Lent Is Asking, “Who’s The Boss?”

Lent is the annual anniversary of asking ourselves, “Who’s The Boss?” Over the next several posts, we will examine the different areas of our lives where we need to ask this question. What does your boss look like?

tv sitcom who's the boss
“Who’s The Boss” TV Sitcom

Under The Surface

For most Orthodox Christians, it may appear that the only changes during Lent are more services and less meat. However, there is a lot more going on, similar to looking at an organism under the microscope. On the surface we are called to “hide our fasting” Matthew 6:16. This means that under the surface, beneath the tip of the iceberg, there should be a lot going on. There should be an internal fight. The winner of that internal fight is the boss.

Gaining Control In Lent

Lent is a gift to help us understand who’s in charge. Sadly, a lot of us are okay with not being in charge of our own lives. Maybe that hamburger is the boss, or cheese is in charge. For others the boss may be resentment or money. These items are not evil, but they should not be the boss of us.

Looking Ahead

Lent provides a task you can do. Some will only fast from meat because that is all they can do right now. While others may fast from meat and oil, while others will struggle with cheese. The church knows that we are different people on different paths heading to the same place. One of my favorite quotes about the Orthodox Church is this, “The Orthodox Church has high expectations and high mercy.” It is easy to have high expectations, but did you know there is an abundant amount of mercy available to all of us. Mercy is there to help us when we mess up. It is also there to help us recover from losing control and keep trying to be the boss.

Lent is a spiritual marathon, and Pascha is our finish line. I have run a marathon. At the end, it was sheer will power which carried me on. Without control of my will, I would not have finished. For the last eight miles I was the boss of my body. So we will begin Lent this way, by asking “Who’s the boss of you?” After you are the boss, only then can you submit to God’s will.

The Patriarch Of Alexandria Has Something To Teach Us

Did you hear about the Patriarch of Alexandria consecrating several woman to the office of deaconess? You can read all about it by clicking HERE. Readers of this article usually fit one of three categories: indifferent, appalled, or supportive. Which one are you?

consecration of eastern orthodox deaconesses
Consecration of Deaconesses by Patriarch of Alexandria, 2017

Biblical Precedent

I love that we have a history for this in the Orthodox Church. In Romans 1:1, St. Paul mentions St. Phoebe, who is known as a deaconess, and her service to the church. Even in apostolic times we had deaconesses! The Orthodox Church continues to amaze me. The world of Orthodoxy is bigger than most of us can imagine.

It is easy for both cradles and converts to think their own parish is the norm for Orthodoxy. However, I have visited about 100 parishes in the last three years as part of my work for the Antiochian Archdiocese. Most of those were Antiochian, but I have also visited Russian, Greek, and OCA parishes. What we do not realize is that there is a spectrum, and every parish is different in some way. There is no normal way to do the Liturgy, trust me I know. There is no normal way to sing Vespers on Saturday night, trust me I know. Maybe there should be, but I am trying to tell you that every parish is different in demographics, personality, and style.

We are a vast church with people and cultures all over the world. We are also known for incorporating parts of a culture into the worship and Liturgical cycle. Somehow we have almost perfected (or possibly perfected) the art of including culture without watering down theology. Have you ever seen a Divine Liturgy in Ghana? It looks familiar, but it also looks amazing and nothing like the Divine Liturgy at my parish. Click HERE to watch Ghanaians sing Christ Is Risen with amazing joy and passion. The video really takes off at the 25 second marker.

The Deacon And Deaconess

Visit as many parishes as you can. Learn about female readers. Investigate the Western Rite, its validity and value. Explore all the Orthodox churches in your city and when you travel. It’s a beautiful world waiting to invite you in.

Although their presence is rare in America, deacons or a deaconess is common throughout our history. The variety of Orthodox worship and style will stun most of us. This is not a bad thing, but rather opportunity. It speaks to the ability of the church, which is an expression of God’s love on earth, to meet people where they are. Jesus did this with each of his apostles. He met Matthew as a tax collector. Jesus did not accidentally call James and John “sons of thunder.” Peter denied Christ after following Christ for three years. The apostles were not all the same, and after Pentecost their personality continued in their leadership.

Our worship was not all the same in the first millennium. Although 99% of the Orthodox Church now uses the same Liturgy on Sunday mornings, we have still found a way to express our differences and remain united. What unites us is not our worship style or the presence or absence of a deaconess, but rather the truth handed down from the apostles.

 

My New Friend Wants His Loving Parish To Connect

My new friend, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA, wants to help his parishioners connect with each other and those in Emmaus. I was honored when Fr. Andrew invited me to lead a pre-Lenten retreat at his parish. The topic we settled on was, “Why Do We Avoid Evangelism?”

From my perspective the retreat this weekend went well. And then, I was even more encouraged when I heard Fr. Andrew speak to his congregation about what I was sharing. He told them his summary of the retreat, that we need to connect with people, and when he used the word connect I knew that he totally got it.

holy trinity, perfect community, orthodox icon
The Holy Trinity Icon, a perfection connection.

Doctrine Is Scary

America is used to have people spew doctrine at them from many different places. The traditional method of evangelism in the Orthodox Church actually saves doctrine for later. The first step is to connect with people through fellowship, prayer, and self-transformation. Eventually people will want to know why we are the way we are, and then we can share the doctrine of Jesus Christ and how it has changed our lives. But the connection must always be there. We cannot start with doctrine, and we must maintain a connection once we start sharing doctrine.

For some of us our children have left the church, or maybe a parent has stopped attending church. The easy way is to ask them, “when will you come back to church?” However, the Christlike way is to say, “how are you? I want to connect with you.” I have been horrible at this, but I really do want to connect with those around me.

Do We Connect Like The Trinity?

When I think about the Trinity and how it demonstrates for us a perfect community, I think about the beautiful connection between the three of them. We are called to have this same beautiful connection with the humans in our lives. Not just friends and family, but all humans. For when we partake of the Eucharist, are we not entering into a connection with everyone else who is partaking?

Rules are good for us, but if there is no love, no connection, then the rules will be empty. I am glad the church teaches me how to live the Christian life, but if I simply follow the rules in  a Pharisaical way, then I am missing the point.  The rules are there so that I can shed my selfishness and begin to connect with those around me, and therefore connect with God.

Sheep & Goats

Helping people less fortunate than me always establishes a connection. I always hope for more than just, “here is a few dollars” because that is not enough. The dollars will help, or your time at a soup kitchen. However, while you are doing good works, consider trying to connect with the people you are helping.

Yesterday Fr. Andrew read the gospel of the last judgement during the Divine Liturgy. We see in this gospel lesson how to minister to those around us and how to connect with them, and in doing so, connect with Christ.

When we connect through ministry with those less fortunate, we are connecting with Christ. When we avoid the less fortunate in our lives, we are avoiding Christ. We all know what it is like to have a bad phone connection. We walk around, ask the ever popular “Can you hear me now?” until the connection improves. Re-position yourself in your life so that you can have a good connection. Move around, move closer to people, and make sure that they can hear you. Connect.

What To Do When Someone Leaves The Orthodox Church

What should we do when someone leaves the Orthodox Church? John left the church several years ago. After repeated negativity and bickering, he lost interest in the elitism so many in Orthodoxy like to display. He lost interest, not in this statement, but in the arrogance of, “we are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.”

perspective is everything, leaves of the Christian tree
This is how many Americans view Christianity. Leaves of the Christian tree

Leaves Stick Together

Please hear me clearly. John did not stop believing the statement above. He tired of the arrogance people displayed when saying the statement. Especially when these arrogant people lived a different life on Facebook. The arrogance, although said about a true statement, can be a source of division. This division pushes people away from Orthodoxy. I still pray for John and hope you will too.

What can we do when someone leaves the church? First, we need to follow up with people in a loving way and find out why. This does not mean you have to maintain a long term relationship (if you can that would help). Just inquire on how they are doing and that you miss them. Second, avoid anything that will impart guilt or shame. Just “love on them” and tell them you miss them. Spend time listening to their story. Let them know they can still be leaves on your community tree if they ever want to come back. You are a leaf, just like them, and they need to know you want them around. You cannot assume they know that you care.

Loving Thy Lost Neighbors

Several people have asked if they should reach out to John, “Absolutely! I worry that no one will reach out to him besides me.” Not one of those people has followed up. Maybe they are legitimately busy or some crisis took priority. I don’t know. However, I do know that there are many like John who need us to reach out. God uses people to express his love. God wants you to be a conduit of his love to those around you. We need to love our neighbors and our lost neighbors, those who have fallen away.

It can be easy to dismiss someone who leaves as an apostate. John chose to leave so what does that have to do with you or me? What if they left because of a sin you or I committed? Keep this in mind (from Dn. Michael Hyatt), “you are more likely to be hurt by people at church than anywhere else.” This means the opposite is true, that you are more likely to hurt people at church than anywhere else. We could be the very cause of our lost neighbors.

When The Leaves Fall

Many people are leaving because no one cares about them. They leave as a leaf falling from a tree. There were no calls to check on them. No one has even noticed they are gone. In so many of these situations no one cares.  Here is the good news. You can.

The Danger Of Becoming Orthodox, Part 2 of 2

There is a danger in becoming Orthodox. However, we can do something about this danger.

To summarize the first post, which you can read by clicking HERE, many of our converts are leaving as quickly as they join. Chrismation day can feel like a wedding, and after that the let down begins.

The good news is there are two ways we can make a difference. We need a pragmatic approach to this problem,  so I did some research to find tangible solutions. Both of these solutions can begin during catechesis, and I would argue should begin during catechesis. These two solutions help our new members participate at a deeper level, which can foster healthy relationships and a deeper zeal for the faith.

A Christian Community Is Important
Adult Christian Education

Adult Programming

Whether a Bible study or book study, having regular adult programming at your parish is critical in America. There is a myth in America that the eucharist is enough, and in my southern roots let me say, “it ain’t!” The way my friend, Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff, said it was this, “the eucharist is essential but not enough.”

Just like in my marriage, there are different components of the marriage which are essential, but any one component is not enough. Regular adult programming (outside of worship services) creates relationships and challenges us to internalize what we are learning. We need to be challenged intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

There are many forms of adult programming. The easiest way to get started is with a Bible or book study. These can be scheduled at any time. Find out what time people from your church would appreciate, whether a Tuesday morning at 6:30 AM or a Thursday evening at 6:30 PM. Every parish is different, so a schedule in one parish may not be a good fit for the next parish. Remember the goal is for people to participate, so you may have to be flexible on your schedule.

My Ministry

Several of our parishes do this, so it is hard for me to give credit to one priest. Once someone is a catechumen, help that person find a place to serve in the church. This might be coffee hour, or at the altar, or even in the nursery. Every person should find a way to have a ministry related to the church.

Of course there are exceptions, such as someone taking care of a loved one at home. However, most of us could be doing more to serve the church. If our priest is pro-active at engaging us, we can accomplish so much more for the Kingdom of God. Some people are waiting to be asked to serve, and do not feel comfortable volunteering. Ask them to participate in the life of the church, because so many of our new members are scared or nervous about what to do. Ease the fear or apprehension by offering ministry options.

Becoming Orthodox

We are always becoming Orthodox. We area also always in danger of unbecoming Orthodox, and this organic relationship with the church (and God of course) will forever be changing. We are either moving deeper into our relationships or not. Catechesis never really ends, and in a way we will always be catechumens. Let us not forget that are new members are fragile and delicate. They need attention, direction, and gentle love on helping them become apart of their new community.

 

 

New Episode: “Measuring Church Health”

Screenshot 2016-01-07 14.01.31According to Orthodox Natural Church Development the health of a parish can be measured in eight categories. Adam talks again with Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff but this time about measuring the health of a parish and offering a solution for those parishes who are sick. Learn more atwww.oncd.us.

Click HERE to listen.

Evangelism Part 8: Key West and Gay Marriage

When St. Paul was at Mars Hills, he made sure he understood his audience before speaking. When St. Innocent visited the Native Alaskans, he spent time learning and listening before speaking. It is easier to make assumptions about the people we are around than to be attentive. It is easier to focus on what we want to say instead of what is being said.

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Earlier this year I visited Key West, FL. It is common knowledge that Key West is a diverse community and has openly supported alternative life-styles, such as gay marriage, for a long time. As I was browsing the goods of a street vendor she struck up a pleasant conversation. I think she was used to tourists and knew how to keep them around. As soon as she found out that I work for a church, she wanted to know if my church supported gay marriage. It was in that moment that I could have said, “No” and lost her. Instead I remembered Sts. Paul and Innocent by answering her with a question, “what is the purpose of marriage? It is difficult for me to answer that question without discussing the purpose of marriage.” Instead of a possible argument, we began having a discussion about why people get married. Instead of this woman thinking she was dealing with another pig-headed Christian, we had a pleasant conversation directly about the topic. I did not make assumptions about her and she stopped making assumptions about me.

To my surprise, she enjoyed our conversation so much she hugged me when we were finished talking and asked me to come say hi next time I was visiting. To be clear, I did not hide the gospel, water it down, or dilute the doctrine of Christianity. I simply changed the conversation so that I could get to know the person I was talking to. This allowed the street vendor to get to know me. I asked more questions and removed my assumptions about this woman who supported gay marriage. My lack of assumptions helped me have an effective conversation with someone about the doctrine of marriage from the Orthodox Christian Church. My attentiveness to the present situation allowed for a fruitful discussion.

Question: Are you making assumptions in your conversations?

Evangelism Part 4: Can You Hear The Still Small Voice?

snowflake

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Often in our conversations we focus on having the right answer, on being interesting and correct. What if we focused on listening and being interested the way Elijah was with the Lord? What if we tried to find Christ in each person we met by being attentive instead of waiting for them to finish so we can respond?

When we quiet ourselves, we are able to hear what is going on around us. When we embrace silence, it is then we are able to hear others and Christ in them. Every person was made in the image of God, and it is their likeness to God which varies. If you focus, then you can begin to hear the still small voice inside of the person in front of you. If you are attentive, then you will learn how you can love the person in front of you the way Christ loves you.

We are all called to be attentive. It is this attention we give to others which makes them aware of our love. Being attentive is more about comforting someone, not making someone comfortable. The Great Comforter is with us, and wishes us to emulate Him by comforting those around us. We begin this comforting by listening for the still small voice.

Question: Are you focused on being interested or interesting?

Evangelism Part 2: I Was Bullied

My grandfather was known for treating African-Americans with the same dignity he treated everyone else back during the civil rights movement. In a society which was telling everyone that a certain standard of racism was acceptable and right, my grandfather along with many others held themselves to a higher Christian standard.

During elementary school I grew up in a mixed race neighborhood. My two best friends were brothers, one a year older and one a year younger. Chris, the older one, was half black. Amir, the younger one, was half Iraqi. We were not concerned with our race or the races of the other children. The only thing we kept track of was who we liked to play with.

By fifth grade I was the only white kid on the bus but not the only one being bullied. If my friends were present they would stick up for me and I for them. By eighth grade I understood why bullies act the way they do and was thankful for making friends with some tough guys. I remember openly offering my friendship in middle school to many lonely individuals. I continued this awkward offer into high school but did not feel included myself until I joined theater my junior year.

LIFE-magazine-cover-March-26-1965

Our children and those around us watch how we treat others. My dad saw how my grandfather treated those who were supposedly “different.” We as Christians sometimes need a reminder of the higher standards. We need to remember those who have shown courage when defending those higher standards. The LIFE magazine cover from March 26th, 1965 shows an Orthodox Christian Bishop with Martin Luther King, Jr. As an Orthodox Christian, this is a nice reminder that even leaders need the support of other leaders during a time a hardship. I cannot imagine the extreme bullying and terrorizing MLK and his family experienced. Fortunately we know that many stood with him.

You will have many opportunities to love your neighbor as yourself. This includes all neighbors: mean, disgruntled, angry, rude, deceitful, or worse. It is in these critical moments when loving our neighbor will be the same thing as evangelizing them. I do not mean evangelizing in terms of teaching them correct doctrine. Instead I am talking about proving that you love God with all your might, and that you love your neighbor as you love yourself. It is also in these moments of loving your neighbor that others will see how you treat people. In the words of Les Miserables, “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Question: Are we only nice to those who are nice to us?

I Don’t Like You Because You Remind Me Of Someone Else

This past Sunday a friend was trying to help me understand some recent events in my life. His first question was, “do you know what transference is?” I did not, so he shared this example. If I meet someone and his smile reminds me of someone who bullied me in high school, then I will undeservedly transfer those negative feelings to this new person. My emotions and feelings to this new person will not match how I should feel. It should be a clean slate.

  
Transference happens when the response does not match what happened. My friend went on to tell me that if I stepped on his toe and he responded by shooting me, that probably happened because of transference. His response of shooting me is more likely a response to having his toe stepped on several times by other people.

I called my wife after meeting my friend to share this explanation. Within minutes we found several more situations where we both had used transference on someone else. As I began to do the math, it seemed that maybe as many as 9 out of 10 disputes are suffering from transference. 

  
My friend suggested two things when this happens. If someone is doing this to you, try to have a conversation about their hurt and keep them on topic. Continue to press them for explanations by saying something like, “help me understand this…” Eventually the person will bring up other stories similar to yours. At that moment you will know you are experiencing transference. This will give you compassion and sympathy for what the person is going through and you can show how you are acting differently than those before. 

Also, be careful of doing this to others. If you hear yourself saying, “it’s just like that time before” or “this happens to me everytime” or “why do people do this to me?” These statements all reflect transference. 

While using experience to make future decisions is important, sometimes we use old emotions in new situations. If someone cut you off in traffic yesterday because they were being a jerk that does not mean the next person is. Maybe the second person neglected to check their mirror and is now embarrassed. That is how transference can create an undeserved response. That is why we should be slow to respond with our emotions. 

Question: How is transference creating stress in your life?