

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?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

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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A New Way to Learn the Bible

Do you ever struggle to understand the Scripture?

The Church has a rich tradition that can help us understand the Bible (after all, the Church wrote it). Yet, for many of us, the Scripture seems inaccessible and hard to connect with.

Be the Bee” helped people engage with the deep and profound theology of the Church. And now we’re back with a new weekly series to help people connect with Scripture: “Live the Word.” 

Every Monday, we’ll cover the following Sunday’s Epistle and Gospel readings. We’ll end each episode with three challenging questions to help you work through what God has for you, in your life.

Every Thursday, we’ll post a short response to these questions, offering a vulnerable and personal look into how we struggle to know Christ and live Orthodoxy.  

We’re also posting short intros to each New Testament book, to help guide your reading. For example, we’ve released videos on the Gospel according to Saint Luke and Paul’s 2nd Epistle to Timothy.

These videos are the perfect resource for youth and young adult groups, Bible studies, and family devotionals. They’re a great way to help you and the people in your life wrestle with Scripture and open your hearts to God’s guidance and grace. 

And best of all, these videos will reflect on God's Word as we hear it proclaimed in the Sunday Divine Liturgy.

Thanks to “Be the Bee” and “The Trench,” Christians of every generation connected with the Church’s theology like never before. Many converts even joined the Church because of the series!

We pray that God will bear even more fruit through our new series: “Live the Word.”

New episodes premiere every Monday and Thursday. Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel and turn on notifications so you never miss a video.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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3 Reasons I Keep Rewatching Parks and Recreation

A few weeks ago, Steve and Emma took on Game of Thrones after our summer hiatus from Y2AM’s weekly podcast, Pop Culture Coffee Hour. The episode raised a bit of controversy as some perceived that Y2AM was offering a whole-hearted endorsement of the show, and while we were quick to suggest that it’s worth watching “if you have the stomach for it,” Steve and Emma nonetheless continued with the stated purpose of PCCH, which is simply looking for Christ even in the darkest of places. For those caught in the middle of the controversy, Steve issued an apology, which you can read here.

 

This week, however, Christina and I teamed up for what will doubtless be a remarkably less controversial episode of PCCH, wherein we discuss one our mutual favorite shows: Parks and Recreation.  I’ve seen all seven seasons at least three times each, and honestly, I keep wanting to go back for more. Christina and I dive into some of the finer points of what makes Parks and Rec such a great show (you can listen to the full episode here), but for now, here’s three reasons why I keep coming back to the show.

  1. The Writing

I was an English major in college, and after graduating, I had the lofty idea that I was going to apply to screenwriting school. Needless to say, I didn’t get in, and so I instead pursued a life in counseling and ministry (I’m gonna go ahead and chalk that up to God having a different plan for me than I did). Regardless, I have remained a junky for great writing, particularly in television. This is the reason I love shows like Arrested Development, The Office, and 30 Rock. While AD might be my favorite of all time, Parks and Rec comes in a very close second.

It’s hard to talk about this show without noting the genius lines that each character has. As Christina and I chatted, we couldn’t help but quote the show at every opportunity we got. It’s truly amazing to me that human beings would be so creative, that they would have the potential to put together such a flawless story while also making it impeccably hilarious. If you’re going to stop and watch Parks and Rec, you can’t stop listening for two seconds, otherwise you might miss a joke.

The writing is truly a testament to the creative power of creative people, and I can’t help but sit back and marvel that God could make people so capable of making something so wonderful.

2) The Characters

This show is full of amazing humans. Actually, it’s pretty silly. The people are ridiculous. But somehow Parks and Rec takes a random group of people, throws them together in a local government job, and magic happens. Each of them is a misfit, but somehow, they belong together. When I watch, I can’t help but feel that maybe this is in someway an image of what the Church ought to be.

Everyone is unique and have plenty of disagreements, yet somehow, they are able to stick together, to be (for the most part) unwavering for one another. Too often, however, it seems the Church is not a place for such celebration of communion amidst diversity, but rather becomes yet one more place in this divided where we are all too willing to cast the first stone at people who aren’t like us. Rather than working toward the Kingdom together, we become distracted by arguments that defame other persons.

Generally speaking, in Parks and Rec, we don’t see people who disagree with one another calling into question one another’s moral standing. Of course, there are some characters in the show who are portrayed as despicable (and rightly so), but the core crew is a group of people devoted to working together not only in spite of their differences, but through their differences. It is not uniformity that makes them strong, but unity amidst diversity. If only we could learn this lesson, too.

3) The Light

Finally, I continue to come back to Parks because it’s just so darn pleasant. It’s happy. I don’t think you have to look very far to find Christ because He radiates through the warmth and love of the people who run the Pawnee Parks Department. It’s a very silly show, but doggonit, I’m so happy to find something that I know will cheer me up when I’m faced by the realities of today’s world. It’s not that such a show distracts me from the horrors of reality, but rather it gives me hope to face the horrors of today.

Parks and Rec paints a fun, joyful, light-filled vision for the possibility of communal life together. It is my hope that you’ll listen to our podcast, watch the show, and find as much hope for the future as Christina and I did.

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.

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

Holding on to God in Hard Times

“Why?”

 

Why didn’t God stop all of these hurricanes? Why did my friends lose their jobs? Why can’t I stop this bad habit? Why am I struggling financially?

 

Each of us has our own set of “whys” that we ask ourselves and that maybe we ask God in prayer each day. We want there to be a rhyme and reason to life. We want there to be order and justice. We want our prayers heard and answered.

 

There’s some dissonance when we know we’re prayerful people (or at least people who consistently try to pray) but things don’t go as planned. We lose our jobs, bills pile up, family members pass away, and natural disasters seem only to be more frequent. We need God more than ever, but these problems have a habit of pushing us away from our faith.

 

Here are three things to keep in mind in the midst of hard times.

 

1. God IS with us

 

When things are going well, it isn’t so hard to remember God. It’s when nothing seems to be working out that we wonder where God is in our lives. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Elijah (St. Elias) went in search for God to speak to Him. He found that God wasn’t found in these big shows of the earth’s power (the wind, the earthquake, or fire)...but He was found in a quiet whisper (1 Kings 19:9-13). Later, when God chose to become man, He wasn’t born a king, he was born to a young girl in a cave. Jesus was born and called Immanuel (literally “God with us”) in a way the people weren’t expecting (Matthew 1:23). So maybe God is with us when we least expect it, too.

 

For many of us, it can be really hard to sense God’s presence with us when we’re going through tough times. Sadness and grief can lead us to despair and despondency. Worry can lead to anxiety and fear. And fear just leads us to isolate and get lost in the what-ifs in our thoughts.

 

So how do we see that God is with us? There’s a beautiful Orthodox prayer service called the “Glory to God for all Things Akathist” that helps us to meditate on our many blessings and gratitudes when we might be inclined to see none. God is with us in the love of friends and family. Even after a disaster, God is made known to us in the acts of kindness shown by strangers and in the service given by emergency personnel. God is with us, and we recognize His presence when we learn to see the many signs of His mercy.

 

2. We can’t always explain suffering

 

Since so many of us ask “Why?” when we face suffering, there is no shortage of people giving explanations. Many Protestant pastors have suggested that natural disasters serve as signs of the Second Coming of Christ or serve as punishment for societal sin. Other people, like Kirk Cameron (actor from the 1985-1992 sitcom Growing Pains and the popular Left Behind series about the supposed “Rapture”) suggest that storms like Hurricane Irma are meant for individuals to personally repent.

 

One blogger, commenting on Kirk Cameron’s remarks, wrote:

People who are wounded and grieving and heartbroken need to be cared for and comforted and embraced—they don’t need any armchair theology about why this is a good thing, or how it’s a Divine personal message, or what God might be personally saying to them. It’s one thing for a victim to seek and speculate on such things for themselves, but something else for us to do it for them…

 

Maybe we should admit the mystery, discomfort, and the tension that spirituality yields in painful, terrifying times.

 

Maybe when people are being terrorized by nature or by the inhumanity around them, instead of shouting sermons at them—we should shut up and simply try to be a loving, compassionate presence.

 

This response meant so much to me, personally, because I still feel an instinctive cringe awaiting some religious leader giving their interpretation of the impending doom that natural disasters might represent. It’s part of my own path of healing having been raised in a Rapture-centric community before becoming Orthodox.

 

Sometimes we can look too hard for meaning in situations that simply are. We live in a broken world with pain and suffering and being a Christian doesn’t make us imune to the ways of the world. I can’t give meaning to another’s suffering. I can’t even guarantee I’ll make sense of my own; the only thing I can do with it is offer it up to God in prayer.

 

3. Prayer isn’t a transaction

 

When we encounter difficult times, prayer is either the last thing we think about or it’s the thing we grasp onto. As I watched Hurricane Irma approach Florida, I had to consciously reject the urge to freeze with anxiety about family and friends, and instead turn to prayer. In the moment, prayer was the only thing I could do. But what if my prayers aren’t answered? What if what I ask for (protection for people I love) isn’t what I get?

 

I can approach prayer as a transactional process with God or I can approach it as a transformational encounter with Him as part of our relationship. I’m abusing my relationship with God if I expect something from Him in return for my time and energy in prayer. If I think I’ll get what I want if only I fast properly or say the right words, or ask the right saint to intercede for me, I’m not committing myself and others to God.

 

Instead, I can chose to give my worries and concerns up to God. I can tell Him what is making me scared, and I can ask Him that His will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” as we pray in the Our Father. I pray so that I can make myself aware of being in the presence of God and so that God can soften the hardness of my heart. And then, naturally, God gives me the strength I need to endure the hard times.

 

*****

 

Each year during summer camp, one of my favorite moments was when the campers learned the hymn, “Lord of the powers.” As we repeated the words, the meaning sank deeper and we recognized that the words were really true: “Lord of the powers, be with us for in times of distress we have no other help but You, Lord of the powers, have mercy on us!” There isn’t always an escape from the hard times, but there is always a God present with us in the midst of it all.

 

Do you find yourself trying to find meaning in everyday struggles? How can you offer this to God for today?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

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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3 Things "Game of Thrones" Gets Right

After a short summer break, we’re happy to announce that our podcast, Pop Culture Coffee Hour, is back (with a new logo, too)!

To kick off our new season, Emma and I discussed Game of Thrones, which recently concluded its seventh season. You can listen to our conversation here.

Though incredibly popular, Game of Thrones can rub a lot of Christians the wrong way. Its episodes often include violent, sexual, or downright disturbing scenes. And it can seem that there’s no moral compass in the GoT universe: good characters die, bad characters thrive, and any good vs evil narrative seems cloudy, if not completely absent.

Emma and I push back on this take in our episode. Though GoT isn't appropriate for everyone (Christian and I talked about how to deal with things that are difficult or inappropriate to watch back in episode 6), we can find Christ at work even in the mixed-up world of Westeros. And we can identify some important themes that can offer a bit of encouragement and inspiration for every Christian who seeks the Kingdom.

To get the conversation started, here are three things Game of Thrones definitely gets right:

[Needless to say, spoilers ahead.]
 
1. Death is the Real Enemy
 
The title of Game of Thrones perfectly captures how the series started out: it was a gritty medieval fantasy that focused on the conflict between the great families of the land of Westeros. After the death of King Robert Baratheon upsets the tentative stability of the realm, intrigue and outright war commence. Established noble families and upstart schemers alike begin to play the “game of thrones” as they maneuver for power and, ultimately, the Iron Throne.

Yet, from the very beginning of the series, it’s clear that a malevolent force lurks in the north, beyond the Wall. While lords and ladies vie for power, the dead prepare to destroy mankind. As the seasons progress, characters like Jon Snow realize that even the winner of the “game of thrones” will ultimately lose when the White Walkers sweep south, killing all in their path.

As season 7 concludes, the warring powers face a choice: will they realize that their machinations and strategies have been distractions from the existential crisis that threatens them all?

As Snow says, “There is only one war that matters. The Great War. And it is here.”

Christians have a similar insight. Our sinful desires for fame or wealth are vain. Even a moralistic desire for good conduct, on its own, misses the mark. Our enemy is death, the oblivion that results from separation from God. 

Yet the Son of God took on flesh and became human for us. He took on our pain and loneliness and anguish, even to the point of dying on the Cross, so that we could have the true life that is properly His.

God has already won the Great War. Christ is Risen!
 
2. Being Good Can Cost You Dearly, and That’s Okay
 
Many important characters have died in the last seven seasons. Yet Game of Thrones is haunted by the memory of one man in particular: Ned Stark. 

Stark was the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. A great man and the head of one of Westeros’ most important and historic families, Ned Stark was nonetheless grounded by a firm sense of truth and justice. He consistently tried to make choices, not because they would advance his position, but because they were right.

In a dramatic turn at the end of season 1, Ned Stark is executed.

Ned is not the only Stark who is injured as a consequence of trying to do what’s right. His son, Robb Stark, chose to marry for love rather than political advantage. And it cost him his head.

Jon Snow, whom Ned Stark raised as his own son, is cut from the same cloth. He tells the truth even when it will backfire on him, he refuses to make a false oath even though it will be politically advantageous. As Snow reasoned late in season 7, “I'm not going to swear an oath I can't uphold. When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies.”

Christians take a similar stand. While others may tell lies, we speak God’s true word. While others may work violence, we resolve to turn the other cheek.

When faced with the ultimate choice, Christians will even choose death rather than deny their Lord. Because we have already died in the waters of baptism and risen into new life in Christ. Even the world’s worst is nothing to fear.

3. There's Hope for Everyone
  
In Game of Thrones, even a noble character like Ned Stark can have a tragic flaw that leads to his undoing. Similarly, even a villainous character can have a deeper complexity that leads to his redemption.

We meet many characters that are deeply unsympathetic. Tyrion Lannister, the despised son of a powerful nobleman, is a lecher and drunk. Sandor Clegane, a knight and bodyguard to royalty, is a violent and ruthless killer.

Yet, as the series progresses, we uncover the scars that shaped these broken men. Lannister, a man of short stature whose mother died while giving birth to him, is despised by his father. Clegane, a man who bears a terrible scar on his face, has also been psychologically scarred by the violence and depravity of his older brother. 

And we soon find opportunities for these men to channel their pain into noble conduct. Lannister, an outcast who was arrested and almost killed by his family, becomes an advisor for Danaerys Targaryen, the “Breaker of Chains” and liberator of slaves. Clegane, himself the victim of abuse, becomes a protector of the downtrodden and even risks his life to help Jon Snow awaken Westeros to the dangers of the White Walkers. 

There is hope for even the lost of Westeros. And often, this hope grows out of their deepest pain.

Christians have a similar hope. St. Paul the Apostles, once a zealous persecutor of the Church, became a zealous evangelist. St. Mary of Egypt, once overcome by her lust, developed a desire for the Lord that drove her into a lifetime of repentance. St. Moses the Black, once a violent thief, resolved to take the Kingdom of God by force as he threw himself into a life of ascetic struggle.

Game of Thrones may not be suitable for every viewer, but it does present us with a complex worldview that is not always found in fantasy stories or popular television series. Its complex worldview and unexpected twists have presented some powerful themes over the past seven seasons, themes which may even help us better appreciate the drama and power of the unfolding story of salvation.

If you’d like to listen to our podcast on Game of Thrones, click here.

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Sam Williams
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