29. What I’ve Learned in 79 Years, Part Three

“Everybody loves good advice. Nobody takes it.” But I’m just sharing here because I love you. Take for it for what it’s worth. This is the last of this 3-part series. None of what follows is political. Or is it?

 What I’ve learned about the World

18) You may think I’m crazy, but I have come to believe that competition is generally a bad thing. I know: Our whole culture, business, economics, politics, entertainment are now based on competition, and this certainly seems to lower the grocery prices. But at what other cost? People, community, love, decency, the teaching of Jesus. Today it’s like everything has become a Packers Game, where “winning isn’t everything; winning is the only thing”, as coach Vince Lombardi used to say. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get the Packers in here. Today it’s all winners versus losers, get the other guy before he gets you, drive your competitor out of business.  But real life shouldn’t be a Packers game. I challenge you: Find me one verse in the New Testament that glorifies competition between people. The teaching of Christ is entirely about cooperation and loving people, even our enemies. Even in New Testament sports images, all can win the race, all can get the prize. In marriage the couple love each other and so both are winners. In the Church we support and love each other so all come out ahead. ActuaIly I’ve known churches where they play winners and losers, and when they do everybody loses, the Church loses. Even in politics, believe this or not, not so long ago Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill (who disagreed about almost everything) would sit down over a beer and work out a bi-partisan deal. But now… And it seems self-evident that in war there are only greater and lesser losers, no matter who “wins”. If we did it the Gospel way, we would seek ways to cooperate, so that everybody would win. When I become president the first thing I’m going to do is set up a Department of Peace and Cooperation to find ways to resolve conflicts, both national and international. (I won’t be elected; this isn’t macho enough.) And we will start with the teachings of the New Testament. Here’s what I would like to put on the walls of our court houses: not the Ten Commandments but “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to those who mistreat you.”

19) Truth matters. Christ said he is the truth. We pray “O heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth…” The Ninth Commandment is “Do not bear false witness”: do not tell lies, do not pass along falsehoods, whether over the back fence or on the internet. Today, some of the media and much of the internet are filled with lies. Despite all, I believe most politicians are honest. But more than once I have voted against  candidates I agree with, solely because they ran such dishonest, dirty campaigns. Some don’t even seem to know the difference between truth and falsehood. Today our government sometimes puts out the kind of propaganda that the Communists produced when I was young, and we used to laugh at it. Unfortunately it works, so that now without careful research it’s hard to tell the truth from the lies. And now it’s not so laughable. If we can’t believe what people say, especially our leaders, society falls apart. As Senator Patrick Moynihan once said, “People have a right to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.” If I ever say anything that is untrue or inaccurate, please let me know.

20) Therefore, question authority. My father taught me that long ago. He said: Don’t be one of the sheep. He didn’t mean I should be a teenage rebel, but be like Thomas the apostle. Think for yourself. Seek the truth. Many will say anything in order to keep their power or get money out of us. Question political authorities certainly, but also question religious authorities – especially the self-appointed ones who just start their own “churches” or appear on television under nobody’s supervision. Don’t believe things just because I write them in this Blog. Ask questions of your priest (lovingly, of course) if you think he has said something out of line. I advised this once in a sermon; afterwards a prominent cardiologist in our parish said to me, “Don’t forget to question medical authorities, too!”  Be one of the flock only if you’re sure the sheep are following the Good Shepherd, the Man who is the Truth.

21) There is no conflict between true science and true religion. This reflects my background with degrees in both science (meteorology) and theology. False science and false religion may conflict, as may scientists or religious people who go beyond their areas of competence. But what is science exploring except the natural world made and run by the “one God, the Creator of heaven and earth”? All truth, whether theological or scientific, comes from God, the only source of truth. When a scientist says God doesn’t exist, that is his personal religious opinion. Science can tell us no such thing. Science deals only with that which can be measured or quantified in this world, not what or Who lies behind it. And why do some religious people object to the scientific discovery that God has made this cosmos in 13 billion years instead of 6 24-hour days? “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has passed, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90) When I say to my grandson, “Back in the old days…” (and he smiles tolerantly) he knows I don’t mean 24-hour days. Why should we argue over whether God created everything slow or fast?!

22) I have learned to love the modern world, despite its many faults, dangers, snares and nonsense, stupidity, indifference, brutality and more. At one time I was a sort of troglodyte, longing for the glories of the past – once for Merrie Olde England, then later for Byzantium. But by now I’ve read and experienced enough history to conclude that it wasn’t any better then, and it isn’t any worse now. The world has always been glorious; the world (since the Fall) has always been a mess. Yes, there are dreadful temptations and terrors – nuclear weapons, addictive pornography. Where robotics and artificial intelligence are headed scares me. But Jesus said the wheat and the weeds must grow together till the end. Don’t let the weeds get you down. Don’t ignore the wheat. Let me go on about this:

There is so much natural beauty. Look at it. See it. There are so many solid marriages and strong families. There is so much personal kindness and generosity and bravery. Look at Houston after the recent great flood.

So many people use the resources now available to us to help the needy. Think of International Orthodox Christian Charities and those who support it. “The Economist” of March 30, 2017 says the world is making “great progress” in eliminating extreme poverty.

Modern medicine keeps us healthy. Without it I’d likely be blind and mostly disabled by now. When I was young, parents and children were terrified of polio every summer. A generation before that it was taken for granted that most mothers would lose a baby or two.

Once only the elite could travel, but I, a boy from rural Ohio, have seen places and done things I never imagined. Greece!

On a somewhat less important level, I love indoor plumbing. When I was a boy we got a bath once a week, and I remember the outdoor facilities at my grandparents’ farm on zero mornings. Ooh.

The internet despite its dreadful dangers also has incredible resources for seeking knowledge and researching sermons and papers. On it instantly we can be in touch with loved ones at a distance. When Khouria Dianna and I were last in Greece we shared our trip with the family, texted pictures of the grilled octopus we were eating, and our kids immediately texted back “What in the world is that?” I love watching weather radar. Instead of all the effort of publishing a book (I did that), I can write in this Blog. Priests and bishops, instead of sending out individual letters to their flock, can now push a button and communicate instantly. Any time I want I can listen to gorgeous music that was once heard only rarely by a few people in concert halls. I can hear Vespers live from Greece. Years ago many old people were isolated, bored to death sitting in their rocking chairs; now if I get housebound, as I was sometimes last year, my computer and smartphone will keep the world open to me, and if my vision declines  there are audio books.

Smartphones certainly have their dangers. I know a football coach who finally forbade them on the bus. His guys were sitting there texting instead of talking, and camaraderie was being lost. And (so help me, this is true) I once watched 2 cars at the edge of a parking lot run into each other head on at about 10 mph, because both the drivers were texting! But especially in my old age my phone is such a blessing in case of emergency, and when people get separated now they can find each other.

Modern technology is a gift from God, obviously built into the workings of the cosmos – like all things, to be used for better or for worse.

Best of all I love the freedom the modern world gives us to be what God calls us to be. Years ago I never would have or could have become Orthodox. Orthodox were over there and we Anglos over there, and we were all very set in our ethnic ways. Now, thank God, here I am Orthodox. Thank God for the modern world.

Finally, a little advice for any who keep getting older

23) Keep growing, keep learning, keep thinking, keep expanding your horizons. Don’t become narrow and closed minded. God is infinite, Christ is universal, heaven is eternal, and God intends us to grow in love and knowledge forever. Don’t stop now. You’re just getting started.

24) Stay with the Church. Yes, it’s filled with sinners and hypocrites. You should fit right in! You need the community, people who know you and love you and care for you. You need to hear the Word. You need the holy sacraments.

25) Focus your life on God and on people, especially on your family. In the end they’ll be all you can take with you.

26) Be grateful. Be grateful for what you have. Every morning when you awake make the sign of the cross and say, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me see another day.” All life is a gift. We might not have had it at all. If you have suffered loss, give thanks for what you had. A widow in our parish who is about 95 says that often in the afternoons she looks through family albums, enjoys the old days, and is grateful. I am so grateful for long years, good health for almost all of them, for a long marriage and a loving wife and family, so many people who love me and whom I love, for a Church that is built on the Rock, and a Lord and Savior whom I trust. I have been so blessed!

As years go on and I am closer to my departure from this world (but then who isn’t?), I am especially grateful for my faith in eternal life. Faith is not proof, of course. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” But we have been given the evidence: our Lord Jesus Christ has told us, and he has shown us by his resurrection, and besides that, so many saints from the other side keep popping up on this side to give additional evidence. To see an icon weeping seems to me to be not just evidence but proof! And what a future we have ahead of us: Not only the restoration of Eden but more. “We shall be like Christ for we shall see him as he is.” “Good things beyond our imagining God has prepared for those who love him.” So I have faith that I am still at the beginning of a journey that will never end. I have faith that our few years in this world are just the preface, the introduction to the great Book of Life. It is over there that, by the grace of God, we will finally get it together and start Chapter 1, and the great Adventure will truly begin.

Forgive me for going on so long. But I have learned some things in 79 years. More than I had realized.

Next Week: A guest blogger – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on “The Environment”.

 

6 comments:

  1. Father Bill, please don’t apologize for “going on so long”. These were wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your life lessons with us!

  2. Very nice and down-to-earth advice. But, was it really necessary to show an EAGLE getting run over? Philadelphia fans suffer enough…
    But seriously, I definitely agree with the dangers of competition. It creates a culture of cheating and winning at all costs rather than working together for good.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  3. Thank you for this. Your comment on competition is very apposite. Especially for those of us with teenage children who are trying to help our teenagers find their way in the world. You want them to do well, but not at the expense of others. Lots to think about.
    I’m only in my 50s but I am amazed at the way technology and travel has opened up the world. I was at a conference in honour of St Innocent at the weekend. I’ll be continuing conversations with people from that conference in various parts of the world. Isn’t that wonderful!
    Thank you for your blog.

  4. Father, Thank you for this outstanding 3 part post.

    Respectfully, a few things I’d like to mention. You wrote: “Despite all, I believe most politicians are honest.” Based on what I’ve seen in just the last 17 years, I’d have to vehemently disagree with this. Of the 535 on the Hill, I’d venture a guess that 10 or fewer are honest (it’s likely that not a single one of them are). The system is set up so that honest people can’t get elected. The single reason we have so many problems in our country today is because our elected “leaders” won’t do what’s right for the country. Rather, they do whatever makes them rich and keeps them in office.
    Secondly, on your point 20, Question Authority. I’m a bit puzzled by this one. I get your general intent. But one of our chief problems today is that nobody is willing to submit to any authority. Parents, Teachers, police, priests….all of those perhaps just a generation ago were roles in which people could give direction and expect it to be followed. Today, the mantra that America lives by is “nobody is going to tell me what to do.” Do a little experiment Father. Go on social media, and take some 2,000 year old teaching of The Church that is at odds with current day American belief and simply re-state that it’s the tradition of The Church since the beginning. Then sit back and watch all the Orthodox rip you for saying it. Today, every person is their own source of authority.
    Thirdly, (at the risk of violating what I just wrote in the preceding paragraph) “And why do some religious people object to the scientific discovery that God has made this cosmos in 13 billion years instead of 6 24-hour days? ” I guess I missed the part where this “discovery” was made. There are plenty of folks with PhD’s in scientific fields, a whole lot smarter that you and I combined, who don’t believe in this “discovery.” I get that this issue isn’t really a primary issue, so my quibble here is a minor one.
    Lastly, again at the risk of violating what I wrote above, I’ll respectfully disagree with your point 22. I loathe the modern world. I get that it’s easy to romanticize about prior periods. That said, we live in a day in age in which simply trying to achieve 15 minutes of silence and solitude is darn near impossible. And, as Fr Stephen F has written, the Modern age and its belief system is what gave us WW1 and WW2.
    Again, thanks for this 3 post series Father. Excellent stuff. Thank you.

    1. I’m sorry, Gary. I meant to respond to you when you first wrote. I think most who go into politics are honest, intending public service. After all, most could make a lot more money by going into law or business. However, they quickly get corrupted by our present system which requires them to spend most of their time not legislating but raising great gobs of money just in order to stay in office. Personally I attribute this corruption not to the politicians but to the Supreme Court’s bizarre decision that “money equals speech”. As to the modern world, I still believe that “the good and the evil grow together till the End”, though sometimes God knows we have to look hard for the good, which was all I was trying to do. As to evolution, one can find holes in the theory of evolution, but the great preponderance of scientific evidence supports it. I know of no scientific evidence at all in support of six day creation – but of course someday in some unforeseen way this could all change.

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