It is a commonplace in the Fathers to describe despair or sadness as the result of failing to get what we want. It sounds quite simple, but it cuts to the very heart of our sadness. There is a melancholy of our age that is born from the expectations of modernity. The mantra of progress and our belief that no matter the problems confronting us, there is always a solution, are an ideal breeding ground for modern despair.
My experience within social media is that any observed problem within our culture that is presented will attract an immediate flood of proposed solutions. The belief in the solvability of all things is a foundation of the modern world. We are nurtured with an expectation of progress and solutions. When this turns out not to be the case, despair is a natural result.
That same despair is a primary engine for modern anger. We want solutions. We believe that solutions are possible. When solutions fail to be enacted, we get angry. We blame. The world becomes divided into those who, like ourselves, advocate the right solutions, and those who are standing in the way of that progress we believe is always possible.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” – Bumper Sticker from the 60’s
But, of course, modernity is a false dream. It does not solve problems, on the whole. We chip away at one thing and another and marvel at our technological toys. People still die – all of them. People still suffer, it’s an inevitable part of life in this world. There are vast dislocations and injustices that are as much a product of modernity as they are of their own intractability. The narrative we are taught to believe, viz. progress and solvability, is simply not true. It is only “true enough” in very isolated examples to keep us believing that it can be true always and everywhere.
The Christian teachings on the spiritual life do not teach us how to live a life based on false narratives. To make the gospel “work” in the modern world, the gospel must be changed. But, of course, that means choosing to believe that Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about, or that He was limited by His culture…. “We now know better.” This is heresy, but it is probably the most commonly practiced heresy of our time.
The general means of practicing this “new” gospel is to isolate preferred quotes and systematize a new paradigm. To a certain extent, this took place in the Reformation and has been a constant drive within a Protestantism that morphs to fit the culture (often justified by “evangelizing the culture”). This is not a practice restricted to Protestantism. In a variety of forms, all Christians in the modern world engage in this restructuring of the gospel.
The assumptions of modernity are not a product of the century we live in (they are not ideas that “evolved”). They are specific assumptions put forward by a particular philosophy at a particular time and have been adopted and employed to such an extent that they now seem like “common sense.” They simply become part of our worldview. As such, they are a lens through which we read the Scriptures and become an unconscious filter. We take what seems helpful, and ignore those things that do not. But the “helpful” that we unconsciously intend, is “help me live in a modern way, in a modern world, towards a modern salvation.”
I think we are often disappointed that God refuses to behave as the god of modernity. The extremes of the “prosperity” preachers are only the most egregious examples of modernity’s god. There are others, more subtle. For example, we expect God to cooperate with our political projects (both Left and Right). As the problem-solvers of progress, we assume that God is interested in the same goals as we. He is not.
There are times in our lives when the modern project seems like pristine prophecy. Its promise of a better world feels as though it is being fulfilled before our eyes. People are occasionally nostalgic for one period or another when they think this was true. When these times change and become times of frustration, we begin to wonder why God allows such evil to exist. We do not realize that we are asking why it is that God refuses to go along with the modern project.
Some of the assumptions of the modern world include God’s “place” within it. The modern ideal of a “better world” is not built on communion with God. Indeed, it revels in its own independence. God has been demoted to the patron saint of lost causes: “All we can do is pray.” The ideal in the modern life is self-sufficiency. We want enough for now (at least) and a good nest-egg for the rest. To a certain extent, we pray, “O God, help me not to need you.”
However, we serve a good God who loves mankind, and He understands our unrecognized need for failure. He is at “cross-purposes” with the modern project, working towards our complete transformation in Him rather than a better world. For all the prayers of all humanity through all the ages, His answer was going to the Cross. He is waiting there to meet us.
A Poem to go with the photo:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
— Percy Bysshe Shelley
How true Father,
Everywhere I look I see people fighting over how to best “solve” the problems of this world. The Prosperity Gospel is bad but the Social Gospel is worse. Constantly we are harangued to vote our values, get involved in movements, go on missions to “fix” countries of “colorful description” (What he said) work to free the oppressed etc. I have spent some time pondering this aspect of the Modern Project and I have made some observations:
1) Whenever society, through church or state attempts to “fix” the problems they generally accomplish nothing worthwhile and create ten more problems in the process.
2) That the most vocal and active people in these programs seem driven by negative emotions, one of which is hate.
3) The various factions that form spend more time attacking each other than in doing anything to “fix” what is wrong.
4) The Peter Principle is real and most leaders have been promoted to that level.
5) I am much better off to focus on my own sinfulness.
“The belief in the solvability of all things is a foundation of the modern world.”
How true, Father. As sad as it is when this thinking occurs at a societal or group level (e.g. Churches, political groups, etc.,), when this becomes the modus operandi for so called ‘spiritual growth’, as you’ve said, nothing but disappointment and frustrations arises from it. I have even wondered if this is the reason for why we’ve begun to see such a large exodus from the faith, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox? People no longer see communion with God as the purpose of faith, and so, when the ‘old ways’ of doing faith can no longer reach people or, or too slow and unresponsive to the call to ‘change the world’, and the newly invented ways of faith (e.g. modern Evangelicalism) are seen as vapid and capricious, people walk away from faith; UNICEF or the Peace Corps seem more efficient or relevant within this thinking! I actually have seen this occur.
A passage of scripture that I have been personally thinking about (and I believe it pertains to what you say here), is from Hebrews 13:
“14. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
I love the thinking of this passage because we still do good, but not for the purpose of making our own society a so-called better place!
Thank you, Father!
Charles Fillmore and later Catherine Ponder of the Unity Church were huge proponents of the “wealth and health” gospel. Today, the Teachings of Abraham offer a non-Christian version of this which has become incredibly popular with people seeking to “better their lives” in this material world. I studied all of these on my path to Christ and fortunately I never succeed in “manifesting” either wealth or health so I kept searching for the Truth. If I had been successful, I would never have found Orthodoxy, and that would have been a tragedy of great magnitude. I believe God has protected me by keeping me sick and poor. During the beginning years of my Orthodox journey, I was absolutely guilty of cherrypicking the gospels, as well as the teachings ofthe Church, for the ideas my “modern” mind could believe and accept and rejecting those I could not. This resulted in me leaving the Church for about 7 years. Thankfully, Saint Seraphim, who I credit for bringing me to the Church originally, never gave up on me and found a way (through more poverty and sickness!) to bring me back. I appreciate you, Fr. Stephen, for making us aware that we are always looking at the world and our lives through some kind of lens, and that we need to make sure that the lens we chose to pick up and apply is that of the gospels and the holy Fathers.
The modern ideal of a “better world” is not built on communion with God.
Yes. Hence it is empty. May we as priests not succumb to the false narratives of left and right. But preach community based on communion with God.
In another blog a comentor opined that the Orthodox Church was like a telegraph in an iPhone world.
I replied that the no, the Orthodox Church is smoke signals and drums to call the peopled to gather around a campfire to celebrate their life together and hear the wisdom of their elders passed down. Nothing is lost or wiped out by a glitch or OS upgrade.
Still another poster commented that the Orthodox Church had the right faith but the wrong people. Absolutely nothing can be said in response except God forgive me.
The modern world is the Flatlands of T.S. Eliot. Hell bound toward nothingness.
Yet in the midst of all that Christ is Risen. He provides. A very tough reality to keep hold of in the midst of the suffering and pain of loved ones.
Please pray for my niece Stephanida and her fiance’, Jorge. They are facing a really tough health decision.
This reminds me very forcibly of something I almost ‘said’ in response to your previous post Father Stephen, regarding my co-religionists who tell me in terms ranging from the mundane to the revolutionary ‘we are called to bring in the Kingdom of God!’
This strikes me as a very particular and pernicious form of atheism, not least because it always seems to be about us ‘improving the world’. It assumes of course that we occupy some position from which we claim to be able to see things as they truly are.
A couple of other things come also to mind, first an exceptional recent essay of Wendell Berry’s in which he takes issue with the idea of The Future, as if it is some Known (if we just do ‘this’, that will happen!) Amongst other things this seems to turn our account of human existence into nothing more that mechanics, and keeps us out of what presents itself to us in the only moment in which we have life, now.
Second both of your posts put me in mind of a remarkable book by Iain McGilchrist, a former lecturer in English at Oxford, neuro imager at Berkeley (?), psychiatrist and from his writing somewhat of a polymath. The book ‘The Master and The Emissary’ makes the case that the Modern World is in large part product of our tendency to live out of our Left Hemisphere, which seeks to grasp and put together, and which interestingly is the seat of the emotion of anger (not least when we can’t fix things)
He charts movements since the C12 which have seen us prefer L over Right Hemispheric perception, in a self reinforcing manner, so that, for example, we seek to solve the problems of industrialism with more industrialism, or management with better management. He suggests we are sleep walking over a cliff.
Interestingly he says the Left Hemisphere sees things in separation – the Protestant ‘isolated quotes’ came to mind.
To finish, the Modernist perhaps wants to fix things, but we are Created to Wonder and Worship.
Thank you Fr. Freeman for this insight into modernity and progress and how we try to find God a place here. What else would the Fathers say to us and our modern culture? Do they have a common teaching about “culture?” I’m curious as I’m catechumen in the Orthodox Church.
Love the poem you posted. Your post and title reminds of the German Catholic mystical theologian Meister Johannes Eckhart’s two poems:
The soul that wants nothing but God
must forsake everything,
As long as we have and know who God is, we don’t.
We are far away
So can you let your notions die?
This is the smallest death a soul must undergo
before it becomes divine
sometimes you have
to break things
if you want
to grasp God in them
in the breaking,
we allow what’s holy
to take form
This was painful to read because I see myself in the prayer mentioned: “O God, help me not to need you.” And the modern project in my thinking.
Please pray for my niece Stephanida and her fiance’, Jorge. They are facing a really tough health decision.
Prayers Michael! May God bless and draw them close to Himself!
“Culture” is pretty much a contemporary term, rather than something contemplated by the Fathers. But it would fall under what they call the “world” or simply is one of many false “philosophies.” You might like reading my book.
This discussion reminds me of the old Flip Wilson show, where he was the preacher of the “Church of What’s Happening Now!”. Recently I had a friend, from a church I used to attend, ask me what kind of hymns we sing at our church. She loves some of the new contemporary, and the old classics. When we Orthodox mention that “No, we don’t have drop down screens; words on the screen to sing along to; praise bands playing; or so many of the media centered and modern concepts of “Church” – we lose their interest. Sadly. Even saying that we are the church begun by the Apostles of Christ does not impress them. I actually had more than one person tell me “Oh yeah, they ALL say that!”. The misunderstanding about the Orthodox Church seems rampant. My kids even think I joined a cult. lol We are the ancient faith – we are not “hip”, “cool”, and willing to sell out our beliefs in what God tells us is right – to be popular. God does not need a sound system to teach us the truth and the way. He gave us the Bible.
Today, it seems to be all about who has the most entertaining and accommodating church going on. People want to go to the church (?) that tells them what they want to hear; entertains them; does not expect them to actually go by the old and outdated rules of the Bible does not challenge their comfort zone; and so on. They want to look good for going to a church that does not expect or demand much of them beyond money in the collection plate and a potluck dinner now and then. So many television preachers rake in millions by giving people what they WANT. In my humble opinion, the Orthodox Church gives us what we NEED. We don’t claim to have all the answers or solve all the problems – that is what GOD is supposed to do. We simply trust Him to do it. I worry with all the bending and twisting, or breaking of the commandments that God gave us – people are truly being led, like sheep, to the slaughter. Without a foundation of faith that sustains us beneath the external practices, what do we really have in times of trial and problems? We need that strong foundation to withstand the winds and weather of this world and these corrupted times. Without that personal and deep connection to the Trinity, how do we NOT get frustrated, angry, and hurt all the time? We are wounded and need God’s mercy, forgiveness, and healing. This world is going to wound us. It is going to try hard to destroy us at times in our lives, or at least it will seem so at the time. Without the loving arms of Christ, and knowing how VERY beloved we all are to Him and to God himself, as well as our Holy Mother – survival is sometimes all we can barely manage. With so many suicides these days, it is so tragic – especially when it is a child. If only they knew how valued they really are! If only the worldy trends; latest social media posts, and such did not determine so much of what the young people think about themselves these days! If only they could see themselves in the eyes of their Creator. Being the ancient faith and believing in what God teaches in the Bible, and experiencing the liturgy as we do may make us less popular with this modern world, but I still believe that our faith and prayers are a rock that we can all feel safe anchoring ourselves to and holding on. My 70 yrs have been spent walking the “creeks” and “rivers” of faith and “religions” or “belief systems” – to the well-spring of the Source. I truly felt I had found God’s house, and my real home, when I walked into St. George Orthodox Cathedral. I did not “join” the Orthodox faith – I was transformed into an Orthodox Christian. I could not, ever, be the same again. I am a better me. If that makes any sense to anyone else. Thank you for your prayers for all of us Father. These are perilous times indeed. ( Forgive me Father, if I go off the path a bit – as usual. I am not theological; erudite; accomplished in Biblical knowledge; or any of the impressive things so many in here are. A child of God is enough for me. )
I have prayed for your niece Stephanida and her fiancé Jorge. May God bless them with His mercy, and strengthen them.
As a recent convert to Orthodoxy, I also recommend Fr Stephen’s book. It is and was very helpful in my journey into Orthodoxy.
The Protestants of today are there in part or mostly to be entertained. There are many mocking videos on YouTube about “Worshiptainment.” The funniest I saw was “Is this the Club or the Church.” In Seminary I was taught how to be relevant and seeker friendly. I also deal with the same issues talking to people today about our Faith. Every while or so I find a person who is interested, but mostly I get rejection, argument or just blank stares. Many are called and few are chosen. We do not have a glitz marketing program to sell our product to the masses. My answer to those who question why we do what I do is simply and direct: “In the Church, I am in the throne room of the King of Kings. I am not there for me, but to worship Him in the ways He has directed. I am either on my feet or on my face before Him.” I don’t get much argument after that, but only a few come to visit even though I invite always.
My husband’s Evangelical Willow Creek style church is currently soliciting feedback (via online survey) from members and regular attenders about their experiences at church. My husband has difficulty with some of the “stage effects” introduced in recent years and gave feedback he thought that should be removed and at bare minimum a Cross reintroduced as part of the permanent decor. He commented to me he also prefers music with more rich biblical content (like the hymns in the Divine Liturgy). I can see attending church with me is a part of his frame of reference here. 🙂
Mary Bauman – wonderful and insightful comments.
Flip ‘the devil made me do it’ Wilson’s “ The Church of What’s Happening Now!”
Oh Merry, girl, you have no idea how I seriously needed to laugh today. Now that was good!
And the rest of your comment I very much appreciate.
I wish you’d comment more here, Merry! I need your perspective…like sitting and talking with a friend I can relate to.
Nicholas and Merry,
A fellow catechumen (both of us lapsed Protestants baptized into Orthodoxy on Theophany, praise God!) once said something I found very astute—that many people like Protestantism not because of any desire to do what God demands of us, but because it gives them an hour on Sundays when they won’t be bothered by kids or the phone or any other of life’s demands.
Keep praying and being faithful. Many have been saved by their faithful spouses praying and living the life as a witness. The genuine worship of the Orthodox Church convicts many of their shallow beliefs. We had a hard core Baptist come to visit on a tour and he argued with Father over the Eucharist. He was invited to stay for Vespers and afterwards he seemed quite different. His impression was that he was awash in Scripture and he could not argue with that. Perhaps a seed was planted.
The poem reminds me of the Ikon of Sisoes the Great.
“There is a melancholy of our age that is born from the expectations of modernity.”
It’s beginning to sink in Father.
Your last paragraph says it so well. “He understands our need for failure…and waiting for us to meet Him at the Cross”.
Nicholas, thank you. I so relate! Paula, I had no idea, but I will try to come more often. I am SO glad I brought you a laugh. My name pretty much describes me. I have spent much time in darkness so I truly appreciate the light. I love to laugh and give a smile. God is so all about that too. Love and laughter – finding the joy in the moments we are blessed with. I am more than a friend, I’m a sister. We share the most wonderful Heavenly father and mother! I make my husband Michael so frustrated, when I get upset over all the formality and dogma of so many of the much more theological . It is all so simple to me. With God, Jesus, and Mary, I’m the little five yr old who gave her heart to Him. I’m the scared child hiding in the closet that He came to comfort, I’m the young mother whose baby son had just died, who needed her true mother to give her solace. They never failed me, even in the times I thought they had for a while. Maybe our faith seems too complicated and complex to many. Maybe we appear too formal and untouchable to the rest of the world. Maybe we scare them a little too. We expect more of them, and we give them so much more, that perhaps It frightens them off. We are pretty impressive – all the robes, formal liturgy and the real wine and all. Some of those who are used to grape juice and crackers for everyone – for communion -can be a bit in over their heads I think, as they experience our faith. It can be rather daunting. Walking in with no idea what to expect -as I did about nine yrs ago- it was all both a bit overwhelming and yet comforting beyond words. Now the words and the rhythm of the liturgy are a part of my very being. It permeates each of us and draws us together and closer to God. It is kind of like The Borg in Star trek. We are all part of the collective WE- the Orthodox faith. I can see how that could be too out of the worldly model.
Merry – please forgive me for misspelling your joyful name. 🙏💗
It took me the best part of 4 years to come to terms with the irreconcilable clash between Orthodox Christianity and the modern way of living. So much resistance, the old man (palaios) in me is as unkillable as a horror movie villain!
I appreciate the community’s comments on solving the world’s problems, and I wish to add a more personal perspective to this, from my own experience.
The choices I made and the problems of my own life and of those around me are consequences of a broken bond with Christ. I can’t fix them, although my social circle may believe I am doing a decent job of it. I can’t even fix my bond with Christ. It is a gift that may come from Him and all I can do is repent and wait. Live the 55 maxims of Fr Hopko.
Work, education, family, leisure and all the time spent in between these concerns eventually lead to the despair that Fr Stephen describes. There is no ‘perfect life’ except the one lived in Christ. Who meets us at the Cross and not on a pedestal created by modern men who value success over anything. There is no Communion in boasting about self-made personal achievements.
This modern life is a dead end; a fast sinking ship whose passengers are rearranging the deck chairs while listening to their own music in their headphones, checking the latest news on their phone about a remote part of the planet. When people react to this with the usual dismissive “do you recommend we run for the hills”, I am tempted to say yes. Some of us would do well to simply cut ties with everything that is making us miserable zombies unaware of their lifelessness. Had I listened to the monk who advised me so 12 years ago, I would not be that desperate now.
Father Sophrony singled out this hurried life as the cause of many evils. There is no salvation in getting more stuff done efficiently. We create our own problems and then as Father Stephen writes, we pray for a miraculous salvation of our lost causes. As if these would make any difference…
I don’t care much for stating the obvious, but if – like me – you too are realising how speculative all of this existence is, despair not. Modern fads, crises and ‘news’ come and go; the Life in Christ is and will be the only way to the life we were created to live.
Forgive me the personal rant.
“O God, help me not to need you.”
Up to a point, yes: when you no longer exhaust all your resources merely to survive, and your prayers aren’t preoccupied with desperate need, you can concentrate on *wanting* Him regardless. Proverbs 30 has it just right.
” …give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
or I shall be poor, and steal,
and profane the name of my God.”
Thank you for your writings, which I appreciate even though I can’t always take everything in.
God bless you Merry! There’s something about “the sisters”, isn’t there?! It is one of the reasons that drew me closer to our Mother because I know she understands in particular a woman’s struggle, especially in this day and age. God bless the men (smiling at your comment about Michael!), but we are “wired” different…their focus is, well, focused…we tend to be like a sponge and take in everything, and as a result are much more emotional! I thank God for the men and the “difference” though, and learn a lot from them, and I am sure they from us. It is complimentary. I never had a husband, so for 50-60 years towed the load on my own, and mercy, it’s a miracle I’m still here. I don’t know if I’d have done better with a husband because by the time I was on my own I was way too independent. I still have a lot of shedding of self-sufficiency to do. So your point about coming to God as a child…oh, I get that! It became obvious to me that I could not do it on my own when I found myself at the edge of the abyss. I liken it to breaking a wild horse…you have to make it very uncomfortable for them to continue to be wild. But I’m telling you, the animals learn faster than we do! And yes, as you said, God was always there waiting. He was with me in that darkness. As for the formality of our Faith that you mention, it was that very formality that drew me in, and perhaps will do so for many others who are disillusioned and are seeking. After experiencing all the garbage out there, only to start back in the non-denominational churches and after 12 years wondered ‘what is this…and where is Jesus…I know He came for much more than this!’….I knew immediately upon entering Holy Resurrection (our Church) I had just entered into another world! Glory to God…Glory! Merry, what you know about the Orthodox faith, you didn’t have to plow through tons of books…now that is the impartation of God’s grace to you! Me…I ask way too many (?) questions…I have to know what those who know more than me know and what I am missing. Hence, my bookshelf is full, and I just might get to read all the books before my eyesight fails! But people like you who just “get it”….I like to be around. Again it is complimentary, as we all are one in our diversity! Thanks again Merry…and you see, I ramble too!!
Thank you for your comment! For your personal rant…thank you!
“There is no Communion in boasting about self-made personal achievements.” In the end this these self made, self sufficient achievements are like dust in the wind. I like where Father mentioned in the previous post the book of Ecclesiastes…a perfect example of the fast sinking ship you talk about. And what does Solomon say in the end….”Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”. Yes, and we need His Son to enable us every inch of the way!
Something you said caught my eye, Thomas…” I can’t even fix my bond with Christ. It is a gift that may come from Him and all I can do is repent and wait.”
The gift…and your desire for Him, and your repentance, led me to think of this verse:
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Lk 11:13.
Just some encouragement Thomas…it is not if the gift “may come” but has come and will keep on coming…from the Lover of mankind!
Yep, complimentarity between men and women is good. And Merry, you round out Michael well. Sometimes my wife will comment on something to me, or suggest something, and I’ll tell her…”I’d never have thought of that, thanks!” Or Father’s wife telling him what she had read about vanity in Ecclesiastes. We truly do need one another. In person best, but nice to have friends here as well. 🙂
Thank you for the reminder; God has indeed offered the gifts and his Son for all our salvation. This is easier to write than to live. My reaction to this storm of love, gifts and invitation to life eternal is to hold an umbrella of modern excuses to not attend the Lord’s feast.
So in my mind, either I close the umbrella and get drenched in Grace and give thanks to God for all things and all rain. Or the good God has to start raining laterally; we get this kind of rain in England and it makes all umbrella holding absolutely pointless!
Glory to God for all things and all outpouring of love and correction.
Horace Smith (1779-1849)
IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
Note: Smith was a close friend of Shelley. The two friends each created Ozymandias poems in a sort of private competition. The difference between the two is that Horace Smith’s poem adds the additional layer of confusion added to interpretation of the wreck by its being removed from the desert to London. This was at a time in the early 19th century when the artifacts of Rameses were being transported there.
Michael Bauman –
Did you mean to refer to Eliot’s “The Waste Land?” Whether you did or not, thank you for prompting me to read that poem again.
While re-reading it, I couldn’t help but notice Eliot’s reference to what Father refers to as the two-storey universe:
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
I understand that “Dayadhvam” is the Hindu word for compassion, and that “Coriolanus” was a legendary general in ancient Rome who was very successful in military battles and, later, in politics. He was ultimately undone by his temperament. Shakespeare wrote a play about him, with which I am not familiar.
Paula, one the many reasons that I am delighted to be married to Merry is her capacity for simple joy in the most mundane things. Believe me her capacity to bring merriment is enormous. A gift of God IMO.
She loves God in a simple and direct way that is contagious. When she asks me questions about the faith I have to know the answer well enough to explain it in a way that mirrors her simple experience of God.
If I start waxing theological on her she will fall asleep.
Despite her infectious charm, her deep understanding and love of God, great compassion for others born of her own suffering , her keen intelligence and manifest courage, she is always amazed when people are thankful for what she gives. Thank you for expressing your appreciation.
She helps me be human and covers many of my sins with her love. Not an easy task some days. She is a miracle in my life for whom I thank God every day.
Sorry for carrying on so much, but I just had to say it.
learning..Yes I was referring to Wasteland. Eliot is great.
One of my significant early steps toward Christ occurred when I was in a college production of “Murder in the Cathedral”. One key moment in the first act when Becket is approached by , among others, the tempter to pursue martrydom for self-glory rather than for the glory of God. He turns the temptor away by saying: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason”
That has stayed with me in my heart ever since. Among other things I think it speaks to the modern conceit of “changing the world” and morality for the sake of morality. The futility of justice over mercy.
Michael…Oh God, now that makes me smile! Truly glad for you both…and what’s so amazing is how it envelops…like the outflow of the love of the Trinity. That’s the “infectious” you speak of. Good stuff Michael and Merry…very good!
I’m going to say it again…ever since that dang conversation about the (dare I say it) gated communities I was bummed. My outflow was anger…nasty to the soul. And here comes Merry with the Flip Wilson thing…I still laugh! Yeah…she’s God little messenger! Sure snapped me out of “the nasty”!
Father, I feel like a broken record in saying yet again….thanks for another outstanding post.
Thomas B….wow…outstanding comments of which I am a great beneficiary. Thank you sir.
Alan, I agree with you, I love Thomas’ comment very much too…. Especially:
So in my mind, either I close the umbrella and get drenched in Grace and give thanks to God for all things and all rain. Or the good God has to start raining laterally; we get this kind of rain in England and it makes all umbrella holding absolutely pointless!
It is so good to read all these views and opinions. It truly does expand our thinking and how we can relate to the world and the people around us. I totally agree with so much of what many of you have said! And I am humbled by your kindness and appreciation for what I try to contribute to the discussion. Michael is my sanity and I can’t say I am the same to him! lol I simply understand what a priceless gift each moment of life is. At 70, my view of the world is saddened by all of all the changes to the morals, values, and the way people are raised and the way they think. It is virtually impossible for me to relate to the kind of entitled, snowflake, and etc. way of behaving. They are so lost, in so many ways. I agree with Thomas B and Paula, that those people are starting to search for the faith that sustained the earlier generations thru so much. They are the grandchildren of the kids of the 60’s and 70’s. They are so lost and have been failed so badly by the society they know. I think they are looking for something true, valid, and solid that they can trust and believe in. Our generation grew up with hard work, a relatively safe world, and long before the electronic age. We learned to work hard for everything we wanted, and save up for things. Credit was for buying a house, and welfare was only for the most desperate and a short time. The contrast is frightening, when you see what these young people and young parents face. Many were never taught to work for what they got. Welfare is a lifestyle, and not looked down upon as it was. Getting pregnant out of wedlock is not only not a bad thing, but is in fact the trend of the movie stars, rock stars, and those that the kids look up to. You can even get your own tv show! So much of what we grew up with being absolutely NOT acceptable, is now “no big deal” to most of society. Electronics are the focus of the lives of so many! Drinking and driving used to be the focus. Now it is texting and driving that has become the worse danger! People ignore other people and relationships, to spend time on social media and video games. The sense of community and humanity is disappearing, and has become electronic communication. It saddens me to see it, and this progress is not without a huge cost. The suicides are like an epidemic it seems – from the very young to the veterans and those who feel no hope. While there are Orthodox apps, at least there is not a “liturgy app” . lol
Our faith offers hope, love, and a foundation that helps us withstand the temptations and perils of this world. I believe, as I said, that the generations rebelling against the “free love; I want it NOW, and I don’t want to have to work for it” parents ARE indeed finding their way back to the faith and work ethics of their grandparents. It gives me hope for the future. As you said Paula – God is waiting . As is the Orthodox Church. Perhaps our formality and solidarity with 2000 yrs ago will indeed be what they are seeking.
Glory to God.
Note – as I struggle with so much stress in my job, I realize this is a very helpful reminder of so much more, and what is really important. I will be back more. If I don’t say much, know I am reading you though. And thank you, from me, for each of you and all you share. I believe we all gain strength from each other.
Ok Paula, we are even now! Your designation as “God’s little messenger” is my favorite title, and brought a big smile to my day. It is very humbling when it happens, but yes, He does seem to help people thru me a lot.
It never ceases to amaze me. God loves us all SO much!
Fr. Freeman has described that one aspect of the modern is our misunderstanding of time. Good things are in the future, bad things are in the past – so of course if anything bad happens we deride it as medieval. Fr. John Behr says that we really often don’t understand how time works from a Biblical perspective.
Our attachment to a timeline is a delusion.
Merry…regarding your comment that young people may now be searching for the Rock of the Faith: of our 23 Catechumens at present, 20 are young men in their 20’s and early 30’s! I think that’s very encouraging and intriguing. Not sure what’s going on.
Please pray for my niece Stephanida and her fiance’, Jorge. They are facing a really tough health decision.
I am praying for them. God bless.
Father, I’m not concerned with progress toward some utopian scheme, but it would be nice if we could merely stop destroying the planet. Everyone prefers to ignore that we’re on the verge of an ecological disaster that will fundamentally alter and possibly end human civilization before the end of this century. If nothing is changed, there’s no question, we don’t make it. Nihilists and pietist alike seem to be resigned to that. Stanley Hauerwas, in his defense of Christian nonviolence, points out that Christians have, by the sacrifice of Christ, been liberated from having to secure their existence by sacrificing their neighbor in war. But the species threatens its own existence–this is the problem (I know, this has always been the problem in a theological sense). There are some pretty radical solutions out there. Like I said, however, we’re pretending like this isn’t going to happen, or conversely, that there is no way to stop it.
As a result, we aren’t even seriously considering much milder solutions. Part of this boils down to a sort of generational dissonance. Folks your age, who tend to have more influence on things like public policy, simply don’t recognize this as their problem. They don’t think they’ll live to see it, and, one way or another, they find a way of not caring that their children and grandchildren will. That’s all well and good for them. They have the luxury of waxing philosophical or theological about modernity’s fetish for solutions to problems that have no solutions. Their existence isn’t under threat. They had clean air and water and stable climates and ecosystems. They got to live as though we had a plan B planet, their children and grandchildren will pay for their sins and be derided as modernist utopians for fighting against the systems by which they parents and grandparents lived. They’re not pleading for a better world, they’re pleading for a world at all. I guess you can call that despair, I call it the only option left.
Thank you for the link to Fr. Behr’s lecture. It was very helpful to hear him explain St. Athanasius’ work, using the text and incorporating the Saint’s concept of time vs eternity. Much to take in and worth watching a second time! Thanks.
I sympathize with the concern for the planet. Indeed, if certain scenarios were to be the case, civilization would be greatly affected – the Scriptures certainly use the imagery of civilizational collapse and ecological disaster in its description of the end times.
I well imagine that no matter the political alarms that are sounded, no political solution will be forthcoming (unless it is found to be full of profit). And, it could be that revolution might be a response. Nothing in any of that changes the nature of modernity or the Kingdom of God.
We do well, I think, to pray for God’s merciful intervention – because I do not think a solution will be found, otherwise. Do you have other solutions in mind?
Eli, I attend St. John the n the Wilderness, in B.C.
We exist in large part as a direct Orthodox response to your concern. Look us up, contact Fr. Nilos, and you will be blessed.
Eli – I know exactly how you feel. But I recently cancelled my membership in the Union of Concerned Scientists because I came to realize that Father is right. The earthly powers that could solve the problem will not do it because there is no money in it. As a result, climate change is inevitable. It will, of course, destroy civilization as we know it, but the planet itself will just shrug and go on for several more billion years. God will still be King and somewhere some people will continue to worship Him. So it has been, so it will be. Thanks be to God.
Sorry this response is so late….
“The Way” is easier to write than to live, you say. That is an understatement! Yes, we daily have to be tamed!
“.. either I close the umbrella and get drenched in Grace and give thanks to God for all things and all rain. Or the good God has to start raining laterally…Glory to God for all things and all outpouring of love and correction.”
Another verse comes to mind…” Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
The lateral rain, I like that. He has a way of capturing our attention!
Keep up the fight, Thomas…even baby steps are big.
Blessings from across the pond!
I very much appreciate the efforts of your Church to address the issue of ecology. I did manage to find this online:
I am captured by the words “sacramental approach” and would like to know more about this.
I certainly understand our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation and how miserably we have failed. I think one reasonable approach is for each of us to do what we can to avoid further contamination of the environment. Things such as recycling, avoiding the use of pesticides, proper disposal of waste, respect of wildlife (leave it be; do not uproot) and so on. Is there a webpage where we could read about these things, and in particular, a sacrament approach.
Thank you much, Mark Basil.
Learning to Be Still,
I think you might be slightly pessimistic as far as the race God created and Christ redeemed is concerned. At Christ’s second coming He will return to establish His everlasting kingdom, and He will return to PEOPLE on the earth. It will not be an uninhabited ruin to which He returns. This is clear from the New Testament. I’ll just mention this one passage. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” IThess.4:16-18. I do agree with you that the earth will continue. But it and us will be transformed (Roms. 8:18ff).
The signs in motel rooms, “Help save the planet,” always made in smile. The planet will continue, no matter what we may do. Are we to be good stewards of it and care for it? Of course. And at the same time we should not despair. Christ is in control, not us. We are not called to make the world better or bring in the kingdom of God. We are called to help those around us as we can. I heard the other day a non Christian man state that we could not watch the news for 5 years and we would not lose a thing. And he added if we want to help things, be involved at the local level. Not bad for a non- believer. If I engross myself in the news, I despair. If I engross myself in Christ He gives me His peace and I am not lead astray by the spirit of the times.
“… if we want to help things, be involved at the local level.” Yes, exactly! Similar is the phrase “bloom where you are planted”. Sounds like a quip, I know, but the point is there is much to be done right outside your front door!
Love the verse from Thessalonians too!
Bottom line, we work in cooperation with our God, Who will indeed transform all!
Dean – Thank you for your comments. I agree. As I said, “God will still be King and somewhere some people will continue to worship Him.” I do not think the end of civilization as we know it will mean the end of humanity. Just the collapse of present-day cultures, economies and political systems. The world will be radically different hundreds of years from now, just as it is radically different from what it was hundreds of years ago. Climate change – which is happening right now – will be the dominant force in bringing about the changes to come. It is too late to stop it. But all of this is only the world and our Lord is not of this world. “He said to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” John 8:23 So it makes no difference. What will be will be. What matters is my relationship to Him and how I reflect Him to the people around me.
Thanks be to God.
Just the collapse of present-day cultures, economies and political systems.
My initial reaction to this is always “Woot!”. Then I remember that I’m one of the small folk who will undoubtedly be eaten in the early going. Ah well…. God is good. His provision goes beyond my bar-b-que.
From The Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives:
“A man who has within him the Kingdom of Heaven radiates holy thoughts. Divine thoughts. The Kingdom of God creates within us an atmosphere of heaven, as opposed to the atmosphere of hell that is radiated by a person when hades abides in his heart. The role of Christians in the world is to filter the atmosphere on earth and expand the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God. p.66
Sounds better than the Environmental Protection Agency
I’m not sure I can put into words all that a truly sacramental approach to ecology entails. I have tried, but keep erasing what I write. 🙂
It goes far beyond stewardship and is more like union with all creation; it is a person becoming through radical and sustained repentance and ascesis the “principal” of harmony in a whole ecosystem. It is a totally hidden, weak, and invisible path- disregarding all political and power solutions as straw and seeing instead only Christ as the Healer of the whole cosmos. This approach is radical and requires a profound change in lifestyle; it is not possible to live this approach in a modern city (though we can all live toward it). To really love God’s creation and respond with repentance for what we have done (culminating in Climate Change), we have to leave behind what is totally normal and accepted today even by Christians living in modern ‘developed’ societies. We have to become more ‘indigenous’ in a way; we have to go back to the garden setting. We have to try to partner with animals as companions rather than thoughtlessly consuming them. We have to give up internet, and iphones (look at what we’ve done to the Congo), and every new purchase. We have to live primitively and become a discordant note among friends. St John lived in the Wilderness for a reason.
I am failing to communicate this, again.
There need to be communities who gather outside of city life, and who embrace the hardship and beauty of trusting in God’s provision again. These communities need to be totally broken, humble, weak, and exist within the communion and blessing of the Church. Where these two or three are gathered, God will hear our penitent prayers for the wickedness we have done to His world and Christ *will* have mercy. Study the Noah story. Study St Mary of Egypt- we pray in the liturgy to be “free from necessity”. This is the only way to love the earth, participate in it as sacrament, and not abuse it.
Come visit us at St John in the Wilderness. Fr Nilos can speak to the heart and clarify what my jumble of words fails to say.
Our webpage is not too helpful; we spend very little time online.
It is worth it to come and see though. Or at least give Fr Nilos a phone call to learn more.
God bless you brother. I do understand what you are saying and yes, it is very hard to put into words. But your heart’s intent spoke clearly. Thank you.
As I see it, the sacramental approach to ecology is no different than the sacramental approach to life in general, which is the life of sacrifice, union and communion with God and creation, the very life of Christ and the very reason for our existence.
I am going to assume you are one of our youth, but if not, then someone who has not been left bound by years of enduring the struggle of earthly life. Such is the beauty of youth, a sure treasure. Fr. Nilos sounds like this type of person too, and a very helpful guide. Still, your zeal and unshakable intent to actually live as Christ would have us offers much encouragement for me to not stay bound. We need to pay attention to our younger brothers and sisters! That said, as much as I would love to, I still am not able to travel to Canada and leave behind my earthly cares! which are my animals, my responsibility. But a phone call I could make! And I will visit at the website and continue to set my mind (actually, my heart) on the only true way of living, that being sacramentally.
Thank you again, Mark Basil, for your time and your words.
When I said that, after the end of civilization as we know it, after the collapse of present-day cultures, economies and political systems, God will still be King and “somewhere some people will continue to worship Him,” I was thinking of people like Mark Northey and the rest of the community at St John in the Wilderness.
Paula, ecology is the study of the inter-relationship between and organism and it’s environment. Ultimately that means all of creation is intimately inter-connected. Form a Christian understanding that inter-connectedness is Christ filling all things-a sacramental reality.
We human beings have dominion because we are priestly, essentially we are sacramental beings. As we offer ourselves, all our lives and each other to God that includes all of creation. But there is an element of ascesis that is also necessary as part of the sacramental discipline of living in a world of sin and allowing Christ to overcome that sin in us.
The environment will be healed as our sin is healed.
Unfortunately the modern environmental movement often rejects the Christian understanding. Preferring instead an ideological/political approach deeply intertwined with Moderninty. It is frequently anti-human with a tryannical approach to “curing” the environmental problems: fixing everything by our will and effort alone.
Creation is living. Even the rocks. It has a remarkable capacity for adapting and returning to balance. The earth is not an inanimate object but will cooperate with any proper action to return to it to health. Likewise I rather doubt that we have the capacity to utterly destroy what is made by God’s Word out of His love. Especially since He is incarnate.
The fear of ecological collapse because of human action is deeply overstated. Those in power promote this fear to increase their power and profit with little actual intent of bringing healing. Thus often large scale draconian forced actions are championed as solutions and progress. They are not. The eco-system in which we live is usually quite close. Interconnected to be sure but discrete as well just as we live in community. Our small, local actions have more effect than we realize especially when done in humility asking God to give the increase.
The best course to healing the earth remains prayer, fasting, repentance, almsgiving and worship of the Incarnate Lord. That includes increasing ascesis in our lives to consume less etc. Not out of fear but out of love of the Lord. It includes caring for those near us with a merciful heart.
The large scale political solutions will likely make things worse. Discernment is essential.
I considered commenting along those lines but you did it perfectly. Thanks.
Thanks for that last reflection! I was just reading an essay written by Wendell Berry on why he refuses to participate in “social movements” – citing some of the very things you mention above. Berry also cited how in almost every type of social movement the means become the ends. I too, in my younger years swallowed the modernist line – hook, line and sinker – only to end up with a case of Kierkegaard’s “sickness unto death.” I so appreciate Father Stephen’s continued insistence on how the modernist project is, in the end, nothing more than a complex house of cards.
“.. we offer ourselves, all our lives and each other to God that includes all of creation [yes, the “priesthood”]. But there is an element of ascesis…allowing Christ to overcome… The environment will be healed as our sin is healed”
Thanks Michael…yes, “the Fall” was the fall of all creation through our sin…” for the creation was subjected to futility, em>not of its own will … in hope that the creation itself will be set free…and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. But it is one thing to quote bible verses and another to understand how to go about cooperating with God and ultimately “being set free”. The tyranny of the “intertwining of modernity” is inevitable as it forces obedience to “another master”, which is our “will” severed from communion with God and every “thing”. It is a great challenge for me to escape this intertwining as it is the very fabric of the world in which we live. I believe that in my desire to escape this, God sees this intent and shows me, for example, through Father Stephen’s teachings, comments especially well thought out…all true to the Faith, and even with those who’s words and actions are deceptive (usually unbeknown to them) and (continually) points me back to the right direction. This is my trust in Him. As He does for all, He knows what we need and what is necessary for us.
“..Creation … has a remarkable capacity for adapting and returning to balance.”
Yes, even in the healing of our physical bodies. And I agree where you say : “Likewise I rather doubt that we have the capacity to utterly destroy what is made by God’s Word out of His love. Especially since He is incarnate. That is the key, right there. He has come to save, to heal…and has defeated destruction of life. All life. This “appearance” of a coming utter ecological destruction is like the “apparent degradation” of Christ and the Cross (actually His glorification…scandalous when misunderstood) that Father Behr begins speaking about in his lecture (link from Chris Range above)….no, His Incarnation has redeemed creation unto Himself. My fear will be misplaced if I fall for the scandal of modern “speak”.
And finally, “Our small, local actions have more effect than we realize especially when done in humility asking God to give the increase.” In that, I am convinced. As for the gift of discernment, I refer back to God granting my desire to understand…I believe for all of us, He grants us His wisdom in the capacity we are able to receive. We can’t use what we don’t have! So we depend on Him and through Him, each other.
Thank you very much again, Michael. Much food for the soul here!
Thanks from me, too, Michael.
Nature can and does heal, often much faster than we think. Look at the devastation that once was Mount St. Helens. After the eruption some were saying it would take 100 or more years for the habitat to recover. But nature has shown much resilience. Within a year life was recovering. Even Spirit Lake has returned, pristine. It is an amazing story of the self-healing in nature. Lungs of people who stop smoking can heal, sometimes remarkably. The same can be true for our earth if we begin to care for it, being good stewards of the bounty God has provided.
Thank you all.
One of the things I’m asking myself as I write here, is whether I should write at all. I’ve been so immersed in the modern project, attempting to educate people to improve science literacy, with the hope that such education might improve the world’s condition, that when I see a statement that I know is not grounded in science literacy, I am flummoxed. Should I say something or not? When you hear something that you know is not true what do you do? The last thing I want to encourage is an argument. I’ve mentioned it before, and I’m constrained to mention it again, I’ve had to teach ‘science literacy’ to both students and ‘PhD’s’ when I had the mandate by a university to do so. But now that is not my mandate. My mandate is Christ and the cross He asks me to carry.
I wish to integrate what Fr Stephen has written with where we are in this thread.
We seem to be at a point where we are willing to say our situation (meaning the world’s ecosystems and the magnitude of climate change) might be affected by our behavior, but the impact isn’t as bad as is intimated by politicized media. And if it turns out to be bad, nature can ‘correct’ itself, without our work to mitigate it. This is how I have understood where we are in these comments. I need to interject at this point, that these are comments from people whom I love to read. But if I’ve misunderstood, I ask for your forgiveness.
The lack of science literacy we are currently experiencing in our culture is also part of the modern project. I believe some people will likely disagree with this statement. Instead, that science is part of the modern project is the preferred focus of some of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, science is a tool, or rather technology as applied science, is frequently used to support the goals of the modern project. But the ability to witness such misuse typically comes about from either knowing the scriptures really well (but even that is not a guarantee) or through learning what science is, and how to maintain integrity within it. Also, likely a saint, with their noetic capacity, can easily discern such misuse easily as well. However, barring these acuities, a person who easily disparages science on the basis of religion, is likely walking down the path of the modern project without realizing it. I pause again and ask Fr Stephen, who I believe has meditated and reflected on this substantially, will correct me as he sees fit.
To teach science literacy, I have asked my students and my colleagues, to read what I would describe ‘bogus’ research, and then analyze it together. We would ask ourselves about how the data sampling was conducted and next move on to the data analysis and methods of the research, and last we would critique the conclusions of the paper. One question I would ask that would sometimes stump my colleagues, was whether the data has been triangulated, that is, has the question that the research addresses been explored with multiple sampling techniques and analyses using multiple instrumentation, and reached similar outcomes. Typically, a single research project doesn’t take such wide approaches for lack of funding. Therefore, the triangulation is left up to the scientist to present their work in the context of other research in order to triangulate across several projects.
This work of triangulation, conducted 17 years ago, was work I that I conducted on climate change, on request from another researcher on climate change. There is no reason for you to take my ‘word’ for what I’m about to say. On the contrary, when I taught university, I never let my students ‘take my word’ for anything as if I’m some authority, rather, with the skills they learned about how to analyze research, I asked them to do the analysis, themselves, on this topic. Here’s what I learned from what my students did thereafter, which Fr Stephen has already expounded upon: (1) people seek the information that corroborates what they already believe (2) “Lex Orandi, Lex Crendi” –As we worship, so we believe. If what we worship is the modern project, i.e. ‘we’re going to make things better for all of us’, ‘we’re going to solve this’, ‘we all should do this’, etc.. Whatever the “this” is, is likely an idol, particularly if what “this” is, i.e., ‘the means to make this better condition’, is being promoted in the politicized media. For example, “I know what this world needs and I’m going to make it happen” and “Let us, who think the same way, get together and make this happen and fight anyone or anything that gets in our way”, and “We know we have the moral right and responsibility to make this fight and to take this stand”. I believe all of these statements fit into the modern project narrative (Fr Stephen, please correct me if I’m off).
Through Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, and the decent of the Holy Spirit from the Heavenly Father, we have a new situation, an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. As Fr Stephen refers in his book, ‘Everywhere Present’, God is everywhere present and in all things. Therefore, we have reason to celebrate. But we also see that a lot of ‘bad stuff’ happens, which we tend to attribute to the ‘evil one’, rather than look to ourselves and to our own sins. In other words, we might witness our capitulation to the evil one, and to our own destruction and corruption.
I hesitate and ask for forgiveness where I make a statement which might look like contrariness, but in reference to the data I analyzed years ago, we have a very serious and apparently unremitting problem in how we have lived and utilized nature for own self-serving and self-centered purposes. And despite the polemic in the politicized media, I think it is likely now even worse given these 17 years later than what the doomsayers think they know. I believe in the resurrection we will be held accountable for this degradation of nature. And if by some miracle and intervention of God, what we have done doesn’t lead to vast devastation, we will still be held accountable for the mess we have made. People, particularly in the poorest areas of the world (including inside the US) have suffered because of our voracious ‘needs’.
I hope that I’m not too bold to say that the transformation that is needed in this world begins in our own hearts in repentance. In such repentance we might begin to see the world differently and behave differently. We need Christ and we need the Holy Spirit in our hearts, to conform our will to the will of God. Indeed, it isn’t bad at all to despair of modernity, if the impact of modernity is to encourage us to look to God and live in grace.
I’m not sure I’ve said enough and at the same time it looks like I’ve said too much. God forgive my verboseness.
I thank you ever so much for your thoughts…they seem very sound. I also thank you for sharing your science experience.
Regarding the planet, I recall some years ago, my younger brother, who is retired Navy, told me that everywhere he had been on the world’s oceans, he was never without evidence (in the water) of our human presence. I am deeply concerned about the poisoning of our oceans with chemicals, plastics, etc. The fish populations are unarguably endangered. The omnipresence of these flimsy plastic bags from the stores is another troubling thing.
These are not global warming – but they are deeply significant. What seems to me to be the case is that our environment reveals, in a sacramental manner, the sins of our existence. And that is the most intractable aspect of the problem. Imagine a modern project to eradicate sin. We’ve tried it: poverty, drugs, alcohol, etc. We fail repeatedly.
What is needed, first and foremost, is repentance. We should live responsibly and in union with nature, just as we live in union with God. We should fast and pray for the earth as we live responsibly. Our recent action of blessing the waters is a sacramental expression of right relationship with creation.
But we should not be surprised that sin has consequences all around us.
Thank you Dee, as always.
Differences that are well stated, as yours, offer us another perspective to consider. I am glad you took the time to explain.
but in reference to the data I analyzed years ago, we have a very serious and apparently unremitting problem in how we have lived and utilized nature for own self-serving and self-centered purposes. And despite the polemic in the politicized media, I think it is likely now even worse given these 17 years later than what the doomsayers think they know….
I hope that I’m not too bold to say that the transformation that is needed in this world begins in our own hearts in repentance. In such repentance we might begin to see the world differently and behave differently.
Dee, I think you have simply restated what Michael said (“The environment will be healed as our sin is healed.”) from within your own experience. We are communal beings but we don’t always see the same things the same ways. Your statement(s) are helpful in this conversation, and others like it, as it provides the sense of the triangulation of the data of which you spoke. Many thanks for that!
Dee, I am not surprised by what you write. If there were more like you with the skill and integrity, perhaps we would actually do more real healing. The earth is the Lord’s after all and we are responsible for the damage we do. That is integral to our dominon too.
The trouble is the political ideological solutions are couched in such a way as to encourage us to continue to consume because “they will take care of it”. The soultion is to forcibly change other people.
There is a real problem but the real solution is not being given. In fact the solutions being given will likely make it worse. The asceticism required to heal is difficult and quite beyond me most of the time. I am just as much a consumer as the next person, more than some. I convict myself with my own words all too frequently.
Thank you for your work and your contributions here.
Michael – You say that “The fear of ecological collapse because of human action is deeply overstated. ” I do not know what you mean.
Global warming and climate change are not “ecological collapse.” They are the ecological system healing itself. The large number of human beings and the massive amounts of toxins they produce are upsetting the ecological balance, so the system is using global warming and climate change to eventually eliminate untold millions of human beings. That will reduce the overpopulation of the species.
Again, this is not ecological collapse. It is merely the system at work. The planet is going to be fine. It is human society as we know it that is not going to survive.
Let me add that the only way to avoid the loss of untold millions of lives is for the world to repent and come to believe that God alone is King. But I am like Jonah. I do not expect that to happen.
Thanks Dee for your contribution.
Learning to be still. I’m not disagreeing with what you write. It reminds me of something I heard someone say, half tongue-in-cheek….We should encourage people to smoke. The more they smoke the quicker they die and, as a result, we could save billions on them in Social Security payments.
I am continually amazed at the way modern afluent societys function. We have begun to live in a manner of daily operation that hasnt been seen since the beginning of time . What amazes me specifically is how removed we are from the basic essentials needed for us to survive . Very few people could grow enough food to survive .I have chickens , vegetable patches, bee hives , fruit trees and I cannot produce enough for my family of 5 to survive due to time and effort required .
The other day I stood in the fresh produce isle at the supermarket and took in the all the plastic . Cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic , watermelons wrapped in plastic , grapes in plastic bags so on and so on . All our food is delivered to us in plastic .
No wonder we will soon have more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish .
But how did we get so removed from the point of origin of the staple items necessary for our survival .
Clothes , $4 t shirts from target , made in Bangladesh , shipped overseas , put in a truck , driven to a store , unpacked and displayed on shelves in a store running hundreds of lights all day long etc etc ect . Massive resources required to indulge our laziness , whilst the person in Bangladesh gets peanuts we get a bargain .
Pre renaissance people were artisans . You lived close enough to buy what you needed to survive from the people who made it. You would also be an artisan , with a surname that reflected your skill . You knew the person who made what you needed and they knew you . WE NEEDED EACH OTHER .
So now we are in a system of control like never before.
We , due to laziness and also due to the modern capitalist structure , are now helpless to survive , though we don’t realise it fully yet . Very few of us can live outside this system and if you try I’ll bet you’ll find it to hard and just go back to the supermarket or target . We are in this disgusting and soul destroying consumer loop , and 2000 years ago we were warned about such a system of control through monetary means directly affecting our ability to consume .
The monastics are good examples ( obviously) .
( Mostly ) Eating what they can grow or catch , not slaves to fashion or the latest home decor stylings , living in communities .
I bet their carbon footprint is quite small.
I am a consumer and therefore a hipocrite though , thanks be to God I can see it for what it is though , an addiction and pray for help and healing .
I agree with previous comments, My negative impact on this earth is a reflection of my sinfulness and lack of repentance .
Learning and Aust I will not argue with you at all. If the oceans go and that rain forests go and the bees go the ecological change will be devastating.
That is beside the point. As Father Stephen points out relentlessly, I am not responsible for the entire biosphere of the planet.
Even such ideas as ‘carbon footprint’ are of modernity.
I can only live as small as I can, give God Glory for His Providence, repent and love my wife and those around me.
Just one example though: the batteries for electric cars are largely made in China. The land around the battery factories is so polluted that it is poisonous to life.
If you want to get stringent about it, every activity if our lives harms the environment in some way.
The kicker that many environmental actun groups loose sight if is that human beings are essential to the healing
I don’t disagree with you either , perhaps my point was not well made , I tend to ramble .
I don’t believe any of us are responsible for the “entire biosphere of the planet ” however , simple things like , my fridge is full of food , a lot of which is unecessary , I have a wardrobe full of clothes , to many for just my daily needs . Etc.
Excess is easy , cheap and comforting .
I see that this excess and its comfort are in direct opposition to living the life Christ and the Saints have shown us by example . It’s selfish and indulgent and damages me , my neighbour and of course the planet . It’s a symptom of a deep emptiness and shame .
I pray and hope that God would help me to have a humble and contrite heart so that my comfort will be in Him and not in the material excesses that so easily invade the hearts desires and make a home there.
Modernity has us trapped in its web though. Try to live simply and you realise your stuck in it.
Michael – You say that human beings are essential to the healing of the planet. I say that human beings are the problem. That is where we disagree and I doubt that we will resolve that disagreement in this forum. But I have enjoyed the discussion. God bless.
Learning to be still,
Of course, people are the problem. But we are as much a part of the ecosystem as everything else. The removal of people who return the planet, in time, to some sort of balance…but it would be somewhat beside the point. It will not be healed without us – or it will be healed without us.
Aust, one of the effects of modern eco activism is that it produces equal parts fear and guilt. Both of those passions inhibit actual action because they produce shame. Not even real shame but a generalized shame of being human.
If the rest of creation could be healed without us, Jesus would not have Incarnated.
Once you know that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine –anything is possible — radical hope is born even in the midst of one’s own deep intractable sinfulness.
That hope born of knowledge of Him who is keeps me alive. Occasionally I am given the gift of a deep and abiding joy. Right now as I right these words is one such time.
He is with us.
It might be worthy to note that the Lord knows the end from the beginning and that He designed all things to fit his will. It is utterly arrogant and self loving of mankind to think that he can either destroy or save the planet. Yes pollution is bad. It effects us. But the Cycles of the Sun (we are entering a Grand Solar Minimum) the weakening of the magnetosphere (which equals more cosmic rays striking the earth and causing high altitude clouds and thus blocking the sun’s radiation) and the Milankovitvch Cycles are far more powerful and effective in changing our climate that anything we puny humans can do. To doubt that the Lord has planned for our activities that do pollute and designed His creation to handle our sins is to doubt the sovereignty of our Lord and His power.
Nicholas, well said
Yes, extremely well said Nicholas!
I won’t engage on the science side as this is not the place but I want to point out why some people, especially those who are very immersed in science and/or theology, may be concerned. Some statements or themes routinely come up in conversations which lead “downhill” very quickly. It is not that such ideas cannot be discussed or have no answer, but that they often come out, like clockwork, before someone begins to say some very anti-scientific or anti-sacramental things. For example, we all recognize patterns wherein certain statements about predestination or heaven and hell tend to precede very long, labored, and usually fruitless (as far as is given to us to see) discussions. That is not to say that The Church doesn’t talk about either of those subjects or doesn’t have very thorough and Christ-centered answers to those topics. Yet some statements about them nearly inevitably precede a very predictable slide into attacks on The Fathers and/or The Church. (It is, funnily enough, an example of a symbol, in the Orthodox meaning of that word—the statement is not merely a placeholder for a thing, but rather a manifestation and an in-breaking of said thing!) Some of the statements that have been made on this thread are much like that, except regarding climate change or science. I don’t think many of the posters here realize the deep political, emotional, and essentially tribal underpinnings of some of these statements, at least as they are used elsewhere in public discourse. And I don’t think anyone here means to speak them in a hurtful (and theologically dubious) way. But if some of the scientists reading this thread are spinning around in their chairs, that is what is going on. Topics like Milankovitch cycles (and scientists are well aware of the orbit of the Earth, in case there was any question) tend to be symbols and precursors for very bitter attacks on both science generally and the speaker’s preferred political/social/theological targets more specifically. Again, I do not think that is what is intended here, but I merely wanted to provide some context as to why there may be some tension and back-and-forth. These should not be heated or contentious issues, but, in the current world (particularly in the US, for a variety of reasons), they are.
I also want to point out some things regarding how Christ acts, though, echoing Fr. Stephen [I hope]. Christ’s victory was—and Is—through The Cross. The Jews expected a messiah to come that would act like an earthly king, only magnified by some orders of magnitude. He would be greater and grander, but still fairly predictable (and thus, in a sense, controllable and manageable). And he would certainly not be able to die, but would reign forever in a very human kind of way. Of course, we know how the story really turns out. The King did come, but His grandeur was even greater than we could have imagined, for it was manifested in humility beyond anything we could conceive of. We tried to manage Him, but His Life and teachings broke every pretense we could find. And far from not dying, it was precisely *in* His Death that we know He reigns not just forever, but over all things.
When we look at the planet, we have to take just such a Christ-centered approach, because Christ *Is* The Image And Revelation Of The Father and His plan for the world. If The Lord has “planned for our activities”, it is in this context. Is He Who Himself came and was destroyed going to stop the planet from being destroyed (and I am speaking “theologically” here, not attempting to provide a scientific description of what that may or may not be like)? Was He Who was crucified *by us* ceasing to manifest His sovereignty in that or was He over-exalting mankind? Indeed, we thought He was the arrogant One for calling Himself both The Son Of Man and The Son Of God and in false humility we sentenced Him to death. Little did we know then that our actions would not only affect the life of The Man, but the entire cosmos. And when He was Resurrected, He still had the scars on His Hands and Feet and The Hole in His Side—what was done to Him was healed, but not erased, and in that is yet another revelation of God’s sovereignty, not a contradiction to it. Similarly with the planet, I don’t think that anyone here is claiming that God cannot “undo” what has been, and continues to be, done. But looking at the example of Christ, we should not be at all surprised if He lets things get far worse, end in death, and echo into eternity such that the effects and their memory will not be erased even in The Resurrection. We have no “power” in and of ourselves, no. But we have an effect on everything—that is how God has set up the universe. That effect may be unmanageable from our perspective (the Modern Project says otherwise, of course), but that we have and effect is *not* being called into question and it has *nothing* to do with modernity. Further, because Christ—our Creator—became Man, what we do most certainly *does* have an effect on creation in a way that the action of any other created thing—animal, plant, star, particle—cannot.
And one more thing: I don’t think an “utterly arrogant and self loving” attitude is contingent on the largeness or complexity of an action. Rather, I think it has a lot to do with how and why the action is done. There was a time in history (and perhaps this is still the case in some circles) where flying in an airplane was considered arrogant, as if it was a personal assault on God’s created order or something. But I think this is a misapplication of the terms and relies on a particularly legal view of creation and sin that ends up being, as it were, far more mechanistic than the actual airplane! On the other hand, I think some very “small” and “simple” actions, like grabbing a spoon off of a table, can themselves be done in an “utterly arrogant and self loving” way—I think we see that kind of thing (and maybe that exact example) far too frequently, if even only in ourselves (because we can’t really see the heart of those around us). So I don’t think we can correlate an action that has an effect on the environment with some particular frame of mind or even some sin. Also, I don’t think we should use physical largeness as our measure of power, since we are speaking in theological terms here. Christ was tempted with just such a thought by Satan himself: he would hand Him “power” over all the “kingdoms” of this world. But Christ showed us that this is not really power at all. Instead, He died for what were our sins and saved us by His Life-Giving Death—that is True Power. Caring for our home is important to us—moreso because this is where Christ became Incarnate!—but that is actually a small and easy thing—not something far beyond us—when we place it next to The Power Of The Cross. And, back to Fr. Stephen’s point about sacramentality and how creation “reveals” and is iconic of us, that is the *only* place where it is in our strength: having an effect is “easy” (too easy, perhaps!), but we are not called to have one effect vs. another, but to transform ourselves—and only thereby the world—by The Cross. And we cannot do that *without* The Cross!
My point was not to choose sides, but to remind us that we are not so capable as we think we are as there are many factors, scientific and faith, that are far more powerful than us. I also seek to remind people who is in charge, so to speak. Our discussions about the impact of humans seem to disregard the fact that He, the Lord, foreknows all and He has taken all into account in His plan of Creation.
I am well aware of the mess we have made of not only the air, but also of the soil and the water. We could be far better stewards than we are being, but the fact remains, biological beings create waste by the activity of living. We breathe out Carbon Dioxide and we excrete wastes. I saw a video a while ago about an area along the Skeleton Coast of Africa. It has a penguin colony living there with over a million birds and the sea and land where they are is terribly polluted with their waste. The film makers were remarking at the horrible smell of it all.
And yet, the Lord is still firmly in charge. We have to do a better job of being stewards, but we need not fall into despair over the end of the world caused by us. The arrogance I referred to is the arrogance that we are major players and can overrule God’s plan (this is a major tenet of the Modern Project) and it is our self love that is the source of sin.
The simple fact that we require energy to live will always result in pollution. Some call for the reduction of the human population. My question is who gets to decide those selected for termination? Will it be Big Brother or will be be coerced into self initiated elimination by the propaganda mills? This all smacks of Modern Project thinking, which is why I wrote what I did about arrogance, which is the hallmark of the Modern Project thought process.
Thank you for your comment, Father. I agree.
The scientific consensus about our role in climate change may be found under the heading “Scientific Consesus” at Climate.nasa.gov.
Will it be Big Brother or will be be coerced into self initiated elimination by the propaganda mills?
I think, sadly, this has already been answered. It would seem to be primarily the latter, with the (highly coercive) encouragement of the former.
Interesting. I have had debates with my father over these environmental matters, when I was an Evangelical Protestant – he was (and is) a liberal Anglican. Now I see the same disagreements here. It seems to be that no matter one’s worldview, the determining factor on where you stand is which generation you are in!
I’m not completely sure the divisions lie by generation. Among my students the divisions on environmental issues existed and were debated and were not resolved by acquiring a skill set to evaluate data, and they were more or less of the same ‘generation’. The context of one’s life has something to do with it, no doubt, which is related to generation as you say. But it depends also what sources of information one prefers to use or has access to, depending on one’s capacity and personal initiative. Based on what has been reported by sociologists about behavioral response to even simple questions, it seems we have a readiness to follow intuition rather than doing heavier cognitive work. The latter takes more exertion and an openness or readiness to overturn previous notions held. There is a saying that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but I’ve seen and have been happy to receive insights and inspiration from the lively minds of an older generation, across the years of my now aging life.
‘Taking ‘action” is something that I did by bringing the topic of environmental issues into my chemistry classes, with the purposes of teaching how to conduct science on current issues rather than abstract concepts. Students at the time even balked about having to have such discussions in my classroom, as though such topics were not pertinent to them. These experiences took place as recently as 2006-2011. By making such topics an assignment to my students, meant to some of them, that I was forcing them to deliberate and have a discussion they didn’t want to have. In this sizable subgroup, they had a conviction that there was no such thing as climate change or that it had no relation to human activity or only a slight relation at most. I encouraged them to express their convictions but to back them up with supportive data and analysis. My intent was to teach skills, that would be useful across any area of need or usefulness (medical, environmental, etc). So to sum up, I don’t know your outlook, but if you perceive that your outlook is widely shared in the younger generation, and if it is the case that it is as common as you believe in your generation as you perceive, then perhaps there as been a major shift in the younger generation since 2011.
Such a telling sign of modernity is the idea of “speaking something into existence.” Anything can happen if only you will it hard enough. I first heard of this only about 6 months ago, but since then several people have told me about things they (yes, THEY) have “willed into existence.” As if our will is even comparable to the Will of God.