I had an awesome conversation with a friend I have known since I was 14 years old the other day. My son sort of freaked when I talked about how long ago that was! (My 40th HS reunion??? Agh???? When did that happen???). My girlfriend and I can chat and it’s like we’re back in the bathroom at her parent’s house and sixteen years old, shoving each other aside for mirror space, or arguing over a curling iron, as we get ready to go to “the game.” We giggle insanely at things that happened more than 40 years ago. She is one of the few people in my life who I hold up on some sort of pedestal (which I know she would totally hate me to do) because life has been incredibly cruel to her, insofar as her health (and love-life) have been. We joked about her hearing aids and remember our parents yelling at us to turn down our music. But we laughed. She hates the disease that has changed her life, but we can still laugh with each other. She is in between church homes and she is lonely. She wants a vibrant faith experience and something that will equal her excitement about God, and she has been unable to find it. She is looking, and even though she cannot drive, I admire her for still seeking ways to be out and about and engaged in life. I admire her because regardless of what is handed out to her, she keeps moving forward; she keeps loving everyone around her, and she maintains her joy. She is always and ever stepping forward in faith. I love her so much and mourn the fact we are literally thousands of miles away from each other. But she encourages me in so many, many ways. I know I am blessed because one ugly day in my life more than 40 years ago, she reached out to a shy, new girl in a high school gymnasium and literally took my hand and dragged me out into girl’s field hockey! And we have been friends ever since.
Friends, family, and our faith community are who we reach out for when life hands us conundrums and conflicts. And when those steps we need to take are big, we do reach out and we try to learn before we leap. I believe that when you step out in faith, you need to do that with your eyes fully open. Being an informed person does not mean you don’t trust God or trust that people have your best interests at heart. What it does mean is that you do your due diligence in seeking all the facts before jumping in with both feet. This can be applied to pretty much everything. There’s a saying I wish I would have heeded more times than I have and it goes like this, “Just because someone says you can, does not mean that you should.” Boy, if I would have listened to that a few more times, I am sure my struggles would have been fewer! And even though the decisions we are facing do entail someone telling us we can, we need to be sure that we should.
In our culture, it is becoming more and more obvious that God is being thrust into the sidelines, if present at all. I recently read an article by a Protestant author who stated that “in the Bible, God points to several things that will signify the End Times, including a godless culture, senseless violence, rampant immorality, and falling away from a true faith.” (Jeff Kinley, “As it was in the days of Noah”). And in speaking about the new Noah movie starring Russell Crowe, he said, “We’ve basically pushed God to the margins, we’ve shoved Him out to the edges of our society and in fact we’ve written Him out of His own story as ‘Creator,’ God’s not even allowed to be the Creator anymore. So there’s rampant godlessness, not just in our country but in the world as well.” Just today there was an article about a TV show on HGTV being cancelled before it even aired because some pro-abortion activists described the stars as being “Anti-choice extremists” for espousing a Biblical view of marriage and life. One man, one woman; abortion is murder. And this is bad?? I wrote on my friend’s FB wall, “The world is truly going to hell. Gird your loins.” And I believe that.
Abbot Tryphon (All Merciful Savior Monastery, Vashon Island, WA – photo above) posted on his blog today, “In this age where secularism is on the rise, and materialism has become a major distraction from spiritual pursuits, Christian friendship has never been more important. The pursuit of personal fulfillment, entertainment, worldly pleasure, and the acquisition of material goods, has become the dominant theme of our age. Families that once placed the life of the Church as the center of their week, have drifted away from God. Having made idols of worldly pleasures and pursuits, their family life has become focused on transitory goals, leaving them in a state of spiritual bankruptcy.”
He then further says, “The life of a Christian has never been easy, but in an age that is proving to be hostile towards the things of God, Christian friendship is all the more important. We need each other. We need the encouragement that Christian friendship can give us, as we face a world that has rejected Christ. The unity we have when we receive the Body and Blood of the Saviour, during each and every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, gives us strength to withstand whatever may be coming. When all else has failed, and our culture, economy, and material world has fallen into ruin, only faith will have the power to sustain us.”
And ending with, “It is only our faith, supported and strengthened by our fellowship in Christ, that will have the lasting power to keep us from falling into despair, as our world enters into a darkness that will seem unconquerable. Hiding from the reality of a world that has lost it’s way, will in no wise make the future brighter. Lifting each other up, as we share our faith in the Christ Who came to make all things new, is the only hope we have. Let us not waste this life God has given us, but let us move forward in faith, together, knowing that ultimately, the gates of hell will not prevail against those who love God.”
Abbot Tryphon has been a wonderful source of wisdom, for me and for all of us who regularly read his blogs or listen to his podcasts (Ancient Faith Radio). And today he once again hit the nail on the head for the issues in our lives, and the choices before us. (The Abbot has a habit of articulating what is happening to me, or those around me. God is awesome like that!).
Taking a step in faith requires having faith, or it is just a step. Going headlong into an unknown is something anyone can do, and many often do. If our forefathers had not ventured forth, wanting new trade routes and ways to get around the conquering Moors, we’d all still be in Europe. Most went with the blessings of their country, their Kings and/or Queens, and in the company of the Church in the person of her priests. We conquered the unknown through the blessings and reliance on the known – our faith.
It is good to rely on our faith and our faith community in all things. The Bible is rich in stories of the nascent Church and how believers supported one another. (Galations 6:2) “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Acts 2:42-46) “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart..” (Acts 4L 32-25) “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”
In other works about the early Church and its history, there are many other examples and one of the most famous in the history of the Church are in the writings of the North African theologian, Tertullian (160-220AD). “Tertullian imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . . how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).” (Christian History Institute, article on Tertullian). There are so many examples of why we Christians need to maintain our Christian fellowship and how we should strive to keep within Christianity for many of the things in our daily lives. We tithe to support our Churches, our priests and religious, and we work to ease the suffering of the captives and the poor. It is what Christians have done for centuries. Our culture, unfortunately, is becoming less and less a place of Christian ideals or values. It is becoming less and less a place we need to spend the majority of our time mixing in.
In this era of modernism gone absolutely mad, I believe we are called to strengthen these ties with other Christians, and called to make our Church the center of our family lives once more. Sunday should become, once again, the day of prayer and celebration with our families and our faith communities. It is hard to remember how quiet it was when I was a kid. On Friday evenings, the city shut down and did not open again until Monday morning. The freeways were empty on the weekends (I remember when the freeways were empty after 9:00am and until after 3:0pm!!). There were no traffic jams. People were at home. Malls were closed. Most restaurants were closed (the fancy-schmancy ones were open on Friday and Saturday evenings, but no one was open on Sundays). Movie theaters, live theaters, and drive-through dairies were open (the era of fast food was still an idea. People did not eat out of paper bags – you ate off plates). Perhaps a “mom and pop” market on the corner would be open portions of the weekend, but generally, business and public life shut down for two days every week. You could hear kids laughing and sprinklers going on everyone’s lawns on the weekends, broken by the sounds of lawn mowers and birds chirping. You could actually nap on your front lawn, under a tree. But on Sundays, we had Church. Everyone went to one of the Churches in town. The parking lots were full. And we spent more time with our friends, enjoying barbeques and good times in our backyards. We worshiped together, we brought food to people who were sick, we watched friend’s kids when they were sick or needed our help, and we played and vacationed together. It was a different time and I am feeling called more and more to re-engage in that sort of lifestyle. In a lifestyle where I trust in my faith community and immerse myself more in it, rather than in this craziness we call our world. And taking a step in faith is almost easier, in some ways, surrounded by your community.
When our communities really gel, and we all know where we are and who we are, then confident, we can reach out in faith and assist those in need, bringing them closer to God. When we can come together regularly, holding one another up in faith and in our trials of life, we will truly be a Christian community. I don’t think of it as going back to the glorious 50s or that I want to turn back the clock. But I do believe our early Christian brethren were looking at life through the lens of faith more than most of us now do. As far as decision making goes, in all things, I am going to trust God. “See how they love one another?”