Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thoughts on Yogi Bear

No doubt it is the psychologist in me, but I am always a least a wee bit suspicious when someone has "special rules" that only work in one area of life. For example, in families in which one ore more members are alcoholics, there are specific (if unspoken) rules about what families are allowed to speak about. More importantly, there are topics ("Mom's" or "Dad's" drinking) that are never discussed--or at least never discussed without risking one's place in the family.

Special rules tell me that in these circumstances I am no longer an ordinary human being--I'm better or my job is more important. Like Yogi Bear I can steal "pic-a-nic baskets" because, well, "I'm smarter than the average bear!" In other words, special roles reflect pride and the common human tendency to self-aggrandizement.

So what has this to do with the spiritual life?

St Maximos the Confessor reminds his monastic readers that they must not prefer one person to another based on virtue or its absence. We must love the good man as a friend he says, and the evil man "as an enemy and by this hopefully win him over as a friend." Concretely, Maximos says this means we must be willing to care for the bodily needs of others regardless of their character. To fail to do so means that we have "divided human nature."

Often we apply special rules to the spiritual life that simply don't work in any other area of human life. Take for example our need to be intentional in our Christian discipleship.
And yet, we are content to let people participate in the life and work of the Church who have no relationship with Jesus Christ, who's presence in the Church--and at the chalice--is was never chosen, but is merely assumed.

For too many Orthodox Christians faith is rarely chosen, but only assumed as part of a more general commitment to family or culture. If this isn't sufficient for marriage, or child rearing, or career, why do we think it is sufficient for our commitment to Christ?

We all understand that we don't, or at least shouldn't, simply simply drift into a marriage because it is just easier to go with the flow. Likewise, we wouldn't, or shouldn't, pick our spouse simply to keep peace in the family? Can we imagine someone saying to us, "I want to marry you not out of love, but to please my grandparents?" Can we imagine a husband turning to his wife (or wife to her husband) and saying "I don't really need to know you, to be intimate with you, it is enough that other people in my family have always had good marriages in the past."

Rightly we would say that this kind of decision making is simply absurd and reflect a rather toxic mix of immaturity and pride.

When I think that I don't need to make a conscious decision for Christ and the Gospel, I am saying that I ams simply too important to ask to be admitted into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a rather curious kind of pride that simply assumes I'm in a relationship with Christ because of who I am, or what I've accomplished, or where my family came from. Again, apply it to marriage. Imagine a man saying to a woman: "Of course you'll marry me, my momma expects you to do so. Beside, we're an old and important family."

Just ain't goin' happen.

Look the bottom line is this: If I have not chosen to follow Christ, then I simply am not anything other than a nominal Christian. Unless I have decided to follow Jesus, my faith is faith in name only.

But a nominal faith is not a saving faith, it is not a sufficient faith and it will not transform me. This doesn't mean that God will not work through me--it just means that the works that God does through me will stand in judgment of me in the life to come.

While faith and vocation are not the products of human intellect and will, they are still acts of intellect and will. Faith is a gift that needs to be received and acted upon--it simply can't be assumed. If I have not chosen to follow Christ, then I'm not following Him.

It is time to follow.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory