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Friday, August 30, 2013

New Page: On Participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in Rehabilitation of Drug-Addicts

I am indebted to my friends, Dr. William and Natalya Work, for translating this document a few months back.  This is a historical work in that it represents one of the first organized attempts by the Church to address the topic of addiction and provide an outline for treatment and education strategies:

I am certain over time it will be refined and edited as the Russian Orthodox Church implements programs and finds out what works and what does not.  Right now, they are still in the stage of 'throwing darts in the dark' in the sense that more of their work is theoretical rather than experiential.  Over here in the US, we have almost 80 years of AA and 12-Step experience.  In Russia, I'm not sure how many people there are with 20 years of sobriety via the 12 Steps.  There may be a few, but public attitudes towards addiction have a long ways to go.

Now, they have folks like Igumen Jonah of Danilovsky Monastery and Dr. Evgenie Protsenko of Old World Charity who have advanced education in addiction, but they are working not only to help the people in their treatment centers, but also shift the entire Russian nation's attitude towards addiction and recovery.  They are, quite literally, the Bill W. and Dr. Bob of the New Russia.

The editorial process, from what I heard, was a complicated one, made more complex because most bishops do not entirely understand addiction as presently treated as a topic.  So, imagine you have to write a solution to a problem you don't really understand, then you get the picture.  The truth is that getting even this document out in a recognizable form was nothing short of a miracle.

As I have mentioned before, I am looking for more official materials from the Church on the topic of addictions.  If you have something, email me (my address is on the right sidebar).  In the meantime, feel free to post your comments about the document.  Some of those who were participants in its composition are readers of this blog, and I'm sure they'd like to hear from you.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Patriarch Kirill and President Putin Address Anti-Alcoholism Congress

Russia, Romania, and most of the Eastern European states see addiction as not only a threat to the spiritual lives of the people, but the very stability of their nations.  In the West, we are absolutely blind to the epidemic.  The closest we came was declaring a 'War on Drugs' which has now become a highly-political topic and somewhat of a joke, as US authorities continue to let narcotics pour through our borders while monitoring all our emails and phone calls but doing little to stem the flow of damaging internet porn.

It is time for a real reform of our social attitudes towards life, spirituality, sexuality, personhood, and responsibilities as humans.  We are dying as humans.  It is not racial, it is not political (both parties have played a part in the US's decadence), it is not economical (in the sense that 'capitalism' or 'socialism' will automatically fix everything)... it is about spirituality.

We have a separation of Church and State in the US Constitution which says:

Amendment 1 - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The government isn't supposed to establish a religion or prevent a religion from being exercised, but it certainly can do a lot about morality.  Alcohol taxes, age of consent, drinking ages, cigarette taxes, narcotics laws,etc. are all part of the big picture of social morality.  We worry about nicotine because of cancer risks, but not about pornography that is transforming the brains of millions of users?

Yes, I do not want an all-powerful state running the show here in America, but we need to stop an examine what it is that we are thinking will solve our problems.  I think it is interesting to note that the Black civil rights movement began in the churches, and was highly effective when it was spiritually grounded.  Now, it has been torn from its spirituality, and become something of a joke: 'Reverend' Jackson and 'Reverend' Sharpton never, ever talk about God anymore, whereas Reverend King ended his 'I Have a Dream Speech' with a spiritual vision for America, and most of his speeches were more sermons than political rants.

Racism is a disease, but so is decadent immorality like that of Miley Cyrus and just about every rap artist you can think of.  Our politicians argue about 'health care,' but do little to think of the spiritual care of people.  That's because our political world has become about hate.  Each party has chosen one group of people to hate and call the enemy, and so no party is left to represent all the people and care for all the people.

I know Russian politics is no easy matter, but you can sense here that the ;leadership actually cares what happens to all the people.  Alcoholism does not 'discriminate'... just go to an AA meeting and you will find the rich and the poor.  Addiction is not about material concerns, but spiritual ones.

I think it is important to see how national leaders look at the problem of addiction.  Some day, I would like to gather all these various speeches together in a single online resource, but the day is far off.  So far, most of my requests have been ignored.  If you find speeches by Orthodox church leaders and state representatives, please send them my way.

In the meantime, here's a couple of interesting bits.

If you have any information about the "Congress of the Church and Community Council for Protection from the Threat of Alcohol," please let me know via email or comment below.



Moscow, February 16, 2012
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill sent to the participants of the Congress of the Church and Community Council for Protection from the Threat of Alcohol, which opened on Thursday, February 16 in Moscow, his blessing and greeting:
"Alcoholism - a grave illness that affected millions of our contemporaries. Broken lives and broken families, socially dangerous behavior and crime, disease and accidents - all this is the bitter fruit of alcohol abuse. The disastrous consequences for the social life of this vice has always attested to by the Orthodox Church. Thus, St. Tikhon Zadonskii indicates that binge drinking '...causes quarrels, fights and subsequent bloodshed and murder, profanity, blasphemy, blasphemy, frustration and resentment neighbor...' ," said the Patriarch in the opening speech of Congress.
"However, the problem is deeper and has a more spiritual aspect. A man with this ruinous passion not only experiences distortion of his nature and suffers material losses, but also spiritually dies, falling into the slavery of sin. Not by chance the Apostle Paul warns us that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (see 1 Cor. 6: 10)."
"The Russian Orthodox Church seeks to bear witness in a society to a healthy and sober lifestyle. It is with this purpose in 2009 that the Church Community Board for the Protection from the Threat of Alcohol  was formed, which provides legislative and outreach activities aimed at combating one of the most dangerous social and moral ills," the Patriarch said, expressing hope that "Church-state co-operation in this area will continue to contribute to the moral and physical improvement of our society." He wished all the participants of the Congress, which will run February 16-17 at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, "fruitful work and success in such an important matter. " February 16, 2012


The participants of the Congress of the Church and Community Council for the Protection of Threat of Alcohol 
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir  Putin
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
I welcome the participants and guests of the congress, which brought together representatives of the clergy, leading scientists, artists and writers.
Over the years, the Church Community Board has fully taken its place as a respected and sought after public forum to discuss pressing issues in the field of health preservation, spiritual and moral education, improve the demographic and ecological situation in the country. Among the most important priorities of the Council - to develop consolidated, effective approaches to such a sharp, "sick" issues, such as combating the spread of alcoholism and drug addiction in the Russian society, especially among young people.
The creation of modern social infrastructure, involvement of the younger generation in physical education and sport, promotion of family values, a healthy lifestyle - this is our common goal, a shared responsibility. And so I expect that in the course of your representative meeting there will be proposed major new initiatives to strengthen the partnership and  cooperative work between the state, religious organizations, and civil society institutions.
I wish you a fruitful and constructive work.  February 16, 2012

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Identity and Action

We live in strange times.  I think the strangest bit of modern life, or perhaps I should say 'post-modern' or 'post-post-modern' (it is so hard these days to keep up with all the fancy jargon of the higher-education types), is how we have fractured Identity and Action.  That is to say, what I do and who I am can be two entirely different things in the modern/post-modern thought-world.

This has really been a problem for modern religion, where being a Christian and doing Christian things have become two separate categories.  It used to be that your religious identity defined your actions.  You knew when to pray and what to eat.  There wasn't a whole lot of 'freedom' in such a system, but there was a lot of stability and certainty.  Those are things that cannot be undervalued, because humans try making stability and certainty the moment that events take them away.

But, along comes the 1960s, and suddenly you have a lot of purposeful destabilization.  We were told to 'break free' of these stable bonds and 'be liberated.'  But, we have identity, right?  What do we do with that?  Don't worry, we were told, you can bring that with you as your 'stability.'

So, for the Roman Catholics, you have Vatican II, where the cardinals felt free to ditch all the old 'rules' and do whatever they felt like.  Catholicism became an identity without rules.  The same thing started happening in many of the Protestant 'mainline' denominations.  When action and identity separate, you can just say you are a '__________' and it automatically becomes true.

The only problem with this is that the next generation comes along and says, "So, tell me... why are we ___________?  It does not really change who I am, so it must not be important."

The 1960s person who buys into this split chuckles at such 'innocence.'  He knows that identity is powerful because it gives a sense of stability, but that was from a time when identity gave stability of action... as in you knew what to do.  The previous generation has a lot of nostalgia for this stability, while personally rejecting its actual usage now.  But, the new generation has no nostalgia for this past, because their present was made by those that did away with the old order and its stability of action.

Now there is only identity, and nobody can put together a decent explanation as to why it is important.  So, this generation is leaving those churches that bought into the divide.

The Orthodox bishops and theologians of the previous generation did much the same thing.  They talked about 'liturgical renewal' because it was all the rage with the Roman Catholic theologians they were hanging out with.  They wanted to break with 'old ways' and try new, 'relevant' things not associated with the traditional actions of the Church.

So, you get clean-shaven, suit-wearing priests rather than the bearded and cassocked kind you had before.  The communities build weird, and mostly ugly, churches to express this 'new freedom.'  Fasting?  Don't be so Pharisaical!  Let's shorten the services!  And, if we use English, let's make sure it sounds really simple, because we don't want all those 'high church' trappings.

Of course, the young people bail out because there really is no reason to be anything anymore because it is just an identity and along with all the other freedoms we got it was the ability to change identities.  Of course, I am speaking of America, as opposed to other places in the world where your identity is inescapable to a large extent.  Over here, it is fluid and not a 'birthright.'

Now the 1960s generation is wringing their hands because the young people are leaving, and the solution is to lower the standards and given them 'more freedom' to do things differently from the adults, which actually underlines the whole point that the identity is meaningless if it means that two people who share it can do two entirely different things: kids have to do their own things, while the adults do something else.  And, the young continue to leave.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox Church here has a different 'problem'... there are lots of new converts coming in and, as a big surprise to the 1960s generation, they want all the actions along with the identity.  They are seeking the old stability of Identity and Action as one subject.  This puts them at loggerheads with the older generation in many parishes and even with the hierarchs, who identify more with the separation of identity and action.  They have all the nostalgia of the 'Old Country' to fall back on, and get rather annoyed when all these pesky newcomers come in and demand a 'return' to those constricting old ways.

They fail to see that the converts really didn't come for just the Identity.  They really don't think that the bishops and clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church are just so cool 'as is' that they want the identity but to continue to do their own thing.  And, when some of them do that, then the 'establishment' gets ticked at them because they usually do things that annoy everyone in the establishment and get them grousing about how these converts are wrecking the nostalgic atmosphere of the church community.

It also reminds them of the beauty of the restrictions that the tradition brings.  Every time they have to play that card, it hurts at a deep level.

I see it every Sunday when I look out and observe all the young women in headscarves and most of the old women (yes, the 1960's generation has gotten old, hasn't it!) are 'covered' with nothing but hairspray.  The younger generations want a reason to be part of an identity, and the only real reason to go to the trouble of changing your identity is to do things in a different way.  They want the restrictions, because they want the stability and security that go along with them.  They don't have the great pile of nostalgia to nourish themselves with.

This is why the 'great reformers' like Frs. Schememann and Meyendorff have lost their 'edge' since their deaths.  Nobody is really interested in another rupture of action from identity.  Their 'renewals' were largely ignored in favor of what explanations they were able to provide for how and why things are done in the Church.  

Addicts understand what I am talking about.  There's no use in calling yourself an addict unless it defines what you do.  When you enter into recovery, and what you do matters, then the identity is extremely important.  On the other hand, if you don't care what you do, then the identity is really meaningless or even 'counter-productive,' since admitting you are an addict really puts pressure on you to do something about it.

Addicts in the Church also find benefits in the return to the union of Action and Identity.  The traditions bring clarity help keep our free wills from running amok.  We stop fighting and arguing and start working together to be transformed.  The only transformation offered by the separation of Action and Identity is that you can opt out of being transformed.  The identity doesn't change you... it is just there like a piece of emotional jewelry.

Those addicts seeking spiritual transformation will find it in the Church, though they will often be greeting by those 1960s folks who will tilt their heads and wonder why you are taking it all so seriously.  They don't understand spirituality as a life-or-death proposition as it is for those in recovery.  They don't understand how important Identity and Action are together as a coherent manner of being. 

 What do you do in such cases?

Just smile and wave...

{Please pardon my sarcasm, but I wrote this at 4am when everything else but my sarcasm was asleep.}

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An article on "God as I don't understand Him"

My friend Red reminded me last night about the new AA catch-phrase, "God as I don't understand Him."  He's hearing it more and more these days in his neck of the woods.

We've all read about 'God as we understand Him,' and we know this is meant for the addict to abandon his old ideas about God and open himself to the experience of God found in the 12 Steps.  After all, sober alcoholics experience God's grace enough to stay sober, right?  Or, is recovery just a psychological mind-trick?

Here is a an article that I think sheds some light on how people come to this conclusion about "God as I don't understand Him":

Even Orthodox become addicted because of the problems she describes.  It is because they eventually fall into the problem of Fundamentalism which wrote about here: Levels of Belief

Christians that become rigid Fundamentalists hem in God behind a series of rules and 'spiritual laws' that at first seem to 'describe' God, but actually 'circumscribe' Him into a small area which He never departs from.  So, people who do not keep the rules automatically qualify for hell or beheading or neglecting, because 'We' know the rules and God's rules are immutable.

That is just dumb.

God does what He wants because He is God.  Does He break His word? No.  Are people going to hell if they refuse to believe in Him?  What a load of malarkey!  After death, there won't be a chance to not believe.  That's not the real point.

The real point is that we will, at death, finally have to accept God on His terms.  There will be no more chances to dodge the question.  This life is about getting ready to meet Him as He is, not whether we 'believe' or not.  That just isn't an issue.  An atheist may very well find himself face-to-face with the God that he secretly hoped for but never heard from us because we were too busy shouting obscenities in his direction.

The Fundamentalist believes more in God's rules than God's love, which is why he is actually quite far from true faith and is highly susceptible to addiction.  We need to be careful to not attribute too much power to our understanding of God:

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways 
higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:6-9)

We must be willing to let go of God and accept Him as we don't understand Him.

AA meets Apophatic Theology... are we seeing even more of a creep towards Orthodoxy?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Eating Disorder Blog by an Orthodox Christian

There's a number of eating disorder folks who read this blog, and I wanted to let me know about this blog if they haven't already come across it:

Those of us who 'snack' too much or occasionally overeat know how hard it is at times to control this impulse with a house full of food.  Imagine the struggle for folks with a real problem.  In my opinion, eating disorders are by far the most difficult, simply because the one thing you are obsessed with is the one thing you can't do without.

My hat is off to those strugglers who are in recovery with eating disorders.  You are truly a strong bunch.

Thank God there are groups out there like OA, who use the 12 Steps of AA with their own traditions of moderation.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Vigilante Justice, Alutiiq Style

It wasn't a lynching, but rather a community coming together against drugs.  We need to see this happen more often.  The drug epidemic is largely because we feel we are not 'allowed' by our legal system.  The truth is, if we allowed ourselves to push out the pushers, street drugs would be a lot harder to come by.,0,2122306.story

By the way, they have a historic Orthodox church in town.  I don't know if the participants in the expulsion were Orthodox or not, but they all get a high-five from me!

I love how the police let the people do their job.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Message of Hope

Christianity is a religion centered on hope.  Too often, it is presented as condemnation and legalism, which is a total misunderstanding of the Faith.

Part of that reason is that we clergy get frustrated with people is that they want 'hope' (i.e. they want to feel good) but don't want to live according to it, nor are they particularly interested in understanding why their actions really are not lining up with the hope of Christ.  So, our explanations and teaching get shorter and shorter, until they become something like, "Because I said so!"

Then Christianity just becomes a assorted assembly of 'no' with a sprinkle of exacerbation and ridicule.  Very counter-productive, and very unchristian.

The truth is that the way is narrow, and most people are not even interested in Christianity as it is, even when they come to church and partake of Communion.  But, that does not mean that the faith is an utter waste for them, because without it who knows what they'd be doing.  It would be a lot worse.

We must admit that even when Christianity isn't closely practiced, it still has an overall positive effect.  Even our enemies recognize that Christian adherence to forgiveness and morality is important for world order.  But, most importantly, its steadfast commitment to God even in the face of total opposition challenges the cowardice of immorality.

Yes, immorality is a form of cowardice.  It is about abandoning morality because it is 'too hard.'  To be honest, morality is too hard.  That's why we need God to begin with, knuckleheads.  God makes morality possible, because morality is defined by Him and it is after His Likeness.  If you take Him out of the equation, you just have human whim.  That's where immorality comes from.

The breakdown of immorality and the destruction of society is what man begets of his best thinking independent of Christian principles.  Just think of the Middle East or the insanity of Africa and you get the picture.  You may say, "What about China?"  Let's not forget that China's communism is based on Marx's rip-off of Christianity.  Ideas like human rights and equality spring from Christianity, not Marx.  That's why he attacked the Church.

AA has done the same thing for American culture in respect to drinking.  Again, a large number of participants don't work a particularly rigorous program, and a majority of people who attend a meeting are drunk five years later.  But, public drinking and alcoholism are way down in America.

Think about it: how many offices have wet-bars in them anymore?  Drinking during work hours is not only on the decline, it is almost non-existent.

Yet, we are also seeing an explosion in the number of addictions.

That's because both the Church and 12 Step programs are getting their messages crowded out by commercialism and flawed messengers.  In America, the crazy pastor has come to define the Church with his antics and heretical teachings (Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Robert Schuler, Fred Phelps, Benny Hinn, and all the other clowns have debased the Gospel image in America through their rebellion against the Apostolic teachings).  AA has been squeezed into the corner by whack-job, for-profit therapy centers that so bungle the straight-forward message of AA that we have hundreds of thousands of addicts who actually believe AA teaches that a door-knob can be your God!

When we screw up the message, we deprive people of their hope.  The hope is that the Loving Creator of the world cares for each of us and is willing to transform us if we are willing to let go of our junk.  Yes, that's hard when you've grown attached to your trash, and we often think that people will become more willing if we let them 'negotiate,' but negotiating with reality means accepting percentages of falsehood.

That's where we lose the hope of the message, because the message needs to be truth in order for it to matter.  Truth mingled with lies is not enough to give us hope, because they we are never sure when we are in reality and when we are in falsehood.

Hope has to be true in order for it to matter, because guesses and dreams are just that: they are the inventions of man rather than the reality of the universe.

So long as we have God, we have hope.  But, we have to let go and accept Him as He is.  We have to let go of the trash and cling to the truth, because He is the Truth.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Brochure: We Are Created Good

This brochure is intended to help us all wrestle with the problem of human sin from an Orthodox context.  We have a very hopeful approach to sin.

The problem here in America is Calvinism, which has roots in Augustine's view of 'original sin' that blossomed in the Medieval era with Purgatory and eventually bore the fruit of Calvinism's morbid view of the 'created to be damned.'  That gave us the Puritans and all kinds of modern 'holiness' movements which produce lots and lots of addicts.  Just go to a meeting and find how many people are there who were raised as 'holy rollers' or 'hell-fire' Baptists.

You can see why so many 12 Steppers, when they get sober, have such a difficult time coming to any church at all.  Their selection of sane Christianity is limited and shrinking fast.  It is up to us to make ourselves available to the recovery Community, for their sake as well as ours.

If we fail at this, then we have no business preaching anything at all.

Caffeine Addiction

I'll admit it: I'm physically dependent on caffeine.  And, I have a million excuses for it.
However, I can say that I have never committed a crime because of it, nor does it negatively effect my relationships (unless you are dealing with me in the morning before the first cup).  Life is just spiffy right now, and I suppose that if it weren't, then I might broach the topic of quitting coffee.
In the meantime, I thought this would be a nice break from all the rather heavy stuff I've been posting lately, and shift gears a bit to prepare for my next brochure...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The anti-AA Movement and the Raging Blogger

For every movement and idea, there will always be skeptics and even contrarians.  AA and the 12 Steps are no exception.  AA has been called a 'cult,' which is pretty hilarious considering that it is probably one of the loosest associations of human beings the world has ever seen.

So, a friend sent me a link to an anti-AA documentary movie still in production.  The producer is still trying to raise funds.  At first, it seemed pretty intriguing.  She even interviewed a former member of AA's World Services board, who was critical of how AA deals with sexual predators who come to AA meetings.  As with most issues, the Board simply leaves group discipline to the local groups.  For some, that is not enough (personally, I think AA should come out and tell members that if you are the victim of a crime or being stalked by an AA member, call the police).

Yes, AA is an open association, and it is made up of as many unsavory characters as there are in our overall society.  AA isn't 'safe' because there is nowhere 'safe' these days.  Churches are much the same way: nobody is checking IDs at the door.  Only now are most churches running background checks on their volunteers and employees, though this is far from universal.

The documentary was also critical of something which I think is also a major problem: the courts are ordering all kinds of criminals to attend AA meetings even though they are not willing to get sober.  It is flooding meetings with unwilling people who do not agree with AA's principles.  How are people supposed to be honest in a room with a bunch of unwilling participants.  Yes, there are closed meetings, and there are also meetings where court cards are not signed (listen to the scrape of chairs followed by the tidal wave of newcomers hitting the door when that is announced), but vast majority are 'open.'

My opinion is that all 12 Step groups (I believe SA does not have open meetings, and you are 'screened' before they give you a directory) should stop participating in court-ordered sign-in cards.  The courts can do what they want, but groups need to stay focused on group recovery.  If necessary, sign cards at speaker meetings or introductory presentations, but not the average group.

Well, I decided to contact the producer and ask her to specify what reforms she wants to see from AA World Services, since she is demanding 'reform' but didn't specify what exactly she wants them to do.  In two emails, she hasn't been able to formulate a single, specific action.  That sent up red flags in my head.

A reformer who demands reform but can't name one must have another motive.  She sent me a link to her blog, and so I checked it out.  It turns out she left AA for one of the 'no God' recovery groups, and she is maaaaaaaaaaad at AA in principle.  She does not want 'this cult' reformed, she wants it gone.  Her version of reform is like urban renewal through carpet bombing.

After wading through a bunch of obscenities and profanity, I realized that her 'sobriety,' or at least her criticism of AA and the 12 Steps, was based on rage.  That's where the red flags came from.

Anger and rage are simply too dangerous.  I don't mind principled disagreement.  I'm not here to force anyone into the Orthodox Church or the 12 Steps.  I believe they are for everyone, but they don't work if you are unwilling.  In fact, they can make you miserable if you are unwilling or just want them to think for you.  They both require synergy.

You can stay abstinent on rage, and you don't need any groups to encourage you.  I have seen it with my own eyes.  But, in principle, someone who is doing something with rage as a motivation is letting their emotions get the best of them, and they certainly are not happy people.  Anger and happiness are not bed-fellows.  You cannot have peace while cultivating hatred.

I pressed the eject button on life without God because my own rage, hostility, fear, and loathing were killing me.  Literally.  My basic rule of daily life is to avoid hostile people unless absolutely necessary, and avoid those situations which tempt me to hostility.  When I get angry, I know I am wrong even if I am 'right' to be furious.

As you poke around the interwebs, you too may discover a Raging Blogger, since there are any number of blogs with angry people spilling out their venom.  Pray for their peace, and perhaps learn from the constructive things they have to say, but do not share in their disquiet.  It is an unpleasant illness to be filled with indignation.

Despite her pleadings, I'm not going to share this bloggers blog or her project, because she has not answered my simple question about what reforms she wants to see.  Shouting 'reform!' is not enough.  My sense is that her avoidance of my question indicates another agenda.

There are lots of folks these days who are good at manipulation.  If they are holding back some cards, then you know they are playing a game, and they are seriously playing it.  You need to figure out if you are a gambler, and, if so, what the stakes are.  Otherwise, you might be getting played...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Two TV personalities talk about their alcoholism

While you may or may not like their politics, this isn't about politics or meta-social-issues.  I don't recall ever seeing two media people open up about their alcoholism in such a way before.

I think it is helpful that they are willing to risk their reputations to talk about the problem of alcoholism, particularly among 'functioning alcoholics.'  It is fascinating to think about how she went through detox while remaining on air.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An Interesting Exchange About the Brochures

I just had a fascinating exchange with one of our readers.  I love it when people take me to task, because it gives me something to think about outside the echo of my own head.

Here's the email:

"Father, I am not going to ask for a blessing this time, because I must unfortunately take you to task about something.

"Your first three brochures are good.  However, I think that last two you have published are good and needful sermons, but disastrous brochures.

"Why?  Please stop and think a moment!  Brochures are what we give to visitors to our churches.  We don't give brochures to the faithful. They don't need them.  They are already in the Church!

"Is this really the kind of thing that first-time visitors and spiritual seekers need to hear?  I think not!  Rather, it is the faithful and the baptized who need to hear these things.

"So, my recommendation is that you scrap these last two brochures, and develop them into homilies to be preached in your church and posted on-line, for the benefit of the Orthodox faithful who need to take this message on board (of which there are, indeed, very many).

"I will NEVER distribute either of your last two brochures to visitors.  It would drive them away from the Church, when the Church may be the one thing needful for them.

"Please go back and rethink this.  I have to tell you, that if I were your bishop (which God in His wisdom and mercy has thankfully spared everyone!), your telephone would be ringing just now.  I can't believe that an experienced priest would actually consider distributing such material to first-time visitors.  That is unbelievably obtuse."

Here's my response:

"In my parish experiences, the vast majority of brochures are used by people already in the Church, largely those who won't read books.

"Of course, these brochures are not meant for newcomers or visitors, but they can be left out for those 'experienced' people.

"I don't believe in hiding problems.  Inquirers would also do well to realize we have lots of problems.  I spent over an hour with my inquirers just last week trying to explain why, at coffee hour after liturgy, big platters of roasted chicken were left out for the people to eat after I had given a sermon talking about the fast.  Even the new people notice the horrendous problems we have with overlapping jurisdictions, Sunday-only Christians and the like.  

"We do need to let people know that we see these as real problems AND we are willing to do something about it.

[some personal information here]

"What I have written is the truth, and it is from the Scriptures that we all read.  Inquirers don't have to get this as their first taste of Orthodoxy, but they will find this out sooner rather than later.

"You don't have to print these.  You don't have to distribute them, either.  I'm not forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to do.  But, as you know from reading this blog, there's a lot I put out here that can be taken out of context or misused.  It is the risk that I take.  I also don't put warning labels on these, because I assume that people will use them with common sense.  The last thing I would like is for someone to take my brochure on the 12 Steps and use it to bully their drunk spouse, say "See? Why don't you get sober like this says!"

"It is all about context.  There are a lot of parishes where visitors are not welcome at all.  Look at these as a ministry to these parishes.

"The blessing of a priest not not from the priest.  That's why he says, "God bless you," rather than "I bless you."  You don't have to get either one if you don't want!  ;)

"I appreciate your candor.  Thanks for speaking plainly."

No one has to use anything they don't want.  I would not want these brochures to be abused.

Use what you find here judiciously.  

Brochure: Ark of Salvation or Ship of Fools?

OK, I've been holding back on this one, but I figured I might as well put it out there.  It slaps pretty hard.  It is meant to.  This brochure is different from the others.

For one thing, it has a lot more Scripture in it, and for good reason: the Scriptural message is one we clergy often back-pedal on because we too afraid of offending these 'lukewarm' people and losing them altogether.

The problem is that this worry often holds us back from ministering to the larger community, including service to the alcoholics and addicts that need the message of the Faith but would be turned away by the lukewarm as a challenge to their tepidness.  

This and the other brochures are here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Addiction: the New Child

Since the early part of the 20th century, the USA and Russia have been locked in various 'positions' we generally call the 'Cold War.'

Now, the ideological struggle between State Communism and Free Market Capitalism has collapsed.  Communism died in Russia, but freedom died in the USA.  While Russians are struggling to define themselves as a free nation, Americans are struggling with what liberties they wish to dispose of for the 'common good'... usually defined by narrow self-interests without concern for historical examples or inconvenient 'cause-and-effect' rules in reality.

In the 1970s, the Cold War took a dark turn.  Cocaine consumption and production began to rise.  As for the USSR, the KGB was working in the region, and saw two opportunities: get Latin American into the Communist fold through entities like FARC (which supported itself through drug money), while at the same time keeping drugs out of Russia.  The honest truth was that Latin America was hardly a drug threat to the USSR: distance and the weak ruble were in the USSR's favor.

Drugs became part of the Cold War.

As cocaine became a major problem with the 'Crack Epidemic' in the 1980s, the US helped return the favor: the USSR invaded Afghanistan, and so the Pakistani ISI and the US CIA came up with the Taliban, which used the incentive of radical Islam to motivate Afghans to 'jihad' against the invaders.  Their 'cash crop'... opium refined into heroin.

If you can get past some of the obviously conflicted story line (the narrator at once says that the Taliban reduced opium production during its reign, while then admitting that they have always supported themselves through taxing and distributing heroin), you see how the US's strategy in Afghanistan was to use the drug trade against the Soviets.

However, the problems have exploded.  Russia is now bearing the brunt of the US's policy decision to abandon morality for the sake of victory, and this has spread into 'idyllic' lands like Norway. 

The US also has a huge problem: the drug empire in Mexico which it largely created... the Zetas Cartel.  Made up of US-trained Mexican soldiers, it has taken over the Southern border and flooding the US with marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.  

The US solution is absolutely idiotic: the Federal government has decided to get into bed with a rival cartel and assist them in the drug trade.  Yes, this is the real story about every political party in the US fighting to keep the US southern border 'porous.'  It isn't about illegal aliens, it is about the drugs.  The immigrant issue is a distraction from the real problem.  We have a border that is a war zone that is as active as anything in Iraq right now.

Why is this important?  Because we cannot depend on the same people who caused the problem to fix it.  Their best thinking got us into this mess.  It isn't about parties or political agendas.  It is about what happens to men when they become fixated on accomplishing their goals and forget morality and decency.

In the US, we are far too willing to excuse immorality of our leaders if we think they are going to be Santa Claus and give us what we want.  We trust those who promise the most, no matter if the promises are from the Right or the Left.  If you have not noticed, the US has elected its most Left-wing president since Jimmy Carter, and yet there are plenty of things have not changed: neither Bush president did anything about the southern border either.

The drug war rages on, because the drug war is just a distraction from the real problem.

Addictions are on the rise.  The West is becoming sterilized through falling birthrates, caused by materialism and the destruction of the family.  This is creeping into the East as well: China is forcing its One-Child Policy on its people, but the Japanese have much the same without a hint of totalitarianism.

As nations 'develop,' they are getting on board with reducing the fertility rate: here is an interesting article on the 'soap opera' theory regarding population growth.

What I am talking about here is more than simply having fewer children: I'm talking about unhappiness.  Declining birth rates are a sign that families are not forming, and the ones that are are not healthy or happy.  Look at how economic trends have effected US population rates.

Addiction has become the new 'child.'  When we are unhappy, we do not raise children, but we instead medicate our troubles.  And, the powers of centralized authority like it that way.  When you are doped up, you will accept anything that keeps the dope coming.

We are not starving.  There are no shortages.  Yet, we are profoundly unhappy.  We are dying from it, and addiction is just one symptom.

Go back to the NatGeo documentary and watch the Norwegian couple: do they have any reason at all to remain stoned half to death?  No.  But, their government is perfectly willing to keep them that way.  Why?

They are not getting married.  They are not having children.  They are unhappy, but they are not a political risk.  They keep the system 'stable.'

Addiction, in my opinion, is an unintended consequence of the quest for political stability.  Government leaders are willing to do nothing about problems (e.g. porous borders, ending the drug flow, controlling internet porn, etc.) so long as they keep people 'happy' with the system, or at least convinced that their unhappiness is 'terminal.'

If you can envision change, then you will demand it.  This was the motto of the the 2008 Obama Campaign... "Hope and Change."  Funny thing... how little of it we've really seen.  The economy is still a mess, and there are more promises but no accomplishment.  People are still unhappy and getting addicted.

We are not forming families and having children, which are things we naturally crave.  We are pushing these things off further and further, then trying to squeeze them into the very end of the 'window of opportunity' because we are busy trying to attain the 'perfect life' according to the world.  

We have abandoned thousands of years of knowledge about what makes us really happy.  Then, we escape the pain through addiction.

The children we should be enjoying have been replaced by computer screens, bottles, and needles.

Addiction is the Antichrist, the anti-salvation of humanity.  It keeps us from screaming too loud while we shred ourselves to pieces. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Is Atheism a form of mental illness?

This author posits that Atheism is a form of mental illness based on numerous studies which show the physical, mental, and emotional advantages 'believers' generally have over 'non-believers':

There are a few hints that this is not all the case: most of these studies center on Christian populations.  So, I'm not sure this would transfer to all 'believers,' because there are, in fact, lots of gods to believe in.

Then you have Buddhism, one of the largest religions in the world, which has no god at all.

If you follow the experiences of many in AA and other 12 Step groups, you will find plenty of people who were miserable, addicted believers.  Dr. Bob's devotion to Christianity and his Bible study (which developed into the first AA meeting) was not enough.  It was not only what the first AA's believed in, but what they did with that belief.

'Belief' is important, but even more important is what you believe in.  If your God is vengeful, judgmental, and condemning, this is just as bad (perhaps even worse) than no God at all.  In fact, you could make the argument that not believing in God is better making Him into a monster.

Heresy and atheism are twins.  Both deny the True God.

I think the average person a safe distance outside the Middle East can agree that radical Islam, with its anger and violence, is a form of mental illness.  It certainly does not form the peace most healthy people have about there world.  Atheists have made a lot of hay out of the insanity shown by religious people in large political groups.  Of course, the problem is that organized atheism in the 20th century murdered more people than every religious war in history... combined.

My argument is that religious wars come from heresy of at least one side.  After all, if you really believed in a Loving God, you would not need to invade your neighbor or force him to convert.  Loving people don't force themselves or their beliefs on anyone else.  Most healthy Christians quietly live out their faith without burning people at the stake.  Were that not the case, we'd have exterminated ourselves a long time ago.

Even radical Islam has a high level of 'burn out'... just look at all of the people in the Middle East who aren't signing up for car bombings and suicide pilgrimages.  While they tacitly approve of such self-immolation and pay lip service to it, few of them really get into it.  Jihad becomes an alternative for those with identity crises and high levels of unhappiness.  No, it isn't about poverty: jihad is its own kind of drug.

Happiness and mental health are intimately related.  Therefore, the disquiet of the atheist and the anger of the heretic sprout from the same source: a conflict between man's natural desire for a loving God and a person's willful denial of such a God's existence.

So, I would refine such a statement: Not believing in the existence of a Loving God leads to mental illness.

Why?  because that belief will guide your thoughts and actions.  If you have a remote and ambivalent God, then little of what you do not will matter anyhow.  Your actions are left to your whims.  Of course, the trade-off for this freedom is that this heretical version of God won't come to your rescue when you are in trouble.

Whereas, the belief in a Loving God means that God responds to man, but this naturally requires of us a response as well.  Love is never one-sided.  This accounts for the curious stage where people believe in a Loving God, but then refuse that love because they are unwilling to respond to it.  So, they assume that the love of God is 'off the table' and that they have, effectively, opted out of the package deal.

That's also heresy: the truth is that God's love for us endures our rejection of it.  We can assume that because we have not reciprocated that God will not come, but the truth is that God's love is so infinite that we cannot respond to it in an appropriate way anyhow, so you might as well just accept it.

Once that happens, then the real changes and responses take place.  This is how real Christianity works: virtue comes from transformation by God (read Galatians 5... 'Fruits of the Spirit' means God's spirit produces virtue within us rather than virtue being a work of self-will).

That's why the Steps assume that you surrender to God first before the burdens of addiction can be lifted.  You don't work the Steps first, then come to believe in God's love.  I think most of us forget this.  Once you do, you become a legalistic heretic.

Then the mental illness, like addiction, sets in.  

Why?  Because once you believe there are limits to God's love, you will experience fear once you 'break the rules.'  Now, I am not saying there are no rules, but what I am saying is that even breaking them does not impede God from loving us.  It just requires a different response from us to prevent this love from harming us.

Yes, God's love can harm us if we resist it.  It is called guilt.  And, guilt will make you crazy if you let it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The God of the 12 Steps and the God of the Bible

Well, I've taken a break from writing and posting Orthodox agitation brochures to address another problem: the idea that 12 Step groups teach about a version of God that the Orthodox Church would object to.  

Here is an anonymous article (written for a Russian audience, mind you) which lays out an argument for the God of the 12 Steps being the same as the God of the Church:

If I were to add anything, I would say that the 'ambiguity' of the 12 Step God is not unlike the ambiguity of the Trinity in the Old Testament.  We certainly would not call Old Testament Judaism 'heresy' even though it does not specify the Person of Jesus Christ and the Trinity.  Yet, we can see that it certainly does not conflict with it, and even hints that it is coming.

I won't say that the comparison works in all ways, but I do think it is a fair analogy.  Certainly, there are lots of alcoholics and addict in the Church today who would agree.