28. What I’ve Learned in 79 Years, Part Two

This is the second of what has somehow become a three part series. Proverbs 26:12 says, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Uh oh. However that advice was obviously written by someone who was sharing his wisdom! So… let’s continue this fool-ish endeavor.`

But first, Happy Orthodox New Year! In the Roman/Byzantine Empire, on September 1 every 15 years the new rate of taxation was announced. Can you imagine why this never became a day of celebration?! However, at Saint Nicholas, Cedarburg, we have Vespers for the New Year. And a little champagne.

Love and its implications (continued)

9) The family is the basic unit of society, because the family is the only natural human institution that is based on love – just like the Kingdom of God. We can move our politics to the right or the left, we can put as much money as we want into prisons or police or even education, but it won’t solve our problems. Because our biggest problem today is broken marriages, broken families, intentional single parent families, weak families where parents care more about getting stuff or getting ahead than they do about loving their kids, families trapped in poverty. Society will never function right till we solve this problem.

10) The family is the basic unit of everything! It starts at the Top. Christ revealed to us that God himself is a community, a Family, three Persons in one God, united in love, in a way that we cannot begin to understand, so there’s no point trying. (To quote my British Methodist professor again, “We do well not to inquire too closely into the family life of God.”) The Orthodox Church has taught me that the Mystery of the Holy Trinity is the pattern for everything else.

The Church is the family of God. This is how I finally learned to fully accept the saints. As a Protestant we ignored the saints. As Anglicans we accepted them as historical examples, but don’t talk to them! Orthodoxy has taught me that the saints are just family, God’s family, which ever since Christ’s resurrection has united heaven and earth in love. The saints are part of the family who are now on the other side of death. (Well, most of the time. The saints keep showing up on this side, too. Apparently the border between heaven and earth is no longer closely guarded.) So if I can talk with and depend on and ask the prayers of family who are on this side, what can be more natural than to talk to and lean on and ask the prayers of family on the other side? Can I even ask for my departed mother’s prayers? Of course.

Christian marriage and family are another image of the Holy Trinity on high – man, woman and children also intended to be united in love. Even “secular” society is an image of the Trinity, persons in community. The fact is there is no such thing as “secular”; there is only “mis-shapen sacred”. “God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) All mankind are one family, one blood, to be united in love. (So much for white racism.) When, either as individuals or as races or as nations, we pull away from each other and go off in corners by ourselves, and fail to love, dividing the human family, we deface the holy image – unless like the hermits we retreat for the sake of the world.

11) Back to point 9: If you possibly can, stay married; don’t break up your family. Not so much for society’s sake (not many marry for the benefit of society!) but first, because you have an obligation before God not to destroy this fundamental image of the Kingdom of God, husband playing the role of Christ, wife playing the role of the Church, united in submissive love, just as Christ and the Church are united in love forever. (Ephesians 6) Children, even in a non-Christian marriage, grow up experiencing the basic nature of the Kingdom of God: unconditional love. And second, stay married for your own sake. Most marriages have both their joys and their problems, but my observation and my experience after 50 years of marriage and 52 years as a clergyman, is that if you stick to it and keep loving, it will be worth it – oh, so worth it. And in our Orthodox understanding, your marriage is destined to continue and be perfected in the Kingdom of Heaven. Here on earth we are just learning how to do it. Don’t give up while you haven’t graduated yet.

12) Generally, smaller is better, because in small institutions people can more easily know and love each other. Small institutions produce more personal involvement and responsibility, more caring. In big institutions people often get lost in the shuffle, become just numbers in the system. Many people today worry only about big government. This lets other big institutions run wild. For myself, I am suspicious of big government, big business, big military, big money, big finance, big media, big labor (what little exists any more), even big mega-churches. I like small churches and congregations. (Well, perhaps not this small.) I try to patronize small local stores (the few that still exist in this country) rather than big chain stores, even if it costs a bit more. I prefer our Cedarburg-owned coffee houses and restaurants, all with their own unique style, rather than the national franchises which offer exactly the same thing in every outlet.

I dislike socialism which concentrates power in big government. I dislike capitalism which concentrates power in irresponsible big banks, and in corporations which function impersonally – often paying ordinary workers too little to live on and treating their best paid workers like slaves. I like the economics of G.K. Chesterton: “distributivism”, which came out of the 19th century Catholic workers movement. It seeks a world composed as much as possible of small landowners, small businesses, small institutions. Good luck to me! Today we’re going rapidly in the opposite direction. Most of the world (America, especially, I think) has been taken over by the big guys. How well do you think it’s working out?

13) Don’t judge people. Love people. Actions must be judged, of course. When Jesus said “Do not judge”, he didn’t mean anything goes. He meant: don’t judge the worth of people, don’t give up on people. “Hate the sin but love the sinner”, just as Christ loves us despite our behavior. It was my mother who taught me: Be tolerant. I have learned that when people hurt me or do things I do not approve of, I must try not to judge them personally. Of course, as a pastor occasionally I had to apply the Church’s discipline for the sake of the community, but I tried to make no personal judgments on people, and I waited for the chance to do something good for them. Then sometimes, maybe years later, I would find out what they had been struggling with at the time that I didn’t know about, or how they read the situation in a way that I did not, and I came to understand – and often I wondered why they hadn’t been twice as nasty or peculiar! And sometimes we made peace and they were restored to the Church, and we became close again. And sometimes not, of course. Don’t put people down. Don’t make people into the enemy. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)  God will judge. I don’t have to. We are to love people, by the command of the Lord.

Things I’ve Learned by (sometimes bitter) Experience

14) Honey draws more flies than vinegar. “God so loved the world… God sent his Son not to condemn the world but to save the world.” (John 3:16-17) Nor is it my job or yours to condemn the world and those who live in it. I don’t mean compromise the Orthodox Faith. But Orthodoxy can be presented either positively or negatively. When Christians are negative and nasty and sarcastic it puts people off – or even worse it attracts negative, nasty, sarcastic people to the Church. Speak the truth positively in love. Smile. Have fun. Be gentle. Be generous. Be magnanimous. Be kind to people. Love them.

15) Sit on it. Words said or written in anger or haste can be apologized for, but they can never be unsaid and are rarely forgotten. “If anyone…does not bridle his tongue…his religion is useless.” (James 1:26) This applies equally to bridling one’s fingers while sending emails and texts. Or Blog posts.

16) Apologize. When you have done wrong (and as soon as the person you’ve wronged cools off enough to be rational!) say you’re sorry. Don’t make the person you’ve hurt guess. Say it. And if you don’t know what has upset the other person, say “I’m sorry for whatever I may have done wrong”. Swallow your pride. And, quick, apologize to God. Go to Confession. 

This is the Orthodox ceremony of forgiveness, as we enter into Great Lent.

17) Forgive. Let it go. Brooding on past slights just gives people who hurt us continuing power over us. Though in fact I’ve discovered over the years that when people hurt us, often they didn’t intend it. They had other problems, and we just got in the way at the wrong time. Do not carry this heavy burden through life. Put it down. Forgive and be free of the past. Jesus said if we don’t forgive others from our heart, God will not forgive us. Do you suppose he was kidding? What if the other person won’t hear the apology? Forgive in your heart. What if the person you’ve hurt has died? Tell them anyway, and pray for them daily. What if you’ve forgiven and it still troubles you? In your heart, forgive again and again, till it goes away. C.S. Lewis wrote that when Christ said to forgive “70 times 7 times”, he meant for each sin. Try to put the relationship back together if it’s possible, and sometimes it isn’t. But if there is anything good you can do for the person who offended you, do it.

Next week: What? still more good advice? “Will no one rid [us] of this meddlesome priest?” So the following week we’ll have a guest blogger.



One thought on “28. What I’ve Learned in 79 Years, Part Two

  1. Amazing when you said you have been married 50 years and “oh it is worth it.” It makes me kind of think of Christ. We keep walking in Christ and “oh it will be worth it.” Gives me hope to keep walking, no matter how ups and downs there may be…

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