I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Two boys quarrels

The playground bully was speechless. He was bigger than me. He was stronger than me. And he was better at fighting than me in every way except one. I was faster on my feet with a verbal response. He had just taunted me about being a “weak, mama’s boy” and I responded “I know you are but what am I?” Huh? I could see the confusion on his face. I watched as he tried to process the verbal judo I had used to throw him off balance in our confrontation. He just didn’t get it. So, in the fog of confusion he went back to his old tried and true method of dealing with situations like this. He beat me up! Well, that didn’t turn out like I had hoped.

Truth telling is a challenge in a society that has come to see itself as the champion of “individual” rights and freedoms. In this society, disagreement is seen as “hate.” A different perspective is treated as a major threat to society. And a clear warning that society is making a bad choice marks those warning of such a disaster as “enemies” of “free choice.” We live in a society that has exalted “personal choice” above both wisdom and sanity! And there are no “clean hands” among our political class. It seems this infection of “personal choice” just finds difference manifestations in each of the “political” parties.

But is this wise? Can a society really survive without a common societal contract that governs our common nationhood? And what about the time-honored morays we reject? Is there a baby in this “bathwater” we are throwing out? How we react to the wise words of the “prophets” among us who warn of unseen consequences in our wholesale abandonment of timeless truths says a lot about the people we are and the nation we are becoming.

Just look at our Gospel Lesson today. In Luke 11:42-46 Jesus again gives us insight into a religious world where the outward habits still exist but the inner core of “why” we do what we do is missing, and He insists that this dangerous situation of that missing inner core actually makes the outward practices meaningless!

The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it.” One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying this you reproach us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

The Pharisees were meticulous in calculating the absolute and exacting amount of their “obligation” to the Temple worship, but they had lost the core meaning of “why!” Their meticulous religious practice had created not humble servants who loved God and others above themselves, but had actually produced the exact opposite. They LOVED the attention their practices got them. They LOVED being seated at the best tables, greeted in the marketplace as those around them acknowledged their “special” place in the community, and they LOVED being known as the “really special people.” But the Lord, seeing their hearts and knowing that the outward practice didn’t reflect anything more than the empty shell of a faith that had long since lost its purpose, saw them as they really were – the graves of a faith that use to be ALIVE!

The truth is when we forget our “why” we always lose our way. When we forget the purpose of our practices those very same practices become the markings in our lives of what is missing, not what we truly believe. This is why even our precious Orthodox faith is most ugly when it is shallowly practiced without a purposeful love for God and neighbor. And that is because our Orthodox Faith is the most ancient, the most full, and the most effective in “christianizing” all our lives. The power of this WAY is predicate on holding both the purpose and the practice together with all its tension and all its challenge in forming us into beings “like” Christ. It’s why the Apostle Paul kept insisting that renewing our minds (see Ephesians 4:23-24) and why the Fathers insist that the Orthodox WAY is ALWAYS the WAY of “metania” (repentance) the changing of our minds. It is this constant renewal of the way we think to keep our thoughts like God’s thoughts that focuses our practice on the purpose of our faith. Without this constant and consistent effort, we all too often slip into the mindless and heedless rote repetition of old words and old ways without any of the power of those words and ways to transform us!

Today, have you reduced your life to a mere set of “personal” choices that you guard “religiously”? Is your practice of your faith enlivened by the core purpose of the Faith to change you AND the world around you? Perhaps it’s time to step out of the dead end and lifeless shadow of mere repetition and into the real power of all those “old” words and way that have transformed whole nations by the power behind the words and ways. Perhaps it’s time to become Orthodox on Purpose.

P.S. Just a few days away from the next Faith Encouraged LIVE program. This Sunday night at 8 PM Eastern we will be focusing on Christian Grief. The Lord transformed the deathbed of Jairus’ daughter into a place of joy, but what about all those countless times when death comes and grief remains? How does our faith allow us to truly grieve, but not as if there is no hope? Listen this Sunday night to Faith Encouraged LIVE as my special guest, Fr. James Ellison, shares with us his heartbreaking story and how the Orthodox Christian understanding of grief transformed his family, and how these same truths can transform your grief as well. That’s Sunday night at 8 PM Eastern/ 7 PM Central on AncientFaith.com. 

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