Anguish, Despair and Comfort in the Incarnation . . .

I wrote this last year during a difficult time in my life and thought it was worth sharing again  . . .  

There are times when I feel that life is too difficult to bear.  When death and darkness and pain and suffering and listlessness force themselves upon my soul.  I cry out to the Lord in utter desperation:  “Father, please!  Why is this happening?  Please save me, please have mercy . . . I can hardly bear it anymore.”  I wait for a response but I hear nothing.  Am I alone?  Days and nights blur together as each week presents another challenge, another tragedy, another heartbreak . . . “O God!”, I cry, “I’m so afraid!”  I turn to the Psalmist for comfort only to find despair:

“O Lord God of my salvation, I cry day and night before You.  Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my supplication, O Lord.  For my soul is filled with sorrows, and my soul draws near to Hades; I am counted among those who go down  into the pit; I am like a helpless man, free among the dead, like slain men thrown down and sleeping in a grave, whom You remember no more . . . Why, O Lord, do You reject my soul, and turn away Your face from me?”

It feels as if my heart is in constant anguish.  I weep bitterly as the people I love suffer.  I look on as my beloved wrestles with deep wounds from her past and unending physical maladies.  I feel helpless.  I feel lost and out of control.  I feel unable to provide.  Why must life be this way?  Why are there so many sorrows?  Why is there so much pain? O God do you hear me?  Do You understand me?  . . .

I stare at the icon of the Theotokos holding her child.  There is sadness in her eyes as she clings tightly to the boy of promise – the One born of the Holy Spirit.  I remember that the first Christian, my spiritual mother, the one who gave birth to God in the flesh, struggled and suffered.  My eyes fixate on the little boy in her arms, so small and fragile . . . I remember that his mother could find no place to sleep, no rest, and no safety on the night of his birth.  I remember how she was forced to have her baby in a stable surrounded by animals, hay, and the fresh cent of manure.  I recall her fleeing to Egypt to rescue her son from the hands of a mass murderer.  I remember how He experienced the limitations, temptations, and futility of human existence growing up in a small town in the desert.  Everything flashes forward.  I remember Jesus languishing in the garden . . . the blood dripping, the agony, and the resolve.  I remember the guards lashing out at Him; tearing open his flesh.  I remember the crown of thorns and the intense mockery.  I remember how He carried the cross and was nailed upon it; how He died.  I envision Mary weeping at His feet . . .

Then in the midst of the storm I hear the still soft voice, “I love you Josh . . .”

* Originally published on Truth is a Man.

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A TANGLED WEB: DON JON HIGHLIGHTS REAL-LIFE EFFECTS OF INTERNET PORN

ImageThis is an excellent article and review of the new film Don Jon, which highlights the effects of porn upon our society. I sense recently that there may be a slight turning of society’s view of porn and how its effects. I firmly believe that porn is not only dangerous both to a healthy mind and heart for those who partake, but also to relationships. I think what Don Jon is seeking to do, by what I have gathered, is to question the “goodness” of the porn industry. It is using the avenue of film to prompt thought and conversation about the dangers of porn where there may not be any other way to promote such dialogue. The fact that it is coming from a Hollywood big timer like Joseph Gorden-Levitt makes it LOUD! I hope that this film will bring about much thought and conversation about this subject. I hope we as a society can begin to have a changing of mind about this matter. This particular review is a great conversation starter! Enjoy!

A Tangled Web: Don Jon Highlights Real-Life Effects of Internet Porn

By Mary Rose Somarriba

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new film raises a good question: Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? In  Verily’s upcoming Nov/Dec Issue, Mary Rose Somarriba gives an answer.

“How do you watch that s***?” exclaims Scarlett Johansson in what is possibly the best minute of acting in her career. She’s playing Barbara Sugarman, the flame of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his recent film Don Jon.

Barbara is livid with rage and baffled; she found a string of porn sites in her boyfriend Jon’s browser history. They had a good relationship, she thought. Why did he need to look at other women?

“Everyone looks at porn,” Jon retorts. As he sees it, porn is as American as apple pie. While he may keep it private—the only real person he tells is his priest in the secrecy of confession—porn is a big part of his life, something he needs on a daily basis.

For Gordon-Levitt’s first written and directed feature film, Don Jon (which sensitive viewers should know is filled with porn clips) raises a good question: Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Has it diminished our view of women, relationships, and sex in general?

Don Jon is a bold contribution to a recent trend in entertainment, giving audiences a real—and grim—snapshot of 21st-century relationships. Call it post–Sex and the City realism. There’s the recent film Lovelace, contrasting the exciting story, as we were told it, of Deepthroat star Linda Lovelace, and the completely un-sexy version as it really was. There’s Girls on HBO, known for showing ugly, lifelike sex scenes. There’s Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, managing to make ultra-risqué performances devoid of any sex appeal. It’s as if sex is no longer sexy in pop culture. What was once a warm and alluring mystery is now a cold, anatomical display. If intimacy is dead, porn may have killed it.

Still, many think porn has mostly good effects. Porn helps people express their sexuality, some say. It helps men live the fantasies they can’t with their partners. It’s an escape. It can even add spice to tired relationships, Oprah and Dr. Ruth suggest.

But in reality, porn can make it harder to appreciate real sex. As Pamela Paul documented in her 2006 book Pornified, dozens of men whom she interviewed anonymously revealed, “I used to view porn online, but I began to find it more difficult to stay aroused when having sex with a real woman. . . . Real sex has now lost some of its magic. And that’s sad.”

HOW PORN AFFECTS WOMEN

That sadness comes through the many laughs of Don Jon. It was sad, for instance, to see the way the men treated women. How Jon and his clubbing buddies constantly sized them up—comparing each to the fantasy women in porn. An all-around attractive girl was a 10, also known as a “dime” (Scarlett Johansson qualified). But most girls fell short of the ideal, so the boys resorted to zeroing in on different body parts. One woman’s breasts were a 4, for instance—hardly worth their time.

Here the film offers a glimpse of reality. In a 2004 Elle/MSNBC.com poll of 15,246 Americans, one in ten men admitted that porn had made him more critical of his partner’s body.

Not surprisingly, many women feel deficient next to porn-star competition. According to Paul’s commissioned nationwide poll conducted by Harris Interactive, six out of ten women “believe pornography affects how men expect them to look and behave.”

Of course porn isn’t the only avenue through which unrealistic expectations of beauty can make women feel inadequate. Major motion pictures, television shows, even commercial advertisements have long employed sex appeal as an effective draw. But the mainstream acceptance of porn has no doubt influenced other media; content once considered too explicit is now regular fare on network television. And, while television networks may deal only in Porn Lite, it’s no less disruptive to our perception of women.

Don Jon captures this well in a family-dinner-table scene. With the large-screen TV playing in the background, a bikini-clad model suddenly steals the conversation. Jon and his father (a cringe-inducing and convincing performance by Tony Danza) are mesmerized by the suggestive ad, while Jon’s mother and sister (Glenne Headly and Brie Larson) avert their eyes and wait for it to be over. Within seconds, the tableside dynamic is shattered—something that could have been avoided with just a click of the TiVo-fast-forward button. But of course the boys are oblivious, both to how the ad affected them and to how it affected their female counterparts.

Later in the film, the television once again serves as the women’s antagonist in a climactic scene. Brie Larson’s character, who thus far hasn’t uttered a single line in the film, opens her mouth to share her feminine intuition about Jon and Barbara’s relationship. But no one can hear her over the television.

This is where Gordon-Levitt gets it. His nearly seamless script reveals remarkable acumen for a man of his generation. He’s done his homework on the porn issue, and he tackles it extremely well. He loosens up the audience with laughs, all the while sprinkling the film with digestible insights.MV5BMTQxNTc3NDM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ5NTQ3OQ@@._V1._CR28,28.649993896484375,1271,1991.0000305175781._SX640_SY987_

HOW PORN AFFECTS MEN

Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Don Jon’s portrait of a porn user suggests at the very least that we might not be aware of its overall effects.

The Don, for example, never stops to consider the seeming strangeness of his behavior. Why does a man who has no trouble getting attractive women to sleep with him on a regular basis need to sneak out of bed after each encounter to follow it up with porn?

The answer is that porn-using men aren’t exactly feeling fulfilled in bed. In the Elle/MSNBC.com poll, 35 percent of men said real sex with a woman had become less arousing, and 20 percent admitted real sex just couldn’t compare to cybersex anymore. Porn, on the other hand, is exciting more men than ever.

As Gordon-Levitt’s character put it, “I lose myself. . . . Nothing else does it the same way.” Girls in porn will do things real girls won’t. And the shock-value element can be addictive.

Many young men today become porn junkies, making a daily habit of visiting porn sites, hiding it from their partners, and having trouble stopping. Those who try to stop as an exercise in self-control, as Jon does later in the film, often cite feelings of withdrawal and increased difficulty maintaining their resolution if they so much as have Internet access.

Jon’s quirky, middle-aged night-school classmate, played by Julianne Moore, aptly (and rather jarringly) captures the experience of the porn addict after listening to him describe his addiction: “So you like porn better than sex.”

When the imitation of a thing becomes more desirable than the thing itself, what does that mean? To put it lightly, it means that these men have been sold a bill of goods. To put it gravely, it means these men are facing the irrationality that is addiction. Sure, the experience porn offers may feel exciting while it lasts, but it’s often followed by feelings of guilt or disappointment. There’s something unsatisfying about being alone seconds after you just had a woman looking utterly enthralled by you. And there’s something universally depressing about seeing that hours of time have passed on a rewardless activity.

As one man interviewed for Pornified put it, “A man starts to feel like a computer himself when he realizes that he’s dependent on computer images to turn him on.”

Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, described in his best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself how pornography consumption can rewire men’s brains, restricting their free choice. As he put it, “Those who use [pornography] have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it. . . . The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act.”

Doidge describes this pattern as a sort of urgent thrill-seeking. “Porn is more exciting than satisfying,” he explains, because of the “pleasure systems in our brains. . . . Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated.”

For many men, Internet porn is a gateway to strip clubs, escort services, and prostitutes—real, live women who are paid to feign enjoyment and perform acts similar to those in porn. Norma Ramos, head of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, finds this a disturbing trend. “Porn is corrupting male sexuality by moving it in the direction to buy prostituted sex,” she told me in an interview. “Johns are not born, they’re made.”

One man revealed in Pornified that he too developed interests he previously didn’t have, like the day he stumbled on child porn. “It was scary for me because I was turned on and also because it obviously depicted kids who had been abused and tricked.” Another man said, “I would see some young girl in porn and then read a horror story in the newspaper about sex trafficking in Eastern Europe, but I just mentally discarded the connection. . . . I couldn’t let myself feel anything toward these women other than the means to satisfy my desires.”

All of this can further a false sense of what is pleasurable for women. As one sex therapist in Paul’s book explains, “In pornography all a man does is touch a woman and she’s howling in delight in two minutes. If men think this is how real women respond, they’re going to be horrible lovers.”

WHAT PORN DOES TO US

In 2009, I attended a conference at Princeton University, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute and the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The findings, later compiled in the bookThe Social Costs of Pornography (2010), include papers from nearly a dozen experts. But the words that have stuck with me most are Roger Scruton’s concluding remarks: “Psychologists and psychotherapists are increasingly encountering the damage done by pornography, not to marriages and relationships only, but to the very capacity to engage in them. . . . This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to pornography. Those who become addicted to this risk-free form of sex run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness.”

And there’s the rub. If porn affects individual men and women, then it affects relationships. It prevents the possibility of an us. Porn sells the idea that you can, literally, put a person on pause, fast-forward through the messiness of human feelings and foibles to the “good parts,” and, when you are through, discard him or her for another. The tragedy, Scruton recognizes, is that while glutting a person’s sexual appetites, porn risks thwarting another human desire: to give love.

This is what is captured in the poignant line from Moore’s character in Don Jon: “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. And she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.”

This line comes just moments before the most awkward sex scene in the movie. While the rest of the film’s slapstick sex references filled the theater with uproarious laughter and crack-ups, at this moment you could’ve heard a pin drop. It was the kind of encounter that was as special as it was private—the kind that makes you feel as if you shouldn’t be watching, as if it was just for the two of them, as if they are just for each other. Despite the film’s many porn-infused snippets, this one offers something much more powerful: intimacy.

WHEN YOU’RE AT THE BOTTOM, THE ONLY WAY TO GO IS UP

Does the prevalence of porn use among today’s young men mean we’re all doomed to pornified love lives where intimacy is dead? No. If there’s a lesson to the fable of Don Jon, it’s that it’s possible to get beyond this.

Porn is not the only way in which we can poison our relationships—a point that Gordon-Levitt expertly weaves into Don Jon. One could easily add possessiveness and jealousy to the list, or impatience with others’ flaws, or the all-too-common temptation to try to manipulate and change the other to our liking. The popularity of pornography has been fostered, perhaps, in part by a larger cultural tendency toward individualism, a perception that relationships are primarily tools used by an individual on his or her solo journey of self-understanding and satisfaction.

Don Jon responds to the question of pornography not through statistics (although, as we have seen, they’re there) but, ultimately, through a simple assertion, powerfully made through the stories of the characters: Like it or not, authentic relationships are not one-sided. “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. And she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.”

Mary Rose Somarriba, culture editor of Verily Magazine, is completing a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship on the connections between sex trafficking and pornography.

Mary Rose is the Culture Editor for Verily Magazine with over 7 years of experience in magazine publishing. She has written articles and organized events on women’s issues for several publications and organizations. Among her favorite things in life are Latin dancing, karaoke, and a Woodford Reserve manhattan on the rocks.

Reflections on the Value and Folly of Binary Categorization (Guest Blog)

ImageAnother great post by my Anglican friend Carson Clark over at “Musings of a Hardlining Moderate” on the benefits and dangers of binary categories, which we are all guilty of committing. I believe that such categories are dangerous to thinking and living wholly in this world. Too often we fall into the either/or way of thinking rather than embracing the paradox, the nuance, and the gray. We need to learn about the both/and. Give this a read. Very helpful stuff here:

Reflections on the Value and Folly of Binary Categorization

By Carson Clark

Fellow Christians,

Binary categorization isn’t innately wrong. Indeed, it can be a helpful shorthand when there’s need of brevity and/or simplicity. Here’s a sample of binary pairs we all understand and use: left and right, up and down, wide and narrow, life and death, good and evil, true and false, big and small, tall and short, conservative and liberal, introvert and extrovert, masculine and feminine, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, open and closed, inside and outside, freedom and captivity. Such concepts are helpful. They provide a manageable schema that enables us to not only make sense of the world but to communicate with one another. To suggest otherwise would be nonsensical foolishness. Yet that isn’t the end of the story. We’ve all known far too much life for that. Each of us has daily experiences evidencing the existence of grey, medium, moderate, ambivert, moral ambiguity, etc. The trouble, then, is when we pragmatically and/or stubbornly insist upon binary categorizations where there clearly exists nuance, tension, ambiguity, paradox, and the like. It’s a plain misrepresentation of the facts, which I find unacceptable.

Throughout my life I’ve largely seen Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. portrayed as either a saint who positively transformed the American cultural landscape OR a sinner who was an adulterous hypocrite. Likewise, I know a good many people on both sides of the political aisle who insist that Democrat = good and Republican = evil, or vice versa. Look, binary portrayals are untenable in both situations. They just plain don’t comport with reality. As Christians we believe that all people exhibit the paradoxical human condition of the imagio dei and the fall. It’s inevitable that people, and the organizations they form, will reflect and magnify that tension. Yet people still insist upon such narratives because they want an efficient, easy-to-use, black and white world. Allow me to be candid. In my strong (yet hopefully humble) opinion, binary categorization is helpful when one discerns that the need of the moment is brevity and/or simplicity, but it’s nothing short of intellectual dishonesty when we knowingly distort reality in order to contort the complex world into such simplistic categories. There are issues of deceit and volition in there that ought not be ignored.

I conclude with one of my favorite quotes:

One of the best contributions which Christian thought can make to the thought of the world is the repetition that life is complex. It is part of the Christian understanding of reality that all simplistic answers to basic questions are bound to be false. Over and over, the answer is both-and rather than either-or.” – Elton Trueblood

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives or (The Power of Our Thoughts)

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I recently wrote two blogs on the logismoi and how to combat them, so I thought I’d share this wise man’s great words:

Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed. If our thoughts are kind, peaceful, and quiet, turned only toward good, then we also influence ourselves and radiate peace all around us—in our family, in the whole country, everywhere. This is true not only here on earth, but in the cosmos as well. When we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony. Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere. However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil. When there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go. So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good! Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” -Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: the Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Breaking Bad, or (How to Go to Hell in Five Award-Winning Seasons)

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I came across this excellent article written by a priest online at this site:

http://www.thewordfrommysterion.com/2012/11/breaking-bad-or-how-to-go-to-hell-in.html

This is not my work, but it expresses so precisely why Breaking bad is a fantastic show! There spoilers in this piece, so if you have not watched the show don’t read this.

Breaking Bad, or (How to Go to Hell in Five Award-Winning Seasons)
By Richard Rene

Walter White has problems. He is a middle-aged white male living in the suburbs of Alberquerque, New Mexico, in a house he can’t really afford, working as a full-time high school chemistry teacher and a part-time car wash attendant, all so that he can support his wife Skylar and his son Walt Jr., who suffers from cerebral palsy.

As if these challenges weren’t enough, Walter learns some devastating news: he is dying of lung cancer. He has months, not years, to live. Chemotherapy will buy him no more than a few more months, but his family (which includes his wife’s kleptomaniac sister Marie and her husband, Hank, who works for the DEA) insist that he do whatever he can to extend his life. The bills for treatment will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but thankfully, Walter has some wealthy friends who are more than willing to foot the bill.

And there’s the rub, as Hamlet would say. Walter doesn’t want to take money from this couple, who run a multi-million dollar company called Grey Matter. He has a history with them that involves some kind of love triangle, and a messy break-up that led to Walter selling his share of the company for a mere $5000 during its infancy, before the big profits came rolling in. Whatever the details, Walter is too proud to take help from the people that he feels shunted him from a destiny of wealth and fame and glory, onto his current dead end track.

So the dilemma is, if Walter White can’t pay his bills himself, and he won’t accept the help of his friends, what will he do? How will he pay for his mounting medical costs? Simple: he will apply his considerable abilities as a chemist to producing the purest, most powerful form of meth-amphetamine known to addicts. Before he dies, with diligence and hard work, embodying those qualities so valued by the Founding Fathers, he will build the biggest drug-dealing empire in America (and perhaps even the world), so that he can not only pay his bills and get by in life, but become the poster boy for the American Dream itself.

This is the premise of Breaking Bad, a critically-acclaimed television show that aired in 2008 and is now in its fifth (and probably final) season. While I would not recommend it for everyone (the violence, profanity and drug use are explicit and extreme), I will say that Breaking Bad is the greatest television drama/thriller I have seen. This greatness had less to do with the show’s craft (although it is flawless and brilliant in every dimension, from cinematography to writing and acting); rather, what is most impressive is Breaking Bad’s thematic ambition, which is nothing less than to expose one man’s self-driven journey into hell.

To begin with, we can understand Walter’s decision, even if we do not agree with it. We don’t want to see him die, but we can see why he might not want to accept charity. We too know the phrase ‘too proud to beg’… We certainly empathize with his desire to provide for his family (including his newborn baby girl) in the event that something should happen to him. Although Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, is frank about the destructive effects of crystal meth, we can almost accept Walter’s reasoning that the ends—health, life for his family—justify the means. We can almost agree with him when he comments early on that if Cuban cigars could be illegal, isn’t the line that defines legality an arbitrary one, anyway? If consenting adults will want what they will want, why shouldn’t someone meet their demand with a superior quality supply?

This threadbare cloak of rationalization grows more and more frayed as time goes on. As Walter wades deeper into the dark and seamy world of meth cooking and dealing, he instigates a series of events of unimaginable violence. At my last count, Walter has been directly responsible for killing 25 people in ways often too horrifying to watch. He is indirectly responsible for hundreds more dead, including two children. Walter’s involvement in these acts is initially unintentional, but he soon finds himself cold-bloodedly willing to do anything to survive.

(Alert: Spoilers Ahead! If you haven’t seen the show, skip the next three paragraphs)

If we could perhaps comprehend Walter’s violence on the basis that he is trying to protect and provide for his family, Gilligan soon breaks even this slender thread of sympathy. Walter’s cancer goes into remission. His wife, disturbed at the secretiveness and aloofness that his activities have bred in him, is soon alienated from him and threatens divorce. His son, desperate for his father’s attention, finds himself shut out, confused and hurt.

Meanwhile, Walter the ‘meth cook’ has succeeded in amassing more wealth than he could ever spend. At a poignant moment in the show, his wife (who is eventually sucked into his drug world as his accountant and money launderer) takes Walter to a locker, where she has stacked his earnings in a large pile. She informs him bluntly that she will never be able launder so much money and asks simply, “When will the pile be big enough?”

In other words, if Walter White ever had material reasons for doing what he does, those reasons soon vanish. His disease is remitted. His family life is a bitter illusion. He has all the money he will ever need. There is no reason for him to continue cooking meth. And yet, that is precisely what he continues to do, in spite of everything. Why?

With all his rationalizations and pretenses torn aside, the driving force at the centre of Walter’s life is finally exposed. In a key scene, he tells his partner Jesse, “You asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.” Forget about the noble-sounding excuses: Walter’s motive all along was to build an empire that he alone can rule, even if he destroys both those around him and himself in the process. “If there is a hell,” he tells Jesse, “you and I are probably going there. But I won’t lie down until I get there!”

Actually, Walter’s journey to hell began many years before he decided to cook crystal meth, when he took $5000 and walked away from his friends and the fledgling company that later became so profitable. From that point on until his cancer diagnosis, he had trudged his way through the mundane routines of life and a badly-paid teaching career, his wounded pride festering deep beneath his mild-mannered exterior. The cancer diagnosis was really just an excuse to allow his ego to reassert itself and have a free reign once more.

Had Walter humbled himself and accepted his friends’ help (which also included an offer to rejoin the company), he might have found reconciliation and healing. Instead, he allowed his egotism to take the lead. He isolated himself from and exalted himself above his loved ones. He embraced a Nietzschean vision of the universe, where those who are strong, bold, and intelligent succeed and rule, and the rest must submit or be crushed. Although the final episode has not been aired, it is safe to say that Walter’s current tragectory may well end in a personal hell where he is the single, undisputed ruler, simply because he is the only inhabitant…

Is there a moral lesson to take away from Breaking Bad? To tell you the truth, it’s not that kind of show. The story of Walter White is best described as a ‘moral anatomy’; it is the slow and inexorable exposure of an inner malaise that had its origins long before we met him. Ironically, as Walter’s physical cancer goes into remission, the spiritual cancer that has been in remission all these years resurfaces and consumes him. It is part of the greatness of Breaking Bad that Vince Gilligan simply presents this story of decline to us without preaching. As viewers, we can only watch in horror and take away our own insights.

Speaking as a Christian, I see Breaking Bad as a depiction of hell, not as an external place, but as a condition of the human heart that serves itself in isolation from others. Jean-Paul Sartre was wrong when he said, “Hell is other people.” If Walter White’s story shows us anything, it is that hell is not other people, or anything ‘out there.’ No one actually goes to hell; we just become hell, one day at a time. To quote Milton’s Satan, “Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrath and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell…”

Walter White reminds us that when we deny our interdependency on others, refuse to acknowledge that we are weak and broken members of the same human family, imagine that we are actually in control of destinies, and act as the gods of our own universes, then all of us ‘break bad’ or ‘raise hell’ within. Driven to serve our own ends, we swiftly slide into dehumanizing and destroying our fellow human beings, no matter how beloved, until finally, they are used up and we are all alone in the darkness of our own hearts, emperors in an empire of one.

Breaking Bad seems to suggest that this grim fate is not merely reserved for Adolf Hitlers and Jeffrey Dahmers and other ‘monsters.’ If a mild-mannered, high school chemistry teacher living in middle class suburbia with his wife and kids could find himself alone in a wasteland of destruction and death, then hell is not far from the rest of us either. Follow the egotistical path, we too can find ourselves in what Jesus called, “the outer darkness,” which is ultimately the inner darkness where there is no one to hear us weep and gnash our teeth.

The Airplanes

ImagePREFACE: A few days ago I wrote a blog about the Orthodox understanding of thoughts and how they negatively affect us. I have decided to follow up with the next few thoughts from Fr. Maximos on how to combat the logismoi. I want to make it clear that blog post from a few days ago as well as this one are not to be taken as instructions, but as information. I am not a priest, an elder, bishop, or spiritual director of any sort. I am merely a fellow sinner trying to work out my own salvation. I share these ruminations with you in order that you may do further study and speak to your spiritual elder about the implementation of what you read here. These thoughts are to enlighten and prompt thinking. If one takes action I highly recommend it be under the guidance of a gracious priest or spiritual director. Also, reading this post without first reading the one mentioned above will leave one with many holes. I highly recommend reading it first before reading this one. 

Many read my latest blog post titled “An Avalanche” which covered the topic of the logismoi in Orthodoxy spirituality. This wisdom came from reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“. In the chapter following the one where Father Maximos speaks on the logismoi, we see Fr. Maximos give a strategy, so to speak, about how to combat the logismoi. Kyriacos brings the topic back up at one point in the chapter and Father talks about how a pilgrim came to an Athonite elder and pleaded with him to help him combat his logismoi. This young man was distraught over the attack the logismoi would wage against him particularly during the Divine Liturgy. They would fill his mind with horrible thoughts about God and His existence. While the young man and the elder talked an airplane flew over Mt. Athos. The elder used this moment to teach the young pilgrim that an airplane flying over above us is what the logismoi indeed resemble. He said to the pilgrim:

If we don’t allow a logismos to land inside the depths of our hearts and minds, then even if we see it and hear it, even if it bothers us for awhile by it presence, we should never be afraid of it. We must not wail and beat our chests because an airplane passed over the roof of our house. Only when that airplane crashes on our house should we worry” (page 135).

The point of the story about the elder and the pilgrim is this: the best way to combat the logismoi is to in fact ignore them the same way we would ignore an airplane flying over our house. In fact, we would probably not even notice an airplane flying over our house today due to all the distractions or from being use to hearing one and ignoring it. The holy elders state that it is for the best to ignore the logismoi when it whispers or even shouts at us.

Fr. Maximos says ignoring the logismoi “is the healthiest and most productive method to head them off right at their inception. Ignore them completely. Never open up a dialogue with these intruders” (page 135). And they are indeed like intruders are they not? I know my mind is constantly bombarded with logismoi, particularly ones that tell me to lust. I know the lack of boundaries these thoughts have! I would never in my right mind invite an intruder into my house, give him coffee and treats, and converse with him while he held us at gun point while robbing us! It is the same with our logismoi! Why in the world would we allow these dark, evil thoughts filled with craziness to enter our minds and hearts to steal our peace and joy? But yet, we often succumb to their commands do we not? I know I do. They are powerful enemies in the fight for our salvation! Fr. Maximos goes on to say:

Do not interact with them either out of curiosity or out of overconfidence. It is a tactical error. It’s like starting a dialogue with a mortal enemy who is much more clever than you. if you pay attention to a logismos you must realize that it will become increasingly bolder. It will begin to invade your heart with louder and louder noise. The best strategy in confronting a logismos, therefore, is to completely disregard it. Do not focus on what it tells you and urges you to do” (page 135).

Father gives another illustration that if someone is out in your yard urging you to come out and fight and is throwing every curse word in the book at you that the best way to keep yourself safe is to remain strongly boarded up in your house with doors and windows locked tight. Showing this type of indifference to the logismoi is what the holy elders said is the best way to fight them. Just keep them out…period!

Father Maximos then discusses that there are exceptions to this rule. He mentioned what is called adversarial methods for when fundamental principles of the Faith are being attacked by the logismoi that is attacking you. He pointed out that such a case would be when Jesus was tempted by Satan. He did not ignore him, but fought him back with Scripture. Fr. mentioned how the saints who have reached the stage of complete union with God and freedom from their passions can debate and defend such logismoi. However, he strongly suggested that a novice (meaning all most all who read this myself included) should not attempt to do this, but to remain in our steadfastness to ignore the logismoi completely! Having this attitude of complete indifference is far better for us at this stage of spiritual development.

Kyriacos then takes the conversation further by asking Fr. Maximos what he should do if he cannot chase away the negative logismoi and is at the point of surrendering to it. This is where Fr. Maximos recommended a game that the holy elders left us. This game is when you introduce or inject into your mind what they called a “splitting logismos”. Fr. says, “That means grab onto another logismoi and shift your focus on that.” This method is one I tried implementing today in fact. I had some random thoughts pop in my mind throughout the day, usually very sinful thoughts tempting me, and I would focus my mind to a song, a drum beat, or to what was being said by others. I simply focused my mind on something else. I was not always successful, but I did find that it helped me a great deal. Fr. goes on to say:

In cases when the logismoi refuses to retreat, the advice of the elders is to shift your focus to something else, even to something foolish or irrelevant. It is a ploy to trick the mind. Think about something ridiculous instead, for the sake of undermining the power and energy of the logismoi that torments you. By using this method you can gradually reduce the energy and force of the logismos. Next time it returns it will be weaker” (page 137).

One other form of combating the logismoi is hard, manual labor! Fr. Maximos points out the spiritual effort of a hard day’s work when it comes to fighting the logismoi. Of course, we do not have to do hard physical labor, but I think having a job one loves and cares about can serve in its place. A job to keep us busy so to speak. It is like the old saying that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. This indeed will ring true for us if we are lazy and not working. We open our minds up to more attacks. Of course if one does not have a job one can find a hobby or things that involve physical labor outside to substitute for this method of combat. The monks and holy elders understood this. That is why they pray and work, pray and work. It serves to aid in overcoming the logismoi.

The Most Effective Weapon

Kyriacos at one point ask Fr. Maximos why he had not yet mentioned prayer and if prayer would be helpful in fighting the logismoi. Fr. explains to him that it is indeed the most effective and most powerful tool in combating the logismoi, especially the Jesus Prayer “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Fr. says:

Keep in mind that participation in the mysteries and tradition of the Ecclesia is a form of spiritual nourishment that penetrates our inner world and empowers our soul to overcome the logismoi. This kind of spiritual work is what we call in one word askesis, meaning prayer, fasting, confession, communion, the study of the word of God and of the life of the saints, sleepless nights in all-night vigils and so on. All this leads to the strengthening of the soul through its embrace, as it were, by Divine Grace. This is the path that the soul takes in order to attain spiritual health” (page 138-139).

This call to imply the most effective weapon against the logismoi does not come without discernment and warning about when to use it. Fr. says that a person should never resort to praying, or to the Jesus Prayer, right after we are assaulted by a logismoi. He in fact states that doing so could have the opposite effect. Here’s why:

It may lead a person to extreme psychic turmoil and to a loss of self-mastery. Old Paisois [Father’s spiritual elder and teacher] used to tell us that when confronted with a logismos, whoever resorts to repeating the Prayer very rapidly resembles a terrified soldier in the heat of battle. He holds his rifle tight to his chest, paralyzed with fear. To reassure himself that he is not afraid he repeats ‘Holy virgin help me, Holy Virgin help me.’ And he shakes from head to toe, sitting there completely immobilized and unable to fight or even breath…

Before a person begins to pray, when confronted with a troublesome logismoi, a rational mastery over the situation must  be developed. Again, if at all possible, the best way is to emply the strategy of complete indifference[emphais mine]…

Pray, but not while in a state of panic. Not right at the moment when you are waging war against a logismos that immobilizes you. Under such conditions you become highly vulnerable to the machinations of the enemy. Prayer does its work at the deepest recesses of the human heart and leads to true spiritual health. But prayer should not be an alternative to using our reason and willpower in confronting the logismoi. It should not be practiced in a state of panic. Otherwise we will behave like the paralyzed solider of old Paisios” (page 139).

I feel that that is indeed wise of us not to pray right in the heat of battle. I wanted to share what Fr. had to say about that for I feel it is important to our spiritual development and health not to become paralyzed nor to treat prayer in such a manner.

Closing Thoughts

So far we have discussed how we can ignore the logismoi, engage it in battle under the guidance of a experienced spiritual elder/teacher, introduce the splitting logismoi, partake of the Mysteries of His Church for our well-being and freedom, and yield the weapon of prayer. Fr. Maximos says, “Regular and systematic prayer is the best practice for the attainment of spiritual health. It assists the mind to defend itself against intrusive logismoi. When our heart is guarded by prayer then no image or negative logismoi that comes our way gets imprinted on it.”

I think Father is right! I just remarked today in class to a new friend at work who happens to be Catholic that I struggle so much with prayer and how thankful I am that monks and nuns pray for us all the time. Our spiritual lives benefit greatly from a system of prayer or what many may know as a Rule of Life/Rule of Prayer. I highly recommend starting a Rule of Prayer and keeping it simple such as: wake up, cross myself, pray the Trisagion prayers, pray the Jesus prayer as it comes to mind during the day, then at night the Trisagion prayers again. Do not overburden yourself, but keep it light. Once you work the spiritual muscles they will become stronger.

To recap, few other ways to fight the logismoi are:

  • The reading and studying of holy texts: the Bible, Gospels, and lives of the Saints. These nourish us with grace and help us to fight the passions. They energize us and sustain us (page 141).
  • Splitting logismoi
  • A systematic, active, living prayer life
  • Attend sacred rituals of the Ecclesia, participation in Her Mysteries.
  • Repentance
  • Confession
  • Holy Eucharist
  • Not going to places of temptation or addiction
  • IGNORING THEM COMPLETELY AND NOT FEELING GUILTY FOR THEIR ATTACKING YOU!!!

Above all, we must also learn that God gives us battles to fight for us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Fr. Maximos says, “The logismoi play an important role in the spiritual development of human beings…Quite often, negative logismoi serve God’s plan. Not that God Himself sets them up, but because it may be the only way for proud individuals to attain humility. The logismoi…can offer us extreme grief, bitter experiences, and pain.”

God’s mission is to reunited us with Him, to heal our souls from the disease of sin, and to rekindle the heart within us that communes with Him. His plan is to liberate us from the passions and the things that prevent us from union with Him. The logismoi may indeed serve in aiding us in our salvation and working it out. They will serve to knock us on our butts and to seek Him in all that we do so that we may be saved and healed.

These airplanes fly all around us, attempting to strike our houses, our minds, and to bring us down through guilt and weariness. God will not forsake us! He has given us wisdom through His Church on how to ignore these airplanes we call logismoi and fight the fires in our minds that they leave after crashing.

Do not fret when you hear the buzzing of the airplanes. They are just airplanes after all. Why be afraid?

Homosexuality and Pastoral Care

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Pastoral Care of Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families

            This was an online book that I found called “Pastoral Care of Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families”.  The first thing to note about counseling homosexuals in church settings is that when clergy are aware of their being gay that very few of the clergy do any counseling or spiritual guidance of homosexuals.  “Many lesbians and gays want God, but not the Church and its representatives.  This is a tragic anomaly.  Yet at the same time, it is understandable,” writes the authors David K Switzer and John Thornburg.

It is often made clear to homosexuals that they are neither wanted nor are they approved of.  So we must ask why would they want to come to Christian education or why would they want to participate in a Church that is not willing to work with them in spiritual guidance, to seek help in trouble, so that they can seek the way of salvation?

Many of the clergy are completely unaware that we are already ministering to a crowd of homosexuals that are a part of our congregations.  The authors pointed out in an earlier chapter that “in almost all congregations of any size, and in a number of small congregations, there are gays and lesbians among the membership and the worshippers.”  However, the authors pointed out that if these folks would come forward that the relationships could grow and we could minister to them even more.

The authors make a great point that the number one barrier to be effective, consistent ministers to those whose needs are revealed to us is that we are indeed human.

Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care

“The mission of the Church is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people and to minister to all people in his name. In our time and culture, special challenges are faced by those Church members who carry out this mission among persons who experience same-sex attraction.

There are many forces in our society that promote a view of sexuality in general, and of homosexuality in particular, not in accord with God’s purpose and plan for human sexuality,” it says in the introduction in this article put together by Catholic Bishops.  This article proceeds to discuss God’s plan for human sexuality within the context of His creation and how that homosexuality cannot fulfill that plan.  This article then proceeds to say that having homosexual inclinations is not a sin in and of itself, but that acting upon these inclinations and desires is indeed sinful.  But the meat of this article is found in the pastoral care guidelines:

1)      Church Participation- “As baptized members of the Catholic community, persons with a homosexual inclination continue to look to the Church for a place where they may live in authentic human integrity and holiness of life.”

2)      Catechesis- “Catechesis ought to reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular. ‘Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.’ In tone, catechesis ought to be welcoming yet challenging, charitable but firm in the truth.”

3)      Sacraments and Worship- “Catholics who are living in accord with the Church’s moral teachings are invited and encouraged to participate fully and regularly in the sacramental life of the Church. The importance of frequent reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, for one’s ongoing strengthening and sanctification should be emphasized.”

4)      Pastoral Support- “Many virtuous people who experience same-sex attraction are ardently striving to live their faith within the Catholic community so as not to fall into the lifestyle and values of a “gay subculture.” The Church’s ministries are to encourage them to persevere in their efforts through teaching, guidance, and fellowship. Primary among these is spiritual direction from a priest.”

I believe that even though these guidelines are Catholic specific that they can be taken and applied to any faith community.

The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons: A Psychological Note

This article seems to be written from a more psychological standpoint.  They begin with an introduction to homosexuality then go on to explore the origins of male homosexuality, which are not rooted in biology.  There is not enough evidence that is clear enough for such a theory to become fact.  Then the article speaks of female homosexuality, but to a lesser degree since it has not yet been studied in depth as much as male homosexuality.  Then speaking of the defensive character of homosexual relationships the article goes into how homosexuality can stem from a bad relationship with the parent of the same-sex.  The author writes, “Moberly (9, p. 178), discussing homosexuality in general, observes: ‘From amidst a welter of details, one constant underlying principle suggests itself; that the homosexual—whether man or woman—has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same sex; and that there is a corresponding drive to make good this deficit—through the medium of same-sex, i.e. “homosexual” relationships.’”

The article then goes on to discuss the variety in the homosexual condition saying that there are three components that motivate homosexuality and homosexual tendencies: “affective dependency, power, and sexual gratification.”

This eventually leads to some implications for how we ought to offer pastoral counseling to homosexuals.  First, homosexuals have a very bruised self-esteem to begin, and so in our ministering to them we must treat them with the utmost respect and love.  The dignity and personhood that lies within them is to be recognized.  Each of these people are fashioned in the image of Christ and carry a Cross of their own.  The article says, “They also need particular support from the Christian community , in order (among others things) not to define their identity exclusively in terms of their sexual orientation. Among the possible forms of help that may be provided by psychology, sociology, and medicine, one may suggest in particular the possibility of encouraging homosexual persons to undertake a suitable depth-psychotherapy when this is possible. Bieber and Bieber report that from 30 to 50 per cent of male homosexuals can, with the aid of such therapy, overcome the problem of homosexual orientation. Even if a person does not succeed in changing sexual orientation, such therapeutic assistance can be a help in achieving greater impulse-control and to living more at peace with oneself.”

The article then goes on to explain that this is fashioned to help them overcome their problem and not to engage in the behavior further.  This is designed to help them overcome their temptation and not to give into it.

Committee to Give Direction about and for Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members

            This article has a section that I really want to focus on.  It discusses common spiritual issues among the homosexual community that I feel we really need to understand.  The article says, “Persons who experience same-sex attractions have some common experiences that require the ministry of the church. The first and in many ways the most significant of these is their experience of themselves as different, as abnormal, as being not the way most others are. Since their differentness is related to their sexuality, it is a very personal and private matter.”  The first common issue is that they can feel a very deep sense of shame that can be very pervasive, and it can lead to an alienation of themselves from genuine community.

The second is helping them realize their place in the community.  As a community of believers that have been forgiven there is no place for shame in our churches.  Part of being a Christian is being made a new creation.  We have to come under and serve our brothers and sisters who struggle with this temptation but want to be healed of it.

The third is assuming an identity.  This is formed by the questions of “Who am I?” and “Who is God?”  This involves not allowing the sin to define who they are and how they view themselves.  In the Church we are a new creation and their identity is found in Christ alone.

The fourth is to differentiate between temptation and sin.  Having homosexual tendencies that tempt one is not a sin. We must emphasize that sinning takes place when we act upon those temptations we have.  We must make this clear to those who are homosexual who have reframed from sexual encounters, so that the shame they may feel from just having those feelings will leave.

The fifth issue is that of self-control or celibacy.  We must teach that to have meaning and purpose in life do not stem from our relational status, but that often being married can complicate our service to the Lord.

The sixth is that God is in the business of healing and that we must emphasis that.  There is freedom for us from our sins and sicknesses.  “God promises the healing of all our diseases, of whatever distorts our lives, of that which troubles our relationships, and of that which destroys shalom—whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. He tells us that healing and the gospel go together. The power of God is shown in changed lives, changed in all sorts of ways. When Jesus, the firstborn of the Father, came into the world, the new creation was made manifest. Those who believed in him became new people, and those who were sick were healed.”

LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS

This is a letter written by the current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still a Cardinal in the Church.  This article points out eighteen points of pastoral concern for the Church of which I will address put a few.   This first point is that the debate about homosexuality has gone public indeed.  And so the public often pushes the debate in a direction that the Church cannot accept, so it is highly important to train clergy how to deal with this.

The fourth lies with hermeneutics and the confusion surrounding Christian teaching on homosexuality.  Many churches have confirmed with the world and this is in complete confrontation with the Church’s teaching, that includes the majority of Christians and not just the Catholics.

The sixth point lies in the fact that Genesis defines human sexuality.  The letter says, “Providing a basic plan for understanding this entire discussion of homosexuality is the theology of creation we find in Genesis. God, in his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.”

The twelfth point mentioned is for those who are homosexual and living in the Church, but follow the Lord.  They are called to enact the Lord’s will for their lives, which is to crucify themselves so that Christ will live in them.

In conclusion, there are some basic concepts we should follow in pasturing homosexuals.  Concepts like loving and respecting them, caring for them, accepting them, but not encouraging their sinful behavior.  We are to make known to them the light of Christ by our own lives and by the love we have for them.  There are many sins and we are all sinners.  Sin is not about breaking rule or regulations, but it is about the heart for sin is a disease of the heart.  The only thing that can cure our disease, no matter what form it is, is the blood of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

 

http://books.google.com/books?id=QCnGbwtZ7LEC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://old.usccb.org/doctrine/Ministry.pdf

http://www.crcna.org/site_uploads/uploads/resources/synodical/2002_report_careforhomosexuals.pdf

http://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/PSYCHOMO.HTM

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html