Weak, Sick, Poor, Tired: A Story for Losers

Nobody wants to be sick. The dependence it fosters, the way it changes and shapes a life are a form of powerlessness that holds no attraction. Poverty (however it is measured) is a massive struggle against forces that steal human dignity. Most homes in poverty include children and are headed by women. Their daily efforts to pay the rent, work a job (or two or three), tend to childhood needs and face…

The Work that Saves

“Do not be careless. Pray as much as you can – more frequently and more fervently. Prod yourself – force yourself to do so, for the Kingdom of God is taken by force. You will never attain it without forcing yourself.” ~ Saint Innocent of Alaska Do we cooperate in our salvation? Do our efforts make a difference? These questions lie at the heart of a centuries-old religious debate in Christianity. Classically,…

Saving My Neighbor – Just How Connected Are We?

If you are in the “helping professions,” confronting problems in people’s lives, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one is purely and simply an individual. The problems we suffer may occasionally appear to be “of our own making,” but that is the exception rather than the rule. Whether we are thinking of economic or genetic inheritance, or the psychological and social environment, almost all the issues in our lives are…

Hell, Justice and the Heart of Prayer – Thinking Like a Slave

In the third kneeling prayer of Pentecost, there is a boldness in which the Church pleads for the souls in Hell (Hades). It is a boldness that can stun the one who prays, easily wondering, “Are we allowed to ask for these things?” In general, all my life I have heard a rehearsal of the boundaries of hell. I have heard about who goes there, why they must stay there, why it…

The Community We All Need

I once read that the Russian instinct, when under pressure, was to gather with other people, while the American instinct was to flee. Thus, the Russian landscape was marked by villages, while America was marked with isolated homesteads. My Russian knowledge is just hearsay, but I know that Americans like to homestead and to be alone. The American suburb is not a village, it is streets filled with little homesteads, islands of…

Old Friends

A young man imagines that the mistakes he is making are, with more effort, things that he will correct. An older man knows better. It can be a source of humility, or a source of painful regret. Humility is to be preferred. I wonder if this by itself is the reason why the spiritual life is not populated with wise young people. If you are young and holy, you are likely a…

Shame in the Public Arena

In 401 AD, twenty-nine Saxon “slaves,” strangled each other to death with their bare hands in their prison cells. They chose this death rather than being forced to fight one another in Rome’s arena. Better death than shame. Their “owner,” the Senator Symmachus (famously known as the “Last Pagan”), wrote of them that they were a rebellious “band of slaves, worse than any Spartacus.” In the pages of the New Testament we…

The Soul Is a Mirror

There are meditations and insights that simply change your life. I recall walking across the campus at Duke some 30 or so years ago. I had been plowing through a book of Orthodox theology (very thick reading). I would read a page and think, and read it again. But I recall very plainly a moment of insight – it regarded some paragraphs surrounding a statement of St. Basil’s. The “coin dropped” as…

Benedict in the Suburbs

I want to note at the outset that many of Rod Dreher’s suggestions (The Benedict Option) are quite laudable and worth thinking about. This article concentrates on one particular aspect: the acquisition of virtue in the context of American suburban life. Dreher himself mentions the need for proximity and stability. These matters are even more vital than he suggests. Also, it must be said that conservative American Christianity (which seems to be…

To Serve God

In a therapeutic culture in which our goal is to be our very best, it is almost impossible to serve God. The reason is quite simple: when my goal is to be my very best, the goal is my God. “Serving God” thus becomes a euphemism for a Christianity that we take to be therapeutic – and that its value lies in its therapeutic virtues. All of this is a stranger to…