What’s the balance between brutal honesty and the weakness and ineffective timidity that allows us and those around us to stay gripped in the slavery of our own delusions?
I ask this because as we approach Great Lent, we are going to be increasingly confronted with hymns, prayers, and homilies, dedicated to one goal – Authentic Repentance. And let’s face it, repentance isn’t very popular right now. There is an increasingly nagging thought in my head that it never has been quite popular.
There is a famous author in Los Angeles that calls this current generation “Generation Wuss.” He says this because it seems nowadays we have exalted avoiding the very appearance of offending to the point where any criticism is likened to a major sin against being “nice.” He goes on to say that this has happened because the previous generation (the Baby Boomers, of which I am one) raised their children “who cocooned them in praise – four stars for showing up, you know? But eventually everyone has to hit the dark side of life; someone doesn’t like you, someone doesn’t like your work, someone doesn’t love you back… people die. What we have is a generation who are super-confident and super-positive about things, but when the least bit of darkness enters their lives, they’re paralysed.” (Bret Easton Ellis, Vice Magazine online)
I guess this resonates with me because our faith declares some incredible and absolute statements about itself. At the end of every Divine Liturgy we all sing “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.” That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, does it?
And yet, we live in a country and in a society where it’s easy not to be Orthodox in our beliefs and practices. We live in an age where compromising so we don’t “offend” someone is held up as the greatest good. But that kind of attitude spells the extinction of our Orthodox faith. It isn’t “normal Orthodoxy” to not practice this faith, and I mean actually practice it everyday, clergy and laypeople.
In our Epistle Lesson today I believe St. John gives us the key to the balance between serious commitment to our faith on a daily basis AND protecting us from the sad and poverty stricken self-righteousness that communicates we think we’re better than everyone else. Dear ones, this is going to be tricky, so you’re going to have to pay attention!
In 1 John 3:21-24; 4:1-11 St. John writes to all his parishes some very clear words and these words also don’t leave a lot of wiggle room to foolishly claim “I’m OK, You’re OK.” St. John is brutally honest. He says things like “every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.”(1 John 4:2-3) He goes on to say “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:4)
St. John surrounds these statements about absolute truth with a whole soliloquy concerning one key element in keeping his teachings from being reduced to mere self righteousness and arrogance. I’ll sum up his beautiful words with this verse: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
True love embraces and balances the twin and opposite temptations of self righteous pride AND timid weakness in the face of a society and people who are hurting themselves by their errors! True love demands strictness with myself AND tear-filled compassion for those around me who are their own worst enemies! The ability for me to love God so much I long to stay close to Him by making my life as much like His life as grace will allow AND loving others so much that I see my regular practice of my faith as a loving example to help them escape their own darkness and spiritual poverty! Even if that regular practice and lifestyle offends them or makes them uncomfortable! True love allows me to see myself honestly and learn to repent AND true love, in teaching me this lesson, sets me free to humbly offer this freedom in Christ to everyone I meet!
Today, as we approach Judgement Sunday and walk steadily toward Great Lent, let us abandon the dishonest timidity that enslaves us and all around us in the prison of darkness about our own need for God AND let us love God and each other so much that we FIRST take out the “log” in our own eye through repentance before we ever judge another!
Today, the path to balance and spiritual maturity is attained through love. Anything less is a con and not Orthodox. Let’s abandon the abnormal notion of Orthodoxy that tries to pass itself off as “normal” but is, in reality, just the pablum of our own cowardice and let us embrace a normal, purposeful Orthodoxy that sets us free to see clearly “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”