Friday, October 29, 2010

A last thought on health

Somehow I have found myself almost to the end of October and I see that there is so much more I could or should have said about health, especially from the spiritual aspect of it.  I have been pressed for time lately, and have many more ideas, but I really need to sit down and sort them out in a cohesive manner that would make sense to all readers.   Probably come springtime, during Great Lent, I can make a better go at this, but for now I need to wrap things up with a conclusion.  And that conclusion is this:

We cannot have good health in isolation from each other.

God said from the very start: "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'" Genesis 2:18   From a lesser authority, Wendell Berry in his book The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture  states this: "To try to heal the body alone is to collaborate in the destruction of the body.  Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness.  Conviviality is healing.  To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation." (pp.103-104, from Chapter entitled "The Body and the Earth")

As an Orthodox Christian, I really dig that last line about the feast of Creation. We fast and feast in our Church like no one else I know.  Particulary, the wedding feast imagery is huge in Orthodox Christianity.   Christ's Church is the bride, and He is the Bridegroom. It is not for nothing that the first wonder that Jesus works in the New Testament is turning the water into wine at the wedding at Cana.  There will be much more on this Bridegroom imagery once we get to Holy Week.  It is so beautiful and other-worldly, I can't wait to share it all with you.  I wish it were Holy Week right now.  Sorry, I've digressed once again.

In order to further prove this point of healing with the involvement of others, I will relay to you this brief testimony of someone "being there" for me.  You may think it's lame, but at the time, it meant the world to me.

This occured during a time that I was a bit down in the dumps about some things, nothing earth shattering, but unpleasant enough that I wasn't my usual self.   I had been walking with a woman, who was no more than an aquaintance, and having just pleasant chit-chat about nothing really when she suddenly stopped the conversation and said, "You know, you have really beautiful hair."  I thanked her of course, but then quickly had to excuse myself because I was on the verge of bursting into tears.  I know it was a compliment on my appearance, but it was so unexpected and sincere that I almost could not contain the joy it caused me.  It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me in awhile, and at least for the next few days, I lived on that kind compliment.  And here's the kicker, this woman was in the process of recovering from late stage cancer surgery.   So when she could have been talking about her trials with this very serious illness (and rightfully so!!!) instead she must of sensed something amiss with me and said whatever she thought might cheer me up.    We should all have such awareness of each other!

And so dear ones, I end with this quote from the ancient Jewish Philosopher Philo Judeaus (15 BC -50 AD).  Ponder it, but more importantly, put it into use.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Ain't that the truth.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The positive effects of smiling

Sunflowers, in full bloom, know how to smile.  Photo from my backyard.
Okay this is a little out of left field maybe, but I ran across this really interesting article on smiling and suicide prevention published by the American Journal of Psychiatry found here.

Suicide, without trying to make light of a devastating topic, is the antithesis of good health.  As Americans, we value life.  From the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Life was believed to be a right of every human being according to the authors of the Declaration.

Of course, not everyone loves their own life and sometimes suicide appears to be the only way out of what looks to be a desperate or embarrassing situation at the particular moment in time.  A few weeks ago in a quiet Arizona community, a man killed his wife, two children (ages 8 & 10) and then himself.  Here's the story if you wish to read it for yourself.  The article says his wife was taken away in extremely critical condition, however according to subsequent articles, she did end up dying two days later in the hospital.  I read in another place that the children were wonderful students and the family car had the special "It Shouldn't Hurt To Be A Child" child abuse awareness license plate.  Obviously there was some other hurt deep within this man that led him to do such a terrible thing.  Sadly, these stories are becoming all too familiar lately.  Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's not.  This gentleman had been employed and was portrayed as a very likeable person by his co-workers, so that doesn't seem to be the case in this particular story.   Whatever the man's "reason" for this, the end result was tragic. 

So back to the original article that inspired me to write this little bit.  According to the American Journal of Psychiatry's article (and it is very readable, no technical jargon to get in the way) a genuine smile can prevent someone from taking their life.  The simple act of showing just a fleeting interest in another human being can have enormous positive consequences.  I have read in some Orthodox Christian literature that smiling at another person is a form of almsgiving.  That's a really great concept if you think about it.

Now I'm not suggesting we all walk around like a bunch of jackasses with a big stupid grin on our faces all day long, but maybe we should be a little more aware of how we carry ourselves.  There are some days when we can't smile.  We all have had those days.  However, there are also days in which we can.  Perhaps, even if it is just one day a week for five minutes that we are happy, we can max out those five minutes by flashing someone a smile or a kind word. 

At any rate, read the article above and let's all make at least a small effort to smile more.  There is an upside for women too.  The more women genuinely smile, the less wrinkles they have.  Google it, there is research to support that theory!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our part of the health equation

The last post clearly states God's role in helping us with our  health.  I can truthfully testify that God is first place I go when I need help.  HOWEVER, if you actually read my little blurb on salvation, there is another important factor in our health, and that is us.

I am responsible for me.  It's not that God can't do all the work, but what I have found is that He wants me to be part of the process as well.  I can't pray to lose weight yet refuse to monitor my caloric intake and ignore exercise.   I can't ask God to find me a job, yet refuse to take one that is offered to me that doesn't meet all "my" requirements.  I can't pray to God for a peaceful resolution to a conflict with a person, yet go around bad mouthing and re-telling people how I have been wronged by said person.  It's like this joke:

A man was standing on his front porch and his neighbor came by and told him that a flood was coming and that he had better evacuate.  The man replied, "No worries. God loves me and will save me."  Well, the flood came down his street and came up to the level of his porch.  A police officer then came down the street in a boat and said "Sir, the flood is only going to get worse, climb into the boat and we'll move to higher ground."  The man then answered back "No, that's okay, God loves me and will save me."  A few hours later, after the man had to move to the roof of his house because the flood waters had overtaken his home a helicopter hovers over the man and drops down a ladder to lift the man to safety.  Sure enough, the reply was the same, "No thanks.  God loves me and will save me."  Sadly, the flood waters rose so high that the man drowned.  The man is now in heaven and says to God "Where were You during my time of trouble?  I thought you loved me."  And then God calmly answers back "What are you talking about? I do love you. Don't you remember? I sent you your neighbor, a police officer and a helicopter."
Two lessons learned:
  1. God provided for the man, but the man refused to take his help. 
  2. Help = Love

Love can come from a variety of sources and but usually it is our pride that gets in the way of taking it.  And although pride is never really justified, it is understandable where it comes from.  If your whole life someone has been telling you that you are stupid or instilled some sort of irrational fear into you and then you finally resolve to undertake some sort of endeavor and this person wants to help you, you may become defensive and say "No!  I can do it myself, I don't need your help."  I am ashamed to admit this, but I can recall many times either saying or thinking this very thing. It's hard habit to break, especially if in the past people have offered their help and really they had ulterior motives the whole time.  Or if there was a person who you told you repeatedly that they loved you, but in the end you found yourself betrayed one way or another.  No one likes to set themselves up for heartache or hurt.  It's a tough spot for sure and defensive-ness is often the knee-jerk reaction to any future offers of help from other people.

So what exactly am I getting at here?  I guess that it is this. 

We HAVE to let others love us.  When we deny their love, we are ultimately denying God's love for us.  Yes, there are crummy people out there, wolves in sheep's clothing as they say.  But, there are also some very good people out there who legitimately want to love us and, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are expressing God's love for us through their actions.  These are the same people fulfilling the words that St. Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2 We are denying these helpers/lovers the chance to fulfill the law of Christ, and that's not nice.  Not nice at all.

I know it's hard, and it's not something you can jump into all at once.  I take baby steps towards this.  If someone offers to open the door for me when my arms are full, I say yes.  If someone sees that I'm under the weather and offers to make dinner for my family, I say yes.  If someone notices that I am not my "normal self" and they ask me what's bothering me, I tell them and don't pretend everything is okay when it is not.  Now, obviously I use discretion and I don't blab out every single detail to every single person who asks because I also need to be mindful of what St. Paul says a teeny bit later "For each one shall bear his own load." Galatians 6:5.  Certainly measure the severity of your issue with the known severity of the one asking you the questions before you respond.  I heard a story of a priest and his wife who, while sitting and watching their very premature baby struggle for life in the NICU, had a woman come in and try to "help" by saying she knew how they felt because her dog had been really sick once.  While maybe this lady loved her dog as much as a child, comparing the two really wasn't the right thing to do in my opinion.  Perhaps the better response could have been "I know this is tough time for you.  Let me know what I can do to help." 

Well friends, I think I may have come full circle on this part of my ramblings on health.  Maybe for the balance of the month I'll post on things like healthy eating and the like.  I hope you enjoyed this.  I know I did.

143 My Friends!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Suffering - Part Four - Dealing with it

There are many ways in which people deal with suffering.  Certainly this isn't new information to anyone.  Excessive drinking, drug use, isolation.  Some are very good at concealing their sufferings and some are not.   I suppose it depends on the person and the situation.  Like I have said before, I'm no trained professional, just an observer.

Also, as I mentioned in a prior post, no one is immune to suffering.  Even if you have had a minor illness, you have suffered a bit.  Or perhaps not even a physical suffering, maybe some sort of other disappointment in your life.  You cannot live on this planet and not have a time when something did not go your way.  It seems to me that sometimes the smallest of disappointments can have monumental effects on your health.   An unkind word to you as a child can sometimes hang with you for a lifetime unfortunately.  I don't agree with the saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."  A broken bone will hurt but will eventually heal, however an unkind word can hurt much longer and may never heal.  We really need to be mindful on how we speak to each other and teach our children to do the same.  Bullying is no joke and kids are killing themselves.

Realizing that this blog is a public forum, I am not going to talk about myself. Quite frankly it's none of your business.  God knows, I know, some people close to me know.   Some people are comfortable talking about their lives publicly, but I'm not.

I really don't know where to go with this other than to say that healing from these sufferings is found with God.  Sufferings will never go away entirely, disappointments will never cease in this life. But the hurt and the healing of these things can be found with God, and if you are Christian, this healing is specifically made possible by Jesus Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection. We find this in the Old Testament "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed."  Isaiah 53:5.  And in the New Testament "who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed." 1 Peter 2: 23-25.  In other words, it is called salvation.

Salvation in the Orthodox Christian Church is a little bit different than what some people think.  And not different in an opposite direction, but different in that it goes a little bit deeper than the popular definition.

On the top of this blog I have posted something about salvation from the perspective of an Orthodox Christian priest.  If you are interested, click here.  Some of you may agree with this, and some may not.  America is a free country (Thank God) and we all have the right to our own opinions.   I simply offer this explanation as food for thought.

God bless you all and have a great day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Suffering - Part Three - A Meditation on God's Will

I'm letting myself off the hook for another day and postponing my next entry by posting the following meditation by St. Nicholai Velimirovic (1880-1956).

This is from a beautiful little book that breaks up the Lord's Prayer into segments.  The portion below is from "Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven..."

Heaven and earth are Thy fields, O Father.  Upon one field Thou sowest stars and angels, upon the other thorns and man.  The stars are moving according to Thy Will.  The angels sing on the stars as on the harp, according to Thy Will.  The thorns grow up and sting men, according to Thy Will.  But man meets man and asks:  what is God's Will?

How long will man be ignorant about what is Thy Will, O Father?  How long will he abase himself before the thorns under his feet?  Thou didst create him for equality with angels and stars, and lo!  he is beaten even by thorns.

But behold, if a man will, he can speak Thy name better than the thorns, and as well as the stars and angels do.  O Thou, the Spirit-giver, and Will-giver, give man Thy Will.

Thy Will is wise, and fresh and holy.  This Will moves the Heavens: why should not the same Will move the earth, which compared with Heaven, is as a drop of water compared with the ocean?

Thy Will is wise.  I listen to the tale of bygone generations, and I look up to the sky and know that the stars are moving as they have done for thousands of years, always in the same way, and are bringing in due time summer and winter.

Thou are never wearied in acting with wisdom, our Father.  No foolish thing ever finds a place in Thy plan.  Thou are fresh in wisdom and goodness today as on the first day of creation, and tomorrow Thou wilt be as today.

Thy Will is holy as it is wise and fresh.  Holiness is inseparable from Thee as we from the air.

Whatever is unholy may climb up towards Heaven, but no unholy thing ever descends from Heaven, from Thy throne, O Father.

We pray to Thee, our holy Father, that Thou mayest soon bring the dawning of the day when the will of all men will be as wise, fresh and holy as Thy Will;  and when all Thine earthly creatures will move in harmony with the stars in Heaven;  and when our planet will sing in chorus will all Thy wondrous stars:

O Lord, teach us!
O God, lead us!
O Father, save us!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Suffering - Part Two - From the Very Start

Okay, I'm back.

We took a few days off, went out of town and now I feel completely refreshed.  It's really amazing how a simple change of scenery, even if for just a few days, can change your outlook on things.  Those last few posts were bringing me down.  They should though.  Suffering sucks and is zero fun to talk or reminisce about.  Trust me, I know.

Any we are and I'm attempting to procrastinate once again...okay...I'll stop. Could somebody please hold my cyber hand as I attempt this once again?  You will? Thanks, I always knew I could count on you.

Suffering is not new.  It is something that has been a part of the human condition since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.  Both begin their sufferings in this harsh world.  Adam is forced to work the ground, Eve bears the pain of childbirth and then watches one of her sons kill the other. I have heard that there is a terrific book called "The Lament of Eve" that can be found at SVS Press.  I have not read it, but it's on my list.  At any rate, suffering is there from the start. 

Now, if you subscribe to the Big Bully Deity, you would say, well God punished them for breaking his law in the Garden of Eden.  But, if you look a little deeper, this is really not the case.  God, in advance, told Adam and Eve that they could do whatever they wanted in the Garden.  They didn't have to work and could spend the day enjoying Paradise and the presence of God.  But God in his infinite Love did not create Adam and Eve to be robots and force them to love Him, he gave them a choice, he gave them free will.  There was a tree in the Garden that God specifically asked them not to eat from, for when they did, they would die.  That is how they could express their free will, by using it to either choosing to believe God or not.

I find this like parenting really.  I tell my eldest not to watch or read something because I love her and I know that at this moment of time she is not mature enough to handle the consequences associated with knowing this information.  For instance, the Harry Potter series.  As an 8 year old, she wanted to read and watch Harry Potter.  However, I know that this child, albeit quite intelligent, is really affected by images she sees or reads and that she would not be able to handle the scary stuff.  She was really mad, but now as a 12 year old who has now read the HP series, she tells her 6 year old sister that HP is too scary for the 6 year old and that she should wait until she's at least 10.  Gosh, Mom was right!  Somebody mark that down.

Okay, back to Adam and his wife.  Well, we know what happens because just look around you.  We ain't in Paradise are we?  Adam and Eve made the conscious decision not to choose to love God and found themselves outside the Garden for good.  I think I heard Fr. Tom suggest that the mistake wasn't even in the eating of the from the tree, the mistake was not taking accountability and asking God for forgiveness for disobeying  Him. Instead,  Eve blames the serpent and Adam blames God for giving him Eve in the first place.  Neither one asked for forgiveness and neither wanted to take accountability for their actions.  They forgot their place in the Garden, and thought they knew better than the One who had created them and the Garden to begin with.  So now, Adam and Eve had to reap the consequences of their actions.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are always consequences to actions, both bad and good. 

I'll stop here with the Adam and Eve story now and fast forward to modern times.  The following is a mediation on suffering by Fr. Seraphim Rose.  As I mentioned in an earlier post here, Fr. Seraphim is a controversial person, although he shouldn't be.  Some people have a problem with him because PRIOR to his conversion to Orthodox Christianity he had experimented in a certain lifestyle in his quest to find a higher revelation.  Big Bully Deity people don't like the fact that Fr. Seraphim lived an un-Christian life prior to becoming a conscious Christian.  I guess BBD people have never sinned or never known that deep drive to find the One True Love.  I feel bad for them.  Not that I'm suggesting that you need to go out and find sufferings, but to not have that hunger and thirst for Truth is a sad thing. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled!" says the Lord Jesus Christ and us in the Orthodox Church who sing these very words every Sunday in our worship service.

So here's a little bit from Fr. Seraphim on Suffering from his little book "God's Revelation to the Human Heart":

A year or so ago I had a long talk on a train ride with a young American.  He met me seemingly by chance (of course, there is no chance in life) and told me that he was learning Russian.  He was a religious seeker who had been to all kinds of so-called Christian groups, had found nothing but hypocrisy and fakery everywhere and had been ready to give up on religion altogether.  But then he heard that in Russia people were suffering for their faith.  Where there is suffering, he thought, there will probably be something real, and there will not be such fakery as we have in America.  And so he was studying Russian with the purpose of going to Russia and meeting people who were real Christians.  As a Russian Orthodox priest, I was astonished to hear this, for he had never before seen an Orthodox pastor nor attended any Orthodox service.  We had a long discussion about religion, and I saw that his idea was quite sound:  the idea that suffering might produce something genuine, while our indulgent life easily produces fakery.

In the 4th century, a great Orthodox [Christian] theologian, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (also called "the Theologian") described our religion as "suffering Orthodoxy" - and so it has been from the beginning, throughout the whole history of the Church.  The followers of the crucified God have suffered persecution and tortures.  Almost all the apostles died as martyrs, Peter being crucified upside-down, and Andrew being crucified on an x-shaped cross.  During the first three centuries of Christianity, believers fled to the catacombs and endured tremendous sufferings.  It was in the catacombs that the Church's Divine Services - which we celebrate today in a form little changed since that time- were worked out in a constant expectation of death.  After the age of the catacombs there was the struggle to retain the purity of the Faith, when many teachers tried to substitute personal opinions for the divinely revealed teachings given by our Lord Jesus Christ.  In later centuries, there were invasions of Orthodox countries by Arabs, Turks and other non-Christian peoples, and finally - in our own days-by Communists.  Communism, which has persecuted religion as it has never been persecuted before, has attacked first of all precisely the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe.  As can be seen, therefore, our Faith actually is a suffering Faith; and in this suffering, something goes on which helps the heart to receive God's revelation.
Here's one more thing that I have to say about Fr. Seraphim's writings. If you decide to read some of his other stuff, you must keep this in mind.  Fr. Seraphim was very strict with himself as an Orthodox Christian monk, and many people try to emulate this same strictness with themselves without the guidance of a spiritually mature pastor.  Fr. Seraphim was keenly aware of what separated him from God and it was his almost pathological strictness with himself that kept him in God's presence and kept him from falling away back into his old life that had left him empty and tormented.  Spiritual guidance by someone other than yourself is of the utmost importance!  Fr. Seraphim had many spiritual guides, one being St. John of San Francisco and Shanghai.  We can't be our own spiritual guides, it just doesn't work.  I have found this to be personally true and so did Adam and Eve.

I have to stop here for today.  I've got piles and piles of laundry that seem to be multiplying like bunnies and
I have to figure out where to go from here.  Maybe on how to handle suffering? And how not to perpetuate suffering in the world?  We'll see....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Suffering - Part One - An Introduction of Sorts

I feel like I need to have a disclaimer at the beginning of each post on this topic.  I am not a doctor, I am not a "trained" theologian, I am not the wife of a priest/pastor, nor am I a professional journalist/writer.  I am a regular lay person.  As for educational credentials, I have a B.S. in Marketing from Penn State University. 

I started this blog because most Orthodox Christian blogs are written by those aforementioned people.  I'm just the lady standing in the pew on Sunday trying to focus on God but usually focusing on my mischievous 5 year old son who likes to poke his sisters in the butt while they are trying to focus on God.  Each Sunday is an adventure for sure.

For those of you not familiar with an Orthodox Christian worship service, it goes for about an hour and half and we are standing most of the time.  We love God in our Church and find worshipping Him to be a delight and not a forced obligation, hence the long service.  We stand because we believe that we are in the presence of God and do so out of respect.  What happens when the President of the United States enters a room?  Everyone stands up.  It's about respect.  Once you lose respect, it's all over with. 

Can you tell that I'm procrastinating? I should get an honorary degree in procrastination, I'm that good. It's just that suffering is such a deep and complex issue that I am terrified that I will end up making light of something very serious.  So, here I go.

I know suffering.  And if you are a human being with a heart and are completely honest with yourself, you know suffering too.  Some people suffer more acutely than others.  Some are born with debilitating diseases, some are born into truly destructive family situations, and some just acquire their sufferings measure by measure until the accumulation of those sufferings is so tremendous, so unbearable that it is physically and emotionally crippling. 

People want to know why they suffer.  They demand answers.  They are tormented in the still of the night when their thoughts won't leave them alone. Unanswered questions arise such as:

Why do I have this disease? 
Why did I lose my job and the bozo without a clue who sat next to me got to stay AND got a promotion?
Why did my mother/father neglect or abandon me?
Why is my child suffering?
Why did I grow up in a home with alcoholics?
Why did someone who told me they loved me ultimately betray me?
Why am I alone?
Why am I still reaping the negative effects of a bad decision I made 21 years ago?
Why did God, if He's so damn good, let this happen to me?

These can be soul crushing and painful questions.  Many people glibly respond by saying, "Your sufferings are God's perfect will, so just smile and carry on like nothing is wrong!"  Or this too: "You are being punished you filthy sinner that's why!"  I believe some of these people must be the same ones who worship the Big Bully Deity mentioned in an earlier post.  Whoever they are, those are not answers that a suffering person wants to hear.  It's mostly untrue, and completely insensitive.

So, what is at least the beginning of wisdom to answer these questions? Well, what I finally came to realize is that it actually does have to with God's will but not like I mentioned above. It also has to do with my free will, the neighbor's free will and the free will of the careless woman in her car with the name of her church plastered across the back who still does not know the pick up and drop off rules at school.

It is the Orthodox Christian teaching that God is Love. Jonah says it quite beautifully here  in the Old Testament, and the beloved disciple John says it here in his first epistle in the New Testament. God gives us the free will to love Him, love His Creation and love each other. There has to be free will in a true loving relationship, we are not robots.  God can't force us to do anything, nor does he want us to feel forced. He respects our free will and will not interfere (unless you allow for His interference of course). **addendum** Perhaps interference is a poor choice of words.  God is always with us, whether we ask Him to be or not.  He sees, He knows, He watches, He waits.  He allows us to make choices and allows us to make mistakes. 

Sadly, not everyone chooses this path of love and that's when crappy things happen. And since we live in this world with those who choose not to love me or you or the environment, we innocently bear the consequences of that decision by others.  "Other people" are not always to blame though.  We must take responsibility for our own actions, however our level of culpability  does vary greatly from person to person.

Again I really want you to hear this from a "professional" and I recommend the CD lectures by Fr. Tom Hopko that I mentioned in the prior posts.  He also has many lectures for free on Ancient Faith Radio.  His podcast is called "Speaking The Truth In Love".  They don't disappoint.  The direct link to his series of talks is found on AFR here.  

That's all I can muster for today friends.  I'm taking a few days off away from blogging. It has drained me a bit, plus my kids are on break and I need to spend time with them.  I'll be back next week for sure with more.  I don't know what exactly, only that I know that there is more.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Urgent Post

It has come to my attention via a comment left with the last post that maybe I am making light of sickness and death.

I am not.

What's ironic is that my very first post had originally listed three people who I know who are fighting outrageous odds against cancer.  One is 6 year old child, another is a 40 year old mother of two and third is my godfather/uncle who is 69.  I decided not to post the details of this for two reasons.
  1. Some people like to handle their illness in private and I had no right posting the details of their battle
  2. I don't want people to "feel sorry" for me.  I am not the suffering person, just the bystander.
I can promise you that I do not think that sickness or suffering or death is funny.

It is not.

As one who has suffered with illness myself, I know first hand that there is nothing funny about it.  Pain be it physical or emotional is not funny.  However, those who suffer with it can deal with it with humour.  I will let them be the funny ones.

Finally, I have this to say about Fr. Tom. 

Fr. Tom is the child of an alcoholic.  He used to watch his father beat his mother every Easter morning.  This bit of information can be found on another very helpful CD called The Word of the Cross found here. The word of the cross is one of suffering. For what it's worth, Jesus suffered on the way to the cross.  He was not whistling Dixie with a crown of thorns on His head.  His mother was not cheering at the base of the cross, but  instead "yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also" Luke 2:35.   As a mother, I cannot imagine watching a child of mine die such a horrific death.  I cringe at the thought of her suffering.

Maybe this is my next topic.  Suffering.  Honestly I am not comfortable with writing about such a thing.  I NEVER EVER EVER want to mislead anyone or give them the wrong impression about such a serious topic. 

Give me a day or two to think about it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bad Health = Punishment from God?

I have to admit that I think I may have bitten more off than I can chew with this topic on health.  Quite frankly, I don't even know where to begin, so I'm plugging my nose and jumping right into the topic with this cannonball of a equation.  Does poor health = punishment from God?

The short answer, no.  The longer answer is, well, longer.

There is a common misconception in this world that God loves to punish people. The theory goes something like this:  God just sits around day and night waiting for us to screw up so he can zap us with some sort illness, bad turn of events or even just a crummy day.  He is wrathful tyrant with a massive chip on His holy shoulder who cannot wait to condemn all unbelievers, drinkers, smokers, homosexuals, adulterers and those of us who wear white after Labor Day. One way to appease this "God" is to feed Him with 10% of your gross income, and then He will dispense His good "favor" to you.  However, should you fall short, you had better watch the hell out because tragedy is on the way.  At 9.9%, it may only be a flat tire, however the closer you get to 0%, the closer you get to some debilitating disease or sudden tragic death (plane crash, wild boar attack, falling anvil from the sky).

This may sound funny, but turn on one of those "religious" goofballs on TV and this is pretty much the description you are going to get.  God will bless you with good health/good job/good sex if only you please Him, the Wrathful and Angry God. Those who propagate this sort of idea not only distort the image of the real God found in the Holy Scriptures, but also do one more thing.  They instill fear. When surveyed, 9 out of 10 historical despots will agree with me.  Want to control the people? Control them with fear.  Yes, the Scriptures say "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:9-11), but this fear that the Scriptures speak of has nothing to do with God wanting to hurt us, but everything to do with drawing our attention to Him.  It is HE that is in ultimate control and not I.  I am not the center of the universe, God is.  Once I figure that out, then it is the beginning of wisdom.

Now, if you subscribe wholeheartedly to above Wrathful God business then maybe my blog isn't for you.  I understand.  It's a hard thought process to break, especially if you have been raised in the US.  Our so-called puritanical "Judeo-Christian" roots, complete with witch hunts, slavery and prohibition, still choke us today.  The notion of a loving and merciful God in this country has never existed at the popular level, just the Big Bully Deity.  If you don't want to agree with me, then perhaps the Prophet Jonah's testimony can sway you (see my post on Jonah here) as to how loving and merciful God truly is. 

I am not saying that sin is non-existent, and that there are no health/emotional consequences to sin.  There are negative effects for sure, but these are not punishments, but sometimes natural consequences to the unnatural, non-organic uses of our body. Example:  If you smoke a lot, you may have an increased risk of getting lung cancer.  The warning is right there on the box for crying out loud.  I realize this is quite simplistic and doesn't answer other deeper questions like "Why do innocent children suffer?".  For those answers, I need to bring in a professional.
So my dear readers without further ado, I present to you this:

Sin:  Primordial, Generational, Personal by Fr. Thomas Hopko, $16
Cover art of CD is Romanian folk art of St. George slaying the dragon (dragon = sin/evil/Satan).
Now, don't let the name scare you.  This lecture is not scary, too theological, or dry.  It is quite funny, easy to understand but most importantly, very enlightening and relevant to life in the 21st century.  Trust me people, I have listened to this over and over again.  I have to because it gives so much food for thought that I will think about something Fr. Tom has said and then not hear the next 5 minutes of his talk.  Fr. Tom's lecture gives the Orthodox Christian understanding of what sin is, where it comes from, who is to blame and what we can do about it.  If you hate love, then this ain't for you.  If you love light and truth (which are the verses right beyond John 3:16 which people seem to ignore John 3:16-21) then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this for your listening pleasure.

Times are tough, I know.  This may not fit into your budget, so if you live locally and would like to listen, give me a ring and I will lend you my copy.  Or if you wish to purchase your own copy go here.  I just looked at it and for some reason the font in the description is all screwy.  No worries, I'm sure your order will be processed.  And by the way, I profit nothing from this.  I don't attend St. Vladimir's Seminary nor have any connection to them other than I purchase items from them and used to visit there when I was a child.

Okay, I've said a lot of stuff, maybe even stuff that makes you a little uncomfortable.  But before you start throwing other Scripture at me and cursing me out, give me the balance of the month to explain myself further.  There is no way I can say everything I want to say right now, so throw me a bone and await future posts.  Thanks guys!

p.s. - Sorry for the messed up formatting in the paragraphs above.  I'm still trying to figure this blogging stuff out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why health?

Yummy Turnips. 
More information about turnips can be found at the source of this photo Purdue University Vegetable Senior Study.

Before I post anything, I think I need to have a disclaimer.  I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV.  I will not be dispensing any sort of medical/nutritional advice, but only point the reader to things that I have found interesting and/or helpful in my own life. Additionally, in the state in which I live, we have something called Veggie Libel Laws.  I cannot insult turnips nor disparge the manner in which they are grown (or any other food product for that matter).   We have laws in this country which, as a dutiful US citizen, I am bound to respect.  And if we don't follow the laws, there is chaos and I am against chaos of any sort.  My life is chaotic enough. Capeche?  Good, so let us commence our posting on health.

So....Why health?

Well I guess the most obvious reason is that our health is the most vital thing in our life.  We cannot function properly as human beings if our phyiscal, emotional or spiritual health is lacking.  It is for good reason that people say to you when things are rough: "Well, at least you have your health!"  We all struggle with some sort of illness, unfortunately some more than others, and I figure it is something we all have in common. 

So as my ancestors in the Slavic "Old Country" would say as they raised their glasses high..."Na Zdorovye!"  "To Your Health!"