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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sobriety: less bureaucracy, more ministry

After my post yesterday, I came across this passage from the conclusion of Fr. Michael Oleksa’s book, Another Culture, Another World.

After more than a hundred years of assimilationism, the contemporary Native population continues to suffer from violence dealt to others and to themselves. At this stage, the government intervenes with “help.” For suicides we need a hotline. For drugs we need counseling. For bootleggers, we need more police. To stem the tide of anti-social behavior, we need stricter enforcement, bigger jails, tougher sentencing. The government appropriates millions of dollars. Social workers, medical care providers, counselors, all sorts of preventative programs and interventions have flooded into the region. As these new "outside" professionals establish their presence, they offer their expertise to the locals. But the more external, non-reciprocal help that is imported, the more dependent, depressed, confused and frustrated the population becomes. The more others try to help, the worse the problems get.

It has taken more than a hundred years to put this cycle of dependence, confusion, frustration, anxiety, anger, bitterness, guilt and grief into operation. It has produced an overwhelming sense of nihilism (“nothing matters, I don't matter, you don't matter, no one matters”) that provides the context for the widespread use of drugs and alcohol.

A population suffering depression, as the dominant culture did during the Great Depression, will resort to pain-numbing anesthesia, the cheapest form of which is alcohol. No one can understand drinking as a problem without first understanding alcohol as a solution. This “solutionmay have a very short effect and may even produce a new level of problems, but people get drunk to forget, to have some relief from the pain and strain of being alive. And then, under the influence, all the anger and pain and guilt and sadness they keep carefully concealed when sober, erupts in a torrent that often harms, destroys, kills.

The way out of this tragic cycle lies within the Real People themselves. No temporary hired professional can really change the dynamics of the dependence cycle. No one from outside the community can transform it, make it a better, happier, healthier place. The United Nations cannot pass a unanimous resolution declaring that a particular Alaskan Native village will be much improved in two or three years. The U.S. Congress, the state legislature, these institutions lack the power to transform a town or a neighborhood. Only its residents and citizens can change the situation, and no one else. “We cantis a lie that is literally killing Native people today.

A reawakening, a revitalization of the traditional culture, the Way of the Human Being, lies at the foundation of a new chapter that is beginning to emerge in many regions. Young people are reaffirming their belief in themselves, in their communities, in their people, and rejecting the false dichotomies that have created the old either/or dilemma. They are embracing both identities and claim both as legitimately their own. We can be who we are, and we can live successfully in the modern world. We can do both. We must do both. That is how we become Real People. We adapt. We change, but we also hold on to all that is good, true and beautiful in our story, in our way of life, in our culture.

That is not only a challenge and task for Alaska Natives, but the essential need of every Human Being on the planet today. As Alaska Natives have always known, after the long, cold, dark night, if the Human Beings do what they should and must do, there comes, inevitably, a new dawn and a never-ending day.

What Fr. Michael is describing is happening in more than just Alaskan villages.  Nihilism, the ‘Emo’ movement, and addictions are rampant in our culture.  Sure, people are not dying in the streets, but society is breaking down.

What our present problems trigger in us is a response which has, thus far, utterly failed.  Anti-drug campaigns do little to stop drug use.  We fund more ‘programs’ and enrich bureaucrats who have nothing to show for their work.

No matter where we are, we need to find ‘the Way of the Human Being.’  This is the core of sobriety AND the root of Christian mysticism: to become real in Christ, with Him and through Him.

What this also means is that the Church’s work in Alaska has ramifications for the entire Church, just as the steps being taken in Romania are beginning to be noticed in the rest of the Orthodox World: when the second-largest Orthodox community takes on a major societal problem like alcoholism and institutes curriculum in the seminaries, the other Churches will soon take notice.  Floyd has mentioned that other Orthodox churches are starting to contact him.

The establishment of the St. Dimitrie Program in Alaska ( is not simply for the benefit of the Alaskan Native peoples, but the entire American Orthodox community.  Our social programs run by government agencies are not working, either for us or for the rest of society.  More than ever, people are depressed, angry, and unhappy.  This is why we see more and more people clamoring for ‘services’ rather than attending services.  Everyone ‘wants’ because we are all ‘victims’ in need of government benefits and entitlements.  Yet, as the number of these services grows, our unhappiness seems unabated.

It is time for our community to take back the responsibility for healing souls.  We have depended long enough on our government to provide alcoholism and addictions treatment for our members (that’s why our parishes and dioceses really don’t do anything about education or counseling in this regard).  We must now take up this ministry, not only to heal the people already in the Church, but to evangelize and bring healing to all our fellow citizens.

If sobriety is about becoming a real human, than recovery simply isn't a proper subject for a government program.  It is a task for the Church.

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