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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Diluting Personal Responsibility

Addicts have a terrible time with taking responsibility for anything except the maintenance of their addictions, and to that end they feel so obligated that they will do anything to anyone.  They will avoid admitting any kind of culpability for their actions, even when they are so outrageously wrong or evil that they themselves can't bear the sight of them.

Our modern society is quite helpful to the addict in this regard.  Many of our political and philosophical systems run on the 'blame game,' transferring guilt to some other group (which is always not 'us' or 'me') which is doing horrible things and needs to be stopped.

As participants in these systems of thought, we are constantly bombarded with notions that someone else is responsible for our problems, and our version of 'taking responsibility' in this case usually means controlling the actions of others.  We are told that holding power over others is good, especially if we want to make the world a better place for 'everyone.'

This assumes that the 'everyone' we are talking about like the world we are building for them.  We are often surprised when we find out that our paradise is another man's punishment!

Besides ignoring the wants and needs of others through our idealistic views cast from our own desires to have power, we often dodge responsibility by diluting its personal nature.  It is easier to think of this in terms of math.

If my idealism requires me to care for everyone in my county, then each person's individual concerns and needs will represent 1/1,000,000th of my total concern for other citizens.  If I have 300 acquaintances, then each of their complaints against me have a value of 1/300th of the total number of people who form my collective acquaintances and social relationships.  This makes it very easy to excuse one mistake or ignore one complaint.

We can also see that the pain of another person loses its value.  We can minimize it along with all the others.

Bureaucracies do this with their gradual expansion.  As they become more responsible for more people, the individual value of the people they serve decreases in proportion.

Spirituality requires a very different approach.  We must value everyone equally, and consider that our actions even if they harm only 1/300th of the people we know, we are still harming a person.  Someone has been pained by our actions, and so we must repent of those sins we cause to even a single person, even though the other 299 are not harmed.

After all, we ourselves are someone else's 1/300th.  Do we want to be treated as insignificant?  Do we want to be so easily dismissed?

It is hard for our minds to comprehend the individual suffering of each of a million people.  We shut down after only a few.  Yet, the path of recovery often requires us to walk through each of a thousand sins against others.

We cannot use the excuse of 'so many sins' to keep us away from the healing process that repentance brings.  Very often, it is overwhelming, which is why the 12 Steps relies so heavily on lists and inventories in order to help us track all these small events and not dilute their individual significance.

It can often be overwhelming to look at our daunting lists and think that all is hopeless.  It is not, if we ask for God's help.  He will keep us from being overwhelmed through the consolations of our sponsors and clergy who understand what we are trying to accomplish and can encourage us to take proper responsibility.

Once we learn to treat each person as a full 100% rather than a fraction, we will discover that our repentance has even greater meaning.  Each amends offered and received represents a totality unto itself. rather than experiencing fractions of God's grace, we find a completeness in each event.

Treating people as groups and fractions takes away our ability to experience the completeness of God's love.  Every person is made in His Image and Likeness, and so each person deserves 100% of our concern.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Russian Orthodox Recovery Center

A good friend of mine is trying to make arrangements for me to visit a recovery center in Russia, called "Old World."

Here's from their English side of the main page:

We are very pleased to have the opportunity to tell you about our work. Although our Russian website is not completely translated into English yet, we are hard at work on the translation, page by page, and hope to finish it soon. The pages that we have already translated have the word "English" at the bottom, so you can switch between Russian to English version easily with just a click. For some of the pages only the headlines are translated at the moment, so that you could have at least a brief overview of the page content. For now, we are only displaying a few select materials – articles, texts, presentations – describing our most important activities. Among the materials are PowerPoint presentations about the involvement of the Old World Christian Charity and Christian TC in addiction treatment, as well as an article Christian Therapeutic community.

The main goal of the Old World Christian Charity is to help unite the efforts of those people and organizations:

  • who want to find a real solution for the alcohol/drug and HIV problems overwhelming our country;
  • who are willing to help people suffering from the diseases, and their families, to start a new life, filled with faith and joy;
  • who consider spiritual renewal as the main way to heal individual people and society as a whole, in order to cure this terminal illness.

Today alcoholism and drug addiction as well as related problems of AIDS/HIV, hepatitus, tuberculosis and other dangerouse diseases are becoming a social holocaust, ruining millions of families.  We are confident that the main reasons for this tragic development are the spiritual deficiencies in individual people and society as a whole. Of course we do not neglect, but rather re-affirm and consider to be extremely important, the additional biological, psychological and social causes of these illnesses.

Therefore about twenty years ago, we founded this organization aimed at the creation of an integrated system of spiritually-oriented alcohol/drug addiction prevention and treatment, while at the same time developing Christian spirituality in people and restoring Christian values in society as a whole.
In our new website you can get find infornation about our work, other rehab programs, self-support groups, as well as useful books, articles and other materials about addiction and related issues. We hope to be able to present to present these materials in Russian, English and Polish languages in the near future.

I really hope I can make it over there to see what they are doing.  based on what I've gotten from their website and the reports of my friend, they are implementing an effective treatment program in an Orthodox context.  It will be interesting to see it first-hand, and I will (obviously) post more here as the story unfolds.  One of the things I like about the program is that it involves clinical professionals and clergy working together.  This is really very important in maintaining a spiritual program.

Notice also they are taking a larger vision of treatment, including AIDS.  This is not unlike American facilities who use the 'dual diagnosis' method for identifying co-occurring disorders.  This looks very promising.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Locus of Power: Spirituality, Counseling, & Re-education

Lately, I've been reading more and more about torture and human attempts to compromise by force the human will.

In some ways, there are successful techniques.  We see these in our modern 'pop' culture and marketing, as well as the shifting of political ideas over the last three hundred years.  Some of these are accidental, but other shifts have been pushed by men.

We can, indeed, influence other people to change their minds, but this takes care and patience.  It is a multi-generational undertaking, often with many unintended consequences and new problems replacing the old.

Recovery presents this dilemma to the addict: you will trade in your suffering over your irresponsibility for your suffering over responsibility.  The suffering continues... and that's just how it goes.

So, what changes?

First, there is a change of meaning: the suffering of addictive behaviors is ultimately fruitless and pointless.  It has no meaning, just a wasted experience.  Suffering with our responsibilities, however, perfects the character by teaching it strength and virtue.

The second change is the locus of power: the spiritual person in recovery shifts the locus of power from  himself to his Creator,  He waits on God rather than trying to use his self-will to fix himself.  The premise is that a broken self-will cannot will itself to wellness.

Psychological counseling, which developed in the West with its rejection of spirituality, generally shifts the locus of power temporarily to the counselor until the patient is healed enough to regain autonomous self-care.  Ultimately, the locus goes back to the individual, which is why cases where the amount of responsibility and healing capability cannot be borne by either the patient or the counselor, then the disorder is considered 'untreatable.'

Addictions recover shifts the locus of power to God, who can bear even the worst of our afflictions.  This does not mean we are automatically cured, but rather that we accept that God will somehow give us justice (i.e. repair us either in this life or the life to come) and we no longer need to suffer meaninglessly.

Even people with profound impairment have found recovery, and to the extent that they yield themselves to God they find blessings.  Some with significant mental and emotional impairment may not entirely become 'normal' through spirituality, but something changes in them for the better.

There are those, too, who seem, as the Big Book says, "constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves or others."  They do not seem to find the spiritual path.  What of them?

We can only say that if God is indeed merciful, even these people who cannot give up being the locus of power in their own lives will somehow be blessed by God in the age to come.  If God is a God of love, He will not condemn us who are born with wills so damaged by our fallenness that we cannot ever make the right decision.

In our journeys, we should always look for where the locus of control lies and who is asking for it.  My advice is to run from anything or anyone that seeks to control you as the locus of control.  Rather seek people who will help you place your control into the care of God.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Moonshine Problem in Uganda

What I found extraordinary about this video is how much the alcoholism problems in a Ugandan village can look almost exactly like those in Romanian villages and elsewhere in rural Eastern Europe:

Africa's Moonshine Epidemic - Video (Caution- some vulgar language)

Like their Romanian counterparts, the people are overall friendly and nominally functional, but they are raising their children to become addicts by their own lack of control over their drinking.  It is tragic, but not all that uncommon in many places in the world.

The good news is that if the disease is the same, then the treatment is the same as well.  Obviously, there will be adjustments for culture, but the overall approach can  be used.

The Orthodox Church is active in this region, and there is already talk about starting recovery programs under the Church just like you see starting to hit full stride in Romania.  They are already talking about recovery programs in areas where the Church has already established itself.  It's just a matter of time, but it cannot happen too soon for these people.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Desensitization, Drug Tolerance, and Addiction

One phenomenon of addiction is that, in most cases, the addict goes from using the 'addictor' or object of obsession to get high to using it simply to get 'normal.'  This is because, over time, we adjust to the presence of the addictor and it loses its 'edge.'  We become desensitized to its presence.

The word 'tolerance' has several usages, and here we are talking about tolerance in the desensitized sense.  Most of us think of tolerance as acceptance, but this is not really the case,  It means we are used to it, but it is still not normal and good.  So, we can become tolerant to drugs, alcohol, or porn, none of which are good for us (unless you happen to be a panda).

There are many ways we become desensitized to otherwise intolerable things.  There is direct desensitization, which is like forcing yourself to smoke (ask a smoker about his first cigarette), and then there is indirect or environmental desensitization, such being constantly surrounded by sexually stimulating sensory inputs to the point where looking at porn doesn't seem too bad.

However, desensitization is not merely limited to addictive substances.  There are other varieties.

Here's another example: 

Here's an excerpt:

“Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper,” the lesson reads. “Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

Not only is it horrendously stupid, it plays into the Milgram Phenomenon: people will generally follow instructions from authority figures.  Chances are, when this exercise is conducted, most students will step on the paper even as devout Christians.

This 'exercise' is a classic piece of desensitization, cloaked as a lesson in 'intercultural communication.'  Once you do this the first time, it will be easier to do it again.

The amount of profanity directed at God and Christianity in particular (most people are scared to death about saying ANYTHING about Islam, given the fundamentalist movement's willingness to desecrate even mosques if someone inside crosses its line) has desensitized people to sacrilege, blasphemy, and all kinds of profanity designed to weaken the faith of many in God.  Then comes a life trial, and the person must face his fears utterly alone.  What will he do?

We all know what the addict does, but the challenge of recovery is bringing people back through the other way of this desensitization process.  The addict must look again and again at those countless times where he 'stomped on the paper' so to speak.  He must regain, if he had any to begin with, respect for God as his Higher Power.

Gaining faith in an era of the profane is not an easy task.  In this utterly materialistic world, it is hard to get people to become sensitive once again to spiritual reality.

There are also plenty of people in the drug and alcohol addictions field that are perfectly comfortable keeping this materialistic mindset operating.  Here, I'm thinking of guys like Dr. Gabor Maté who thinks that massive social controls will somehow prevent human injury that leads to addiction, totally ignoring the fact that plenty of people these days are becoming addicts in material environments that he would consider 'perfect.'

We are not necessarily becoming addicts because of horrendous events like rape and parental neglect.  I watched kids in college who came from rich and doting families get addicted to cocaine back in the 1980s.  we've also seen plenty of people get hooked on Oxycontin and other substances which quickly sweep their feet out from under them.  The materialist or 'harm reduction' approach is nonsense if it does not take into account the whole phenomenon.  And, a big part of that, is the desensitization to God that is a big part of modern culture.

Meta-corporations and social activists have a common interest in wiping out religion.  They both want us desensitized to anything that may cause us to not cooperate with their plans.  Both marketeers and community organizers need you to follow their instructions, and they would not want you listening to a preacher or pastor who might not be cooperative.  They both want us to abandon God, because God rarely cooperates with human planning.  Since He is not subject to influence, then the relationship must be broken.

Marx figured this out, learning from the Jacobins of the French Revolution before him.  Marketing strategists learned from basic necessity of getting their message 'on top.'  Spirituality breeds contentment, and contentment neither sells soap nor foments revolution.  You are only useful to either of these groups in a state of discontentment, and so they must first rob you of your peace before they can sell you on cooperation.

Our desensitization to sound and chaos and incomplete thoughts have left us unable to bear the silence necessary to perceive our spiritual truth.  We cannot fix our world, but we can fix ourselves.  Many of our problems come from our unwillingness to look inward and take responsibility for our own repentance, focusing on material pursuits.

In order to do so, we must become 'resensitized.'  We have to lose our tolerance both to our addictor and the messages that make our addictions desirable and acceptable.  

Otherwise, we will be too desensitized to hear the still, small voice that leads us to freedom. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

God's Judgment and Guilt

I've had an interesting email exchange with a reader that led to me writing this response regarding God's judgment:

A developmentally disabled person is not going to face the same judgment that you and I will, and so a true psychopath that is constitutionally incapable of differentiating between right and wrong would face a criteria that would take into account his ability or inability to make decisions.  I don't know enough to say that a psychopath can be entirely held blameless, but we can also take another factor into account.

The Orthodox Church specifies that the Last Judgment occurs at a much later point than death, and that death itself is a process in which the conscience is examined without the salves we generally use to avoid reconciling with our consciences.  However, the ultimate governing factor is whether a psychopath, released from his suffering flesh that has impaired his decision-making (that's how we define organic mental disorders), would accept or reject eternity in Christ once he is restored to wholeness.

There are plenty of organic problems that can impair function in this life, but the General Resurrection  assumes that one is whole and restored... and so this is the real matter.  Would you want to be whole and perfected in the presence of the Almighty?  That's why we should always withhold our condemnation of others, because that's not an easy question for anyone.

Now, the respondent (who made a lot of very good points in our discussion) was asking about how God judges us.  If we are going to examine our consciences in the process of recovery, and use the notion of being 'weighed' by God, how will we know He is fair?  He will, as Christ teaches, reward us for our deeds, as St. Peter wrote,

And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. (1Pe 1:17)

What is this fear?  Well, the 'fear' that Christ taught was not about moral perfection, but rather humility and reticence to condemn others.  If we refuse to condemn others, should we also be hesitant about condemning God for being unjust when we are not sure what He will do?

Even if we think He is unfair, would it matter?  No, there is nothing we could do about it.  However, we should also remember that God is, first and foremost, the God Who is Love.  We are measured by His love and judged by how we respond to it in our condition.

Ultimately, God gives us an easy out on our sins, called 'repentance.'  If we drop the sins and embrace Him, then we can enjoy profound blessings.  In fact, He even gives us the gift FIRST... we are resurrected, then judged.  It is like the offer companies make, "Try it for free, and if you don't like it, send it back."  Of course, we cannot really 'send back' the resurrection, and so the eternal torment really is a rejection of being resurrected.

But if we ultimately encounter God in the resurrection, without all the biological and situational problems we now face, especially those that drove us to make bad decisions (like a biological psychopath, let's say, or someone with a brain condition that made him violent), here we are still given an opportunity to repent.

In the parable of the Judgement in Matthew 25, the 'goats' do not repent, but rather make an excuse (as in "Gee, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or naked...?").  Those who are 'sheep' also give the same response, but it is one of humility because they actually did these things.  If we repent and say, "Yes, I am guilty and I should have done these things because I had been warned and did nothing," or we say, "Yes, I did none of these things and I am sorry," then we have truly repented.  God can and will accept this repentance.  Had the goats said, "Have mercy on us!" then they would no longer be goats.

Now, some will argue, "But, the dead cannot repent."  The question is, if you are resurrected at the general resurrection, are you still dead?  It is true that the Old Testament teaches the dead are cut off from God and cannot repent, but the resurrected are alive (c.f. Mark 12:26-27), as are those who are at rest with Him.  Otherwise, how could He say to the thief, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  Is death Paradise, or can Paradise be a place without prayer to God?  Of course not!

The dead cannot repent, but those who die are not condemned to remain as such.  They can choose to emerge from Hades by following Christ, even if they have great sins, so long as they want to with their true, complete will.

This is why the general resurrection must take place first, so that all those who would have otherwise not done what they did in this broken life may have that one experience of unimpeded life to finally repent.  In any other court, a man may change his plea before he is sentenced, and the same is true of this court.

So, when we examine our consciences, we must take into account that God's love and forgiveness are greater than our sins.  He loves and forgives even the worst offender, because He will give justice to those we wronged through the resurrection and eternal blessings if those we wronged will receive these things from Him.  

God is not less merciful than us, but more so.  He will not hold accountable those who did evil in a way that they could not control, because He even lets us off the hook when we do these things with full knowledge!  We are not judged by our impaired selves, but our true selves that is often obscured by pain and fallenness.  We are judged by our resurrected life and will, made whole and complete.

With it, we can indeed make the final decision to repent or not.  The ultimate judgment of our deeds is not necessarily of our sins, but our willingness to repent.  If we were measured without this, then all of us are goats.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Canon of St. Andrew and Alcoholism

Every Great Lent, the Orthodox sing the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, a long poem (it takes a week of services to get through it!), which goes through the Old and New Testaments and compares its stories our struggles with sin.

On the surface, the canon makes no mention of alcoholism or drunkenness, except one ambiguous reference:

As the Prodigal, O Savior, I have wasted all my substance in riotous living, and I am barren of 
the virtues of holiness. In my hunger I cry: O compassionate Father, come quickly out to meet 
me and take pity on me. (Wednesday, Ode 1)

Kind of disappointing from an addictions perspective... if you are looking for modern terminology and conceptualization.  While the canon does spend a great deal of time directly addressing sexual immorality, it places even greater emphasis on the Passions:

All the ruling passions have ploughed upon my back, making long furrows of wickedness. (Monday, Ode 2)

I am wounded and smitten: see the enemy’s arrows which have pierced my soul and body. See 
the wounds, the open sores and the injuries, that cry out to God against the blows inflicted by my 
freely chosen passions. (Thursday, Ode 2)

From my youth, O Savior, I have rejected Thy commandments. Ruled by the passions, I have 
passed my whole life in heedlessness and sloth. Therefore I cry to Thee, O Savior, even now at 
the end: Save me. (Wednesday, Ode 1)

I am clothed with the raiment of shame as with fig leaves, in condemnation of my self-willed 
passions. (Tuesday, Ode 2)

Rise up and make war upon the passions of the flesh, as Joshua against Amalek, ever gaining the 
victory over the Gibeonites, thy deceitful thoughts. (Thursday, Ode 6)

If we look at addiction as the final degree of the passions, the utter captivity that destroys the mind and body, than we can see that the canon speaks to the alcoholic and the addict as much as it speaks to those struggling with lesser degrees of spiritual captivity.  Let's be clear: addiction is a spiritual captivity which only God can rescue us from, yet we must also choose to 'make war.'

The 'war' described in the canon is two-fold: the decision to turn away from one's passions, and the repentance necessary to bring in God's intervention.  That's it.  There isn't a lot of self-will in terms of reversing the damage of the Passions because St. Andrew, along with the other greats of the Church, saw that man needs God in order to be changed.  

A mind broken by the passions, and a body crushed by its desires, cannot turn itself around.  St. Andrew makes this very clear.  We need help.

This request for help is also couched not in a personal prayer, but a service of the Church.  The service of Great Compline in which the odes are chanted is a communal service.  We all need God's help, and we are called to ask as a community rather than as individuals.

The canon is an important reminder of this communal spirituality which is indispensable in the struggle for recovery.  Notice as well that there are no exemptions from this service: the idea that someone has fully recovered from the passions is absent and it assumes that, up until death, all men will need this service.

If you have not already attended, I urge you to go and experience it yourself.  It is one thing to read it here, but another thing to join with others in singing and praying this beautiful and powerful service. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Lone Sinner

When someone posted this link on Facebook the other days, I made a rather snide quip…

To translate Mr. Mumford: "I want to be in a church where I'm the only jerk."

I was being less than charitable to Mr. Mumford, but the overall gist of his argument is precisely that: I love Jesus who loves me, the sinner, but I don’t love Christians who fall short and sin.

Never mind that Mr. Mumford has forgotten that liking Jesus is not what He called people to do.  He called them to love one another.

Jesus does not establish a series of parallel relationships, He established a Church, which He calls His ‘Body.’  Now, you may wonder why I’m posting this on a blog about recovery, and here’s why: there are an awful lot of Marcus Mumfords that fail at sobriety because they don’t want to be around all those addicts.

Yes, meetings can often be annoying.  Yes, they can be full of people who are deluded and demanding and selfish and stupid… just like me.

That’s the problem: Mr. Mumford can’t identify with ‘Christians’ because they annoy and embarrass him, never thinking that someone else might be complete sick to death of him and his pretentious judgment.  Now, I am willing to cut him a break, as he was raised by parents coming from the Vineyard Movement, which I experienced first-hand when I started ‘experimenting’ with Christianity.  I ran out the door when I found the Orthodox Church and never looked back at great deal of the weirdness there.  Mr. Mumford and I would probably agree on lots of things like that.

What I disagree with is his willingness to trim off all the bits of the Gospel he doesn’t like because of his bad experiences in a limited context.  Now, he has settled into the soft easy-chair of fame and wealth, and so he doesn’t have much of a reason to explore, eh?  We’ll see where he is 30 years from now.

But, if you are going to find God or recover from addiction, then you have to come to terms with something: other people had God before you did.  And, yes, they are the ones God has chosen to give Himself to you. 

You didn’t write the Bible or the Big Book.  You did not invent the name ‘God.’  Those all come from somewhere else, and get passed to you from a bunch of people that have profound flaws.  Go back and read the Old Testament: the screw-ups started with Adam and then got worse.  Adam had an excuse: he had no idea what he had gotten himself into… but his sons never learned from his mistakes.

Marcus Mumford represents the new generation of ‘special kids’ who benefit from their parents largess and yet flunk every measure of gratitude or even human compassion.  Sure, his heart may hurt for the ‘poor’ and ‘needy,’ but not the Christian.  Nope, those guys stink and I’m standing nowhere near them and getting my lily-white ego soiled.

Being in the Church, just like being in an AA group, is risky business.  People will judge us and will be inconsiderate and even say hurtful or stupid things.  And, yes, you can avoid all those hassles by staying home, but then again you won’t experience God because both the Christian God and the AA Higher Power share the same definition of divine experience through belonging to the group and helping its members by identifying with them.

Mr. Mumford is correct: he is no Christian.  Christians ought not condemn and thus reject one another.  The sad thing is that he does not understand that his own aloofness is a rejection of the Gospel that calls Christians to be united in love to one another... a commandment from the Jesus that he says he identifies with.  You can’t say that you love God while refusing to identify with others who say the same thing.

And, let me be perfectly clear: I don’t look down on non-Christians… I was raised as one.  But, I will say that if you are going to appreciate Him, you must accept Him completely on His own terms, not conditions you make up.  After all, that’s what reality is all about.  You have to accept all of it, otherwise you are in fantasy land.

When you step back and look at the entire Tradition from the Old Testament to the New, it is the story of a people.  People are part of the package, both in Christianity and in recovery.  We need one another, especially those we identify with through the same beliefs and experiences.

We need one another because our own heads lie to us.  We get strange ideas that lead us to bad decisions and real wounds.  Others can help us avoid making big mistakes, and can pull us out when we have fallen.  This is what the Church does for its members, and the group likewise.

To be the Lone Sinner is to be a on a dangerous and solemn path.  And, it is not a path to God, but a path to the self apart from Him.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A New Era in Social Services?

There are two new church leaders on the world scene: Patriarch John X of Antioch and now Pope Francis I of Rome.  Coming from different parts of the world and different churches that are undergoing entirely different experiences (the Church of Antioch is experiencing direct persecution by the ‘Free Syrian Army’ and hostility throughout the Moslem world, while the Church of Rome has experienced an increasing secular antagonism), one would assume they would have different message and dissimilar priorities.

Here are a couple of pull quotes which demonstrate that such is not the case, the first from John X’s first official statement and the second about Francis I from a Roman Catholic site:

Our institutions belong to the Church, that is to the believers. They are for the good of the believers and are not supposed to be for the individual interests. They are part of the vineyard of the Lord who says in the Gospel, "son, go today and work in my vineyard" (Matt 21 : 28). This blessed work is addressed to our people who need assistance, our youth who are working to build their future, our elderly who want to spend the rest of their lives in happiness and bliss, our orphans that they may grow in an atmosphere of tenderness, love, and stability. The aim of investing in our institutions is not for material gain or economic growth; it is primarily spiritual: it is a service to our neighbour.

Today, more than ever before, human beings are falling under the pressure of harsh circumstances, conflicts, economic interests, world commerce and technological change. Today, human beings are dealt with as machines, not as persons. This fact increases their spiritual toils and their ethical problems. Social life has changed into a life of isolation. 

We have therefore to offer a new and correct vision in addressing the affairs of this world, by working on improving the administration of the Patriarchal properties and lands, by developing their investments, by keeping all of the possessions within the framework of our religious law, harmonizing its administration with the expectations of the Church and the welfare of the community. 

And in order for our philanthropic institutions, schools, university, and hospitals, to shine with the divine light, that is always present in them, each of these institutions, be it small or large, should seek to have a clear vision of its service. It should define its raison d'etre, and have a clear plan of action leading to the realization of its goals according to a well studied methodology elaborated by specialists. The specialists are expected to gather the necessary data, to analyze it, to explain it, and to crystallize it in a manner that it can serve everyone, that we may repeat with the Apostle, "therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as the wise" (Eph 5: 14). 

Pope Francis said in his homily that mercy, is the key lesson and the Good News proclaimed this Sunday. “Mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message,” he said.
Speaking without a prepared text, Pope Francis said: “If we are like the Pharisee before the altar, who said: "Thank you, Lord, for not making me like all the other men, and especially not like that fellow at the door, like that publican…,’ well, then we do not know the heart of the Lord, and we shall not ever have the joy of feeling this mercy.”

“It is not easy trust oneself to the mercy of God, because His mercy is an unfathomable abyss – but we must do it!”

Pope Francis continued: “He has the ability to forget... He kisses you, He embraces you, and He says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now, on, sin no more.’ Only that counsel does He give you.”

Pope Francis concluded: “We ask for the grace of never tiring of asking pardon, for He never tires of pardoning.”

Both hierarchs are talking about service.  Sound revolutionary?  In the modern era, yes.

Here in the US ‘charity hospitals’ and other free services that were once the staples of large religious communities have been drowned out by state-run facilities that had the deep pockets that only taxation can have.  Government enterprises made charities ‘redundant,’ and so church-run facilities got squeezed out of the picture through state competition and the costly hand of regulation.

Basically, politicians love to curry favor by handing out goodies and telling everyone how much better they do things.  There is only one problem: it’s not working.

The state enterprise of social services is necessarily secular, yet a great deal of human wounding is spiritual.  Addictions and profound moral distress cannot be treated by a secular institution.  There are limits to what non-religious institutions can do.  So, rather than treating problems with medicine and prayer, which the religious charities once did, doctors up the doses and send people on their way.

At the same time, the seemingly ‘bottomless pit’ of government agencies funding (actually there is a bottom to the pit, and it is called your pocket) has allowed many agencies to spring up with lots of well-paid functionaries that are usually never held accountable for their actions.

Charities are held accountable, both by donors and by the state.  In the case of church-run facilities, many of those who work for them are inspired to forego higher salaries for the sense of service they receive in their ministries.  So, charities not only do their work better, but cheaper.

World-wide, state-run mental health facilities, like those treating addictions, are expensive flops.  Governments are going bankrupt trying to run these institutions, which aren’t known for very good success rates and have become money-laundering operations for politicians and employee unions.  Yes, when you vote for the guy who gives you the best raises, it is money-laundering…
Church communities have felt less and less of an imperative to do real charity work because, after all, we are already paying oodles of taxes to do the same thing, right?  This makes religious groups more and more self-oriented.  Evangelization is now done through entertainment than through service to those in need. 

So, we see a downward spiral in church involvement in the US, because many young people are on to the selfishness of modern religion and figure that it is easier to be totally selfish than try to look like you dig other people once a week while really resenting them. 

This is why you get ‘special children’ like Mr. Mumford who want nothing to do with a group of people that challenge his singularity…

Love the music… I just wish he’d grow up a bit more.  We'll get to him later.

You can’t serve others without being around them and identifying with them.  Once you do that, then you can join together and serve even those outside the community, which is really what Christians are called to do.

Churches must get out of the self-centered business of calling their own people ‘lost sheep’ and actually go find the really lost ones in the alleys and crack-houses.  We should be offering real services, because Christian charities can offer people God and medicine.

Government-run social services have their place, but certainly not at a national level.  Local administration is the key, as well as smaller size and genuine accountability.  If every level of government has their own hand-out program, who’s watching the system?  Right now, nobody is watching anything, and we are going bankrupt while the problems they promise to fix continue marching on.

I am glad to see Patriarch John and Pope Francis giving much the same messages.  We can only hope that the rest of the bishops in both Sees take these messages seriously and reclaim their rightful roles as ministers to all people.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Worship and the Recovery Group

One of the 'differences' between a 12 Step Group and the Church, we are often told, rests on the matter of worship.  A recovery group does not offer worship of God, whereas a church does.

This is not entirely true.  After all, what group does not offer praise to God for His mercy in giving the addict freedom and a new life?  What group does not speak the truth about His love and care?

Yes, there is no singing or or recitations from the Bible, but many of the elements are there to say that 12 Step groups do engage in a type of 'low-key' worship of God by speaking the truth about Him and praising Him... just without all the religious code-words.

Aside from missing the vocabulary we generally use to praise God, what else is missing?

First, the God of AA and the Steps is an anonymous God, known not by name but by action.  Therefore, God is nameless and a veil of separation exists between the recovering addict and the Divine that cannot be drawn back within the group, but only in the Church.

Second, true worship of God is this:

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we 
know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers 
will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when He comes, he will show us all things."
Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He." (John 4:21-26)

The worship of the group is not yet complete in that the Spirit of God does not yet rest within the group.  That is not to say that the Spirit is not with the group.  I would argue that it is in most cases, yet it is not the same as the group being the Body of Christ in which the Spirit dwells completely and fully manifests the Christ within its members.

The veil of separation is there.  This is not a veil of false ideas, but an incompleteness, just as the Jews had in their worship of God without the Christ who 'will show us all things.'

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Protestantism and Isolation

This has come up enough times that I thought I would say a little bit about it before I roll out a longer treatment of the subject.

As I have been looking at the problem of loneliness, I cannot escape asking the question as to how it is that so many people are lonely when we have, more than ever, the greatest availability of the means of curing our loneliness.  It isn't about ability, it is about perception.

Excluding a larger talk about politics and Islam (both contribute to the problem of loneliness by enshrining certain precepts that separate people, but that's for the longer paper), in the West we have the problem of  'theological loneliness.'  Humans are seen as 'bags,' with each bag being utterly walled off from the other.  Sure, what's in the bag may be the same, but the wall of the bag is a completely impenetrable barrier between one 'sack of substance' and the next.

We call this 'individuality.'

My hunch is that individualism arose within the West with the exaltation of the Pope.  How?  Well, when you have one man who is granted a special status which no other human can have (and we are talking about humanity here, since the Pope's authority was not placed on the level of a king or warlord), you begin to de-emphasize the shared equality of all mankind.  When one man becomes exceptional, then you open the possibility that humans can become rather separated from the rest.

The Protestant Reformation wasn't able to cure or even identify the root of this problem of human exceptionalism.  Instead, it enshrined it as a universal principle: all men are exceptional, therefore all men are individuals.  With this in heart, the Reformers sought to gradually pull down the various traditional notions of communal Faith and human unity.  Sure, there were communes like the Hutterites, but they still operated with a principle of individualism manifested in shunning and other exclusionary tactics which reveal that the group really has no need for the 'individual' and can survive quite well without him.

The Body of Christ is no longer an organic whole, but an assemblage of tiny sub-units that can be thrown away when they are no longer useful.  We are 'cells' in the Body of Christ rather than parts of a whole as described by Jesus and His Apostles.  Of course, cellular knowledge did not come until later, so the understanding of the parts of the body as used in this analogy were not as radically separated as cells are seen.  The Body is an organic unity, with parts that were distinct yet inseparable.  Cells are far more distinct.

With this matrix of distinction between humans, the Sacraments which united the Church were largely done away with.  People became independent and separate.

Within three hundred years, psychology arises in the West to cope with the problems men wrestled with while not having access to priests and confessors.  The communal aspects of Christian guidance are absorbed by the field of Psychology.

Prior to that, in the 1860s there were already attempts to deal with the formal treatment of  'inebriates,' the earlier term for an alcoholic or drug addict (opium was a significant problem, especially after the Civil War).  The advent of Alcoholics Anonymous came through a Protestant bible study where the participants realized that mainline Protestantism was missing certain elements that were absolutely necessary for the treatment of the disease of addiction.

They took back those missing elements of Traditional Christianity, sans the terminology and some outwardly blatant Christian references, and called it the 12 Steps.

What I am saying is that AA was a necessary back-tracking of the Reformation's push towards the utter isolation of the human person as an individual.  

So, many of our societal problems arise from this isolation enshrined in the Reformation, where no Christian needs any other Christian to 'get salvation.'  Even there, the language does not so much emphasize communion with Christ as it does 'salvation,' which becomes a 'happy hunting grounds' rather than a Marriage Feast.

So, we have a theologically-inspired loneliness, where each man faces eternal damnation as a lone figure in a macabre scenario of divine wrath and personal isolation.  No wonder so many people have chucked in the towel on Christianity... this version of it is horrid even with the best of representations.

there is far more that I have to say on this, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Devil's Tonic

Addiction is the perfect way to control other people.  Once a person becomes enslaved to anything, then whoever controls the focus of his addiction controls him.

Thus, the addict will do what is necessary to preserve his relationship with the subject of his obsession.  If the trace is broken, then the power relationship of the addict and his manipulator are exposed.

Modern life requires addiction, because what is happening to us as humans is becoming more and more inhuman.  We are being pushed beyond our limits.  Our tolerance for the pain of our lonely existences is running out.

We need the 'pain relief' of addiction.  This is why even oppressive regimes like the Stalinist USSR made sure the vodka flowed freely.  Now, with the suppression of the family and Christianity in America, we are seeing dependence grow and metastasize into more versions than we can track.  Sure, one addiction in itself does not look overwhelming, until you see the many ways that we are imprisoned by our 'needs.'

We are being kept needy and hungry, because needy and hungry people do not question what is being done to them if they think they will be fed and kept.  Our addictions don't look so bad if we can keep at them without a cost.  

The costs of addiction are usually paid at the expense of personal responsibility.  Now, where is that going?  No, you don't need that... even though it is part of human dignity.  No, you don't need that either.  Here, drink this and you won't mind losing either one...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Torture: the ultimate isolation

My exploration of addiction has led me to read some odd books, but I've found that my search is turning in the direction of torture and what it reveals about the primary and fundamental levels of human awareness.

I have always had profound respect for those who have suffered imprisonment for the Faith, and I have often seen torture survivors as the ultimate witnesses to the efficacy of Orthodoxy.  In my parish, I have used a documentary on the Piteşte Experiment as a catechism tool.  Of course, it was to get those new to the Church to understand what may happen to us as Christians, and how people can still survive such experiences and be better for it.

However, what I am now looking at is how torture and loneliness interact on the human conscience.  I have come to realize that if loneliness is behind much of our addiction problems, and torture is often a process of using loneliness against people in order to rob them of their humanity, then there are lessons in the experience of and survival from torture that can help us overcome addiction.

I may be way off, but we'll have to wait and see.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Origins of Modern Addiction and the Destruction of Man

After watching the video about 'Krokadil' and hearing the one treatment expert saying how he thought that Islamists were trying to destroy Russia with heroin, I decided to put down my own thoughts regarding what is going on with humanity and addiction.  Here's a new page I have created:

I started it only about 24 hours ago, so it may be a bit rough in a few places.  But, I hope you will be able to see what my points are.  Yes, I do think there is an effort to destroy Russia, but I think it is part of the same conspiracy to destroy all humanity.  Even our well-meaning leaders are part of perpetuating it, because we have been immersed in a statist system that destroys families and requires the lubrication of addiction and entertainment to keep it from seizing up like an engine without oil.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

К˜рокодил (Krokodil), the Drug from Hell

We here in the US are used to the 'bath salts' phenomenon and the 'new drugs' that are wreaking havoc in our communities.  What we may not realize is that 'bath salts' are not the only new drug on the market.

The Russians are struggling with a new drug, К˜рокодил (Krokodil).  It is, quite literally, the Drug from Hell.  The abusers of Krokodil learn to make it from common household products, almost like how meth users a few years ago were making their own from over-the-counter cough medicines until the pharmaceutical industry caught on and started putting down controls.

It is called 'crocodile' because the drug causes the skin of the abuser to dry up like a crocodile skin, as necrosis sets in and their bodies literally rot away.  Here is a short documentary video:

WARNING: graphic language and content!

This video is heart-breaking, and I say this as someone who does not get very emotional.  

What I thought was interesting was to see the presenter's reaction, a young Englishwoman, as she saw how the various religious groups in Russia were dealing with the problem.  Note she was wearing a gold pentagram necklace and may be a Wiccan, but her objections to the Orthodox didn't hold a candle to her outright disdain for the 'Teen Challenge' group.

I don't blame the Protestants for trying to help these suffering people.  I would like to learn more about what the Russian Orthodox Church is doing for addicts, but I think there is a larger problem afoot.  The world itself is groaning as humanity is being pushed into a gradual extinction via nihilism.  Yes, I do think the devil wants the Russians out of the way.  I just wish the Russians would figure out how to stop cooperating with Satan's plans for their demise.

Say an extra prayer for these poor folks.  They are our brothers and sisters.