The Seduction of Being Right
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway. ~Mother Teresa
There are many ways that the Enemy seduces men into falling away from God. One of the more sinister and silent is the seduction of being “right” and placing oneself above others. Basically, it’s the sin of vainglory and nothing more than the original sin of pride. That’s not to say that there is no truth and no right or wrong. It’s simply to say that mankind can often follow a sad preoccupation with being “right” about things, and finding comfort in being part of the “right” group, rather than solace in God. I am an Orthodox Christian, in the classical and canonical sense, and I’m grateful and happy to be so. There is sanity to be found in Orthodoxy, especially with more and more Christians apostasizing from the ancient faith than ever before. However, I’m sitting here thinking about Orthodoxy, and about growing up Evangelical Orthodox, and then joining the OCA and about where I’m at right now. I keep thinking about the danger of being preoccupied with being “right”. I don’t mean searching for the Truth, but more the need to be right and have a “security” in feeling a part of THE Church and an adherent to the “right” way. I’m all for orthodoxy and the Truth, but it seems to me that a large portion of time is spent on debating and defining that truth. Jesus is the answer and the Church is His body, and ultimately the Gospel and the commandments are very simple – Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. And, also, as St. James says, “…pure religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering, and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.”
What does it all mean? I ‘m 32 and tired. I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years listening to people argue about how to worship God, how to praise Jesus, the proper way to worship, and how to be the Church. I’ve been in worship that was liturgical and not, instrumental and not, reserved and charismatic. All in all, yes, I do have an opinion and I do think there is a type of liturgical worship as defined by the Heavenly Temple, however I do also think that the saints and angels dance and sing praises to God. I’ve listened for many, many years to people endlessly debate the Orthodoxy of things and I’m sick to death of it. It is very much like listening to a broken record, with the same phrase in the same track being forever stuck in an endless loop. I’m not in any way sick of true Orthodoxy, but really it has already been defined. There are very simple things that the Church has believed everywhere, always, by all believers. These things are not too numerous to count, and are written down in plain language and are available for anyone to read. (Really, they are…look it up.)
It seems interesting to me that what eventually happens in churches, is that people focus less on actually worshiping and ministering to the poor, hungry, naked, prisoners, sick, orphans and widows, and much more on HOW to do those things. The physical act of doing them gets upstaged by the process itself, and eventually not much gets done but having meetings about how to do them. I look around at just my own life and my own journey and I see hunger everywhere – especially spiritual hunger. Not just for the ancient faith and the Truth, but for a purpose. The people are hungry for action, and especially the young people; they need more than just mere words. And yet there is a hunger that is also nearly as insatiable – the craving for correctness and conformity. There is a demonic desire to feel a part of THE pack and on the right side, often at the expense of the basic commandments. My dad recently told me a story about calling a vestment maker to order a new phelonion for himself. The tailor asked him what church he was from and my father replied “St. Paul’s Evangelical Orthodox Church” without much thought. After a few moments of silence the tailor shot back, “OH, well I only make vestments for canonical Orthodox people. Sorry.” He then promptly hung up. My father laughed to himself and thought, “Well, then I guess you won’t be getting my business.” I’m sure the tailor in question thought he was doing the right thing, but in the end his focus on being “right” led to treating someone else rudely without reason, it cost him a sale, and it certainly said volumes about his charity to those outside his church.
Being a youth pastor and camp director, one of things I’ve consistently seen over the last 10 years is that the youth want to experience the kingdom and physically live as Jesus and his disciples lived. However, they often get disillusioned with what they see the Church do, or more often, fail to do. Most of the youth in Western Society have been given everything they could possibly want from a young age on and they are incredibly bored. And all of us – all of us – have been saturated with media, sex, violence, and above all a virtual life and a virtual reality. People are hungry for something that is real, because deep down we all know that there has to be something more than the fights, gossip, lies, drama and staged emotions of modern programming. People are starved for true relationships and real life, and thus they are starved for real and selfless love. They are starved for real and good risk, danger, and the possibility of feeling something other than the abysmal emptiness and loneliness that pervades modern culture. Despite new technologies and the myth that “distances are shrinking”, we are growing further apart and are starved for true communication and true relationships; those not defined by a projected image and a virtual life. If you doubt that this is the case, I challenge you to watch an hour’s worth of random videos on YouTube or Ebaum’s World. I see youth (and this is no longer defined by ages 11 and up – it’s easily defined by adolescents between the ages of 11 – 26 or older…) with a demonic love for the extreme and a penchant for voyeurism and the archiving of someone else’s pain.
And then I see those that are asleep, lulled by the siren song of our world into sleeping away their lives. As Elie Wiesel put it, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” People are asleep and indifferent to what is going on around them. And it’s not just indifference to suffering. It’s indifference to corruption and greed, indifference to environmental crisis and a swiftly declining planet, and indifference to the level of sexual depravity and growing isolation of those around them, indifference to the losing of freedoms in the name of “order” and “the greater good”, while the least of these get overlooked in such a system.
I too am hungry. I too have been asleep and am aware of my own hunger for reality in this technological and lonely milieu. I too have been preoccupied with being “right” and far too little occupied with being God’s. All in all, I am now, and I always have been hungry for the Church – for the people of God who follow in the footsteps of the radical Jesus to challenge the prescribed system of juridical rights and who take care of the lost, the broken, the hungry, the poor and impoverished, the sick and imprisoned, the orphan and widow – the least of these my brethren. I submit that we all – all who have a similar hunger gnawing at them – rise up and do as such, no matter where you’re at. It has to start with “me” and no one else. I can gripe and complain all I want, but ultimately, it does nothing. If I don’t take care of people, then who else will? If you don’t take care of those around you, who else will? Don’t let the seduction of being right deter you from the original commandment. Don’t ever cease to seek after God and the Church. Don’t fall for the parlor tricks or the distractions that the Enemy throws at us. I don’t think the Gospel is negotiable, debatable, allegorical, or metaphorical – I think Jesus meant it when He said, “Go and do likewise.” There is truth and there is right and wrong, and there is freedom in Christ, but above all of this, there is Love, plain and simple, and it’s up to us to live it out. “But how?” you might ask. As a wise father of the Church once said, “Just desire this with all your heart and God will see that it gets done.” If we spend our time in doing the will of our Father, the rest will be worked out in time, and we will be the better for having set our sights on Him and for doing the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves – for indeed true Love knows no other option.
God give us the strength.
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ ~Matthew 25:34-40
Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice – you will be blessed by God in what you do. Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourself. What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world. ~James 1:22-27